Based on more than three decades of observation, Robert Jervis concludes in this provocative book that the very foundations of many social science theories--especially those in political science--are faulty. Taking insights from complexity theory as his point of departure, the author observes that we live in a world where things are interconnected, where unintended consequences of our actions are unavoidable and unpredictable, and where the total effect of behavior is not equal to the sum of individual actions. Jervis draws on a wide range of human endeavors to illustrate the nature of these system effects. He shows how increasing airport security might actually cost lives, not save them, and how removing dead trees (ostensibly to give living trees more room) may damage the health of an entire forest. Similarly, he highlights the interconnectedness of the political world as he describes how the Cold War played out and as he narrates the series of events--with their unintended consequences--that escalated into World War I.
The ramifications of developing a rigorous understanding of politics are immense, as Jervis demonstrates in his critique of current systemic theories of international politics--especially the influential work done by Kenneth Waltz. Jervis goes on to examine various types of negative and positive feedback, bargaining in different types of relationships, and the polarizing effects of alignments to begin building a foundation for a more realistic, more nuanced, theory of international politics. System Effects concludes by examining what it means to act in a system. It shows how political actors might modify their behavior in anticipation of system effects, and it explores how systemic theories of political behavior might account for the role of anticipation and strategy in political action. This work introduces powerful new concepts that will reward not only international relations theorists, but also all social scientists with interests in comparative politics and political theory.
Robert Jervis is Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics at Columbia University. He is the author of numerous books, including Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton).
Acknowledgments One Introduction Definitions and Illustrations WE CAN NEVER DO MERELY ONE THING Emergent Properties Interconnections KINDS OF INTERCONNECTIONS Games against Nature Are Not Games against Nature Two System Effects Indirect and Delayed Effects Relations Are Often Not Bilaterally Determined Interactions, Not Additivity FIRST INTERACTIONS: RESULTS CANNOT BE PREDICTED FROM THE SEPARATE ACTIONS SECOND INTERACTIONS: STRATEGIES DEPEND ON THE STRATEGIES OF OTHERS THIRD INTERACTIONS: BEHAVIOR CHANGES THE ENVIRONMENT Products of Interaction as the Unit of Analysis Circular Effects Outcomes Do Not Follow from Intentions A QUALIFICATION Regulation Implications for Testing and Method POWER CAUSES AND EFFECTS TESTING PROPOSITIONS YARDSTICKS AND INDICATORS Three Systemic Theories of International Politics What Are the Variables? STABILITY Both Dependent and Independent Variables Systemic System as the Dependent Variable System as the Independent Variable Waltz WALTZ'S CONCEPT OF STRUCTURE WHAT WALTZ'S THEORY CAN EXPLAIN Structural versus Behavioral Polarity BIPOLARITY AND STABILITY: IGNORING THE PERIPHERIES AND OVERREACTING TO THEM STRUCTURE AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS Four Feedback Types of Feedback DEBATES ABOUT FEEDBACKS Balance of Power AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW--IS IT SYSTEMIC? ANTICIPATION OF THE OPERATION OF BALANCE OF POWER Negative Feedback That Resembles Balance of Power Other Forms of Negative Feedback SELF-LIMITING SUCCESS INFORMATION, INFERENCES, AND PSYCHOLOGY Positive Feedback PROCESSES AND AREAS OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK Information and Expectations Tipping Consensus Effects Competition Power POSITIVE FEEDBACK AND PATH DEPENDENCE--THE BIG IMPACT OF SMALL ADVANTAGES OTHER AREAS OF POSITIVE FEEDBACK DOMINO DYNAMICS Reputation General Validity of the Domino Theory Conditions under Which Domino Effects Are Likely SPIRALS AS POSITIVE FEEDBACK Balance of Power, Dominoes, and Spirals: Feedback and Force Five Relations, Alternatives, and Bargaining Triangular Relations THE PIVOT Seeking and Maintaining the Pivot: Divide and Influence Alternatives and Bargaining Leverage PUSHES AND PULLS The Influence of Structure Structure Does Not Determine--Room for Judgments Six Alignments and Consistency How and Why Systems Become Consistent Causes of Consistency THE ENEMY OF MY ENEMY IS MY FRIEND Who Is the Main Enemy? Balance as a Psychological Dynamic Conditions and Limits AVOIDING UNDESIRED BALANCE SEEKING IMBALANCE: TRYING TO BE FRIENDS WITH TWO ADVERSARIES Differences in Strategies Producing Imbalance CONDITIONS UNDER WHICH BALANCE IS LIKELY Necessity for Choice PRE-WORLD WAR I DIPLOMACY: THE FORMATION OF A BALANCED SYSTEM THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ENTENTES Seven Acting in a System Information, Beliefs, and Action EFFECTS DEPEND ON IMPRESSIONS Lack of Awareness of System Effects Acting in a System CONSTRAINING Anticipating System Effects THE LIJPHART EFFECT THE DOMINO THEORY PARADOX DOING THINGS "IN TWOS" QUASI-HOMEOSTASIS Seeking the Desired Level of Risk The Sequel to a Great Victory Is Often a Great Defeat Indirect Approaches MOVING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION Doing More Than One Thing Index