As a discipline, international relations is meant to explain how the world works. This explanation comes from macro level analysis. “The macro level considers the environment around the micro and meso environment in which for example the culture of a country can be distinguished. This level considers many different aspects, which all indirectly influence the way of operation and the performance of a company. On the macro level, a further distinction is made between the national and the international context.” (De Boer 2005) What all of this means is that international relations focus on the bigger picture questions that focus on how nation-states interact with one another. For example Kenneth Waltz theorizes that “the key actors in international politics and they operate in an anarchic system, which is to say that no higher authority sits above them. Second, he assumes that the primary motive of states is to survive, which means that they seek to guard their sovereignty.” (Mearsheimer 2009) Waltz theorized that the nation-state was the primary actor in international relations and that no other non-state actor such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the United Nations (UN) has any impact on how nation-states interact with each other.
However, while the nation-state may be the primary actor on the international stage, at the head of the state is the decision maker and/or the head of state. This individual will be making the decisions that will have an impact on how and why nation-states interact with one another. It is not possible to remove the thoughts, feelings, and history of the head of state with the decision that are made on behalf of the nation-state. All of these means is that the head of state does have an impact on the decisions that are made on behalf of the nation-state. Understanding of the impact the personality of the decision maker and/or head of state will have lies in the area of political psychology “It is now thus widely accepted that there are important psychological underpinnings, roots, and consequences of political behavior. Understanding political psychology is critical in explaining great historical events and movements and in clarifying aspects of smaller group and micro political behavior.” (Monroe, Renwick, Chiu, Martin & Portman 2009, p 859-82) Simply put political psychology is an infusion of international relations/political science and psychology. Political psychology is meant to assist professionals in the field of international relations/political science understand how and why decision makers and/or heads of state makes the decisions that they do based upon the personality impact of the decision maker and/or head of state.
A Brief History of Political Psychology:
Increasingly the field of international relations is seeing the importance that the personality of decision maker and/or head of state have on relations between nation-states. International relations does not take place outside the realm of interpersonal relations, with this is mind it becomes obvious that the personality, past (family, educational, political) and history (ethnocentric) will have an impact on decision making. “As an increasingly popular interdisciplinary and multi-method approach to studying individual-level political phenomena, political psychology has made important strides in explaining the processes behind political attitudes and behavior, decision making, and the interaction between the individual and the group.” (Erisen 2012) The personality of the decision maker and/or head of state cannot always be separated from the small group of advisors that may be involved in assisting the decision makers in making said decisions. As indicated, the personality of the decision maker will have some impact on how those decisions are made and may even give insight into the susceptibility of falling victim to group think. Groupthink is “a condition in which highly cohesive groups in ‘‘hot’’ decision situations display excessive levels of concurrence seeking that suppress critical inquiry and result in faulty decision making. In the groupthink process, antecedent conditions are seen as resulting in a variety of symptoms of groupthink that lead to defective decision making and, in turn, to flawed decision outcomes.” (Aldag 2004) Simply stated groupthink is the inability of an individual working within a small group to make decisions that run counter to the beliefs and desires of the group. In political situations groupthink may be stumbling block among decision makers and/or heads of state. Political psychology is one method that can be used to identify those decision makers that may be more susceptible to groupthink and those decision makers that are more easily able to make decisions outside the thoughts and desires of the small group.
While political psychology is a somewhat new field, “The field of political psychology has grown rapidly and become an important and influential area of scholarship in the social sciences. Originating in the early 1940s in psychoanalytic research on personality and politics, political psychology now involves research on political belief systems, political attitudes and behavior, emotion, political information processing and cognition, and bio politics (e.g.,. evolutionary political psychology, behavioral genetics, neuroscience).” (Center for the Study of Political Psychology 2014.) The concept of applying psychology to the field of politics and/or international relations is an ancient concept. For example the ancient Greek historian Thucydides is identified as one of the first political psychologists when he wrote about the History of the Peloponnesian War, “which chronicles the events surrounding the bloody conflict between neighboring Greek city states of Sparta and Athens over 3,000 years ago.” (Cottam, Dietz-Uhler, Mastors, & Preston 2004, p 294) The reason that Thucydides may go down in history as one of the first political psychologists is the fact that Thucydides attempted to offer an assessment of what led to war in the first place, for example “Thucydides, far from using only state characteristics or power motivations to explain the war, suggested(much as modern-day political psychologists might) that the main spark igniting this bloody conflict between Sparta and Athens was wear, on the part of both sides, of one another, fear by the Spartans of what they perceived to be the growing power of Athens and its increasingly expansionistic polities.” (Cottam, Dietz-Uhler, Mastors, & Preston 2004, p 294) The assessment that part of the Peloponnesian War was caused by fear of expansionistic polities on the part of the Athenians is instating in that the same reasoning behind modern conflict can be given.
