2 The Theory in:

Clement Guitton

Unlikely Allies, page 29 - 56

How Group Leadership Shapes International Afffairs in the 21st Century

1. Edition 2018, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4278-6, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7189-2, https://doi.org/10.5771/9783828871892-29

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
The Theory At the height of the 2007–2008 financial crisis, countries sought a convenient location and vehicle within which to meet and discuss. Many venues were already available, from the International Monetary Fund to the United Nations, but this did not completely fit country leaders’ requirements. Instead, heads of states opted to meet within the framework of the G20. The G20 had already been in existence since 1999, following the financial crisis caused by Russia defaulting on its sovereign bonds. The 1999 crisis brought together finance ministers and central bank governors. What was so appealing about the G20 was its informality: the G20 does not have a secretariat – and the usually bloated bureaucracy that comes with it – protocols to accept or kick members out, convoluted voting procedures, or a charter. The informality of meetings, especially in these times of crisis, was welcome. The G20 is naturally more inclusive than its cousins, the G7, the G8 (in existence up until 2014, when Russia both voluntarily left and was kicked out by the other members following the invasion in Ukraine), the G10 (with the quirk of having eleven members), or the G15 (meeting until 2012). Also, amusingly – albeit a tad awkwardly for the G7 countries – Russia has remained a member of the G20. With so many different group summits, it would hence appear legitimate to think that some are becoming redundant and useless. Or, as the former NATO secretary general Javier Solana put it in the Times of Malta, ‘holding a G8 summit just before a G20 summit, as happened in Canada this June [2010], simply serves to prolong the maintenance of separate clubs, which is unsustainable’. But is it really unsustainable? The core thesis of this book is that we will see more of this model, not less, of informal meet-ups, countries coming together, leading together as a group, and disbanding when it suits them. 2 29 What is ‘group leadership’? Group leadership is an old idea. As the Second World War was brewing in Europe in 1938, with ideologically led movements harshly excluding part of the population, two psychologists hired in the unlikely department of ‘Child Welfare’ sketched an article that became seminal on the topic of group leadership within management studies. Kurt Lewin, born and raised as a Jew in the then Prussia, emigrated to the US a few months after Hitler had become chancellor and his party had been declared the only permitted party in Germany. In the US he met Ronald Lipitt, with whom he co-wrote ‘An Experimental Approach to the Study of Autocracy and Democracy: A Preliminary Note’. The ‘note’ explained research that the two psychologists had conducted by taking groups of five-to-10-year-olds and asking them a simple task: to create theatrical masks that would belong to the group, with only one mask being created at a time. The researchers did not divide the children into groups, but sought to look at whether the children’s interaction with one another could fall into one of two categories: one ‘authoritarian’, and one ‘democratic’. They concluded that ‘autocratic’ groups had more tensions, whereas ‘democratic’ ones showed more cooperation, ‘more occurrences of praise and expressions of friendliness’, more stability, and more feelings of ‘we-ness’. Also: Twice in the autocratic group a situation arose where the group combined its aggression against one individual, making him a scapegoat. In both cases the scapegoat quit the group. No such lack of harmony existed in the democratic group. Their article set the stage for ‘democratic leadership’, where the group would rely on decisions made by the group as a whole, with an ‘active involvement’ of group members. These two components – group decision and members taking on the responsibility for their goal – constitute the core of group leadership. The other component for the theory in international relations is a common overall goal bringing countries together and which they agree to tackle – dissension on how to tackle it will occur within the group but it will not subvert the definition. In a somewhat academically more formal way, this would give way to such a definition: group leadership describes the willingness of states to tackle a specific issue by coming together, by offering contributions 2 The Theory 30 that serve the overall goal pursued by the group, and where the group takes decisions in a concerted manner, relying on each state’s propositions and implementations thereof. The closest visual representation we have of it would be with Venn diagrams where different shapes – and not only circles – intersect with one another. Each shape can represent a country’s interest and how much it shares affinity with another country without entirely aligning. The latter point is important: these are not ‘blocs’ of countries like during the Cold War, where alignment was put at the forefront of national security, and in some cases, of national survival; the circles are instead much more flexible and volatile to