How Do Leaders Make Decisions?: Volume 28A

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Evidence from the East and West, Part A


Table of contents

(9 chapters)

Understanding how leaders make foreign policy and national security decisions is of paramount importance for the policy community and academia. It is our assertion that decisions in these domains can be explained best by tracing the cognitive process leaders go through in formulating and arriving at their decisions, using the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) method (Mintz, 2005; Mintz & DeRouen, 2010).

Consequently, this chapter summarizes the Applied Decision Analysis method which is utilized throughout the chapters comprising this volume. We then discuss the findings presented in this volume, while demonstrating the merit of both ADA and the poliheuristic theory of decision (Mintz, 2004), in the robust analyses of decisions made by Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Benjamin Netanyahu, Winston Churchill, Mao Zedong, Barack Obama, Saddam Hussein, Khaled Mashal, Muammar Gaddafi, Pieter Botha, and Frederik de Klerk. We conclude by providing a brief summary of the case studies which are included in this volume.


In this chapter, I analyze the decision calculus of President Donald Trump, using the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) method (Mintz, 2005, Mintz & DeRouen, 2010). I analyze seven foreign policy decisions taken in the first six months of Trump’s presidency. I find that in his decision-making process, President Trump applies six dimensions. My analysis reveals that the imagery dimension has affected President Trump’s decisions across the board, and led to the rejection of non-compensatory alternatives. Based on my research, I conclude that President Trump demonstrated a poliheuristic decision code. Furthermore, from my analysis derives that President Trump’s decision-making process is mostly intuitive. Moreover, this chapter reveals a polythink syndrome in Trump’s decision unit, manifested in the battle between his two groups of advisors, known as the nationalists and globalists.


In this chapter, I analyze former US president Barack Obama’s foreign policy decision-making process during his two terms of presidency between the years 2008 and 2016. The analysis covers six decisions with an emphasis on decisions concerning conflicts that embodied a potential for the use of force.

Using the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) method, I find that Barack Obama’s decision-making pattern in these decisions fits the poliheuristic decision theory, where the domestic politics dimension constitutes a non-compensatory dimension. By understanding President Obama’s use of the poliheuristic decision code, this study can offer an explanation to his willingness to use force in some cases, and his avoidance of the use of force in others.


This chapter uses the poliheuristic theory of decision-making to analyze the decisions of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The study examines a series of Netanyahu’s decisions regarding the peace process during 1996–2014. Using Applied Decision Analysis (ADA), this study demonstrates that Netanyahu ruled out alternatives that failed to satisfy alternatives on the non-compensatory decision dimension – his political survivability. The prime minister’s final choices were made from the remaining options according to their ability to maximize net benefits with respect to Netanyahu’s ideological concerns.


This chapter analyzes the decision-making code of Winston Churchill in making four major decisions as the head of the British government during World War II. The study uses the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) method. The main conclusion of this chapter is that Winston Churchill’s decision-making fits the poliheuristic theory of decision-making.


The chapter presents an analysis of the decision-making process of leaders on issues of nuclear armament and nuclear disarmament, through four case studies. The first, pertaining armament, is South Africa, with a focus on Pieter Willem Botha, former prime minister and president of South Africa. The second deals with former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi’s nuclear armament decision. The third case study investigates the decision of former president of South Africa, F. W. De Klerk, on nuclear disarmament. The fourth and final case study uncovers Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s nuclear disarmament decision.

Using the Applied Decision Analysis (ADA) method historical decisions have been analyzed in this chapter for the purpose of identifying each leader’s ‘decision code’. Specifically, were these decisions based on rational calculations or were they influenced more by cognitive decision processes?

By revealing a ‘decision code’ using a reverse engineering of the decision processes, I conclude that the three leaders placed high importance on security and geopolitics. By analyzing different dimensions and processes that impacted their decision processes, it is evident that while armament decision utilizes the poliheuristic decision rule, disarmament decisions abide by rational calculations.


State leaders’ decision-making calculus is often attributed to external factors. The political arena, international community pressure and a country’s military stance all take centre stage in the analysis of national security decisions. Little weight is given to personal aspects of a leader’s psyche in explaining these decisions; this is true to the bulk of the research regarding this topic. This study theorizes and tests a positive link between Israeli leaders’ combat military experience and their propensity to enter into ‘peacemaking’ decisions namely, peace talks, cease fires and unilateral withdrawals. This research uses a new database comprising all peacemaking decision points in Israel’s history, looking at the pressure put on a leader from outside factors and his military experience to explain the decision taken. It finds a strong significant link between combat experience and the tendency to enter in a peacemaking decision with little regard to ideological affiliation, shedding a new light on Israeli politicians from both sides of the aisle.

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Contributions to Conflict Management, Peace Economics and Development
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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