How Statesmen Think: The Psychology of International Politics | Wilson Center
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How Statesmen Think: The Psychology of International Politics

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Decision-makers and scholars often assume that diplomatic signals are received as they are intended.  They have faith in both their ability to convey their messages to others and to correctly interpret others’ behavior.  Robert Jervis’ research shows that this is not true and that international politics often resembles the famous Japanese movie Rashomon.  Perceptions are strongly influenced by people’s theories and expectations on the one hand and their personal and political needs on the other.  Both historical scholarship and policy-making would be improved by an understanding of how people perceive.

Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University.  His most recent book is How Statesmen Think, and his other books include Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War, American Foreign Policy in a New Era, System Effects: Complexity in Political Life, and The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution. He was President of the American Political Science Association in 2000-01, and was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Venice and Oberlin College.  In 2006 he received the National Academy of Science’s tri-annual award for behavioral sciences contributions to avoiding nuclear war. 

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Christian Ostermann (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Lepage Center for History in the Public Interest and the George Washington University History Department for their support.



  • Christian F. Ostermann

    Director, History and Public Policy Program; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
    Woodrow Wilson Center


  • Robert Jervis

    Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics, Columbia University