Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Presidential decision making: When do United States presidents use preventive force to counter nuclear proliferation?
by Furches, Amy King, Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2007, 330; 3258465
Abstract (Summary)

In light of the application of the Bush Doctrine in Iraq, this research examines U.S. presidential decisions to use or not to use preventive force as a method of counter proliferation. In order to determine the circumstances in which presidents use preventive force to counter nuclear proliferation to hostile states, this study applies prospect theory---a situational analysis of decision making and risk taking. Unlike rational choice theory, which posits that individuals make utility-maximizing decisions based on cost-benefit calculations, prospect theory holds that the context of the decision---the circumstances in which the individual is operating---determines the choice selection. Prospect theory focuses on decision making under risk, predicting that individuals are risk-averse when they are in a domain of gains---a good position---and risk-acceptant when functioning from a domain of loss---a poor or losing position. Thus, prospect theory predicts that when countering nuclear proliferation, presidents will engage in riskier policies when operating from a domain of losses but will act more cautiously if making decisions from a domain of gains.

Four cases in which presidents considered using preventive force to combat nuclear proliferation to a hostile state are studied in order to test prospect theory's predictions and to determine the conditions under which presidents consider the preventive use of force: Dwight Eisenhower's 1954 consideration of preventive war in response to the Soviet Union's test of a thermonuclear weapon; Lyndon Johnson's consideration of preventive strikes against Communist China's nascent nuclear sites in 1964; William Clinton's consideration of preventive air strikes against North Korea's nuclear reactor at Yongbyon in 1994; and George W. Bush's decision to conduct preventive was in Iraq in 2003 in order to disarm the state by ousting its government.

This study found that Eisenhower, Johnson, and Clinton were each operating from a domain of gains when they rejected preventive force as a method of counter proliferation---though a rational choice explanation cannot be completely ruled out---while Bush's decision to preventively attack Iraq was made from a domain of loss in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. This study concludes with a discussion of the implications of these findings for the Bush Doctrine and U.S. foreign policy decision making going forward.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Spector, Ronald
School: The George Washington University
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 68/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: International law, International relations
Keywords: Bush, George W., Clinton, Bill, Eisenhower, Dwight D., Johnson, Lyndon B., Nuclear proliferation, Presidents, Preventive force
Publication Number: 3258465
ISBN: 978-1-109-96313-7
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