change. Contacts (in terms of trade, common agendas, information exchanged) between countries are constant enough to warrant not considering them as distinct ‘blocs’. The common area shared by the two shapes can evolve over time and is also fairly fluid. The countries do not need to cede part of their power or even to agree on shared norms and values; in a much more restrictive fashion, only the goal needs to be common. For those seeking to locate such a definition within a more theoretical framework, it has some elements of liberalism and constructivism without being either of these. Liberalists emphasise cooperation (and in this sense, embrace globalisation as fostering it), institutions, and democracy. All three are present in this very theory too. As liberalism puts the onus on institutions, it further highlights the sense of community that they provide. It considers that interactions between different countries – at any level, from student exchanges to businessto-business deals – improve mutual understanding, make citizens of other countries appear less as ‘other’, and hence reduce the risk of coming head to head. Group leadership theory, in a way, also gives to interactions an important part but does not put the onus on institutions in the traditional sense, with a bricks-and-mortar headquarters and a full bureaucracy supporting it. The institution would rather be understood in the form of an organisation defined by the root of the word: members agreeing on an organised plan to follow in order to reach a goal. Also, as much as liberalism does, group leadership theory pays much attention to democratic values. Here again, however, a caveat is warranted. While liberalism understands this as heeding domestic demo- What is ‘group leadership’? 31 cratic forces, group leadership theory understands it as a form of inclusive participation with equal weight. On the other hand, constructivism, an influential paradigm within international relations borrowed from sociology, understands ‘structures’ slightly differently than realism or liberalism. It seeks to heed the practice and processes that shape institutions while also looking at the ties that actors have to one another. In this particular sense, group leadership theory pays as much attention to these three factors. This is needed in order to look at whether group members participate in fairly equal fashion, and whether group members regard inputs from different stakeholders as also being on an equal footing. The reader may have noticed the lack of the use of the word ‘order’. Liberals, realists, and constructivists have vastly different understanding of it. For realists, the focus is on the distribution of hard power amongst states; for liberals, it is rather linked to institutions and to values such as democracy and human rights; for constructivists, it is merely a contested word whose definition someone will give and that will reflect, in their eyes, the winner of this game. The rest of the manuscript will endeavour to speak of ‘global affairs’ rather than to pin down what such an order might be (hence, as well, why the book does not deal directly with the debate around the ‘rules-based international order’). Within this context, two further main points concerning the definition are noteworthy. First, leadership is not understood similar to one within a military context – the definition by Truman is hence not the one to take as a reference here. Typically, physical coercion and corporal punishment are defining traits of military leadership; this is much less so within the subtle world of international affairs. Coercion, when present between countries, is notably not direct but more in the form of carrot-and-stick (‘if you do not do that, this will ensue’). This explains why a digression from military-focused definition is sensible. Second, the definition avoids pinning down the meaning of ‘leadership’ and settles for ‘decisions’. There is a big discrepancy between the two but as the rest of the text will highlight, ‘leadership’ is a throw-iteverywhere polysemic word with much myth associated with its evocation of great generals on their horses, à la Napoleon and Wellington, inspiring troops to victory. 2 The Theory 32 Within international relations, this can almost sound a bit like a fairy tale: countries coming together if they agree on an overall goal to pursue, and simply ignoring the group otherwise. It doesn’t capture either conflicts or goals or more difficult situations of negotiations occurring when one country tries to win over another one either by cajoling or by pressuring it. But other theories are similarly not all encompassing – as mentioned in the introduction, they would fail to account for one major event or another. This would only be part of the criticisms. Other criticisms of group leadership theory should also be addressed before delving into arguments in its favour. Concerns: incentives, game theory, and tragedy of the commons Many international scholars are convinced that ‘democracies are simply not destined to ally with each other as a matter of course’ – as Charles A. Kupchan, professor at Georgetown University, writes in his book No One’s World. Kupchan takes the example of the USA and India to highlight his point: India has been a democracy since it became independent in 1947, but it spent most of the Cold War aligned