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Bureaucracies at War: Examining the Defense Decision-Making Construct as a Polycentric Arrangement


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The effectiveness of American civil-military relations has often been characterized by the degree of friction between competing preferences during the decision-making process. But how do these preferences converge or diverge based on the duration or type of security crisis? Although much has been written on the general friction between civilian and military elites, there has yet to be a thorough exploration into how decision-making processes are affected by varying types of security challenges. Dan Detzi of the University of Arizona argues that long-term challenges, such as counterinsurgencies or counterterrorism campaigns, create polycentric arrangements where contrasting strategies are pursued by self-forming decision-making networks within the national security bureaucracy. In this case, the friction between civilian and military leaders might not matter as much as diverging preferences between organizations within the interagency. He uses the Institutional Analysis and Development framework to map these polycentric arrangements to better understand their impact on policy outcomes. Using the Institutional Grammar 2.0 to analyze two foundational pieces of national security legislation, initial results indicate that the absence of certain institutional rules may facilitate ad hoc networks that work independent of formal decision-making processes. These findings imply that policy decisions made by civilian and military elites are likely reshaped or dismantled within the bureaucratic system, thus leading to disparate approaches and strategies during long-term security challenges. Future research will map both formal and informal decision-making networks (Networked Action Situations) with data extracted from legislation (formal) and interviews (informal) using the IG 2.0 to better understand when and how ad hoc networks emerge.


Social Science and Public Policy





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MAX-Center for Policy Design and Governance


Davor Mondom


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