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The Modeling Enterprise and Security Studies Robert Powell The modeling enterprise is a way of trying to improve our understanding of empirical phenomena. Models serve in this enterprise as a tool for disciplining our thinking about the world, and formal models instill a particular type of discipline. Formalization provides a kind of “accounting standard” that can often help us think through some issues more carefully than ordinary-language arguments can. Just as good accounting standards make a ªrm’s ªnancial situation more transparent to those inside the ªrm and those outside it, formalization makes arguments more transparent to those making them and to those to whom they are made. When mathematical models are well constructed, they offer us a relatively “clear and precise language for communicating ideas and intuitions .”1 The contribution that such a standard has to offer to security studies is likely to appear small to those who believe that nonformal or traditional work has already proved its power by amassing a large number of well-established empirical regularities and theoretical explanations of them. By contrast, the beneªt of a more transparent standard will seem much higher to those who believe that security studies, like much of international relations theory, has established few robust empirical regularities; to those who have been frustrated to see that almost any outcome can be “explained” after the fact in a way that makes it consistent with existing theories; and to those who have repeatedly tried to formalize many widely held ordinary-language arguments in international relations theory (e.g., anarchy induces a concern for relative gains, anarchy leads to a tendency to balance, and a balance of power is more stable than a preponderance of power), only to ªnd that these arguments are, at best, seriously incomplete and in need of signiªcant qualiªcation. International Security, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Fall 1999), pp. 97–106© 1999 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 97 Robert Powell is Robson Professor of Political Science, University of California, Berkeley, and is the author of Nuclear Deterrence Theory: The Search for Credibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) and In the Shadow of Power (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999). I am grateful to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, Elaine Chandler, David Lake, Lisa Martin, James Morrow, and Celeste Wallander for helpful comments or discussion. 1. David Kreps, Game Theory and Economic Modeling (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 6. This book also provides an excellent and accessible overview of some of game theory’s contributions and weaknesses. Like most tools, formal models do some things well and others less so.2 Nevertheless, Stephen Walt denies in “Rigor or Rigor Mortis?” that he is comparing “the relative merits of formal theory with other methodological approaches.”3 I, however, have trouble reading his article any other way. Indeed, a few lines before this denial he seems to say the opposite: “recent formal work has relatively little to say about contemporary security issues” (p. 8, emphasis added). And when discussing the originality of the contribution of formal work a few pages later, he also claims, “When compared to other research traditions, however, their [formal rational choice theorists’] production of powerful new theories is not very impressive” (p. 22, emphasis added). My views differ. In the next three sections, I draw on major works taken from nonformal security studies to discuss the issues of reproducibility and transparency (which touch on many of the issues Walt considers under the label “logical consistency”), originality, and empirical evaluation. My purpose is threefold. First, I want to suggest that there are signiªcant foundational problems with many of the most important, widely held arguments in security studies and international relations theory. Even if tightening the connections between assumptions and conclusions were all that formal theory had to offer, this would be a very important contribution at this stage in the development of these ªelds. After all, these arguments are presumably the intellectual bedrock for more policy-relevant analyses. Second, I believe that when one compares the contribution to security studies of the latest wave of formal theory, which began in the mid-1980s, to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1531-4804
Print ISSN
0162-2889
Pages
pp. 97-106
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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