with the Soviet Union. To be sure, times have changed, and India and the United States have for the better part of a decade been building closer strategic and economic ties. But the convergence is primarily a function of a shared interest in checking the power in China. And yet, his point is also a perfect fit for group theory. India and the US do come together in defence questions, especially since 2017, which has seen the US shifting from a close ally role with India’s archenemy, Pakistan, to one favouring India. The ‘strategic partnership’ between the US and India is one of cooperation and not within a formal alliance. The alliance does not seek to ‘overturn the global order’, as Alyssa Ayres put it in Foreign Affairs in October 2017. It is merely shared goals translated into shared approaches. Kupchan’s blunt point may be that they do not ally with each other all the time, which again, would actually fit the theory pretty squarely: when interests meet, becoming allies follows, otherwise it doesn’t. This may be a hard selling point when many are so pessimistic about the way ahead with existing Concerns: incentives, game theory, and tragedy of the commons 33 alliances: the European Union is facing hurdle after hurdle following Brexit, the Catalonia independence vote, the reluctance of new members to adopt the euro, and stalled banking reforms seeking more integration; the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) as much as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have been thrown into question; the African Union has called for massive withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (early 2017); and in Asia, China is running the show by splashing money around (with its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ notably) and flexing muscles when it comes to the South China Sea. Yet, this general pessimism misses the mark, as the numerous other cases presented in the next chapters will highlight. The definition, and the reference to democratic leadership, suggests that countries have an equal weighting in the group. In practice, how can it be possible that countries with different market sizes or military power can be regarded as equal within a group? If Switzerland and the USA are both part of a group, wouldn’t the firing power of the USA automatically mean that they have more of a leadership role, if not a more influential role at least, hence negating the idea of a diffused leadership throughout the group? Group theory does not hold that the contribution of countries needs to be equal; merely that that the decision process is equal and that countries need to own responsibility for their contribution. Influence within the group is less defined by the extent with which a country could reach the final goal on its own than with its actual capability to deliver the results it promised. The question of weight and country size is inscribed in this chess logic of seeing motivation (or deterrence) through the lens of carrots and sticks: a country can bend the will of another country if it provides enough incentives or disincentives to do so. Such pressure and leveraging is, after all, common. Take, for instance, China boycotting the South Korean conglomerate Lotte in 2017, barring Korean pop bands from performing within China, as well as encouraging Chinese tourists not to spend money in Korea. The bullying treatment could have cost the South Korean economy the equivalent of 0.5% of its GDP, or $76bn, according to the Hyundai Research Institute. Such a treatment from China came amidst growing tensions with North Korea in the summer of 2017. During that time, the graphic ‘fire-and-fury’ promises of Trump make much to remem- 2 The Theory 34 ber – or maybe even more memorable was his tweet of November 11, 2017, while on a five-country Asia tour: Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old, ” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen! The Chinese boycott was also to punish South Korea for having accepted the request to host an anti-missile system provided by the US and known as THAAD, or Terminal High Altitude Area Defence. The Chinese feared that the radar mounted on the defence system could monitor Chinese military movement beyond the Korean border. Yet, while it is common to portray confrontations this way, this vision of incentives as carrots and sticks is old school when it comes to individuals. And if it is old school for individuals, could it be the same when it comes to our approach to international relations? As individuals form the basis of state institutions – artificial intelligence hasn’t quite replaced us yet – there is a good chance that these arguments translate to state affairs as well. As much as with group management theory, theories about incentives and disincentives go back to the 1950s at least. Harry F. Harlow, a psychologist interested in studying primates, published then, with his newly married (second) wife Margaret Kuenne Harlow, and with a colleague, Donald R. Meyer, the results of an experiment that challenged the status quo.7 The researchers gave primates a simple puzzle necessitating three steps to solve. They left the primates with the puzzle, did not teach them anything, nor did they direct them in completing the task. By themselves, though, the primates got interested in solving the puzzle, and succeeded. As the researchers put it then, ‘solutions did not lead to food, water, or sex gratification’. What motivated the monkeys to solve the task was not incentives or disincentives, but the sheer performance of the task. Even more puzzling was also that when given incentives in the form of raisins, the monkeys performed worse by making more errors and being less quick: ‘When money is used as an external reward for some activity, the subjects lose intrinsic interest for the activity’, the researchers wrote. 