Emotions in International Relations – Advantageous or Detrimental to Problem Solving?

Sitting in countless conference rooms, together with (all in all) 5.600 other participants of this year’s international Studies Association (ISA) Convention in San Francisco, it was interesting to see the broad and colourful scope of topics discussed. The style and format of presentations also varied greatly: from open forums for the discussion and exchange of ideas (resembling the university discussion groups of the Student Movement of the 1970s) to more formal seminars and first-class lectures.

A few of the sessions were devoted to discussing the role of emotions in politics, international relations, and diplomacy. The relevance of emotions to world politics has been given little credence in academic discussion in the past, and the inclusion of these sessions in a prestigious international convention was barely conceivable a few years ago.    The panel ‘Emotions and Diplomacy’, investigated how concepts such as empathy, memories, identity, nationalism, grievance, guilt and victimization influence our political landscape.

Following this debate this week’s question is: Are emotions in politics, both on the side of the public and/ or among decision makers and leaders, something which may and does contribute to solving conflicts? Or is this detrimental for problem solving?

Please name a few instances where emotional considerations had positive results in IR (they did contribute to problem solving), and also a few negative patterns. Equally how did emotions among ordinary people affect IR outcomes?

– Klaus Segbers


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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 1 year ago

    Emotions are important in politics. Indeed, every political object is to a certain extent emotional. The "Daisy Girl" of 1964 intended to help Lindon Johnson as well as "Yes, we can" to persuade to vote for Obama. Anger is a very strong emotion that in politics helps to take risky decisions. Anxiety may be considered as a destructive emotion, but in reality can help take informed and thus a more rational decision. In fact, examples are many, not all of them very successful. Khrushchev’s shoe in UN is in all IR books, but did not help at the end his political career. Theresa May and Boris Johnson's appeal to emotions in Skripal case, may help to turn the voters’ attention from GB internal problems for a while, but cannot hide the weakness of current British conservative politics.

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  2. Sergei Medvedev 1 year ago

    The emotional transformation of politics is one of the key features of the late (post-) modern society, permeated by media wars, social networks, information bubbles and identity issues. The systemic problem is the decline of bureaucratic rationality embedded in modern political institutions as described by Max Weber, and of the entire Modern script with rational calculations, power balances, zero-sum games and sovereign rule, as described in the classical political theory from Machiavelli to Karl Schmitt.

    In its stead, comes the hyperreal emotionally-charged reality of media politics that spreads like a virus in social networks, producing not a conflict of interests but an irrational clash of identities and imagined agendas. As a result, we have the rise of domestic populist politics, from Brexit to the election of Donald Trump and right-wing populism across continental Europe. But the field of international politics is also becoming emotionally charged, as exemplified by the revanchist politics of Vladimir Putin, driven by infantile messianism, post-imperial resentment, and semi-criminal "code of the street" (ponyatiya) that have become the trademark of Russian foreign policy and that have brought the world to brink of confrontation of nuclear superpowers in Syria for the first time in 65 years since the Cuban Missile crisis. In this sense, a post-modern emotional world is a much more dangerous place to live in.

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  3. Justas Paleckis 1 year ago

    If a large-scale conventional war in the world has not yet begun, then the global hybrid, psychological and information war is taking place long ago. And especially intensively over the past few years. Big money is thrown for propaganda, to dominate the internet space and to produce “fake news” (we used to say disinformation earlier). All this arouse the emotions and they are the basis of this war. A short, easy-to-win military clash without large casualties always causes positive voter's emotions in any country, democratic or dictatorial. Let's remind us M. Thatcher’s victory in Falklands and the subsequent triumph in parliamentary elections. Or the entry of V. Putin into the Crimea even without the casualties and his ratings getting very high afterwards. The factor of emotions in IR especially important should be to the temperamental inhabitants and leaders of the Southern countries. But it is universal. The current president of the United States is perhaps the most emotional leader of a powerful country since the Second World War. So far, this has not helped to achieve any big Washington's breakthroughs in IR. But Trumps risky desire to meet Kim Jong Un at least gives a chance to resolve the crisis around Korea. The crisis in Western-Russian relations is also largely based on emotions, mutual demonization. Would be of any help a summit meeting just recently planned between the emotional Trump and cold Putin? Maybe, if the planned exchange of attacks in Syria does not transfer a spark of major war in to Europe, especially through tensions in Ukraine and around the Baltic States.

