International relations is a discipline that is designed to ask and answer the bigger abstract questions regarding such topics as power politics and why some nations resort to genocide while other nations are able to live harmoniously with a wide variety of races and religions. While international relations is interested in the big abstract questions, those in charge of answering those abstract questions are individuals, these decision-makers will have expectations, biases and different methods of problem solving. Decision-makers will also allow for varying degrees of input from advisers. Some decision-makers will want and apply a large number of suggestions, while other decision-makers will not accept as many (or any) suggestions given by advisers.
The personality of the decision-makers can and does impact international relations in other ways, for example “specialists on international relations working with decision-making approaches have long emphasized the importance of cognitive variables in the making of foreign policy.” (George 1979) Simply stated the cognitive process or cognitive variables are the methods and inputs that decision-makers use to make decisions In addition to this “The cognitive calculus theory models the mental calculations of foreign policy decision making with the premise that an individual conducts the decision-making process and the model should therefore represent his or her capabilities.” (Geva, Mayhar, and Skorick 2000) An analysis of how the decision-makers comes about his or her decisions will assist the analyst at identifying the capabilities of the decision-maker.
For the remainder of this paper North Korea and its leader Kim Jung Un will be used as an example of the importance of decision making and how the personality of the decision maker has an impact on international relations. “North Korean leader Kim Jong Un succeeded Kim Jong ll in 2011, continuing the family dynasty that has ruled the communist state since it was founded.”
(North Korea’s Kim Dynasty) North Korea is notorious for its level of censorship. To the point where a cult of personality exists around its leadership, including Kim Jong Un. As much as North Korean culture is based around the personality of its leadership, this particular leader is doing all that he can to demonstrate his leadership power “Kim Jong-un received the titles of Supreme Leader and Supreme Commander of the armed forces. In April 2012, at the Fourth Party Conference and the follow-on Supreme People’s Assembly, he received the additional titles of power: First Secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party, Chairman of the Korean Workers’ Party’s (KWP’s) Central Military Commission, and First Chairman of the National Defense Commission. But even with these trappings of power, questions remain regarding Kim’s ability to run the regime and the workings of the decision-making process inside the North Korean leadership.” (Gause 2013) Kim is going out of his way to obtain titles that prove his authority most likely in an attempt to indicate that he is the supreme leader even though he may not feel that he is/can live up to that position. Given the fact that Kim Jong Un feels inadequate in his position as the supreme leader of North Korea, all decisions that are made will focus around attempting to prove dominance at the international level.
Identifying the decision making structure of the decision-maker is important due to the fact that “cognition and attitudes are products of mental functioning that involved relatively conscious thinking about a subject or object. Motives, ego-defense mechanisms and other components of depth psychology are generally considered to be more unconscious responses and reactions.” (Schafer and Walker 2006) Decision-making takes place at the conscious and unconscious level; meaning that what the decision maker is saying and doing in his or her public life will be just as important as what is taking place at the unconscious level. Since it is not possible to identify unconscious motivations, only the conscious can be taken into account.
As outlined above, and in the introduction, decision making is both a group activity and an individual activity which takes place both at the conscious and unconscious level. How the decision maker goes about coming to decisions is part of his or her cognitive process. An expansion of this process is the individual’s operational code; the operational code approach “to the study of belief systems asks what the individual knows, feels and wants regarding the exercise of power in human affairs.” (Schafer and Walker 2006) The decision maker will have thoughts, beliefs, and biases before being put into a leadership and/or decision making position, operational code takes the idea that past experiences in addition to personal/unconscious beliefs will have an impact on the decision making of political leaders. Operational code analysis takes this one step further and “identifies a political belief system about self and others and how they interact with one another.” (Schafer and Walker 2006)
Operational code analysis sheds light on the personality of a decision-maker/political leader. It gives background on how the decision-maker/political leader will process information including information on the cognitive process of how the decision-maker/political leader will use to identify information that is important including how the decision-maker/political leader feels about his or her position as leader of a nation and/or non-government organization.
In an attempted show of force, on March 01, 2015 it has been reported that “Authorities say North Korea has fired two short-range missiles into the East Sea, in an apparent protest against joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises launched elsewhere in the region Monday.” (N. Korea Fires Rockets as Joint US-South Korean Maneuvers Start). During this time the United States and South Korea were conducting joint military operations.
