Cognitivism, prospect theory, and foreign policy change: a comparative analysis of the politics of counterinsurgency in Malaya and Afghanistan

Simon, E. ORCID: 0000-0002-1174-8650, 2015. Cognitivism, prospect theory, and foreign policy change: a comparative analysis of the politics of counterinsurgency in Malaya and Afghanistan. Small Wars & Insurgencies, 26 (6), pp. 886-911. ISSN 0959-2318

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This article investigates the cognitive limitations on policy change in counterinsurgency (COIN) efforts by examining why American decision-makers failed to revise their government strategy substantially while fighting the insurgency in Afghanistan in 2003–2014 and why their British counterparts were more successful in adjusting their policies in the Malayan insurgency in 1948–1954. Unlike most of the COIN literature that concentrates on military strategy and tactics, the analysis of government policy-making in Malaya holds some important political lessons for American leaders today despite differences between the insurgencies in Afghanistan and British Malaya. As a response to the criticism of COIN studies in general that they lack theoretical guidance, this article utilizes an integrated cognitivist-prospect theory framework. It is argued that some of the COIN literature mistakenly suggests that a more difficult strategic situation was primarily responsible for American failure in Afghanistan. Instead, American decision-makers faced a more difficult task cognitively than their British counterparts, as policy change in Afghanistan would have required greater ideational change. American principals were much more attached to their beliefs emotionally, had no alternative problem representation, and had to shift between frames in order to engineer a response that was more in line with events on the ground in Afghanistan. Regarding prospect theory, findings indicate that gains frames appear to be unhelpful in monitoring progress until catastrophic failure endangers the reference point, and that decision-makers often have more than one reference point to attune their policies to, which often results in suboptimal choices with regard to at least one reference point.

Item Type: Journal article
Publication Title: Small Wars & Insurgencies
Creators: Simon, E.
Publisher: Routledge
Date: 2015
Volume: 26
Number: 6
ISSN: 0959-2318
Divisions: Schools > School of Social Sciences
Record created by: Jonathan Gallacher
Date Added: 12 Aug 2019 15:51
Last Modified: 12 Aug 2019 15:51

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