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Elite security policy socialisation: Aristide Briand, Austen Chamberlain, Winston Churchill and Raymond Poincaré

Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen
UiT – Norges Arktiske Universitet
Rasmus Gjedssø Bertelsen
UiT – Norges Arktiske Universitet
Open Panel

Abstract

This study tests and develops four models of how statesmen develop perceptions of the international system. The basis for this study and the four models tested is the debate between the rationalist social science tradition and psychological criticism based on the limited cognitive and computational capabilities of actors. These limitations are compensated by cognitive categories and biases, as earlier experiences influence judgment of later, unrelated circumstances. The first model is rational, lifelong openness, where perceptions reflect the international system and develop with changes in this system. The second model focuses on the influence of childhood experiences, based on the assumption that early experiences create influential cognitive categories for future perceptions. The third model suggests that early adulthood is a particularly impressionable period for the formation of influential cognitive categories that shape future perceptions. The final model explores the effect of life stages throughout adulthood, with attention to perceptions that depend on particular age and life stages. The test of these models of the development of perceptions is achieved through a structured, focused comparison of and process tracing the perceptions of Aristide Briand (1862–1932), Austen Chamberlain (1863–1937), Winston Churchill (1874-1965) and Raymond Poincaré (1860–1934). These subjects are crucial cases for testing rational, lifelong openness given their practically complete information about international politics. Comparing four contemporary, elected foreign policy-makers—representing two comparable liberal democratic great powers with colonial empires, facing a common German threat—provides the opportunity to test the effect of national and individual background variables. The test result rejects rational, lifelong openness, as the subjects showed great perceptional stability through great international changes. Parental influence is rejected, even for crucial cases, and only traumatic, firsthand experiences with international conflict in childhood show an effect. The impressionable years’ model is most valid, as educational and professional international experiences in early adulthood predict perceptions of later, unrelated situations. Effects of life stages are not observed.