Week 3 Summaries

Robert Jervis, Perception and Misperception in International Politics.  Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976.  

In Perception and Misperception in International Politics, Jervis investigates how international political decision-makers perceive themselves, other actors, and the environment; how perceptions and misperceptions can influence their decisions; and how such decisions can influence outcomes in international politics. Focusing on cognitive psychological mechanisms, Jervis does not present a theory per se. Instead, he offers rich observations concerning the role of these mechanisms in perception and decision-making, and suggests that understanding them can lead to better explanations of international politics.

The book is structured in four parts. The first part (chapters 1-3) introduces the topic and discusses background issues, including theoretical levels of analysis, the notion of actors’ intentions, and the failure of dominant theoretical models to explain states’ behavior with regard to deterrence. The second section (chapters 4-6) analyzes how decision-makers process information and form beliefs about images of other actors and international situations. The third section (chapters 8-11) discusses common causes of misperceptions. The last part (chapter 12) discusses the policy implications of misperceptions and suggests how decision-makers might reduce misperceptions.

Jervis outlines four levels of analysis applicable to theories of international politics: individual decision-making, the government bureaucracy, the nation-state (and domestic politics), and the international environment. Theories that focus on government bureaucracies presume that preferences are determined by bureaucracies’ roles in the institutional structure. Foreign policy decisions are the output of routines or bargaining within this structure. Theories focusing on the state and domestic politics explain variations in behavior by accounting for differences in states’ social, economic, or political structures. Theories that focus on the international system posit that the system imposes common constraints on states, thereby causing states to react in similar ways to similar situations.

Jervis emphasizes the importance of the individual level of analysis and contrasts it with approaches invoking other levels. According to Jervis, a theory that assumes a level of analysis other than the individual level attempts to generalize about the impact of certain aspects of the setting (the independent variables) on actors’ behavior (the dependent variable). However, such generalization may be difficult, since the importance of a certain level may vary with the particular issue, and the value of variables at one level may be coupled to variables in others. Moreover, such an approach ignores decision-makers’ beliefs and intentions, since the situational context is assumed to determine action entirely. Accounting for the individual decision-maker as an intervening variable accounts for context while also opening the “black box” of the decision-making process.

The three main factors involved in perception are beliefs, images, and intentions. Perception involves a process of inference in which actors develop understandings (beliefs) about other actors (images) and what the others will do in given circumstances (intentions).

An observer has several difficulties in attempting to divine others’ intentions. From this perspective, intentions are the actions the observer expects the actor will take under given circumstances—as opposed to the actions the actor himself plans or hopes to take. For an observer to predict an actor’s intentions, he first must distinguish between internal and external influences on the actor’s behavior—that is, the degrees to which his behavior is driven by situational constraints and by internal decision processes; and second, must try to understand the actor’s internal decision process. Applied to states’ intentions, Jervis hints at a framework much like prospect theory in arguing that states may be willing to pay higher costs and take greater risks depending on how they value the status quo or value changing the status quo. Applied to individual decision-makers, various factors can alter an actor’s intended actions, including unexpected events, incorrect assessments of cause and effect, revised goals or values, and contexts for events that differ from those expected.

Jervis claims that models commonly invoked to explain the Cold War competition—the Deterrence Model and Spiral Model— fail to adequately explain state behavior. He analyzes the underlying assumptions and logic of these models and suggests that certain psychological mechanisms better explain states’ behavior in the situations modeled.

The discussion of the Deterrence Model draws a parallel with the game of “Chicken.” This model argues that if an aggressor believes a status quo power is weak, the aggressor will be tempted to challenge the other state to test its resolve. To avoid the dangers inherent in such a challenge, status quo states therefore must display an ability and willingness to wage war. The fear that concessions might be interpreted as weakness prevents both sides from resolving the struggle.

The discussion of the Spiral Model draws parallels with the “Security Dilemma” and the “Prisoners’ Dilemma” game. States tend to be moved by mistrust and fear, and thus tend to act on worst-case assumptions. Hence, if a security-minded state acquires marginal improvements in its defenses, other states tend to perceive that their security has become threatened. These states then will act to improve their own security, resulting in a “spiral.” Such spirals can lead to arms races and other forms of inter-state competition, which in turn can lead to war or other inadvertent consequences.