Research has indicated that Kim Jong Un, has taken on titles that indicate power, such as the Supreme Leader of North Korea, but may not feel that he wields as much power as previous leaders of North Korea have and therefore will make attempts to prove the dominance of North Korea and his personal power. “With regard to North Korea, there exists a huge intellectual gap between understanding the country’s diplomatic behavior patterns, on the one hand, and the individual leader factor or the international factor, on the other hand.” (Kim 2006) The relationship between North Korea and the United States has never been a warm open relationship, however, it was not until Kim Jong Un took power that the relationship between these nations took a turn for the worse.
While it is important to have a clear understanding of the history of North Korea as a potential reason that relations with the United States will never be warm, however the personality of the leader and how that leader processes information will have an impact on how North Korea conducts relations with the larger international community. Kim Jong Un is also attempting to form relations with Russia, Russian military leaders have reported that ““We are planning an expansion of the communication lines of our military central command," Valery Gerasimov, the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces, said at a meeting attended by the heads of all of Russia's armed forces branches, according to Newsweek "We are entering preliminary negotiations with the armed forces of Brazil, Vietnam, Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” (Bender 2015) What all of this shows is the fact that Kim Jong Un will take whatever measure he feels necessary to demonstrate his dominance not only over North Korea but also over the international community. This is important from the operational code analysis perspective due to the fact that Mr. Kim's operational code is to view the international community with a level of suspicion and therefore taking steps to prove dominance.
As outlined above, a prime motivator of the operational code of decision-makers/ political leaders is power. Either seeking power of attempting to remain in power. “First, the substantive focus of operational code analysis is on diagnosing the use of power by others in the political universe and on the leader's own propensities for exercising political power. Power refers here to the interplay of different kinds of control relationships between the self and others in the political universe, including the positive sanctions of authority, influence and reward verses the negative sanctions of resistance threat and punishment.” (Walker, Schafer, and Young 1998) The current antagonistic relationship that exists between North Korea and the United States is based around the need to demonstrate power, both political power and personal power.
In the first case, Mr. Kim is taking steps that demonstrate that he and he alone is the supreme leader of North Korea. This is done to cement his position within his own country. At times the best methods to maintain power and authority is through fear, this has been demonstrated by the ruling style of the Kim Dynasty, “The Kim regime has used the fear of U.S. attack on North Korea— real or imagined— to keep its people vigilant, while using the ideology of juche (self-reliance) that Kim and his father jointly cultivated to sustain the popular unity and cohesion at home. In addition, reversing the “party– military” relationship, Kim Jong Il has relied heavily on the military as the main instrument of his dictatorship” (Kihl and Kim 2006)
Kim Jong Un has managed to retain power through fear claiming that preemptive action would be taken against the United State, “North Korea has been issuing near-daily threats against the United States and South Korea, and sometimes at United States forces in the Pacific. In one of the boldest warnings, the North said it could carry out preemptive nuclear strikes against the United States.” (North Korea’ Nuclear Threats, in Focus 2013) with this in mind the cult of personality that exists in North Korea will remain united behind its leader, therefore establishing a strong power base for Mr. Kim.
In a classic work by Ole Holsti the following has been stated “it is generally recognized that our behaviour is in large part shaped by the manner in which we perceive and interpret our physical and social environment. Our perceptions in turn are molded by clusters of beliefs about what has been, what is, and what will be, and what ought to be.” (Holsti 1970) Operational code rests not only on what is occurring in international affairs, but is also based on what the decision-maker/political leader believes is occurring.
