National security panics : overestimating threats to national security
Author(s)Cramer, Jane Kellett, 1964-
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Political Science.
Stephen Van Evera.
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Three times in this century the US public has panicked with fear because of exaggerations of external threats to the nation. These panics peaked in 1950,1960, and 1980. Why did the U.S. markedly exaggerate the Soviet threat at these times? These periods of widespread public fear were "defining moments" when the US created confrontational and militarized containment policies. These panics ratcheted up the arms race tremendously between the US and the Soviet Union, and arguably these panics led to unnecessary confrontations and crises. In this study I test leading explanations of these cases--eight hypotheses drawn from three different perspectives. The Rational Perspective argues insufficient information and uncertainty about present and future capabilities and intentions causes overestimations. The Psychological Perspective argues cognitive errors could cause these overestimations (attribution theory and schema theory/analogical reasoning, tested here). The Domestic Politics Perspective argues oversell, logrolling, electoral politics and/or militarism causes public overestimations. Domestic Politics best explains the national misperceptions examined. In each case, the sources of the specific misperceptions examined were clearly rooted in domestic politics (1950: oversell and militarism; 1960 and 1980: electoral politics and militarism.) Uncertainty about the threat was found to be a significant contributing factor in 1950 (but not the source/elites did not unintentionally overestimate when the misperceptions first formed).(cont.) Uncertainty was found to be a significant "permissive condition" for the misperceptions of 1960-but uncertainty was highest just after Sputnik in 1957, and sharply decreased by 1960, yet public fear increased and peaked in 1960. There was no significant uncertainty in the 1980 panic--uncertainty is not a necessary condition for panic. Psychological hypotheses were not detected playing a role in causing these panics. Leaders private deliberations were examined and did not exhibit the patterns of reasoning predicted by these theories (e.g. leaders were aware of provoking the threat). National misperceptions guide policy and shape many leaders' beliefs through "blowback" and psychological post hoc rationaliztion. These large, important misperceptions are rooted in domestic politics, while international relations scholars focus on psychological and rational reasons for misperceptions. The study of misperceptions in international relations needs to be re-oriented.
Thesis (Ph. D.)--Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dept. of Political Science, 2002.Includes bibliographical references (p. 415-427).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Dept. of Political Science.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology