Is state a (semi-) rational agent?

post by Birke · 2022-01-10T19:53:24.367Z · LW · GW · 4 comments

This is a question post.

Look at the following statements*:

- “India and Pakistan can agree on one thing: neither wants the other one around.”

- “The Americans don’t really want to fight for the South Koreans, but nor can they afford to be seen to be giving up on a friend.”

- “What is now the EU was set up so that France and Germany could hug each other so tightly in a loving embrace that neither would be able to get an arm free with which to punch the other.”

I don't want to argue whether these statements are true or not. What's bugging me is that they all contain an implicit assumption that a state acts as an intelligent agent at least and as a rational agent at most**.
Is this assumption true?
A state is a complex system which comprise civilians, military, businesses and different government branches. These parts may have different and even opposite goals and values and they can constrain each other. Will interactions between those parts lead to a (more or less) rational behavior of a whole?

Do you know a good book or article which reflects on this issue?
 

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* Quotes from "Prisoners of Geography" by Tim Marshall

** I guess many people assume that states are human-like rational

Answers

answer by shminux · 2022-01-10T21:01:02.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jody Azzouni wrote a bunch of stuff about it. He talked about whether countries are "real" in his recent podcast interview https://www.preposterousuniverse.com/podcast/2022/01/03/178-jody-azzouni-on-what-is-and-isnt-real/ (if you'd rather read, a transcript link is in there, as well).

answer by crl826 · 2022-01-23T03:45:43.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The authors of Dictators Handbook would argue that it is rational from the basis of what the leader needs to do to stay the leader.  

Good summary here on LW: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/N6jeLwEzGpE45ucuS/building-blocks-of-politics-an-overview-of-selectorate [LW · GW]

comment by Yoav Ravid · 2022-01-23T05:03:00.560Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep. To expand a little - they don't consider nations as agents and say that many mistakes in the field of international relations came from that misconception. In their model a nation is made up of a bunch of agents separated into several different groups/roles, and the interactions between them, based on various incentives, is what creates the apparent behavior of the nation. as crl said, my post [LW · GW] explains it more in depth.

answer by lalaithion · 2022-01-10T20:22:23.789Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The viewpoint you're describing is the realist school of international relations. Realism basically treats states as agents, with two main branches—Classical realism, which treats states as human-like agents, and Neorealism, which treats states as selfish rational agents. 

Unfortunately, I don't actually know any more about this topic than that, so I don't have any good books on the subject. However, sometimes knowing the name is half the battle. I learned what I do know from: https://acoup.blog/2021/05/07/collections-teaching-paradox-europa-universalis-iv-part-ii-red-queens/

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