Margaret Hermann's Explaining Foreign Policy Behaviour Using the Personal Characteristics of Political Leaders
Margaret Hermann’s main conclusion in her 1980 article “Explaining
Foreign Policy Behaviour Using the Personal Characteristics of
Political Leaders”, is that the personal characteristics and
orientations of foreign affairs of political leaders are important.
However, one needs to be cognizant of the fact that personal
characteristics is only a first step in the process of trying to
explain why governments do certain things in the foreign policy arena.
Moreover, individual actions are constrained by political, social,
bureaucratic, environmental and context. Hence this limits the
importance of individuals’ personal characteristic. What is important
is the situation in which individual characteristics are important.
In order to completely understand decision makers we must analyze and
appreciate what drives a person, the innate characteristics that can
consist of an individual belief system, motives, decision and
interpersonal style, ethnic background, and genetic makeup.
Fundamentally, a person’s cognition and operational codes, which
basically comprise the personal characteristics that determine their
behaviour, how the individual perceives, interprets, learns as well as
past experiences influencing their behaviour, affects their decisions.
Knowing how a leader thinks and what he/she believes can be classified
as that leaders operational code. Alexander George defines the
operational code as a political leader’s beliefs about the nature of
politics and political conflict, his views regarding the extent to
which historical developments can be shaped, and his notion of correct
strategy and tactics (Neack, 2003:63).
One needs to examine Hermann’s six personality characteristics of
leaders: nationalism, perception of control, need for power, and need
for affiliation, conceptual complexity, and distrust of others, in
order to see why some leaders act a certain way. Moreover, the
personal characteristics and orientations of heads of government are
likely to have more impact on a government’s foreign policy under some
circumstances than under others (Hermann 13). With this Hermann
categorized the personality traits of leaders into two orientations.
On one hand, there are the aggressive leaders who are leaders with
high levels of nationalism, a strong belief in their own ability to
control events, a strong need for power, low levels of conceptual
complexity, and high levels of distrust for others. Such leaders tend
to develop an independent orientation to foreign affairs. On the other
hand Hermann finds the conciliatory leader to be high in need for
affiliation, conceptual complexity, trusting of others, low in
nationalism and likely to exhibit little belief in their own...