Chapter Summary

I. Foreign-Policy Elites: Individuals Who Matter

  • Liberals are adamant that leaders do make a difference. Whenever there is a leadership change in a major power, speculation always arises about possible changes in the country’s foreign policy.
    • Ample empirical proof has been offered that individual leadership matters. From Nicolae Ceauescu to Mikhail Gorbachev, leadership made a difference in starting and sustaining foreign policy reforms in their respective countries.
  • Constructivists attribute policy shifts in the Soviet Union only to Gorbachev, but also to the networks of reformists and international affairs specialists who promoted new ideas.
  • For realists, individuals are of little importance. States are not differentiated by their government type or personalities of leaders, but by the relative power they hold in the international system.
  • The Impact of Elites: External Conditions
    • When political institutions are unstable, young, in crisis, or collapsed, leaders are able to provide powerful influences.
    • When they have few institutional constraints. In dictatorial regimes, top leaders are free from constraints such as societal inputs and political opposition and thus can change policy unfettered.
    • The specifics of a situation. Decision makers’ personal characteristics have more influence on outcomes when the issue is peripheral rather than central, when the issue is not routine, or when the situation is ambiguous and information us unclear.
  • The Impact of Elites: The Personality Factor
    • Political psychologist Margaret Hermann has found a number of personality characteristics that affect foreign-policy behaviors.
      1. Leaders with high levels of nationalism, a strong need for power, and a high level of distrust of others, tend to develop an independent orientation to foreign affairs.
      2. Leaders with low levels of nationalism, a high need for evaluation, and low levels of distrust of others, tended toward a participatory orientation in foreign affairs.
    • Personality characteristics affect the leadership of dictators more than that of democratic leaders because leaders because of the absence of effective institutional checks.
    • Betty Glad analyzed the personalities of tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein and labeled them as having malignant narcissism syndrome-those who rule without attention to law, capitalize on self-presentations, and utilize cruel tactics.
  • Individual Decision Making
    • Individuals are not perfectly rational decision makers. The individual selects, organizes, and evaluates incoming information about the surrounding world.
    • In perceiving and interpreting new and oftentimes contradictory information, individuals rely on existing perceptions. If those perceptions form a relatively integrated set of images, then they are called a belief system.
    • Political scientists have conducted a number of empirical elite mindset studies of those individuals who left behind extensive written records. Since few leaders leave such as record, our ability to reconstruct elite images and perceptions is limited, as is our ability to state their influence on a specific decision.
  • Information-Processing Mechanisms
    • Individual elites utilize, usually unconsciously, a number of psychological mechanisms to process the information that forms their general perceptions of the world:
      1. Individuals strive to be cognitively consistent, ensuring that images hang together consistently within their belief systems.
      2. Elites in power look for those details of a present episode that look like a past one, perhaps ignoring the important differences. This is referred to as the evoked set.
      3. Perceptions are often shaped in terms of mirror images: while considering one’s own action good, moral, and just, the enemy is automatically found to be evil, immoral, and unjust.
    • Small groups also have psychologically based dynamics that undermine the rational model. The psychologist Irving Janis called this dynamic groupthink. The dynamics of the group include:
      1. The illusion of invulnerability and unanimity
      2. Excessive optimism
      3. Belief in their own morality and the enemy’s evil
      4. Pressure placed on dissenters to change their views
    • Small groups have additional distorting tendencies than individuals, such as the pressure for group conformity and searching for a good-enough solution rather than an optimal one.
    • Top leaders do influence foreign policy, which is made, not just by tyrants, but also by visionaries (like Julius Nyerere and Nelson Mandela) and by political pragmatists (like Vladimir Putin and Margaret Thatcher).

