Policy Paper: Why Putin’s foreign policy is not rational


There seems to be an international consensus among analysts: Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is rational. I question this presumption.

In international relations, the concept “rationality” has become ubiquitous. Since 2000, around 50% of scholarly international relations references to foreign policy allude to “rationality” (Abulof 2015 pp. 359-360). But “rationality” is rarely defined in international relations literature.

The concept “rationality” has different meanings across fields. In international relations, use of the term renders rationality-based descriptions largely unfalsifiable. Max Weber (1969 pp. 427-445) defined four types of rationality, of which he considered the first two the most important. The first one, Zweckrationalität, instrumental rationality, refers to the means-ends rational behavior. This type of rationality is unfalsifiable in foreign policy analysis, as one can argue that any action is motivated by a specific purpose. The second type of Weberian rationality is Wertrationalität, value- or belief-oriented rationality. Rationality defined as behavior motivated by and conforming with beliefs, such as religious or ethical values, enables foreign policy analysis from a though normative, but narrower perspective. The concept “rationality” becomes falsifiable and therefore operational. Irrationality in foreign policy, then, is behavior that contradicts values universally accepted, such the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

Iulia-Sabina Joja Policy Paper PDF

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