Risk-Taking in International Politics

Prospect Theory in American Foreign Policy
Rose McDermott
Discusses the way leaders deal with risk in making foreign policy decisions


Risk plays a dramatic role in international relations as leaders make decisions about such issues as war and peace, disarmament, and about lowering economic barriers to trade and investment. How a country's leaders think about risk in making foreign policy decisions is important in understanding why and how they make decisions.

Rose McDermott applies prospect theory, a theory developed by psychologists to understand decisionmaking under conditions of risk, to four cases in American foreign policy. Prospect theory suggests that decisionmakers who are confronting losses are more likely to take risks than are those decisionmakers who are satisfied with the status quo. The cases used to demonstrate this dynamic include: the Suez Crisis, the U-2 affair, the decisions surrounding the admission of the Shah of Iran to the United States in 1979, and the attempted rescue of the American hostages in Iran in 1980. McDermott shows how prospect theory enables us to understand cases that are otherwise inexplicable.

Risk Taking in International Relations offers a unique application of a sophisticated psychological model to international relations theory. The book will be of interest to political scientists and psychologists interested in decision making, in international relations and in American foreign policy.

Rose McDermott is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Cornell University.

Praise / Awards

  • "The book examines such important issues that it should be recommended to students of foreign policy decision making, political psychology, and international relations. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of risk taking in international politics."
    —Donald A. Sylvan, Ohio State University, American Political Science Review, September 2000

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 256pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2001
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-08787-7

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  • $30.95 U.S.