Robert Jervis - Perception And Level Of Analysis

Robert Jervis - Perception And Level Of Analysis

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Robert Jervis in Perception and Level of Analysis espouses the notion that in order to fully explain crucial decisions and policies it is essential that one pays heed to the decision-maker’s beliefs about the world and his or her perceptions of others. Rather than attempting to understand foreign policies as directly resulting from the three other levels of analysis, the bureaucratic, the domestic, and the international environment, which he outlines, Jervis contends that examination of a decision-maker’s perceptions, both their causes and effects, can more readily determine and explain behavioral patterns; in such a light, the taxonomy or three other levels of analysis appear devoid of truth value when applied alone, and all related theories are shown as invalid except in extreme cases. Nonetheless, one might more accurately contest that while careful study of a decision-maker’s beliefs is a necessity for comprehension, analysis of such beliefs is in fact an examination of bureaucratic organizations, domestic circumstances, and the international environment; all four are interrelated in the sense that the perceptions of the decision-maker are influenced by the circumstances existent in the three other levels. Likewise the three levels are themselves affected and often altered by the politician’s choices. Therefore, in order to provide the most comprehensive explanations of foreign policy decisions one cannot completely disregard externalities, and conversely one cannot ignore individual perceptions of decision-makers.

One cannot rely solely on the bureaucratic level of analysis, the domestic, the international environment, or even on a combination of the three as adequate. What one might interpret as a clash of bureaucratic interests and stands yielding incoherent and conflicting policies, could in reality be a “clash among values that are widely held in both society and the decision-makers’ own minds” (Jervis 28). Similarly, if domestic situations were the medium upon which politicians base their decisions then changes in leadership would not necessarily produce significant changes in foreign policy; however, the consistency of foreign policy is difficult to measure. For example, some might contend that the Cold War would not have occurred had President Franklin Delano Roosevelt not died; they suggest that his death altered American policy in the sense that President Truman and his anti-Soviet position came to dominate political decision-making. Others contest that FDR would have acted similarly to Truman, as he too was coming to an anti-Soviet stance prior to his death. If the former is seen as accurate the domestic level of analysis is insufficient and not applicable, but in the latter instance it could be viewed as a valid basis for judging decision-making.

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Thus, the domestic level of analysis, like the bureaucratic, appears inconclusive in that it fails to explain patterns of decision-making due to the fact it does not permit the formation of generalities with which a majority of political outcomes can be explained. In short, both can be used to provide limited insight into a particular political move, but leave much to speculation and individual guesswork. The “third image,” as described by Waltz, is the anarchic international environment; if one attempts to describe decisions as the product of such an environment he or she will encounter a number of pitfalls. According to Wolfer a country will be aware when it is in extreme danger and consequently will act in a manner of self-preservation, however who is to say what constitutes an imminent threat and how to counter such a threat? It is a rarity that a nation’s officials agree that it is in a precarious position, what is actually threatening it, and how to deal with the impending conflict all at once; thus, the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine are exceptions to the norm. Some decision-makers contended that the Soviet Union was a threat to the U.S. following World War II, others pleaded that this was not true, and still others believed that it was a threat but only for a brief duration of time. “Even if all states and statesmen responded . . . to [the same] high threat” and did so in an effort to preserve themselves, the responses would vary somewhat; if a large, powerful state were to attack a small, weak state the small state would be compelled to submit to its military-superior rather than engage in a hopeless war, however, if the reverse occurred the large, powerful state would surely retaliate against its aggressor.

In order to produce a comprehensive interpretation of the motivations behind a political decision it is essential that one looks to the individual perceptions of decision-makers, in addition to the bureaucratic, domestic, and environmental levels. One must follow the two-step model, that is, to look at the causes that lead to the formation of a decision-maker’s perceptions and the effects those perceptions have on his or her choices. It is essential to understand a leader’s views of others and of other situations as such views will very well determine his or her actions. Whichever decisions he or she makes affect not only domestic policies and relations between bureaucrats, but also the international environment, as other states will react to such decisions and the original decision-maker will in turn respond to such reactions. By simply relying on a leader’s view as an indicator of actions, one can only produce a partial answer. One needs to determine what factors produce an individual’s perceptions and what factors influenced their reactions to those perceptions. Though the individual ultimately makes his own decisions and does so according to his own moral judgments and perceived knowledge of a given situation, he or she is not likely to act in complete discord with his fellow bureaucrats or in a manner outside the norm of a bureaucratic practice so as not to isolate himself or his platform. Similarly, he is influenced by popular opinion, social, and economic conditions; assuming that he does not want to create unrest he is likely to act in a manner which he believes, correctly or incorrectly, will improve the conditions in his given domain. Thirdly, due to the anarchic conditions in global relations a decision-maker will be wary of foreign powers; and acting in accordance with a notion of international paranoia he is likely to develop negative perceptions of former adversaries and consequently, will be quicker to action against them.

In short, foreign policy decisions can most comprehensively be understood, and with the greatest clarity, through the analysis of the decision-maker’s perceptions, their causes and effects, with respect to the bureaucratic, domestic, and international environments.
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