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Title: Risk vs. risk trade-offs : presidential decision-making and the emergence of foreign policy crises
Author: Trenta, Luca
ISNI:       0000 0004 5352 414X
Awarding Body: Durham University
Current Institution: Durham University
Date of Award: 2014
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With the radicalisation of the ‘War on Terror’ and the chaos following the 2003 Iraq War, the concept of ‘risk’ emerged as central to a wide-ranging set of claims about the extent and significance of the changed post-Cold War strategic environment and its impact on policy-making. International Relations (IR) scholars argued that ‘risk’ and ‘risk management’ defined foreign policy-making, with the US as the principal exemplar of such a change. The thesis explores the two, sociologically rooted, accounts of risk that underpin this literature – indebted to Ulrich Beck and Michel Foucault respectively – to identify the deeply contrasting and contradictory conceptualisations of risk they produce. Returning to some classic, and badly neglected, writing on risk and highlighting an alternative account originally developed by John Graham and Jonathan Wiener, the thesis establishes Presidential decision-making in foreign policy as a series of ‘risk versus risk trade-offs.’ This framework focuses on the ways in which risk operates simultaneously in different environments via concepts of ‘political risks’ focusing on the domestic environment and ‘strategic risks’ focusing on the international dimension. The concept of trade-off elucidates the ways in which actions aimed at countering a ‘target risk’ frequently produce ‘countervailing risks’ of their own. Using this approach, the thesis assesses the build-up to three crises in US foreign policy; two from the Cold War (the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Iran hostage crisis) and one from the post-Cold War period (the road to Srebrenica). The case studies, based on archival research and interviews, effectively challenge the claim that the end of the Cold War represented the onset of an era of foreign policy-making as risk management, by showing how the Kennedy and Carter administrations engaged in policy-making practices and processes that are not markedly dissimilar from Clinton’s. In addition, the case studies enrich the ‘risk literature’ and demonstrate how the analysis of crises can be advanced by understanding the moment of crisis as the culmination of a series of neglected ‘countervailing risks.’ More generally, the thesis points to the initial validity of an approach that can be applied to diverse issues in foreign policy-making.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available