Kent, Charles Todd (2006-10). Politically rational foreign policy decision-making. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • This dissertation is an analysis of how presidents make foreign policy decisions. Rather than explaining foreign policy decisions by focusing on individuals or institutions, I stress the role of political pressures and context faced by presidents. It shows that foreign policy decisions are not merely a reaction to stimulus from the international or domestic arenas but involve political considerations that affect policy choice. The dynamic elements in the argument are political resources and risk. The relationship between the risk propensity of the president and presidential political resources provides an important link to understanding foreign policy decisions. Within the realm of good public policy, a politically rational president can choose to act or respond to foreign policy disputes in various ways, including diplomacy, political coercion, economic coercion, covert action, or military intervention, based on his assessment of the political context and his willingness to accept the associated risks. The level of presidential political resources determines the risk propensity of the president. Presidential foreign policy decisions will vary depending on the quantity of available political resources. Thus, understanding the risk propensity of the president increases our ability to explain foreign policy decisions. The contribution of this research is the identification of a mechanism for understanding how the interaction between the domestic and international political environments, and individual decision-makers influence foreign policy decisions. My research bridges the gap between structural theories, AcA?A?theories that make predictions about foreign policy outcomes without reference to the cognition and actions of the actors themselves,AcA?A? and decision-making theories that stress the role of the actors (Ikenberry 2002, 5). Although the component parts of the foreign policy decisionmaking system are widely known, we lack theories that tie the pieces together.

publication date

  • October 2006