Whereas the Deterrence Model centers on revisionist states, the Spiral Model assumes states are security-seeking and centers on mutual fear and misperception. According to these models, the central theme of international relations is either “evil” or “tragedy.”

Since the Deterrence and Spiral Models contradict each other, evidence that supports one disconfirms the other. Jervis presents empirical evidence that disconfirms each to establish grounds for his psychological explanations. As evidence against the Deterrence Model, Jervis cites cases where mutual threats failed to deter and led to increased competition (Anglo-German relations before World War I). Disconfirming the Spiral Model, Jervis notes cases in which an aggressive power interpreted concessions or conciliation as evidence of weakness, leading to exploitation and expansion rather than mutual concessions (“the Munich Pact”). Jervis summarizes, “If neither theory covers all cases, if force is sometimes effective and sometimes self-defeating, we are now faced with two questions. First, what explains the differences between the spiral and deterrence theories? What are they arguing about? Second, more important but much harder to answer, what are the conditions under which one model rather than the other is appropriate? When will force work and when will it create a spiral of hostility? When will concessions lead to reciprocation, and when will they lead the other side to expect further retreats?”

Jervis posits psychological dynamics as an alternative to the prevailing conceptions.  He argues that psychological determinants can reinforce misunderstandings and limit decision-makers’ rationality. To introduce this framework, Jervis refers to contemporary spiral theories and the process of developing images about self and other. If a state takes steps to defend itself, it tends to assume that its intentions are obvious and that other states will perceive its actions in the same way. However, other states tend not to see the intentions behind such acts as “obvious,” and thus react. The reaction of these states will be perceived by the first state as aggressive. Since all states act according to similar logic, this dynamic of perception and reaction can explain how dangerous competitions are reinforced. This “fog of foreign policy-making” is more than a theoretical concern since decision-makers face it all the time. Jervis proposes that the perception of intentions is the missing link that can lead to a fuller explanation of these dynamics. The rest of the book addresses these issues: how states perceive others and their intentions, and when and why these perceptions might be incorrect.

To explore perceptions, Jervis employs four basic steps. First, he presents several propositions. Second, he explains their logic, relying for support on studies in cognitive psychology and findings from various studies and experiments. Third, he tests the propositions against historical examples; and fourth, he uses the examples to show the implications of his propositions for decision-making processes and political outcomes. In some sections he supplements his arguments with alternative explanations.

The second section of the book opens (in chapter 4) with a discussion of cognitive consistency and the interaction between theory and data. Humans tend toward cognitive consistency in that they see what they expect to see and assimilate new information into pre-existing images. This can be accomplished in both rational and irrational ways. In the rational process, people tend to simplify their understanding of complex environments by assuming others have constant patterns of behavior. Irrational consistency refers to the tendency to avoid conflicts of interest or value trade-offs, and in so doing, force cognitive desires for consistency onto the environment.

Jervis next discusses the impact of expectations on perceptions. He notes, “Expectations create predispositions that lead actors to notice certain things and to neglect others, to immediately and often unconsciously draw certain inferences from what is noticed, and to find it difficult to consider alternatives. New information will be perceived through a “prism” formed from assumptions about other actors and about cause and effect in the international environment. The information will be categorized and understood accordingly. This can lead to premature cognitive closure, in which limited or incomplete images of others’ intentions lead to mistaken perceptions.

In chapter 5, Jervis points out the tendency of decision-makers to perceive events and interpret incoming information in light of the actors’ immediate concerns (evoked sets). This can be reinforced by factors such as the institutional division of labor within governments, which causes an uneven distribution of information and of attention assigned to it. A consequence of this tendency is that decision-makers may come to assume that they are constantly responding to “short-fused” issues while other actors have the luxury of sustained focus on long-term goals.

Chapter 6 addresses how decision-makers learn from history, and especially how historical analogies shape decision-makers’ understanding of events and influence their actions. Jervis points out that the learning process often is not entirely conscious. Moreover, lessons divined form history tend to be characterized by over-generalization. Hence, in applying such lessons decision-makers tend to simplify the outcomes as merely “success” or “failure”; place undue weight on dramatic outcomes; and ignore dissimilarities between previous and current situations as well as differences in their specific causes. Jervis argues that certain types of events will be most salient in affecting later perceptual predispositions. These include events in which a person participated firsthand, events that occur in a formative part of a person’s life, experiences that affected a large number of people (such as a “national” or “generational” experience), and events that occurred during a short period of experience (this magnifying the influential power of those events).

