I. FOREIGNPOLICY ELITES: INDIVID UALS 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.
o 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
o When political institutions are unstable, young, in crisis, or collapsed, leaders are able to
provide powerful influences.
o 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
o 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
o Political psychologist Margaret Hermann has found a number of personality
characteristics that affect foreignpolicy behaviors.
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.
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
o Personality characteristics affect the leadership of dictators more than that of democratic
leaders because leaders because of the absence of effective institutional checks.
o Betty Glad analyzed the personalities of tyrants like Hitler, Stalin, and Saddam Hussein
and labeled them as having malignant narcissism syndromethose who rule without
attention to law, capitalize on selfpresentations, and utilize cruel tactics.
• Individual Decision Making
o Individuals are not perfectly rational decision makers. The individual selects, organizes,
and evaluates incoming information about the surrounding world.
o 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.
o 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.
• InformationProcessing Mechanisms
o 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
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.
o 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
o Small groups have additional distorting tendencies than individuals, such as the pressure
for group conformity and searching for a goodenough solution rather than an optimal
o 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
o The donations by Bill and Melinda Gates to global vaccination and AIDS programs are
• Private individuals increasingly play a role in tracktwo diplomacy. Tracktwo diplomacy
utilizes individuals outside governments to ca