Research papers foreign policy

However, with careful attention to design and feasibility, there are applications for experimental methods in the study of foreign policy, and where there are not, researchers have begun to turn their attention to simulation, which can achieve some of the same objectives.

Origins of U.S. Foreign Policy by Pat Paterson :: SSRN

To take one recent example, Christensen and Redd examine how the context of foreign-policy decision making affects choice and assess this relationship in a controlled experiment conducted on undergraduates. In recent years the nuts and bolts of experimental methods have drawn increasing attention. Along these lines, McDermott provides an interesting discussion of the origins and practice of experimental methods in political science, as well as the unique challenges this approach presents.

One such challenge that should be considered carefully by those designing experiments meant to speak to foreign policy behavior is the trade-off between internal and external validity in experiments. Internal validity indicates that the proposed relationship between the independent and dependent variables is the true causal one. When such validity is high it means that extraneous variables and alternative explanations have been ruled out.

While typically very difficult to achieve in the social sciences, high internal validity results from proper randomization in an experiment. External validity speaks to the degree to which a proposed relationship is generalizable to a broader set of cases or the world at large.

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Thus, experimental methods are powerful because they are high in internal validity; however, a leap occurs when we attempt to generalize experimentally derived results to actual political behavior. This leap can be particularly worrisome when it is from an experimental finding generated from a non-elite individual — for example, an undergraduate student as was the case in the Christensen and Redd study — to a foreign policy decision maker.

In such cases, the assumption of external validity may not be reasonable. Mintz, Redd, and Vedlitz explore this issue in detail, replicating an experiment on the subject of counterterrorism with a group of college student and a group of military officers. The authors find significant differences between these groups, suggesting that experimental subjects cannot be expected to play the role of foreign-policy decision makers without careful regard for their actual background.

However, while these scholars argue that average individuals can tell us very little about the behavior of elites, they do find it more acceptable to use subjects like students as a sample of the public at large. Simulation, a close relative of experimental methods, has its roots in the longstanding practices of war gaming and diplomatic analysis. However, recent efforts in this area draw extensively on advances in computing power and the internet. The International Communication and Negotiation Simulations ICONS project is an ongoing extension of this early work that allows political practitioners and students to develop decision making and foreign policy skills through computer aided interactive simulation.

As presently formulated, the ICONS project is more about training than research, but the technique presents an intriguing methodological opportunity for those interested in testing theories of foreign policy interactions in a controlled environment. When it is focused at the elite level, as it often is, survey research in foreign policy analysis directly relates to the previously discussed interview methods.

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This stands in some contrast to the way in which survey research is conducted in other areas of political science. For example, in American politics there is a long tradition of survey research designed to pinpoint public opinion on a myriad of topics.


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In order to accomplish this, researchers are obliged to reach as representative a sample of the population as possible. While surveys lack the depth of an interview, they offer the corresponding advantage of breadth. First, by aggregating information from a more significant number of sources, a survey can minimize some of the idiosyncratic error that can plague interview methodology. Second, in a survey analysis it is easier to control for secondary variables that might influence the recollection or reporting of subjects.

Finally, surveys can both contribute to qualitative analysis, and serve to generate high-quality data for aggregate analysis. Holsti and Rosenau were interested in the degree to which historical experience altered the perceptions and beliefs of opinion leaders and decision makers. Their expectation was that the Vietnam conflict significantly altered the perspective of those who drew their primary experience from that conflict rather than World War II.

To answer this question they extensively surveyed groups that they believed to comprise the national leadership structure — military personnel, foreign service officers, business executives, labor leaders, clergy, media, etc.


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Surveys can be particularly valuable when conducted repeatedly over several years, as this allows for longitudinal analysis — something that is crucial if one is interested in changes over time. These surveys, and others that could be conducted along similar lines, are an underutilized resource for foreign policy analysis.

Presser et al. FPA scholars can also benefit from the recent explosion of interest among political scientists in network analysis. Social network analysis, which is simply the mapping and measuring of relationships among entities in a complex system, is a useful tool for modeling foreign policy relationships because it incorporates both bilateral connections and wider connections among the larger group. Because of this, the technique analysis allows FPA scholars to understand relational data — the contacts, ties, connections, and transfers between decision makers that cannot be cleanly reduced to properties of the leaders themselves Scott Furthermore, a network theoretic framework consistently captures the role of third parties in foreign policy interactions, which prove to be crucial to understanding outcomes.

Relational approaches have long been an underlying element in the study of foreign policy. For example, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes on the relationship between elite networks and international conflict. These studies, as well as later work in international relations e.

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In short, relational thinking and social network analysis have already contributed to the clarification of a number of puzzles in political science and present a potentially powerful way of approaching foreign policy analysis. Prediction markets are information exchanges built to generate forecasts using a price mechanism.