7 Harry F. Harlow, Margaret Kuenne Harlow & Donald R. Meyer, 1950. ‘Learning motivated by a manipulation drive’, Journal of Experimental Psychology 40 (2):228. Concerns: incentives, game theory, and tragedy of the commons 35 Many different experiments have replicated and confirmed these findings. In another one worth mentioning, probably the most cited article in the motivation literature, the researchers picked on school children.8 They looked for children with a keen interest in drawing and divided them into three groups. In the first group, the researchers asked the children if they wanted to get a certificate for which they would have to draw. In the second group, the researchers asked the children to draw and ‘unexpectedly’ rewarded them with a certificate at the end. In the third group, the researchers simply let the children draw. Two weeks, later, the researchers brought the children into groups again together and asked them to draw – without any mention of any rewards. This time, the children in the first group showed clearly much less interest in drawing. The reward had led the children to lose their intrinsic motivation in the task. The results are now somewhat intuitive. As the successful author Daniel Pink puts it in his book Drive, ‘pay your son to take out the trash and you’re pretty much guaranteed the kid will never do it again for free’. He continues, ‘what’s more, once the initial money buzz tapers off, you’ll likely have to increase the payment to continue compliance’. If such incentives work somewhat for algorithmic tasks, such as taking the bin out, this is even less the case for heuristic ones, tasks involving creativity to solve novel problems – the type of tasks that people within international affairs try to tackle. Recently, examples from Wikipedia, to other free software projects (Linux, Apache) have highlighted how these motivational mechanisms could work not only at a family level but could genuinely span the globe. For non-routine work, be it in politics or in software development, inherent interest in reaching a solution is crucial. Again, humans shape structures and processes. This inherent interest and willingness should be a major factor when looking at evolution in international affairs and in how countries come together. This is far from given, especially when so many scholars approach international relations with a different mindset, even at the more liberal end of the spectrum. Francis Fukuyama is one such scholar, for ex- 8 Mark Lepper, David Greene, and Robert Nisbett, 1973. ‘Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Rewards: A Test of the ‘Overjustification’ Hypothesis’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28 (1):129. 2 The Theory 36 ample. He rose to prominence in 1989 when he wrote an article in the US magazine National Interest provocatively titled ‘The End of History?’ The article posited that the end of ideological battles had happened, with liberalism the clear winner. A few years later, in a different work, Fukuyama wrote about The Origin of Political Order and identified three key characteristics for institutions to constitute political order: the state, rule of law, and mechanisms of accountability. Group theory appears to violate two of these three rules: the state does not have to be the main actor, and more importantly, the rule of law, already somewhat longwinded at the international level, with questionable enforcement mechanisms, does not fit the move away from the traditional incentive-disincentive picture that this monograph is trying to present. Naturally, certain states will mistrust each other and will have preconceived fears of what cooperation could lead to, even if they share common goals. These states will just avoid being part of the same circle, as two people who dislike each other might try to cross the street to avoid meeting each other on the pavement. Not all states fear each other, though. As Slaughter has repeatedly pointed out, networks of judges, police enforcement agencies and other bureaucrats holding public offices do cooperate across borders and play a role in shaping international relations. They are already hence part of a circle of at least two members, if not even larger. Three last concerns need addressing. According to the German theorist Max Weber, when two units or organisations go after the same goal, they compete for resources, importance, and in the end, for their existence. Turf wars in any type of organisations lead to similar results: competition, far from nurturing the best in people, can foster an ‘us vs. them’ type of thinking. People become snappy, embittered, ambience deteriorates, and goals become more difficult to achieve as commitments falter. Could the same dynamic occur not only between teams but within a team? Traditional team management would hold that it would be the leader’s role to re-establish the balance if conflicts within the group flare up. But without any designated leader, who is left with that role of soothing internal tensions? As you’ll probably have guessed by now, the answer is: every member can take up that role. Of course, this requires a certain maturity to keep the goal and one’s interest in Concerns: incentives, game theory, and tragedy of the commons 37 the cooperation in mind, and this will not happen without frictions. But it is not as fluffy as it may sound either. