System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life

Princeton University Press
Free sample

Based on more than three decades of observation, Robert Jervis concludes in this provocative book that the very foundations of many social science theories--especially those in political science--are faulty. Taking insights from complexity theory as his point of departure, the author observes that we live in a world where things are interconnected, where unintended consequences of our actions are unavoidable and unpredictable, and where the total effect of behavior is not equal to the sum of individual actions. Jervis draws on a wide range of human endeavors to illustrate the nature of these system effects. He shows how increasing airport security might actually cost lives, not save them, and how removing dead trees (ostensibly to give living trees more room) may damage the health of an entire forest. Similarly, he highlights the interconnectedness of the political world as he describes how the Cold War played out and as he narrates the series of events--with their unintended consequences--that escalated into World War I.

The ramifications of developing a rigorous understanding of politics are immense, as Jervis demonstrates in his critique of current systemic theories of international politics--especially the influential work done by Kenneth Waltz. Jervis goes on to examine various types of negative and positive feedback, bargaining in different types of relationships, and the polarizing effects of alignments to begin building a foundation for a more realistic, more nuanced, theory of international politics. System Effects concludes by examining what it means to act in a system. It shows how political actors might modify their behavior in anticipation of system effects, and it explores how systemic theories of political behavior might account for the role of anticipation and strategy in political action. This work introduces powerful new concepts that will reward not only international relations theorists, but also all social scientists with interests in comparative politics and political theory.

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About the author

Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton).
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Dec 28, 1998
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Pages
328
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ISBN
9781400822409
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / History & Theory
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Robert Jervis
The U.S. government spends enormous resources each year on the gathering and analysis of intelligence, yet the history of American foreign policy is littered with missteps and misunderstandings that have resulted from intelligence failures. In Why Intelligence Fails, Robert Jervis examines the politics and psychology of two of the more spectacular intelligence failures in recent memory: the mistaken belief that the regime of the Shah in Iran was secure and stable in 1978, and the claim that Iraq had active WMD programs in 2002.

The Iran case is based on a recently declassified report Jervis was commissioned to undertake by CIA thirty years ago and includes memoranda written by CIA officials in response to Jervis's findings. The Iraq case, also grounded in a review of the intelligence community's performance, is based on close readings of both classified and declassified documents, though Jervis's conclusions are entirely supported by evidence that has been declassified. In both cases, Jervis finds not only that intelligence was badly flawed but also that later explanations-analysts were bowing to political pressure and telling the White House what it wanted to hear or were willfully blind-were also incorrect. Proponents of these explanations claimed that initial errors were compounded by groupthink, lack of coordination within the government, and failure to share information. Policy prescriptions, including the recent establishment of a Director of National Intelligence, were supposed to remedy the situation.

In Jervis's estimation, neither the explanations nor the prescriptions are adequate. The inferences that intelligence drew were actually quite plausible given the information available. Errors arose, he concludes, from insufficient attention to the ways in which information should be gathered and interpreted, a lack of self-awareness about the factors that led to the judgments, and an organizational culture that failed to probe for weaknesses and explore alternatives. Evaluating the inherent tensions between the methods and aims of intelligence personnel and policymakers from a unique insider's perspective, Jervis forcefully criticizes recent proposals for improving the performance of the intelligence community and discusses ways in which future analysis can be improved.

Robert Jervis
Robert Jervis has been a pioneering leader in the study of the psychology of international politics for more than four decades. How Statesmen Think presents his most important ideas on the subject from across his career. This collection of revised and updated essays applies, elaborates, and modifies his pathbreaking work. The result is an indispensable book for students and scholars of international relations.

How Statesmen Think demonstrates that expectations and political and psychological needs are the major drivers of perceptions in international politics, as well as in other arenas. Drawing on the increasing attention psychology is paying to emotions, the book discusses how emotional needs help structure beliefs. It also shows how decision-makers use multiple shortcuts to seek and process information when making foreign policy and national security judgments. For example, the desire to conserve cognitive resources can cause decision-makers to look at misleading indicators of military strength, and psychological pressures can lead them to run particularly high risks. The book also looks at how deterrent threats and counterpart promises often fail because they are misperceived.

How Statesmen Think examines how these processes play out in many situations that arise in foreign and security policy, including the threat of inadvertent war, the development of domino beliefs, the formation and role of national identities, and conflicts between intelligence organizations and policymakers.

Robert Jervis
Robert Jervis has been a pioneering leader in the study of the psychology of international politics for more than four decades. How Statesmen Think presents his most important ideas on the subject from across his career. This collection of revised and updated essays applies, elaborates, and modifies his pathbreaking work. The result is an indispensable book for students and scholars of international relations.

How Statesmen Think demonstrates that expectations and political and psychological needs are the major drivers of perceptions in international politics, as well as in other arenas. Drawing on the increasing attention psychology is paying to emotions, the book discusses how emotional needs help structure beliefs. It also shows how decision-makers use multiple shortcuts to seek and process information when making foreign policy and national security judgments. For example, the desire to conserve cognitive resources can cause decision-makers to look at misleading indicators of military strength, and psychological pressures can lead them to run particularly high risks. The book also looks at how deterrent threats and counterpart promises often fail because they are misperceived.

How Statesmen Think examines how these processes play out in many situations that arise in foreign and security policy, including the threat of inadvertent war, the development of domino beliefs, the formation and role of national identities, and conflicts between intelligence organizations and policymakers.

Robert J. Art
For courses in International Relations.

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Robert Jervis
The U.S. government spends enormous resources each year on the gathering and analysis of intelligence, yet the history of American foreign policy is littered with missteps and misunderstandings that have resulted from intelligence failures. In Why Intelligence Fails, Robert Jervis examines the politics and psychology of two of the more spectacular intelligence failures in recent memory: the mistaken belief that the regime of the Shah in Iran was secure and stable in 1978, and the claim that Iraq had active WMD programs in 2002.

The Iran case is based on a recently declassified report Jervis was commissioned to undertake by CIA thirty years ago and includes memoranda written by CIA officials in response to Jervis's findings. The Iraq case, also grounded in a review of the intelligence community's performance, is based on close readings of both classified and declassified documents, though Jervis's conclusions are entirely supported by evidence that has been declassified. In both cases, Jervis finds not only that intelligence was badly flawed but also that later explanations-analysts were bowing to political pressure and telling the White House what it wanted to hear or were willfully blind-were also incorrect. Proponents of these explanations claimed that initial errors were compounded by groupthink, lack of coordination within the government, and failure to share information. Policy prescriptions, including the recent establishment of a Director of National Intelligence, were supposed to remedy the situation.

In Jervis's estimation, neither the explanations nor the prescriptions are adequate. The inferences that intelligence drew were actually quite plausible given the information available. Errors arose, he concludes, from insufficient attention to the ways in which information should be gathered and interpreted, a lack of self-awareness about the factors that led to the judgments, and an organizational culture that failed to probe for weaknesses and explore alternatives. Evaluating the inherent tensions between the methods and aims of intelligence personnel and policymakers from a unique insider's perspective, Jervis forcefully criticizes recent proposals for improving the performance of the intelligence community and discusses ways in which future analysis can be improved.

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