When Things Go Wrong
Foreign Policy Decision Making under Adverse Feedback
Edited by Charles F. Hermann
Routledge – 2012 – 194 pages
Series: Foreign Policy Analysis
What happens when a government begins a major foreign policy commitment and then later receives new information that it is failing? The question of how to deal with adverse feedback to high-stakes foreign policy speaks to a number of important, current scenarios in international relations. Indeed, how to handle signs that major prior commitments are not working as intended is common to every aspect of human existence—from the owner of an old car who has to decide whether to make additional repairs after a critical breakdown, to management deciding what course to follow when a new investment fails.
Important work has been undertaken on this decision dilemma in a variety of fields. This book brings many of these insights to bear on the especially challenging circumstances where life and death and international politics can add dramatically to the costs of ineffective reactions. The esteemed contributors to this book offer explanations and illustrative case studies of these critical choice points in foreign and national security policy. They offer alternative theoretical frameworks for determining if and when policy will change in response to evidence of failing efforts. Competing theories from several of disciplines—primarily psychology, political science and management—offer insight into a subject that has been rarely studied in foreign policy, yet is as current as today’s headlines.
"When Things Go Wrong is an interesting and useful source that provides some necessary tools for analysing complex decision-making processes."
—Ismail Erkam Sula, Perceptions Journal of International Affairs, Vol. 17, 3, Autumn 2012
"When Things Go Wrong is a tour de force in the field of foreign policy analysis. Hermann has assembled an all-star team to study the subject of changing course in foreign policy, with emphasis on the crucial but neglected aspect of responding to signs of failure. Theorizing in this volume draws on political psychology, cybernetics and elsewhere to establish the basic difficulty of effecting change in the face of foreign policy setbacks. This study is essential reading for specialists in foreign policy and decision-making in particular, along with the fields of international relations, political science and psychology in general."
—Patrick James, Professor and Director, Center for International Studies, University of Southern California
"In this intriguing edited volume, the only one of its kind, some of the brightest names in Foreign Policy Analysis examine under what conditions states do—or do not—learn from their policy failures."
—Valerie M. Hudson, Brigham Young University
"An impressive set of scholars considers a question fundamental to foreign policy making: when and how do policy makers reconsider their choices when policies fail? Relying on individual and group-level decision-making approaches, they examine instances from the 1930s to the 21st Century."
—Ralph G. Carter, Texas Christian University
"This book presents an enlightening and systematic investigation of one of the big questions in public policy. Along with appropriate consideration of a variety of approaches and perspectives, this text will give students deep substantive knowledge of decision making during key moments in the history of foreign policy."
—R. Scott Crichlow, West Virginia University
"This book examines an important but often neglected area of foreign policy analysis—why and how leaders or decision groups make foreign policy decisions when facing negative feedback. Anyone who wants to know why leaders continuously make flawed decisions needs to read this book."
—Kai He, Utah State University
"Both explaining when governments are likely to recognize that policies are not working and explaining why they decide to change course are difficult tasks. Proposing theories at several levels of analysis, Hermann and his colleagues suggest new ways to do both of these things. By looking at the process of sequential decision-making in cases where the key leaders do not change, the authors demonstrate how the specific features of individual leaders, group processes, and institutional systems lead to change. Personality characteristics and beliefs along with the collective efficacy felt by groups get special attention, as do the subsystems that monitor discrepant information."
—Richard K. Herrmann, Director, The Mershon Center, The Ohio State University
1. What We Do When Things Go Wrong Charles F. Hermann 2. Responding to Adverse Feedback: Group Decision-Making In Protracted Foreign Policy Problems Charles F. Hermann and Robert S. Billings 3. From Anticipated Victory to Sensing Entrapment in Vietnam: Group Efficacy in the LBJ Administration Charles F. Hermann 4. The Role of Leaders in Sequential Decision-Making: Lyndon Johnson, Advisory Dynamics and Vietnam Thomas Preston 5. Policy Commitment and Resistance to Change in U.S.-Chinese Relations: The George H.W. Bush Administration’s Response to Tiananmen Square Jean A. Garrison 6. The British Strategy of Appeasement: Why Britain Persisted in the Face of Negative Feedback Stephen G. Walker, Mark Schafer and Gregory Marfleet 7. Applying Control Theory to Sequential Foreign Policy Decision-Making Jeffrey B. Vancouver 8. Dealing with Adverse Feedback Charles F. Hermann
Charles F. Hermann is a Professor of Political Science at Texas A&M University