Profiles from a Distance:
Evidence supports the fact that the personality of a decision maker and/or head of state does have an impact on how nation-states will interact with other nation-states on the international level and the general nature of how the population of a nation-state feels about the nation in which they reside as well as the nature of international relations and how their home nation interacts with other nation-states.
Research into the nature and decision making process of the decision maker and/or head of state are difficult due to the fact that access to decision makers and/or heads of state are not easy. Heads of state do not hold office hours, it is not like an individual seeking to learn about the individual and was attempting to analyze the decision making process will not be able to ask the individual directly. Therefore research into the decision making process will have to be made from a distance, using whatever material is available about the individual including newspapers reports, television interviews, historical background information, any information about the individual that can be used to make an assessment about the individual. All of this falls into a subfield known as psychobiology which can be defined as, “the explicit use of psychological theory or research in biography.” (Runyan 2000.) To use this process psychological techniques are used and applied to biographical information about the target of analysis. This is due to the fact that information and access to decision makers and/or heads of state have limited access to the general public and/or to intelligence organizations that seek to create and analysis of the decision makers of potential hostile nation-states. For example violence that is taking place in the Ukraine is calling into question the idea that the cold war has ended. It would appear that the Russian government may in fact be making a power play toward attempting to annex the Ukraine once again and expand Russia power in the region, this is evidenced by the following statement “In general, though, Russian understanding is often shaped by nineteenth-century Russian historians—before Ukraine became a modern nation. These historians created a model that has Russian history beginning in Kiev. After all, many Ukrainians (except for those in the West) came under the rule of Russia over the last few centuries.” (McLaughlin) If Russia sees the Ukraine as traditionally being part of Russia goes a long way in explain why hostilities have taken place in the Region, citizens of the Ukraine seek independence from Russia, while Russia is seeking to maintain control of a region that had always been a part of Russia. This historical information only sheds light on part of the story. Another influence on Russian military intervention In the Ukraine falls at the feet of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When discussing leadership of Russia, the following has been said, “Russian leaders, like Russia itself, often appear to be either too weak or too strong. For a time it seemed that Putin was a rare Kremlin incumbent who could avoid both extremes.” (Pravda 2005). Any analysis of President Putin’s ability to rule Russia, first there needs to be an understanding that during Russian history there has been issue with rulers being overly strong in expressing power or weak in ability to rule the nation. This information has an impact on the methods in which President Putin has used to lead his people. In addition, this information can be used to explain why the Russian people have allowed this behavior to continue, they have not known any different. Additionally, “The rapid rise in the power and authority of Putin underscores the capacity of the office of chief executive to bestow authority on an incumbent with little previous political standing or support. The recovery of the presidency after the weakness of the late Yeltsin years testifies to its resilience as the dominant institution in the Russian political system.” (Pravda 2005). Russian society identifies itself with the personality of the leader (a cult of personality) therefore the nation-state will act and react depending on the personality of the decision maker/head of state. Any interactions with the larger international community will be based around how the decision maker/head of state views the international community. Unlike the United States that is defined as a few nation-state regardless of the current President. This historical background is important to understand when seeing to offer an at a distance analysis of President Putin.