In discussing learning, Jervis points to people’s tendency to cling to perceptions of constant conditions, making it harder to recognize change when it occurs. This can have several effects. People tend to retain earlier images about others’ behavior even in the face of disconfirming information. Decision-makers tend to misapply policies that were successful in the past and avoid policies that failed—even if the current situation is different that the situations in which the policies succeeded or failed.

Chapter 7 addresses attitude change—the mechanisms at work when a decision-maker is forced to confront new, discrepant information. A decision-maker's initial tendency will be to preserve his original attitude by ignoring such information or by dismissing it as unreliable, unimportant, or invalid. If new information cannot be ignored, there are ways to rationalize or suppress it. Only when these strategies are insufficient will the decision-maker change his attitude. Afterward, attitudes will continue to be resistant to significant change, such that decision-makers will tend to preserve their central beliefs and initially only invoke minor or peripheral changes. (For example, if another actor’s behavior begins to differ from what is expected, decision-makers will regard the new behavior as a temporary deviation). Whether one’s attitude changes depends on the rate at which discrepant information is received. Dramatic changes tend to alter images more profoundly than gradual change.   

In chapter 8, Jervis addresses the perception of centralization. Decision-makers often see others’ behavior as more purposeful, planned, and coordinated than it actually is, and also more so than their own. They tend to dismiss the possibility of coincidence or chance in affecting others’ actions, and see coherence in others’ actions as if they were planned or are part of hidden manipulation even when they are not. A similar mechanism causes one to view others as monolithic actors, even when one is aware that of internal divisions. Thus, decision-makers see their rival’s actions as direct reflections of intentions, ignoring the possibility that these actions may be the outcome of internal politics, “rogue” actors, or mistakes.

Chapter 9 argues that actors tend to exaggerate the role they play in others’ policies, and thus overestimate their importance as an influence on others’ policies or as a target of their actions. Decision-makers tend to assume undue credit when a state issues a policy favorable to them, but view unfavorable policies as an intentional act of aggression. Jervis’ argument follows the logic, “Since the other states understands that I am not a threat, and since I am the center of his concern, his undesirable actions cannot be a by-product of other processes and thus must reflect his intentions to harm me.”).

Chapter 10 claims that studies show that desires and fears have an indeterminate effect on one’s perceptions of others’ intentions. This contrasts with conventional wisdom—especially the claim that decision-makers sometimes construct beliefs according to their desires (“wishful thinking”).

In chapter 11, Jervis discusses the notion of cognitive dissonance, which occurs when one set of beliefs clashes with another. When dissonance is present, a person usually tries to minimize it while avoiding information and situations that likely will make it worse. For example, to justify one’s actions and attempt to minimize a clash of beliefs, a person can find new reasons or rearrange his beliefs so as to support the original actions. This psychological mechanism can support continuing a policy even in light of evidence that should induce a policy change. This tendency is further reinforced if there is a need to justify high costs related to the policy, thus leading one to hold a stronger view in favor of the policy. A major consequence of dissonance is “anti-learning”—in which failure leads an actor to hold more strongly to his policy rather than “learn.”

Jervis concludes in chapter 12 by suggesting measures to decrease misperception. His main theme is that decision-makers should confront reality with an awareness of the cognitive mechanisms that tend to yield misperception. Jervis recommends that decision-makers make beliefs and values (and therefore assumptions and predictions about international outcomes) more explicit. To achieve this, an organization can create a “Devil’s Advocate” to suggest alternative explanations and strategies.

Robert Jervis, “Political Implications of Prospect Theory,” in Barbara Farnham, ed. Avoiding  Losses/ Taking Risks: Prospect Theory and International Conflict (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1994), pp. 23-40.

Motivation for Prospect Theory (PT): An alternative to maximizing expected utility
To explain instances of apparently subobtimal behavior: when states cling to policies that are evidently failing, or continue to invest resources in pursuit of goals that seem increasingly unattainable, or they are willing to take risks and spend blood and treasure on objectives that seem far from worth the cost.

Definition of PT
An alternative account of choice under risk concerned with the intellectual limitations of the decisionmaker. It claims to explain decisionmaking processes and also links those processes directly to specific violations of rational norms.  It predicts that people will respond to certain kinds of situations in ways that yield distinct and identifiable suboptimal outcomes.