Perceptions also have a basis in the desire to seek, gain, and maintain power. Any analysis of North Korea must also focus on the perceptions of its leadership. Reviewing open source intelligence regarding Kim Jong Un, including newspaper reports indicates that Mr. Kim is paranoid of among other things assassination. “North Korean security services appear to be spooked about the possibility that Kim Jong-un could be assassinated while he is on the road. The same young leader – who has taken to inspecting buildings in downtown Pyongyang on his personal jet – may be keen to travel abroad, but is being held back from doing so by his advisers and protectors. He has also never met with a counterpart head of state, and rarely greets foreign visitors.” (Kim Jong-un: purges, paranoia, plots and the beloved leader’s cancelled trip to Moscow) This keeps Mr. Kim isolated from large segments of the population and therefore make it difficult to maintain power and control over a population that rarely has the opportunity to see its leader. In addition to this, Mr. Kim has perceived that there is a danger to himself/his nation and can therefore use that paranoia to support his actions. This level of paranoia can be found in the following actions “since assuming power in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has presided over a brutal consolidation of power, executing his perceived enemies with incredible frequency and morbid creativity. At least 70 officials have been executed during this time, and the latest victim was his defense chief, Hyon Yong Chol, who was executed using an anti-aircraft gun, according to South Korean spies. His crime: insubordination and allegedly falling asleep during an event attended by Kim.” (Groll 2015) Both the combination of desire to gain and keep power and the personality of a decision-maker/political leader will impact the nature of international relations and how the nation interacts with other nations and its own citizens. North Korea is a closed society that seeks 100% support for its political leaders. Kim Jong Un does not feel this level of support and as such looks for ways to maintain his power. This need is shown through how North Korea interact with other nations.
An additional area of operational code is the following, “"operational code" take on the character of rules of conduct held out for good Bolsheviks (from the original study written by Leites ) and norms of behavior that, ideally, are internalized by the individual who thereby acquires a new and different character structure-that of the reliable, "hard-core" Bolshevik.” (George 1969) Within the operational code of a decision-maker or political leader there is a period where the leader takes on the personality and/or belief system of his or her society. The government of North Korea is described as “communist state one-man dictatorship” (Korea, North) Kim Jong Un became supreme leader of North Korea upon the death of his father, Kim Jong il, the Kim Dynasty has been in control of North Korea since the “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was formally established in 1948. The country has suffered through war, poverty, and famine. However, the regime may have suffered its greatest shock when “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, who had ruled his country for 46 years, died in 1994. Nevertheless, Kim had prepared well, anointing his son, Kim Jong-il as his successor 20 years before. The regime continued with “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il in charge for the next 17 years. Now Kim Jong-un has taken over, at least in name.” (Bandow 2012) The history of North Korea is the history of the Kim dynasty, one cannot be separated from the other. This is one key reason why a cult of personality exists among North Korea. The Kim's have been the primary ruling factor and the one stabilizing influence within the country. All of this relates to the rule of Kim Jong Un based around the fact that he is expected to be the one and only ruler of North Korea. He rests upon him to make all foreign policy decisions and it is he that will make determinations on how North Korea will respond to other nations and how it will demonstrate its power on the international stage. An example of the power of the supreme leader of North Korea is exampled by the fact that in 2010 Kim Jong Un “was made a four-star general despite lacking any military experience.” (North Korea Profile – Leaders –BBC News 2014)
As the government of North Korea is a one man government it falls upon the leader to be the one sole individual at the top of the power structure. That requires that Mr. Kim be the leader of the North Korean military without any actual military experience. This is also the reason that the North Korean people and military accept this as occurring. They have not known anything different during the Kim Dynasty rule. All of this works back into operational code because it shows that part of a decision maker/political leaders function is to live as a prime example of expectations of society. In the case of North Korea, Kim Jong Un is expected to rule as the one undisputed leader of the nation. All decisions good, bad and indifferent will be made by Mr. Kim. All relations with other nations will take place at the desire of Mr. Kim. Unlike the United States where the President Rules as the prime decision-maker with a large number of advisers giving opinions.
Simply stated, operational code is the belief system held by a decision-maker/political leader. This belief system will govern how the leader leads. However, there are additional outside forces that will also have an impact on the actions of a decision-maker/political leader. The decision-maker/political leader is also required to accept the feelings of the nation into account when attempting to rule. As is the case with North Korea, Kim Jong Un is required to be the one undisputed leader of the nation. All decisions will come from him and him alone. North Korean society is designed around have one all-powerful leader. The cult of personality that exists in North Korea has developed out of the need for the leader to demonstrate complete power.