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  4. Stephanie von Kanel 1 year ago

    The use of emotions to further political agendas is highly dependent on the desired outcomes of state actors or heads of states themselves. A positive outcome of emotional appeal was the successful development of a transnational partnership/agreement for the conservation of the Antarctic continent. However, the Antarctic Treaty System is due to expire in 2048 and its reinstatement uncertain. This is due to the emotional rhetoric of climate change non-believers gaining international vocality via internet technologies and figures like Trump; despite scientific evidence increasing.
    Indeed, the manipulation of negative emotions within a population is practiced throughout the world by heads of state, often systematically altering information to further their own agendas and expand their powers. An example of which is President Erdoğan’s manipulation of the Turkish population’s sense of national pride and widespread frustration at economic growth stagnation, from sentiments of internal dissatisfaction with the government to anger towards external ‘threats’.
    Another powerful example of the fine-line between the positive and negative use of emotions in diplomacy/IR is the use of Humanitarian Interventions. Though the UN rulings which determine the use of humanitarian interventions are based on concepts of serving the ‘greater-good’, the consequences are often detrimental (examples being the Indian intervention in East-Pakistan, UN Transnational Administration in East Timor, and the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia.)

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  5. Wang Mengyao 1 year ago

    Emotion is powerful in mass mobilization, especially in the irrational and emergent cases. People share the same emotion which was partly evoked by political propaganda via media. In these cases, politicians have to response. If we scrutinize history during two world wars, there is a bunch of evidence. However, if we assume that the decision-making body, like congress, is rational, how emotion affects it is very interesting. For example, Mei-ling Soong, who was recognized as Madame Chiang Kai-shek, the first lady of China during KMT government period, travelled across the U.S. in 1940s seeking for assistance from American against Japanese. She, and her husband behind, obviously took advantage of emotion and designed the whole lobby delicately. The highlight was her address to Congress in Washington. Soong had the background of being Christian educated in Georgia. Speaking fluent English with solemn voice and dressing in black, she became an icon of the persistent and determined Chinese in arduous fight against fascism. Most importantly, the icon raised empathy from American, both the civilians and the congressmen. This attempt was appealing, and it succeeded. Besides the donations from the former, she won billions of dollars as the added military aid later. As commonly known, support from the U.S. has been dispensable for the eventual victory.

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  6. Nikoloz Tokhvadze 1 year ago

    Emotions in politics evoke two associations: emotions for sake of 'emotionessness' – effective tool for influencing domestic and international audience; and emotions as genuine expression of intrinsic condition not bothered by rational calculations of its results. Although both of these are interesting to observe and challenging to identify, as a rule of thumb, pragmatics overridden by emotions did more harm than good.
    Undoubtedly, social justice on large scale would be hard to imagine without Luther King’s emotional speeches or Gandhi’s emotional Salt March, but so would be most part of Nazi Germany without Hitler’s likewise emotional speeches and discourses.
    On the other hand, had Kennedy followed emotions during the Cuban Crisis, as suggested by his advisors, it could have had calamitous implications for the world. As oxymoronic as it might seem - emotions must be framed by pragmatism. The flexibility for emptions in pragmatic range is surely not big, but there still is some safe room maneuver.

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  7. Friederike Kies 1 year ago

    I very much welcome recent IR trends focusing on “Emotions and Diplomacy.” I believe emotions are and always have been an integral part of politics and international relations, even though many have left them unacknowledged in their research agendas.
    Throughout centuries emotions have been used for war propaganda. In times of war, particularly women have been portrayed as helpless victims in need of rescue, eventually resulting in a discourse legitimizing war. An example of such is the constructed “Jessica-Lynch-Rescue.” Lynch was portrayed by newspapers as a helpless, young, American female soldier that was sent off to Iraq when her convoy was shot and she was captured. Newspapers wrote that “Petite Jessie…just a little thing” put up “a Rambo-worthy fight against her attackers…she was tortured” by “those people—the Iraqi captors—(that) were barbaric.” Surprisingly Lynch did not confirm these statements. On the contrary, she argued that she was never tortured, didn´t fight and was even treated very nicely by Iraqi people, especially by Iraqi hospital staff treating her broken arm and wounds from a car accident. The Lynch-story was false, but it had huge propaganda value (Getler, 2003). Furthermore, Kumar (2004: 300) states it “was a moral boost and the perfect story to trigger public support for the Iraq war.”
    Concluding, I believe emotions are of great importance in politics. It is about time IR theorists take them seriously.

