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SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM: REVISITING THE S-300 CRISIS

Bill Kappis
University of Sydney
Bill Kappis
University of Sydney
Open Panel

Abstract

Are decision makers’ perceptual biases reinforced or reduced by tense international crises? On January 4 1997, the governments of Cyprus and Russia agreed on the sale of the S-300 Surface-to-Air missile system to Cyprus. The deal led to heightened tensions between two NATO members, Greece and Turkey, which lasted until December 29 1998, when the Cypriot President announced that the SAMs would instead be deployed in the Greek island of Crete. In the following years Cyprus dramatically reduced its defence effort, in spite of an uninterrupted perceived threat from Turkey. How can we account for this paradox? Through a qualitative case study analysis, I investigate the connection between crises and policy-making, a recurring theme in international relations. More specifically, a process-tracing methodology will be employed to evaluate competing explanations for the puzzle under study. To this end, particular attention is paid to the role of leadership perceptions in policy-making, by investigating whether international crises exacerbate or minimise leaders’ misperceptions of allied and enemy intentions. I suggest that crises may cause a perceptual shock to leaders, forcing them to more accurately ascertain allied and adversary motivations. International crises are thus characterized by less, not more, cognitive bias, with perceptions and learning more closely approximating rational processes. As a result, significant policy shifts can be precipitated by this “updated” set of leadership perceptions. I thereby offer a plausible explanation for the puzzle of a diminished Cypriot defence effort since 1999, despite the precarious security status of the island.