International politics is a product of the pulls and tugs of domestic affairs. Leaders (not nations) make policy decisions and do so to maximize their prospects of staying in office. Their choices, thus, are strategic, considering expected responses by rivals and allies and designed to maximize the leader’s (not the state’s) welfare.
To understand the implications of different strategic scenarios for decision-making processes, the first seven weeks of the course offer an introduction to the toolbox of analytic techniques essential for understanding, analyzing—and eventually engineering—policy choices in international affairs. We rely on logic and evidence to offer the foundations for understanding why leaders and followers do what they do. You can think of these tools as a policymaker’s or social engineer’s “how to” manual that provides a structured way to think about how to solve problems and advance policy goals. These “tools” include spatial models, the median voter theorem (and how it relates to estimating security), win-sets, expected utility calculations, non-cooperative game theory, and Bayes’ rule. These methods are illustrated with a single, extended example concerned with the international dispute over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions but also applied to a richly diverse set of other issues and questions.
The second seven-week part of the course will cast you as advisors on the hardest decisions any president has to make. We will go “behind the veil” to see the dynamic between the press, national security and the government, to explore these dilemmas. We will also have to contend with the reality that government secrets rarely stay that way. Participants will learn to navigate the political landscape of an era in which private remarks become viral tweets, and mistakes by intelligence agencies become front-page stories. For example, you will delve into how Iran can be stopped from getting a nuclear bomb—negotiations, sanctions or military action? As a participant in this course, you will advise the president in deciding whether, and how Turkey should act. Once you’ve made your assessment based on the facts and the analytical tools you have mastered, you will move on to wrestle with other scenarios preoccupying policy makers. Between the Assad regime and non-state armed groups, civilians in Syria and Iraq face unimaginable atrocities. What should Ankara do? While Syria is most sharply in focus, another crisis may be quietly brewing in the waters surrounding Cyprus, natural gas exploration, and drilling. What counterbalancing measures should Turkey take?
Weekly assignments require strategic reasoning to evaluate the dynamics of challenges and to generate policies to address them. Students will learn to summarize their assessments in a concise summary of a “Strategic Options Memo,” combining careful analysis and strategic imagination with the necessity to communicate to major constituencies to sustain popular support. Overall, students will produce theoretically informed, empirically substantiated multidimensional strategic policy directives on any foreign policy crisis.