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  8. Anastasia Wischnewskaja 1 year ago

    Emotions in international politics are indeed important, whether we like it or not. Domestic media campaigns and propaganda aiming to rally people for or against something take place in both democratic states where voting behaviour matters, but also in authoritarian regimes. It is important to note though that events in global politics are most of the time multi causal and tracking particular events down to politicians acting in affection is not a proper scientific way to go. Was annexation of Crimea a strategic or an emotional decision? Is it an emotional decision of the Chinese leadership to take a harsher tone towards Taiwan, or is just because it can now afford to do so? In my own research I analyse why the European Parliament voices support for Tibetans more frequently than it does so for Uighurs. I do not analyse the emotional attachment of individual MPs to Tibetan culture or Buddhism, but I do believe that the softer image of a selfless Tibetan monk influences the way MP’s preferences are distributed and support is granted. Even though emotions and grievances are important, they are hard to impossible to measure and proving causal links is also not a piece of cake. It would be nice to hear, how ISA participants overcome these challenges.

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  1. Dr. Theodoros Tsakiris, Assistant Professor for Geopolitics and Energy Policy, University of Nicosia 1 year ago

    Emotions are unavoidable. It's not a question of advantage or disadvantage. They are part of human behavior and in extensio of negotiating behavior especially when dealing with vital issues of security related problem solving. It is impossible to quantify emotions in international relations and given the type of the political system of a country the emotions of the leader and/or the people may affect a country's negotiating behavior differently. Emotions can also be identified as an extension of a leader's ideology and his/her need to be in sync with what this ideology requires. I would say that the most ideologically driven leaders (i.e. leaders of revolutionary regimes) tend to be the most emotional.

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  2. JUGAL KISHORE SHARMA 1 year ago

    शिक्षा में व्यापक दृष्टिकोण, जिज्ञासा शान्त करती हथेली पर इन्टरनेट, नैतिक-अनैतिकता के तात्कालिक मायने के आक्रोष, विचित्र पर सत्य की रार जिसमें सामाजिक चिरस्थायी रूढीवादिता पर गंभीर चोट कर उलट-पलट कर रखना, समाजवाद एवं तथाकथित कार्लमार्क्ससीज्म की अराजकता दौरे को वैष्विक भू-भाग से बिलकुल पछाड़ मिली । स्पष्ट है कि जानने एंव मानने के साथ ग्राउण्ड रियालिटी जिसमें राजषाही के विरूद्ध हिसंक विद्रोह को सर्वमान्यता ! परन्तु केवल और केवल सत्ता परिवर्तन आयाम जिसमें नये निरकुंष राजाओं का अभ्युदय, राजषाही के प्रषासन में नये रूप आमजन के कष्ट यथावत है, कष्ट के विज्ञापन की बिलकुल मनाही है। मार्क्सवाद का वर्तमान लीडर चायना है जहॉ पर स्टील सी मोटी पर्दे की दिवार से छन कर सत्यता आ ही जाती है कि हरसाल भ्रष्ट्राचार में लिप्त प्रषासनिक अधिकारियों,कर्मचारियों, राजनेताओं, अध्यापको,सैनिकों की वृहत स्तर पर कानूनी मान्यता से हत्याएॅ की जाती है । उत्तर कोरिया एंव अन्य सर्वहारा छाप तानाषाहों से किंग झिगपिंग से कमतर आंकना किसी भी मौजूदा सभ्यता के लिए आत्मघाती वैचारिकी ही होगी, हथियारों के जखीरे के साथ निरन्तर जमासात हो रही व्यवस्थाए, कुछ हद तक आर्थिक युद्ध की अपेक्षा, सैनिको की गौरवप्रदर्षनी भर ही है, शेष रहे भौगोलिक पिछलग्गू भू भाग अवष्य ही चाहेगे कि उनके साथ काल्पनिक दोस्त-दुष्मन जमाकर मुकाबले की तैयारी आवष्यक है । विपन्नता का विद्रुप यथावत ही रहेगा कारण किसी भी स्तर से रूल ऑफ लॉ,एकाउण्डटेबिलीटी एंव उसके साथ गुड गर्वेनेष स्थापित नहीं होगी प्रषासन किसी भी हद तक हिंसा का सहारा लेकर साम्राज्य का विस्तार, नाकामियों को छिपाने का युद्ध सनातन शाष्वत पैमाने का रचियता ही है ।
    विवेक पर विचारों की पाषविकता, हिसंक पषु का व्यवहार आम सा रहा है, हिन्दी चीनी भाई-भाई, समाजवाद को इकटठा कर गटर में कब बहा दिया, वैचारिक व्याकुलता में गम भी प्रकट नहीं कर सके ।

