Foreign Policy Crises: Case Studies and Theory Building

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  • Foreign Policy Crises: Case Studies and Theory BuildingAlan C. LambornReview by Alan C. LambornDepartment of Political Science, Colorado State University

    Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis: A Study of Political Decision-Making. By Barbara Rear-den Farnham. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997. 313 pp., $39.50 (ISBN:0-691-01158-3).

    Organizing for Foreign Policy Crises: Presidents, Advisers, and the Management of Deci-sion Making. By Patrick J. Haney. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997.183 pp., $39.50 (ISBN: 0-472-10704-6).

    In Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis and Organizing for Foreign Policy Crises, BarbaraFarnham and Patrick Haney demonstrate a shared interest in foreign policy crisesand a common commitment to case study analysis in theory building. The waythey pursue this common agenda is, however, quite different. In Roosevelt and theMunich Crisis Farnham uses primary and secondary sources to construct a theoreti-cally driven case history showing how the Munich crisis affected Franklin Roose-velts understanding of the threat posed by Nazi Germany. This approach enablesher to place the theoretical focus squarely on how international-, domestic-, andindividual-level factors interact with each other. In Organizing for Foreign Policy Cri-ses Haneys approach differs in two fundamental ways. First, he attempts to addressthe well-known problems of using case studies to draw theoretical inferences byconstructing a case-survey method in which case histories are coded and examinedfor theoretically significant patterns. Second, he attempts to identify a set of casesthat are similar in terms of strategic and domestic incentives so that he can, ineffect, hold these variables constant and focus on one detailed piece of the puzzle:variations in the ways presidents structure their advisory groups.

    Given these differences, it is not surprising that these books speak to two ratherdifferent audiences. Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis is a significant contribution toour historical understanding of U.S. foreign policymaking on the escalating Euro-pean crisis between 1936 and 1939. It also speaks to the growing theoretical con-versation about international-domestic linkages (Gourevitch 1978; Lamborn 1985;Putnam 1988; Lamborn 1991; Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992; Evans et al.1993; Ray 1995; Milner 1997). Organizing for Foreign Policy Crises will be of particularinterest to scholars who have followed the evolution of Alexander Georges con-cept of structured, focused comparisons (George 1979; George and McKeown1985) and those who are interested in how variation in the management of advi-sory groups affects the quality of decision making. Scholars doing work specificallyon crises are likely to find both books interesting but of less theoretical value thanthey might expect. Haney pays careful attention to what he means by a crisis, add-ing Michael Brechers (Brecher 1978; Brecher and Wilkenfeld 1989) conditionthat there be a high likelihood that force will be used to Charles Hermanns(1969a, 1969b) classic requirements that there be a threat to core values, surprise,and little time to respond. Farnham offers some intriguing speculations about the

    Mershon International Studies Review (1998) 42, 346351

    1998 The Mershon Center at The Ohio State University.Published by Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK.

  • connections between the fears created by the Munich crisis, the likelihood thatdecision makers will frame decisions in terms of avoiding losses rather than achiev-ing gains, and the relevance of prospect theory. Neither author, however, pursuesthe conceptual and theoretical issues involved in crises systematically enough tocontribute significantly to that particular literature.

    In Roosevelt and the Munich Crisis, Farnham argues that understanding Roose-velts response to the developing crisis in Europe involves two puzzlesone his-torical and the other theoretical. The historical puzzle centers on questions offact : what exactly were Roosevelts views and actions before, during, and after theMunich crisis? The theoretical puzzle focuses on questions of explanation: why didRoosevelt choose the course he did? As for the historical puzzle, Farnham seesthree large phases in the evolution of Roosevelts understanding of the Europeansituation and in the ways he tried to manage domestic and international incen-tives. In the first phase, from his inauguration in 1933 through the end of 1935,Roosevelt was worried about developments in Europe but was far more interestedin focusing his efforts on domestic issues. This overarching preference was rein-forced by the way in which he read the international strategic context. Rooseveltrejected the isolationists call for achieving peace and security through a combina-tion of withdrawal and, when action was necessary, unilateralism. But for Rooseveltthe international incentives to act were not strong enough to divert him fromproblems at home. Two reasons stand out. First, he was unsure whether the situa-tion in Europe would create an inescapable security threat to the United States.Second, if he had to act against the dictators, Roosevelt preferred to act in coali-tion with the two principal democracies: Britain and France. Given that their inde-cisive foreign policies foreclosed the possibility of effective coordination, Rooseveltstayed on the sidelines.