Key Concepts of PT
Loss aversion: Losses have a greater impact than gains—people mind incurring a loss considerably more than they are pleased by an equivalent gain

Problem representation on choice: The way alternatives are presented have great influence on choices a person will make, even if there is no effect on the expected value of the alternatives:  i.e., people will take risk to avoid an outcome framed as a loss that they refuse to take when the outcome is presented as a gain.

Two phases in the Choice Process
Editing phase involving identification of options, the possible outcomes or consequences of each, the values and probabilities associated with each of these outcomes, and the organization and reformulation of perceived options so as to simplify subsequent evaluation and choice.  Mental operation involved in editing include coding, simplification, detection of dominance, etc.

Evaluation phase involves evaluating the edited prospects and selecting the preferred prospects.

There is a formal model to explain the evaluation of prospects, but the theory of editing or framing is less well-developed. In complex choice situations, exactly how choice problems are edited is difficult to predict because the process is influenced by the norms, habits and expectancies of the decisionmaker.  Sequencing of the editing process may matter as well.  Kahneman and Tversky are the seminal scholars in the field.  Kahneman won a Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002, though he is not an economist.

Political Implications of PT: The Specter of Losses as a Catalyst for Risky Behavior
Evidence of the theory’s validity is far from conclusive, but there is reason to think its claims are real.
Loss aversion in the political context is salient when thinking of leaders who fear domestic political punishment for national loss, if popular opinion operates as PT predicts.  
PT can explain why leaders believe in domino effects from even small losses: because humans focus more on losses than on gains.  

A few of the many historical illustrations: In the 1970s, the US was concerned about the contagion effect of lost influence in Ethiopia, but cared little about the simultaneous gain of influence in Somalia. During the Cold War, great powers would intervene to help client states deal with risk of loss, but not provide gains.  Also, if losses matter a lot, people will be willing to risk a cover-up to hide their loss (Richard Nixon).

PT suggests people will persevere in losing ventures more than standard rationality implies. Still, perseverance is not always dysfunctional; it may be useful in the end (Vietnam notwithstanding).  
Implications for Bargaining, Deterrence and Causes of War
Given PT, coercion can more easily maintain the status quo than alter it; i.e., deterrence is easier than compellence, assuming that the actors can identify the defender and the challenger. If the other side is driven by fear of losses, threats and coercion may backfire and deterrence may fail.  If both sides self-identify as defenders, and contemplate war as a means to avoid suffering losses, then wars will be more likely. Cognitive biases may compound these notions (desperate states are biased to believe risky policies can succeed).  Experiments have revealed an endowment effect: owning something automatically increases its valuation, implying difficulty making concessions and that trades that are rational from an expected-utility standpoint will be rejected.  The certainty effect—the tendency for actors to over-weight outcomes whose likelihood is 1 or 0—implies that actors will pay more to reduce uncertainty to close to zero than they will pay to reduce uncertainty the same amount in the middle range.   

If PT is true, states should more often be pushed into war by the fear that the alternative to fighting is a deterioration in their position rather than pulled in by the belief that war can improve a situation that is already satisfactory.  Fear is more potent than the desire for expansion.  The historical record is consistent with PT, in that the appetite (for war and conquest) does not seem to grow with the eating. So, given the historical record, how about the counterfactual: that states should push to alter the status quo in their favor as often as they exert themselves to maintain it. Are Hitlerian conquests as frequent as they would be if opportunity were as strong a motivation as fear of loss?  [Jervis poses this query, but does not answer it!!]

Loss aversion supports stability by giving an advantage to the side that fears losses.  Yet, when considering the case of nuclear deterrence, PT also implies that leaders in crisis situations may choose to up the ante rather than cut their losses.  If the decisionmaker thinks a small war (therefore enormous loss) is certain if he does not strike and that attacking provides a chance of escaping unscathed even if it risks a much larger war, he may decide to strike.  Framing is important here: it depends on whether the decisionmaker’s baseline is the status quo, or the casualties suffered in a war.  It may be worthwhile to investigate how actors (pro and anti-war activists, diplomats, or leaders, for example) try to manipulate frames.