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  3. JUGAL KISHORE SHARMA 1 year ago

    The broad view of education, the Internet on the pinnacle of curiosity, the indignation of the immediate sense of moral-immorality, the quandary of truth on the strange, in which the serious reversal of social enduring conservatism, reversal, socialism and the so-called Karl Marxismism -Compared from the section It is clear that knowing and knowing the ground realities in which the jingoism against Rajshahi is unanimous! But only the change of power and the only change in the dimension in which the progress of the new absolute kings, the new form of administration in the reign of Rajshahi is in vain and the adversity of adversity is strictly prohibited. The current leader of Marxism is China, where the truth is that by examining the steel curtain wall, the truth is that the government officials, employees, politicians, teachers and soldiers engaged in corruption are assassinated with legal recognition at large levels. North Korea and other proletariat designated princes with less than judging from King Zhinging will be suicidal ideology for any existing civilization; arrangements in the form of continuous mobilization of weapons with the weapons, to a lesser extent economic war, the pride of the military is full of pride, The rest of the geographical hanger area will be addicted, that they need to prepare for the fight by fictitious friends-badmen. The absurdity of the misery will remain the same because because of any level, the rule of law, accountability and good governance will not be established with him. To any extent, the extent of expansion of the empire, with the support of violence and the struggle to hide the failures, is the rationality of eternal eternal scale.
    The pragmatism of thoughts on discretion, the behavior of the dreaded boy is common, Hindi Chinese brother-brother, when he was involved in socializing and shedding into the gutter, could not even reveal gum in ideological distraction.

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  4. Khuzama Hanoon 10 months ago

    It is difficult to deny that human feelings do not affect the making of public policies and individual decisions, so there is a general need to understand the surrounding emotions and influence through them. And so, Emotions are a unit of versatile response sequences that remodel a substantive event into a motivation to reply thereto during explicit manner.
    Some Researchs has shown that, in addition to testing emotions in response to events and personal activities, individuals can also experience them in response to events that affect other members of the group they select. There are previous studies that can be used when presenting an illustrative example. A pilot survey was used to test the distinctive role played by separate emotions in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The study included a representative sample of Israeli Jews. The experimental design included presenting Israeli citizens with a newspaper article describing the approach of the Palestinian delegation during the prior negotiations. Some emotions, such as fear, anger or hatred, were expressed among the participants. Participants were then asked to answer questions designed to measure their attitude, emotional reactions, attitudes towards the adversary, willingness to act as compromise and reconciliation, risk appetite for peace, support for military action, and blame outside the group.
    The results of the study showed the general pattern of participants, which means that the positions and the final political actions supported were formed in much of the 'story' they were exposed to, each emotion had a separate effect on specific factors. For example, fear has been shown to be the only emotional trait of risk opposition in negotiations, while hatred has been the only emotion that has reduced support for compromise and symbolic reconciliation. Anger was found to present complex results in that it led to a tendency to blame the Palestinians and at the same time helped create constructive positions (support to take risks in negotiations and to open up positive information about them).

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