Continued research into the background of Vladimar Putin reveal the following “the coming to power of Vladimir Putin at the beginning of the new millennium signaled the beginning of a period of change in Russian politics that could well prove decisive.” (Sakwa 2004). From a historical point of view it is important to understand the impact President Putin has on Russia even before his election, for example, “as Russia’s first democratically elected president, Yeltisin (Boris) had to struggle constantly to keep the legislature from trying to control the executive branch. In the mid-1990s, the war in Chechnya had been a catastrophe until Prime Minister Putin rescued Russian pride.” (Shields 2003) Even before a popular election, President Putin had proven his worth to the Russian people and had demonstrated his ability to solve difficult international relations issues without impacting Russian pride and standing on the international stage. Again, this background information, before being elected president of Russia will offer insight into the reasons why the Russian people stand behind Putin and why President Putin takes certain stands with other nation-states and more importantly the stand that the Russian government is taking with current military conflict with the Ukraine.
The personality of decision makers/heads of state does have an impact on the nature of the nation-state and how that nation-state interacts with other nation-states on the international stage. However, simply looking at the personality of the decision maker/head of state is only part of the story; the background of the individual and the background of the nation-state are also important factors.
As is the case with Russia, the nation-state has known strong leaders and weak leaders both have had an impact on the society in Russia. In both cases, both weak leaders and strong leaders have created a cult of personality. A cult of personality is defined as “Excessive public admiration for or devotion to a famous person, especially a political leader.” (Definition of Personality Cult in English) In the case of Russia, a cult of personality is building around Vladimir Putin, in Russia on the presidents 52nd birthday it became clear that a cult of personality was forming around Putin, when “Komsomolskaya Pravda, a paper tightly aligned with Putin, ran a story headlined "A Hero of Our Time" describing Putin's school years. Cast-iron busts of the Dear Leader are offered for sale in Moscow kiosks. Tourist firms in St. Petersburg offer tours of "Putin's Petersburg": "The President's fans are shown the apartment block where he and his parents lived, his school, his university, and even the KGB office where he began his career." (Putin Personality Cult Grows) Due to this, Russian society are closely allied with the actions of their leader. The entire out look of Russian society will be similar/the same of that of President Putin additionally; society is willing to put up with whatever actions he sees fit to protect Russian society.
Another complex issue that faces those attempting to analyze the personality of decision makers/heads of state. That issue is lack of access, meaning that heads of state are not open to answer questions and/or stop to be analyzed. Therefore the only way that these people can be analyzed is at a distance. This means that the only information that can be used for analysis is information that has already been printed either in books and newspapers or in other popular media platforms such as television news and possibly social media. All of this information has the potential be biased in one way or another. Every effort should be made to prevent biased information from making its way into an analysis of a head of state; however there is no way to ensure that an analysis is/will is completely unbiased.
A final issue that pertains to at a distance analysis is the fact that analysis of decision makers/heads if state is the difference between strategic and tactical intelligence. Strategic intelligence it’s “that intelligence necessary to create and implement a strategy, typically a grand strategy, what officialdom calls a national strategy. A strategy is not really a plan but the logic driving a plan.” (Heidenrich 2008) Analysis of decision makers/heads of state are part of strategic intelligence, that is long term analysis that is designed to give US policy makers information about potential threats as determined by the personality of a head of state. However in the modern world of the Global War on Terrorism most intelligence is designed for military leaders in making decisions about future military actions, “Our products have become so specific, so tactical even, that our thinking has become tactical. We're losing our strategic edge because we're so focused on today's issues.” (Heidenrich 2008) This is an important distinction when discussing at a distance study. While important, at a distance study is something that will be time consuming. In today’s climate of war on terrorism it is important to understand that only gathering tactical intelligence will cause intelligence organizations and decision makers from missing critical information regarding future national security threats.
There are pros and cons to using at a distance analysis to study the personalities of decision makers/heads of state. Several of the pros are the fact that these types of analysis have the potential to offer tremendous insight on the nature of the leader/decision maker in question. They also have the potential to answer questions as how a society feels about the leader/decision maker which in turn assists with how that society will feel about issues of international relations. On the con side, these types of analysis are long term and have a good potential to offer biased information due to the fact that sources used to gather background information have a potential to be biased. There is great difficulty in eliminating bias in written materials. Another con is the fact that with today’s climate of wars against terrorism at a distance analysis will be a long term analysis that will not find it useful in answering immediate questions about given situations that will impact military deployment. However, long term analysis of potential threats remains necessary in order to properly determine threats to US national security.
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