There are a few potential pitfalls associated with analyzing IR through a PT lens.  The big one is identifying the reference point, which may be the status quo, an earlier status quo, and aspiration level, or something else depending on cognitive and social contextual factors. PT assumes the reference point is reset over time by a process called renormalization; and there is an idea that we renormalize for gains more quickly than for losses.  An ex-ante theoretically grounded identification of the reference point is necessary to avoid tautology—otherwise anything can be explained ex-post if one chooses the right reference point.  Also, showing that people are loss-averse means demonstrating much more than that they do not like losses.  It is crucial to demonstrate that differences in risk-taking vary according to direction of expected changes from a reference point.  Even if data showed that a decisionmaker took risks when the alternative was to accept a smaller but certain loss, we need to also show that in other situations he preferred the status quo to accepting a similar gamble that might have resulted in improvement equal to the unacceptable loss.  Without good measures of the magnitude of gain or loss (which are subjective), greater risk-taking in the latter cases can be attributed to differences in the utilities in the cases.

*This informal summary is entirely derivative of the source text, and includes direct quotes and paraphrases not explicitly cited with page numbers or identified with quote marks.

Stephen P. Rosen, "Emotions, Memory, and Decision-Making" unpublished manuscript. (63 pp.).

Emotions and defining memories determine many decisions that cannot be explained by rational analysis that multiplies outcome probabilities by costs and benefits. Acting from emotions rather than rationality can be explained by the fact that humans absorb and store more information than they can compute rationally. "The number of sensory impulses that our body sends to the brain is on the order of 10^7 bits/second but the ability of the brain to handle such information appears to be . . . on the order of 16-50 bits/second" (15-16). "What happens to all the information that we take in but do not process? Is it lost? The answer is most certainly not . . . we process information in ways in which we are not conscious" (15-16). This subconscious store of information is used in emotional processes, as are defining memories (such as the World Trade Center Bombing, Kennedy's assassination, or for Californians, the Loma Prieta Earthquake in 1989). 

To operationalize emotions for the hypotheses, Rosen notes observable behaviors that suggest actions taken from emotions rather than rationality: 1) early decisions, 2) new information ignored, 3) bias in attention to evidence supporting the emotionally-preferred decision, 4) straightforward link to negative emotional experience in the past. Emotion-driven behavior can include group behavior when the decision maker causes group emotional behavior, and when the group has been collectively affected by an emotionally formative or traumatic event. Several pieces of evidence in the form of short cases studies suggest the plausibility (though do not prove) the hypotheses:

1) Roosevelt and his cabinet reacted emotionally (many cried) upon hearing the difference between Chamberlin's "quiet, beautiful" speech compared to the "Krieg! Krieg!" of Hitler's speech, and "immediately" decided to support the allies against their previous protocols;

2)  Stalin reminded Truman of his first political patron, Tom Pendergast (a positive emotional memory), and despite abundant evidence of Stalin's ruthless and complete power, Truman persisted in viewing Stalin as good man that was captive of the politburo;

3) Kennedy had difficult meetings with Khruschev which his brother later described as the first time that Kennedy had met someone with whom he could not find any common ground for discussion, a negative emotional response that was compounded by Khruschev's statements to the press that compared the US to an impotent old man and the USSR to a boy that had grown up, could no longer be spanked, and could now "swat the ass" of the US (53) These negative emotional experiences with Khruschev led Kennedy to respond to the Soviet attempts to place missiles in Cuba with force rather than diplomacy, and this irrational decision to use force (given the high cost of nuclear war) can only be explained by the emotional reaction;

4) Lyndon Johnson's decision to remain in Vietnam in 1965 was likely caused by the emotional experience of his 1948 electoral race in which one of the main issues was both candidates accusing the other of being soft on communism, suggested by the extreme discounting of the negative utility from, and probabilities of, failed military action.

Alastair Iain Johnston, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995), Ch. 2 (pp. 32-60)

Johnston starts by asserting a need to “develop a notion of strategic culture that is falsifiable, whose formation and development can be traced empirically, and whose effects on strategic choice can be weighed against the effects of other nonideational influences.” (p. ix) He stresses two preconditions should be met: Firstly, strategic culture must exist across time and across actors within a society, and must be able to constitute a dominant variable in decision-making. Secondly, it should actually influence the behavior of decision makers.

