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date: 07 July 2020

Abstract and Keywords

A leader’s approach to foreign policy decision-making is a critical explanatory factor in understanding why certain decisions are made. While several tools are available to analysts who wish to examine the process by which decision makers settle upon their chosen alternative, one of the most compelling is applied decision analysis (ADA), which allows scholars to uncover the unique “decision DNA” associated with a given leader. This chapter surveys the literature that has used the ADA methodology to examine questions of foreign policy decision-making. It pulls from twenty studies of leaders’ decisions—with more than twenty different leaders, ranging from Winston Churchill to Mao Zedong to Osama bin Laden—which comprise more than one hundred total unique decisions, examining and discussing the findings of each. It draws inferences about which decision rules best explain leaders’ policy choices, concluding that the works in question show overwhelming support for the poliheuristic theory of decision; and it discusses how future scholars can build on the ADA research program and how this information can best be used by policymakers.

Keywords: applied decision analysis, meta-analysis, decision-making, foreign policy analysis, leader, rational choice, poliheuristic

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