    The second period, from 1936 through the Munich crisis in September 1938,was, Farnham argues, the watershed in Roosevelts transition from a domestic toan international focus (p. 47). The events of 1936the Ethiopian war, the remili-tarization of the Rhineland, and the Spanish civil warradically increased Roose-velts sense that he needed to act. Nonetheless, he was still unsure of Hitlersultimate intentions and of the extent to which he could reliably work with Britainand France. Consequently, in 1936 and the first half of 1937, he experimentedwith a series of policies designed to reveal German, British, and French intentions.Some of his schemes were designed to see if cooperation with the dictators waspossible; others were designed to see if the French and the British were willing toact in concert to isolate the dictators. In the summer of 1937, having found itimpossible to build an international coalition among the democracies in supportof embargoes and other actions to deter and contain the dictators, Rooseveltbegan an education campaign within the United States about the growing interna-tional danger and the possibility that the United States might need to act.Although this education campaign ignited strong criticism from isolationists, Farn-ham makes the subtle but significant point that the domestic controversy did notconstrain Roosevelt because he had not yet settled on a diplomatic strategy. Thatindecision partly reflected continued uncertainty about Hitlers intentions, but ithad even more to do with his conclusion that the United States could do little aslong as Britain followed a strategy of appeasement (pp. 7374). In sum, beforethe Munich crisis the gap between what he felt he could do politically and what hewished to do was never very large (p. 49).

    Munich fundamentally changed Roosevelts perception of the internationalstrategic situation and its implications for constituency politics and coalition build-ing in the United States. Even though Roosevelt and his advisers were briefly

    Alan C. Lamborn 347

  • euphoric that the British and the French had found a way to avoid immediate war,the documentary record reveals that within seven or eight days after Munich, Roo-sevelt had concluded that Hitlers actions revealed a set of fundamentally incom-patible intentions. What was it about Munich that affected Roosevelt soprofoundly? It was primarily Hitlers unconcealed disdain for the processes ofaccommodation that are the essence of democratic politics (p. 163). Roosevelt,Farnham stresses, had never doubted that Germany had the capabilitythe eco-nomic and military resourcesto be a threat to the United States. The questionfor Roosevelt had been how Hitler intended to use those capabilities. Munichanswered that question (p. 166).

    Having achieved closure on his understanding of the international situation,Roosevelt, in the third phase, developed a response that was designed to bridgedomestic and international incentives and constraints. The strategy he pur-suedaiding the democracies, principally through increased aircraft produc-tionwas not ideal, whether viewed from a strictly diplomatic or a strictlydomestic perspective. A purely diplomatic explanation would predict more sus-tained and significant efforts to counterbalance Hitler. A purely domestic explana-tion would predict isolation. Roosevelts choice makes sense only when one placeshis perception of the stakes involved within the linked international and domesticcontexts that he faced (pp. 7, 215). Roosevelt chose to aid the democraciesbecause it was the one policy that would work both substantively and politically, inthe long run as well as the short (p. 223). Because his post-Munich policiesaddressed both his diplomatic and domestic objectives, Roosevelt was willing totake far greater political risks to achieve and sustain them.

    Farnhams interpretation of the historical puzzle shows a keen, albeit implicit,theoretical grasp of the politics of strategic choice (Bueno de Mesquita 1994;Lebow 1996; Axelrod 1997; Lamborn 1997). She recognizes how crucial the per-ceived compatibility of preferences was to Roosevelts assessment of Germanysmilitary and economic capabilities. Beliefs about the importance of establishinglegitimate relationships play a critical role in her interpretation of Rooseveltsreaction to Hitlers behavior at Munich and his estimate of the chances for achiev-ing a mutually acceptable relationship. She pays


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