Johnston defines strategic culture focusing on what culture actually does in a behavioral sense: “Strategic culture is an integrated system of symbols (i.e., argumentation structures, languages, analogies, metaphors, etc.) that acts to establish pervasive and long-lasting grand strategic preferences by formulating concepts of the role and efficacy of military force in interstate political affairs, and by clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the strategic preferences seem uniquely realistic and efficacious.”(p. 36) And the term “grand strategy” is understood as the “coordination of all elements of national power (economic, political, and military) to accomplish ‘national goals,’ primarily security against external threats.” It consists of two parts: “(1) a central paradigm that supplies answers to three basic, related questions about the nature of conflict in human affairs, the nature of the enemy (and its threat), and the efficacy of violence; (2) a ranked set of strategic preferences logically derived from these central assumptions.” (p. ix-x) And it is the second part that “impact directly on behavioral choices.”

Object and Method of Analysis

Johnston chose the Seven Military Classics (wujing qishu 武經七書: The seven books are: Sun Zi Bing Fa, Wu Zi Bing Fa, Si Ma Fa, Wei Liao Zi, Tai Gong Liu Tao, Huang Shi Gong San Lue, and Tang Tai Zong Li Wei Gong Wen Dui) as the source that contains the essence of Chinese strategic culture. In detailed text critique, Johnston argued that the Seven Military Classics are the most extensive compilation on Chinese statecraft, grand strategy, and military tactics with mixed elements from various Chinese traditional thoughts such as Confucianism, Legalism, and Daoism. The Seven Military Classics are compiled into a single body of strategic work in 1083 – which comes prior to the Ming dynasty. The books were not read only by military officials but also by high officials, and played a great role in the socialization of scholars-officials and military officers.

To see what kind of “policy argument” the Seven Military Classics poses, Johnston used (1) a modified form of cognitive mapping to show linkages between causal axioms and their estimated behavioral effects and (2) symbolic analysis to find culture about the role of force in human affairs, efficacy of strategies, and the efficacy of certain strategies.

Empirical Analysis

Johnston suggests three steps to test the effects of strategic culture on strategic behavior: (1) test for the presence of and congruence between the strategic preference rankings across the Seven Military Classics (2) test for the presence of and congruence between preference rankings found in a sample of documents taken from the decision process using the content-analysis (3) test for effects of decision makers’ preference rankings on politico-military behavior, and this requires (i) conceptualization of the relationship between strategic culture and behavior; and (ii) case selection.

In conceptualizing the relationships between strategic culture and other exogenous independent variables, Johnston conceive strategic culture as a “consistent set of ranked preferences that persist across time and across strategic contexts” so “decision makers are sensitive to structural or exogenous conditions (i.e., relative capabilities) in a culturally unique way.” In this way, we can combine strategic culture (a unit level, ideational variable) with changes in relative capabilities (a system-level structural variable) on the assumption that if behavior is more consistent with this combined independent variable than with behaviors predicted by a purely structural model, we can attribute this difference to strategic culture.

In case selection, Johnston chose to look at a lengthy historical period (the Ming dynasty) so competing models of strategic behavior (such as a realpolitik-dynastic cycle model, which is a nonstrategic-culture ahistorical model) can be tested against a strategic culture-derived model, The two models share a dependent variable – changes in mixes of grand strategic policies along a spectrum of coerciveness – but have different independent variables. And the models represent different levels of analysis: a cognitive and societal unit-level (strategic culture) and a structural/systemic level (realpolitik). With such research design, Johnston’s study focuses on both a detailed textual analysis of the strategic arguments behind Ming policies towards the Mongols and on aggregate changes in Ming strategy across the entire 270 plus years of the dynasty.

Martha Finnemore and Kathryn Sikkink, “International Norm Dynamics and Political Change”

A norm is defined as a standard of appropriate behavior for actors with a given identity. It  embodies a quality of “oughtness” and shared moral assessment. A common distinction is made between regulative norms, which order and constrain behavior, and constitutive norms which create new actors, interests or categories for action.
The article discusses international or regional norms that set standards for appropriate behavior of states. Many international norms began as domestic norms and became international through the efforts of various entrepreneurs (e.g. women’s suffrage began as a demand for domestic change and became am international norm).
For constructivists, international structure is determined by the international distribution of ideas. Shared ideas, expectations and beliefs give the world structure, order and stability. Idea and norm shifts are the main vehicles for system transformation (like changes in balance of power for realists).