At a distance analysis of Kim Jong Un reveals that he may be having difficulty for filling the role of an all-powerful leader and has taken steps to demonstrate power that he may not feel that he has. Some of these steps include, anger over South Korean/US joint military operations that North Korea views as “strategic goal of the U.S. to invade the DPRK, bring its neighboring countries under its control with it as a stepping-stone and, furthermore, dominate the whole Asia-Pacific region,” the ruling party’s Rodong Sinmun said in an analysis on Monday. “The U.S. is working hard to kick off large-scale joint military drills this year, too, for the purpose of mounting a pre-emptive nuclear attack upon the DPRK.” (North Korea Alarmed over U.S. – South Korea Military Exercises 2014) This paranoia comes from the paranoia that is felt by the supreme leader with the fact that he fears that his position may be questioned and is therefore willing to take whatever steps are necessary to quiet any position to his rule. This includes, use of “anti-aircraft fire to execute his defense chief for disrespectful behaviour, including napping during a military rally attended by the leader.'” (McCurry 2015) Wherever necessary Mr. Kim will rule out of fear. His operational code is to maintain power and control not through positive rule or even sane rule. Mr. Kim goes out of his way to make sure that his subjects fear him and will continue to fear his rule. Again, these actions may be taken in an attempt to prove that Mr. Kim is the undisputed leader, of a nation that he does not feel that he completely rules.
Another power play that Kim Jong Un has taken is with relations with the outside world. As Mr. Kim continues to fear a joint US/South Korean invasion, he is additionally attempting to isolate North Korea even farther. For example as of April 30, 2015 “Kim Jong Un has canceled plans to attend Russian commemorations of the end of World War II, a Kremlin spokesman said on Thursday. Kim had been expected to attend a military parade in Moscow marking the 70th anniversary of WWII, a holiday known as Victory Day across the former Soviet Union. It would have been the North Korean leader's first trip abroad since assuming control of the country.” (Tiezzi 2015) Mr. Kim fears traveling within his own country, let alone traveling abroad. This fear will trickle down to the people of North Korea who will take on the fear and the paranoia of their leader and also begin to fear outside nations and in particular fear the United States and South Korea, whom it is believed are attempting to take hostile actions against the North.
Operational code is a two way street. There is the operational code that the decision-maker/political leader brings to the job. There is also the code that the leader will gather after being on the job. Nowhere is this more demonstrated than in North Korea, where the supreme leader is meant to be the all and end of government.
International relations is meant to answer the big picture, abstract questions of how nations interact with one another. Along with, why some governments maintain peace among differing ethnic and religious groups while others commit genocide to remove unwanted religious and/or ethnic classes. However, governments and non-state actors are headed by individuals. These people will have thoughts, opinions and biases that cannot easily be separated from the leadership position.
What and how a leader thinks will have just as much impact on the decisions and relations among nations as trade relations. While there are several approaches to take in determination of how a decision-maker/political leader will come to his or her decisions regarding control of his or her nation and international relations, all of this begins with the idea of operational code. Or the thoughts, beliefs and desires that the decision-maker/political leader brings with him or her at the beginning of his or her reign. Kim Jong Un has been used as an example throughout the body of this work. This is due to the fact that operational code is well exampled by the rule of Mr. Kim.
Kim Jong Un is the latest North Korean leader from the Kim Dynasty. This Dynasty has ruled North Korea since it became an independent nation in 1948. A Kim in control of North Korea is seen as birth right. A Kim is the supreme leader. The anointed one, the one and only with the ability to rule North Korea. The Kim's have taken on this position to the point where the North Korean people do not question the decisions that are made and/or the reasons that the government fears the United States. Things simply are the way that they are.
While the people believe in the divine rule of the Kim's, Kim Jong Un has to believe in his power to rule and to offer control of the nation. Due to the fact that Mr. Kim has fears about his ability to be the one powerful leader had led to an interesting set of circumstances. For example, North Korea and Russia were attempting to solidify relations between those nations. Mr. Kim pulled out of a scheduled trip to Russia and relations are described as cool between those nations.
The United States and South Korea engage in joint military exercises every year. Mr. Kim views this as a threat to the safety and security of North Korea. This fear and paranoia spread to the citizens of North Korea and create a situation in which those being ruled never question the one doing the ruling.
All of this demonstrates that operational code is a two say street. The leader brings in his or her own belief system. However, after being in a position of power will over time begin to add the needs and desires of his or her society into the already existing operational code.
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