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Decision-Making in Crisis: An Introduction Author(s): Robert C. North Source: The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 6, No.

3, Case Studies in Conflict (Sep., 1962), pp. 197-200 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/172900 Accessed: 13/05/2009 16:18
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Decision-making in crisis: an introduction

ROBERT C. NORTH Department of Political Science, Stanford University The Stanford University Studies in International Conflict and Integration emerged from a volunteer seminar of faculty members from various disciplines who met fortnightly during the academic year 1957-1958 to plan more effective ways of investigating the behavior of nation states. In the course of these discussions it became evident that two kinds of interaction processes-the conflictual and the integrative-could be identified as characteristic of national behavior throughout the course of history. On this basis the decision was made to undertake a comparative study of international crises with the intent of clarifying the relationship between conflict and integration and, in the long run, testing out a series of general hypotheses about the behavior of states. Exploratory investigations were begun into the 1914 crisis and extended later into a number of other conflict situations. In February 1960 the Ford Foundation awarded Stanford University funds in order to enlarge the research and graduate training that had already begun to emerge from these investigations. As developed since that time, the Studies in International Conflict and Integration have become a systematic program for applying techniques from several disciplines to the study of international relations. More recently, under a small contract with Project Michelson of the Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, the Studies undertook an assessment of the Sino-Soviet controversy, using the same techniques and conceptual framework that were developed for the crisis studies. During these investigations it became apparent that the high stress that is almost universally characteristic of international crisis situations tends to have a crucial effect upon the decision-making patterns of the leaderships involved. The question then arose whether the concepts and techniques which had been developed by the Studies were appropriate and adequate for relating and measuring the emotional phenomena associated with decision-making in situations of crisis. It seemed worthwhile to take time for appraisal. On January 12 and 13, 1962 the Studies in International Conflict and Integration held a seminar on the general topic of "Decision-making in Crises." Participants included members of the staff and also a number of scholars from other institutions engaged in conflict research. The purpose of the seminar was to compare decision-making processes in a number of specific crisis situations in terms of three general kinds of factors: (1) the calculated or anticipated element in decision-making; (2) the miscalculation, or error, aspect of the decision process; and (3) the emotional or affective factor. Participants were encouraged to write papers emerging from their own research, with the consequence that both qualitative and quantitative approaches were

198 that were represented,and also contributions primarily methodological. The intent of the meetings was focused upon problems of operationalresearch, and it seemed important to avoid fruitless discussions about "rationality"and "irrationality." These termsmay be useful when used in a given societal context, but in the international and interculturalspheres the same choice frequently appears "rational"from one perspective and "irrational" from another. The passage of time also plays its tricks: the decision which seemed "rational" -at the time-to those who made it may appear increasingly "irrational"as history unfolds. In an effort to minimize these difficulties a set of definitions was circulated among the seminarparticipantsas a broad frame of reference. A decision was said to be calculated or anticipated, for example, if the decision-maker perceives the problem accurately, selects that alternativewhich leads to the consequences he desires, and then acts appropriately and consistently. This kind of decision is often called "rational." A miscalculated decision was defined as one which failed to recognize or consider all of the alternatives,or which failed to identify or properlyassess all of the attendantconsequences. During the summer of 1914, for example, the Austro-Hungarian leadership, feeling threatened by the spectre of PanSlavism,put forwardthe preservationof the Dual Monarchy at all costs as their major policy goal. In pursuitof this goal they then proceeded to activate with considerableconsistency and purposefulness the following means-endchain: mobilize -> invade Serbia -> punish Serbia -> check Pan-Slavism. In leaders fact, of course,the Austro-Hungarian were putting in motion a sequence of events over which they soon lost control and which led to the destruction of the Empire-the

