Imitation in international relations: analogies, vicarious learning, and foreign policy

Benjamin Goldsmith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Do states learn from other states' experiences in international relations? This is the expectation of prominent theories. But empirical research indicates that foreign policy learning is based overwhelmingly on direct experience. I argue that vicarious learning has not been uncovered because we have not known where to look: there has been no well-developed theory leading to falsifiable expectations. Here I suggest a theory and test it on data for foreign policy beliefs and analogies used by Ukrainian and Russian elites. The results indicate that learning from vicarious success, or imitation, has a strong impact on beliefs following a major failure. This has implications for foreign policy decision making and for concepts of interests and change in systemic theories of international relations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-267
Number of pages31
JournalInternational Interactions
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • foreign policy
  • learning
  • analogies
  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • political psychology


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