The Norm “Life Cycle”
Norm influence may be understood as a three-stage process: 1. norm emergence. 2. broad norm acceptance – “norm cascade”. 3. internalization. The first two stages are divided by a threshold or “tipping” point at which a critical mass of relevant states adopt the norm. The mechanism of the first stage, norm emergence, is persuasion by norm entrepreneurs, who attempt to convince a critical mass of states (norm leaders) to embrace new norms. The second stage includes dynamics of imitation as the norm leaders attempt to socialize other states to become norm followers. Internalization means that a norm acquires a taken-for-granted quality and are no longer a matter of public debate. Internalized or cascading norms may become prevailing standards of appropriateness against which new norms emerge and compete for support.

Stage 1: Origins of Norms

Norm Entrepreneurs – Norms are actively built by agents having strong notions about appropriate or desirable behavior in their community. Norm promoters at the international level need some kind of organizational platform through which they promote their norms. Sometimes these platforms are constructed specifically for the purpose of promoting the norm (e.g. NGOs). Often entrepreneurs work from IOs that have other purposes than promoting a specific norm (e.g. the structure of the World Bank effects the kind of development norms promulgated from that institution). Whatever their platform, norm entrepreneurs usually need to secure the support of state actors to endorse their norms and make norm socialization a part of their agenda.

In most cases, for an emergent norm to reach a threshold and move toward the second stage it must become institutionalized is specific rules and organizations. Institutionalization in International law or rules of IOs contributes to the possibility of norm cascade by clarifying what the norm is and what constitutes violation and by spelling out specific procedures by which norm leaders coordinate disapproval for norm breaking. However, institutionalization may also follow, rather than precede, a norm cascade.

After norm entrepreneurs have persuaded a critical mass of states to become norm leaders and adopt new norms, the norm reaches a threshold or tipping point. Empirical studies suggest that norm-tipping rarely occurs before one-third of the states in the system adopt the norm.

Stage 2: Norm Cascades
The primary mechanism for norm cascades is a process of international socialization which involves diplomatic praise or censure reinforced by material sanctions and incentives. In addition to states, networks of norm entrepreneurs and IOs also act as agents of socialization by pressuring actors to adopt new policies and laws and by monitoring compliance.

At the tipping point enough states endorse the new norm to redefine appropriate behavior for the identity called “state”. The effect of many countries in a region adopting new norms creates “peer pressure”. States respond to this peer pressure since they want: A. legitimation – Loss of legitimation means loss of reputation, trust and credibility. In addition, international legitimation contributes to perceptions of domestic legitimacy held by a state own’s citizens (since citizens make judgments about their government by looking at the international alternatives). B. conformity -  National leaders follow norms because they want others to think well of them and they want to think well of themselves. C. esteem – State leaders want to enhance national esteem (and, as a result, their own esteem).

Stage 3: Internalization
Norms may become so widely accepted that they are internalized by actors and achieve a “taken-for-granted” quality that makes conformance with the norm almost automatic. 

What determines the influence of a norm? Some argue that clear and specific norms and those that have been around for a while and survived numerous challenges are more likely to be effective. Some stress the content of the norm. For instance, Keck and Sikkink argue that norms involving bodily integrity and legal equality of opportunity are particularly effective. Another argument is that norms held by states widely viewed as successful models are likely to become more prominent and diffuse.

The Norms-Rationality Divide

The fault line between norms and rationality is untenable both empirically and theoretically. Norm entrepreneurs are rational actors who engage in “strategic social construction”:  they make detailed ends-means calculations to maximize their utilities, but the utilities they want to maximize involve changing the other players’ utility function in ways that reflect the normative commitments of the norm entrepreneurs. Processes of social construction and strategic bargaining are thus deeply intertwined. The disagreement is not whether rationality plays a role in norm-based behavior. It’s about the nature of the link. For instance, for rational choice scholars actors conform to norms out of choice. Others focus on the way norms are “internalized” in actors, which no longer choose to conform to them.
It should be emphasized that IR scholars applying a logic of appropriateness in their analysis do not argue that other logics of action do not ever drive behavior; they just argue that appropriateness is a powerful and important motor of political behavior. They also leave substantial room for agent’s choice. Actors must choose which rules or norms to follow in a given situation, but their reasoning is not that of utility maximization. They may ask “What am I supposed to do now” rather than “How do I get what I want?”.