Focus areas: International relations theory, decision-making, security policy

Robert Jervis is the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Affairs at Columbia University.

Specializing in international politics in general and security policy, decision making, and theories of conflict and cooperation in particular, his Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons from the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War was published by Cornell University Press in April 2010. Among his earlier books are American Foreign Policy in a New Era (Routledge, 2005), System Effects: Complexity in Political and Social Life (Princeton, 1997); The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution (Cornell, 1989); Perception and Misperception in International Politics (Princeton, 1976); and The Logic of Images in International Relations (Columbia, 1989). Jervis also is a coeditor of the Security Studies Series published by Cornell University Press. He serves on the board of nine scholarly journals, and has authored over 100 publications.

Dr. Jervis is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has also served as the president of the American Political Science Association. In 1990 he received the Grawemeyer Award for his book The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution.

Dr. Jervis earned his BA from Oberlin College in 1962. He received his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1968. From 1968 to 1974 he was appointed Assistant (1968–1972) and Associate (1972–1974) Professor of Government at Harvard University. From 1974 to 1980 he was Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Research & Publications

February 2017|Princeton University Press|Robert Jervis
January 2017|International Security Studies Forum Policy Series, America and the World - 2017 and Beyond|Robert Jervis
December 2016|War on the Rocks|Robert Jervis
September 2016|Still a Western World? Continuity and Change in Global Order (Routledge)|Robert Jervis

Our New and Better World

September 2016|H-Diplo/ISSF Article Review Forum 59|Robert Jervis
September 2016|Global Nuclear Disarmament|Robert Jervis
June 2016|Journal of Information Warfare|Robert Jervis
June 2016|Political Science Quarterly|Robert Jervis
March 2016|Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (3rd Edition)|Robert Jervis
November 2010|Cornell University Press|Robert Jervis

The U.S. government spends enormous resources each year on the gathering and analysis of intelligence, yet the history of American foreign policy is littered with missteps and misunderstandings that have resulted from intelligence failures. In Why Intelligence Fails, Robert Jervis examines the politics and psychology of two of the more spectacular intelligence failures in recent memory: the mistaken belief that the regime of the Shah in Iran was secure and stable in 1978, and the claim that Iraq had active WMD programs in 2002.

The Iran case is based on a recently declassified report Jervis was commissioned to undertake by CIA thirty years ago and includes memoranda written by CIA officials in response to Jervis's findings. The Iraq case, also grounded in a review of the intelligence community's performance, is based on close readings of both classified and declassified documents, though Jervis's conclusions are entirely supported by evidence that has been declassified. In both cases, Jervis finds not only that intelligence was badly flawed but also that later explanations—analysts were bowing to political pressure and telling the White House what it wanted to hear or were willfully blind—were also incorrect. Proponents of these explanations claimed that initial errors were compounded by groupthink, lack of coordination within the government, and failure to share information. Policy prescriptions, including the recent establishment of a Director of National Intelligence, were supposed to remedy the situation.

In Jervis's estimation, neither the explanations nor the prescriptions are adequate. The inferences that intelligence drew were actually quite plausible given the information available. Errors arose, he concludes, from insufficient attention to the ways in which information should be gathered and interpreted, a lack of self-awareness about the factors that led to the judgments, and an organizational culture that failed to probe for weaknesses and explore alternatives. Evaluating the inherent tensions between the methods and aims of intelligence personnel and policymakers from a unique insider's perspective, Jervis forcefully criticizes recent proposals for improving the performance of the intelligence community and discusses ways in which future analysis can be improved.

November 2005|Routledge|Robert Jervis
To say that the world changed drastically on 9/11 has become a truism and even a cliché. But the incontestable fact is that a new era for both the world and US foreign policy began on that infamous day and the ramifications for international politics have been monumental.

In this book, one of the leading thinkers in international relations, Robert Jervis, provides us with several snapshots of world politics over the past few years. Jervis brings his acute analysis of international politics to bear on several recent developments that have transformed international politics and American foreign policy including the War on Terrorism; the Bush Doctrine and its policies of preventive war and unilateral action; and the promotion of democracy in the Middle East (including the Iraq War) and around the world. Taken together, Jervis argues, these policies constitute a blueprint for American hegemony, if not American empire. All of these events and policies have taken place against a backdrop equally important, but less frequently discussed: the fact that most developed nations, states that have been bitter rivals, now constitute a "security community" within which war is unthinkable.

American Foreign Policy in a New Era is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the policies and events that have shaped and are shaping US foreign policy in a rapidly changing and still very dangerous world.

 

November 1997|Princeton University Press|Robert Jervis

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.

November 1989|Columbia University Press|Robert Jervis

This study focuses on the ways states can affect the images other countries have of them and thereby exercise influence withouth the cost of altering their own policies.

November 1989|Cornell University Press|Robert Jervis

Robert Jervis argues here that the possibility of nuclear war has created a revolution in military strategy and international relations. He examines how the potential for nuclear Armageddon has changed the meaning of war, the psychology of statesmanship, and the formulation of military policy by the superpowers.

November 1976|Princeton University Press|Robert Jervis

This study of perception and misperception in foreign policy was a landmark in the application of cognitive psychology to political decision making. The New York Times called it, in an article published nearly ten years after the book's appearance, "the seminal statement of principles underlying political psychology."

The perspective established by Jervis remains an important counterpoint to structural explanations of international politics, and from it has developed a large literature on the psychology of leaders and the problems of decision making under conditions of incomplete information, stress, and cognitive bias.

Jervis begins by describing the process of perception (for example, how decision makers learn from history) and then explores common forms of misperception (such as overestimating one's influence). Finally, he tests his ideas through a number of important events in international relations from nineteenth- and twentieth-century European history.

In a contemporary application of Jervis's ideas, some argue that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990 in part because he misread the signals of American leaders with regard to the independence of Kuwait. Also, leaders of the United States and Iraq in the run-up to the most recent Gulf War might have been operating under cognitive biases that made them value certain kinds of information more than others, whether or not the information was true. Jervis proved that, once a leader believed something, that perception would influence the way the leader perceived all other relevant information.