II. Private Individuals

  • Less bound by the rules of the game or the rules of the game or by institutional norms, private individuals engage in activities in which official representatives are either unable or unwilling to participate.
    • The donations by Bill and Melinda Gates to global vaccination and AIDS programs are an example.
  • Private individuals increasingly play a role in track-two diplomacy. Track-two diplomacy utilizes individuals outside governments to carry out the task of conflict resolution.
    • Jimmy Carter, acting through the Carter Center, has negotiated several disputes, such as Eritrea’s independence from Ethiopia and reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
    • Track-two diplomatic efforts are not always well received. Jimmy Carter’s eleventh-hour dash to meet North Korea’s Kim Il Sing in 1994 to discuss the latter’s nuclear buildup was met by questions such as: Was the U.S. government being preempted? For whom did Carter speak?
    • Private individuals have played linkage roles between different countries. Armand Hammer, a U.S. corporate executive, was a successful go-between for the Soviet Union and the United States.
    • Individuals may be propelled into the international arena by virtue of their actions: Jane Fonda illegally visited North Vietnam during the 1960s, Olympic athletes who defect from their countries, Kenya’s Wangari Maathai, who promoted that country’s Green Belt Movement, and countless Nobel Prize-winners who have significantly influenced international relations.
    • Alternative critical and postmodern approaches are attempting to draw mainstream theorists’ attention to these other stories. Feminist writers have sought to bring attention to the role of private individuals and especially women.
  • A. Q. Khan and Aung San Suu Kyi
    • A. Q. Khan confessed to selling nuclear technology and components to Libya, Iran, and North Korea; this made the world a less secure place
    • Aung San Suu Kyi became the face of the opposition movement in Myanmar (Burma). Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, she is an international symbol of her movement.

III. Mass Publics

  • Mass publics have the same psychological tendencies as elite individuals and small groups. They think in terms of perceptions and images, they see mirror images, and they use similar information-processing strategies.
  • The influence that mass publics do have on foreign policy can be explained in three ways:
    1. Elites and masses act the same because they share common psychological and biological characteristics.
    2. The masses have opinions and attitudes about foreign policy and international relations that are different from those of the elites.
    3. The masses, uncontrolled by institutions, may occasionally act in ways that have a profound impact on international relations, regardless of anything that the elites do.
  • Elites and Masses: Common Traits
    • Some scholars argue that there are psychological and biological traits common to every man, woman, and child and that societies reflect those characteristics. Individuals and masses are said to have an innate drive to gain, protect, and defend territory—the territorial imperative.
    • Both also share the frustration-aggression syndrome: when societies become frustrated, just as with individuals, they become aggressive.
      1. The problem with the territorial imperative and the frustration-aggression notion is that even if all individuals and societies share these innate predispositions, not all leaders and all peoples act on these predispositions.
  • Another possibility is that elites and masses share common traits differentiated by gender.
    • Male elites and masses possess characteristics common to each other, while female elites and masses share different traits from the males.
    • The research is sketchy, however, because it does not answer the question of whether these differences are rooted in biology or learned from culture.
  • The Impact of Public Opinion on Elites
    • Publics do have general foreign-policy orientations and specific attitudes that can be revealed by public-opinion polls.
    • More often than not, however, publics do not express one dominant mood; top leaders are usually confronted with an array of public attitudes.
    • Occasionally, the masses may vote directly on an issue with foreign policy significance. For example, some European states used popular referendums to ratify the 1992 Maastricht Treaty.
    • Evidence from the U.S. suggests that elites do care about the preferences of the public, although they do not always directly incorporate those attitudes into policy decisions. Presidents care about their popularity, but mass attitudes may not always be directly translated into policy.
  • Mass Actions by a Leaderless Public
    • At times, the masses, essentially leaderless, take collective actions that have significant effects on the course of world politics. Individuals act to improve their own political and economic welfare:
      1. It was the individual acts of thousands fleeing East Germany that led to the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, and it was the exodus of East Germans through Austria led to the tearing down of the wall in 1989.
      2. During the people’s putsch (Bulldozer Revolution) of October 2000, people from all walks of Serbian life crippled the economic system, blocked transportation routes, drove tractors into the city, attacked Parliament, and crippled Milosevic radio and TV stations.
      3. Georgia’s Rose Revolution in 2003 and Ukraine’s Orange Revolution in 2004 were inspired by the Serbian uprising against Milosevic.