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Foreign Policy

Rational Policy and Rattling Consequences

A source of perennial controversy in the formation of national policy is the role of the rational actor as supporting analyst and the degree of rationality that the nation exercises in its diplomatic, military, economic, and cultural relations with another nation or group of nations. History shows that the rational actor approach to policy formation, dependent on imperfect knowledge and imperfect execution, makes mistakes, whether

The defining tenets of realist theories in foreign affairs hold that anarchy is the natural state. Powerful states dominate international actions. As corollaries of that first tenet, realists deal with national figures and influences and ignore or subordinate both international and intra-national interests. That is, if realists are making bilateral policy decisions about a strategic or powerful state in a region, those bilateral relations prevail in their calculations and counsel. International organizations or crucial regional groups, whether ethnic, religious, or cultural, tend to get short shrift. As sovereignties interacting with sovereignties, nations are rational actors in advancing and protecting the national interest, safety, and survival, without risking accommodations with lesser groups, unless some cataclysmic political change tilts the rational actors in another direction and forces them to make amends and repairs in a previously slighted area.

In the rational actor model of decision making, as Neil Rieman and Douglas Simon explain in The Challenge of Politics, decision makers pursue four tasks: to identify the problem that confronts them; to take into account the key factors that bear on the problem; and to critically examine alternative courses of action on a cost-benefit ratio. Diverse and competitive interests get in on the decision-making, and the ultimate product is often a co


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