ROBERT C. NORTH

precise outcome they were seeking to forestall. It was postulatedthat one expects to find miscalculation or error emerging generally from incorrector insufficient information. An emotionaldecision was defined as one in which, as a function of high affect, an alternativeis chosen which is not the best of those available in light of the decision-maker's own goal. For example, an analysis of the documents just prior to the outbreakof World War I reveals that Germany recogwas not nized that her militaryestablishment prepared for a major war. Yet Germany's most salient perception at that time was not her lack of power or capability,but her perceptions of hostility, of being endangeredor threatened-a tendency not uncommon in conditions of extreme crisis (Zinnes, North, and Koch, 1961, pp. 469-82). It was recognized,of course,that virtually all decisions are to one degree or another shaped by emotionalelements, and that one might find a considerable overlap of decisions fitting the emotionaland miscalculation categories. Indeed, one would expect a strong correlation,in a given decision-making situation, between high negative affect and insufficient information-or misinterpreted information. On the other hand, it should be entirely feasible, also, for a calculated decision to emerge from circumstances highly charged with emotion. There was no expectation,of course, that the seminar participants would necessarily accept these definitions. The intent was to provide a common focus for the papers and for the ensuing discussions. Among professional decision-makers at the national and internationallevels there is a strong tendency to perceive of oneself as "hard headed," "realistic,"and "controlled" in crisis. Empirical evidence persuasively suggests, however, that the "realist"is also vulnerable to the dynamics of fluctuating

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affect-and that there may well be a close concorrelation between the high "emotional tent" of a crisis situation-and also the deeply nourishedhopes and fears of the decision-maker-and a tendency to misperceive and miscalculate. In developing his revised "two-factor" or "two-step"approachto behavior,0. Hobart Mowrerhas introducedfear and hope (and other related affects) as intervening or variables between the environ"mediating" mental stimulus and the behavior of the subject. "Thus, where Behaviorism restricted itself to the simple, one-step S-R formula," accordingto Mowrer,"we are here confronted by the necessity of postulating, minimally, a two-step, two-stage formula: S-r: s-R, where S is the danger signal, r the response of fear which is conditioned to it, and where s is the fear, experienced as a drive, which elicits (after learning) response, R" (Mowrer, 1960, p. 77). In grossly oversimplified fashion the stimulus can be viewed as increasing or decreasing the level of a given affect which, in turn, shapes the organism'sconsequent behavior. If at all applicable to interational relations and the behavior of states, this basic hypothesis suggests that it is at least as importantto study the interveningaffect variables as it is to analyze the environmental stimuli or the record of decisions reached and actions taken. Indeed, it is precisely in the affect phases of the interaction system between two or more states that one would expect to find the pulsing dynamicsof international behavior. Hostile states-trading reciprocallythreateningor punishingstimuli -build explosive accumulations of affect
which, by a kind of reaction process or

"Richardsonprocess," give rise to increasingly provocative decisions and actions (Boulding, 1962, pp. 25-40). The papers presented in this issue-particularly the quantitative ones-are frankly

experimental,and we shall not be taken by surpriseif they attract criticism and controversy. In the attempt to go beyond hypothesis building-to test our propositions empirically-we have run into unforeseen difficulties at every stage. After a year of content analysiswe discardedour 1914 data, amounting to several thousand units, and began all over again because our original definitionshad proved too fuzzy. In seeking the best available counsel on scaling techniques and on statistical methods we have more than once been confrontedby conflicting advice from equally competent sources. In some instances we have had to "invent" methodology;in others we have been forced to make operationaldecisions almost by the flip of a coin. More and more, then, we perceive that there is frequently something to gain and something to lose whatever technique is adopted or developed. In this connection it is worth noting, for example, that Holsti, Zaninovich,and (in work subsequentto that reported in her present paper) Zinnes have used separatemethodsof scaling-each with something to be said for it and something to be said against it. Under these circumstances we consider multiple approaches highly appropriateto the pioneering phases of our research. Finally, it should be kept in mind that most of the quantitative work represents thousands of hours of work by numbers of unidentified collaborators-coders, scaling judges, key punchers, programmers,and a wide variety of consultants. The authors would be amongthe first to acknowledgethe vast amountof teamworkbehind the presentation of their reports.
REFERENCES

BOULDING, KENNETH

E. Conflict and Defense. Learning Theory and

New York: Harper & Bros., 1962.


MOWRER,0.
HOBART.

200 Behavior. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1960.


C. ZINNES,DINA A., NORTH, ROBERT and KocH,

ROBERT C. NORTH
Outbreak of War." In JAMES N. ROSENAU

HOWARD JR. "Capability,Threat and the E.,

(ed.), International Politics and Foreign Policy. New York:The Free Press of Glencoe, 1961.

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