Futures generated from predictions of upcoming events are traded, such that their value is tied to a particular outcome. The result of this arrangement is that the market prices of these futures can be interpreted as the predicted probability of that outcome. There is a significant body of research that establishes the ability of markets to reduce error in predictions. By aggregating the bets of many individuals, these markets effectively use the price setting mechanism to uncover the consensus about a future foreign policy event in much the same way that the stock market predicts the economic performance of a company or oil futures respond to the expected scarcity of that resource.

Pennock et al. There are only a few examples of longstanding prediction markets that handle political futures. These include Intrade, which floats, among many other things, a diverse group of political contracts, and the longer running Iowa Electronic Market, which is an academically oriented project designed for evaluating the probability of election outcomes. Prediction markets have been applied sparingly in international relations and foreign policy analysis, but have tremendous potential for future application because they offer an interactive mechanism with which individual foreign policy experts can aggregate their knowledge and opinions.

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Interestingly, given the methodological diversity that characterizes FPA as a sub-discipline, the method by which each expert who trades futures on a prediction market reaches his or her own conclusion is irrelevant. Thus, a prediction market can provide an alternative way to combine and generalize both deep qualitative knowledge and quantitative findings.

Furthermore, this approach presents a novel way of dealing with error and uncertainty. Prospective researchers in this area should note that some early applications of this approach have not gone smoothly. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency DARPA recently abandoned a promising plan to use a futures market to forecast the probability of important foreign policy events such as regime change and terrorist attacks when the media picked up on the program and it became controversial.

Despite a robust literature on the efficacy of such markets, politicians and segments of the public seized upon the effort as being unethical or even nonsensical Looney The unwanted attention led DARPA, which usually operates well beneath the public radar, to cancel the project almost immediately. It remains an open question whether this approach will become more politically feasible — seemingly a necessity because these markets generally require a significant initial investment, presumably by a government or university.

However, private markets such as Intrade, which is a for-profit enterprise, seem to be a plausible alternative. Foreign policy futures, such as the probability of an Israeli attack on Iran, are traded regularly on Intrade and provide useful information about expectations. Moreover, futures on the outcome of the last presidential election vied with polling data for public and media attention in the lead up to the US presidential election suggesting that familiarity with these markets may be rising.

Methods of foreign policy analysis have developed markedly over the past few decades, but challenges remain. An unavoidable tension persists between the accuracy needed for policy relevance and the scope needed for generalizability.

As the grand theories of foreign policy interaction motivated those who launched the FPA enterprise proved elusive, the discipline increasingly turned to the nuanced examinations of cases. However, if taken too far this trend is a threat to the unique identity of FPA because it blurs the distinction with longstanding traditions of historical analysis. The goal should be to develop a healthy mix of methods that applies each approach to the questions which each is best equipped to address.

Additional attention should also be given to determining the degree to which current methods of foreign policy analysis allow predictive or prescriptive conclusions. In recent years, enthusiasm for FPA has been fueled in part by the failure of most international relations scholarship to accurately foresee key events in the international system — specifically the decline of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

The argument is made that Cold War politics, because they were in some sense stable or at equilibrium, were better suited to elegant and parsimonious models of the systemic behavior of state actors.

Judit Trunkos, PhD Student of International Relations

In contrast, the more chaotic world we presently inhabit is characterized by fluidity driven by human agents and therefore is best understood using the methods of foreign policy analysis Hudson and Vore This is a reasonable hypothesis; however, prediction is a difficult game in the social sciences and it remains unclear whether FPA is indeed superior in this arena.

In short, with a few notable exceptions such as the KEDS project, methods of foreign policy analysis lack predictive capacity and, when they are able to predict, are often unable to clearly state the degree of certainty surrounding these forecasts. More can and should be done to improve this capacity. Foreign policy analysts should also give deeper consideration to the issues that accompany the choice of the unit of analysis in their models. The result is a gap in our understanding of the process of aggregation by which the behavior of leaders results in the actions and reactions of states.

This aggregation problem is widely noted, but additional work is required to complete our understanding of this element of the foreign policy process. Improvements in this linkage between theory and test, as well as a consistent unit of analysis individual or foreign policy event are particularly crucial for robust quantitative analysis, as it is in part the inability of the subfield to resolve this basic issue that stifled earlier research on events data.

Finally, more must be done to reengage foreign policy analysis with the core of international relations research. FPA scholars typically claim the first and second image as their domain, but fail to engage with those in mainline international relations who also work in this area. In the lead essay of the first issue of Foreign Policy Analysis , Valerie Hudson convincingly makes the case that FPA has the potential to reshape the entire discipline of international relations by focusing attention on the workings of the fundamental unit of analysis — the political decision maker.

However, despite the call to arms, more often than not FPA scholars labor in relative isolation. Some of these divisions emerge from methodological issues and can therefore be resolved.

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