MADRID – Who has not seen what looks like water on a highway on a hot summer’s day? Or a three-dimensional image that was actually a picture on a flat surface? The nature of illusion is that we mistake what we perceive for reality.
That is true whether an illusion is cognitive or political. Depending on how a particular event develops, it can lead us to formulate erroneous interpretations of what is actually happening.
Such perceptions are often mediated by ideas and previous experiences. And, as Robert Jervis argued in Perception and Misperception in International Politics, published during the Cold War, the illusions that we create have an enormous influence on decision-making – even becoming a fundamental cause of conflict.
To a certain extent, this is what has happened with analysis of the recent 16th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), held at the end of August in Tehran – the first time Iran has hosted the meeting. The summit took place against a background of scant progress in negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program and growing pressure from Israel for the international community to establish a “trigger” – a line that the Islamic Republic must not cross.