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Decision Makers' Use of False Analogies Causing Miscalculation and War
Unformatted Document Text:  Horan 9 From a rationalist perspective war would never occur. Its presence in the world is from miscalculation. Leaders make decisions based on incomplete information resulting from the lack of transparency in inter-state relations and incentives for misrepresentation. International relations’ study of misperception begins with the work of Robert Jervis in his 1968 book Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Since its publication, many researchers have produced works discussing the impact of misinformation on the decision to go to war. To understand how analogies create miscalculation, this paper looks at causes of war in conjunction with miscalculation. The works of Geoffrey Blainey and Stephen Van Evera represent two different ideas about the causes of war. In The Causes of War, Blainey regards war as a rational choice made by decision makers to achieve a specific end. “War as an accident” is a “misleading” idea. War, he believes, is a rational choice from informed calculation. Decision makers would only make a mistake in miscalculating the outcome, not in deciding to start. While miscalculation occurs, it is not a cause of war but a consequence of it. War arises when states misunderstand each other’s intentions and feel threatened so they rationally initiate hostilities. 15 On the other hand, Van Evera portrays misperception, in the form of “false optimism,” as a “potent and pervasive cause of war.” Decision makers initiate war from either misperceiving intentions or miscalculating capabilities or both. War is always a last resort and never a rational choice for Van Evera. As a result of false optimism, the cost of war is underestimated and the chance of winning is exaggerated. At the end of the war, “if the losing side could foresee the outcome, it would often decline to fight.” One cause of the false optimism of states is previous success in war. 16 The 15 Blainey, Geoffrey. The Causes of War. New York: Free Press, 1988. 144-145 16 Van Evera, Stephen. Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. 5, 34.

Authors: Horan, Elizabeth.
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Horan 9
From a rationalist perspective war would never occur. Its presence in the world is from
miscalculation. Leaders make decisions based on incomplete information resulting from the lack
of transparency in inter-state relations and incentives for misrepresentation. International
relations’ study of misperception begins with the work of Robert Jervis in his 1968 book
Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Since its publication, many researchers
have produced works discussing the impact of misinformation on the decision to go to war. To
understand how analogies create miscalculation, this paper looks at causes of war in conjunction
with miscalculation.
The works of Geoffrey Blainey and Stephen Van Evera represent two different ideas about
the causes of war. In The Causes of War, Blainey regards war as a rational choice made by
decision makers to achieve a specific end. “War as an accident” is a “misleading” idea. War, he
believes, is a rational choice from informed calculation. Decision makers would only make a
mistake in miscalculating the outcome, not in deciding to start. While miscalculation occurs, it is
not a cause of war but a consequence of it. War arises when states misunderstand each other’s
intentions and feel threatened so they rationally initiate hostilities.
On the other hand, Van
Evera portrays misperception, in the form of “false optimism,” as a “potent and pervasive cause
of war.” Decision makers initiate war from either misperceiving intentions or miscalculating
capabilities or both. War is always a last resort and never a rational choice for Van Evera. As a
result of false optimism, the cost of war is underestimated and the chance of winning is
exaggerated. At the end of the war, “if the losing side could foresee the outcome, it would often
decline to fight.” One cause of the false optimism of states is previous success in war.
The
15
Blainey, Geoffrey. The Causes of War. New York: Free Press, 1988. 144-145
16
Van Evera, Stephen. Causes of War: Power and the Roots of Conflict. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999. 5,
34.


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