No issue is receiving more attention in American intelligence and policy-making circles than Iran and its nuclear program. Unfortunately, it is rare for intelligence in areas like this to be fully accurate and definitive, as the Iraq case reminds us. Intelligence is hard because multiple inferences are usually possible and perceivers are subject to both cognitive and affective biases, especially the tendency to perceive what they expect and to reach conclusions that meet psychological and political needs. So it is not surprising that countries in conflict usually live in quite different perceptual worlds (the Rashomon phenomenon). In dealing with Iran, one of the crucial questions is whether it is motivated by fears and the desire for security or ambitions and the desire to dominate the region. But it is hard for intelligence to analyse this question because it is so deeply involved with policy choices. Furthermore, empathy is particularly difficult here because it can be readily confused with politically unacceptable sympathy. In addition, intelligence often lacks full knowledge of American policy and has great difficulty integrating public and secret intelligence. To be maximally effective, intelligence has to be close enough to policy-makers to know their questions but not so close as to feel pressure to give the desired answers. Overall, then, intelligence is deeply involved with policy on Iran, but faces daunting handicaps.
About the Author
Robert Jervis (PhD, California at Berkeley, 1968) is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics and has been a member of the Columbia political science department since 1980. He has also held professorial appointments at the University of California at Los Angeles (1974-1980) and the Harvard University (1968-1974). In 2000-2001, he served as President of the American Political Science Association. Professor Jervis is co-editor of the “Cornell Studies in Security Affairs,” a series published by Cornell University Press, and a member of numerous editorial review boards for scholarly journals. His publications include Perception and Misperception in International Politics, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution, System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life, American Foreign Policy in a New Era, and Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Fall of the Shah and Iraqi WMD, and several edited volumes and numerous articles in scholarly journals.
International Politics and Security / Middle East and North Africa (MENA) / Working Papers
Last updated on 02/09/2014