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt closed all land, air and sea transport to Qatar; they also expelled Qataris from their countries. Officially, the Saudis argued that Qatar was funding Islam-related-terrorism. Less officially, it seems to have been rather about Saudi Arabia trying to beef up its influence and bring its neighbours in line against its Cold War era enemy, Iran. Pushing Qatar to cease its support to the Muslim Brotherhood may have been a reason for Egypt to jump on board. The Arab countries issued 13 demands to Qatar, including shutting down the Al Jazeera news network, closing a Turkish military base, and, unexpectedly, scaling down their ties with Iran. Interestingly, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Qatar are all part of a six-country club with a common market and which once had the project of a common currency – the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The crisis created split lines within the Council and other members did not just simply wait and watch. In line with group leadership theory, not only the involved parties were looking for a solution but other parts of the group were, too. Kuwaiti diplomats, for instance, with the help of the US, managed behind closed doors to get the involved countries to soften their position. The next Council meeting, due to be hosted in December 2017 in Kuwait, was put off by six months to offer more time for the crisis to be resolved. As the situation progressed, albeit at a slow pace, the same level of resolve from the Council’s members might be expected. The second concern to be addressed is defection when cooperating. In 1950, two researchers, Merrill Flood and Melvin Dresher, at a famous think tank, RAND Corporation, were looking into nuclear war and possible cooperation. They came up with a game with two players and four possible outcomes: either both players cooperated, either one of them defected, or the two of them defected. One of their mathematician colleagues put a twist into it to make it more appealing to the audience, and it became known as ‘the prisoner’s dilemma’, which gave rise to hundreds of thousands of studies on variations of the game. In the game, two people are arrested and put in different cells. They can snitch on each other and reach a lesser sentence, not talk and benefit 2 The Theory 38 only if the other also doesn’t talk, or not talk but end up with a really miserable sentence if their partner does talk. Over the years, the prisoner’s dilemma has been plugged into many situations, reducing many variables to this simple form of ‘game’. For instance, the Cuban nuclear missile crisis of 1962 went under many microscopes but the outcome didn’t fit the model. The Soviet Union was upset that the US was deploying ballistic missiles in Turkey and Italy and consequently agreed to Cuba’s request to deploy Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to prevent attempts by the US to invade the island. When the US realised that it would have nuclear missiles on its doorstep, it put into a place a naval blockade to prevent the material from reaching the island. The Soviet Union retorted that a naval blockade was a declaration of war under international law. The outcome of such a face-off should have been, according to the version of the prisoner’s dilemma, that both countries would go to war with each other – which they didn’t. Via diplomacy, the US and the Soviet Union diffused the situation. The US agreed to remove its missiles from Turkey and Italy, the Soviet Union to do so in Cuba as well, and the US pledged not to invade Cuba unless provoked. To explain the outcome, other models could be used, most famously the chicken one taken from the 1955 movie Rebel Without a Cause. Two drivers direct their cars towards a cliff; the first to swerve and hence to chicken out, loses. If both swerve, the dishonour is not as great, and the worst outcome is if none swerves and they both die. These games from game theory (and there are many more variations changing the rules of the game – as many as the number of participants) are useful intermediaries to help to think about the tragedy of the commons, externalities, and free riders. Garrett Hardin, a US ecologist and philosopher, coined this term ‘tragedy of the commons’ in 1968. A typical example of it is when farmers leave their herd to overgraze common land. Each farmer will benefit from it, up until the point when no one will anymore. Another typical example would be that any fishers in an area benefit from fishing as much as possible, but taken all together, their individual decisions will deplete the ocean’s resources and would have a terrible outcome. Despite what game theory might suggest, several studies have pointed out that people tend to cooperate and are willing to contribute to the commons. Free riders, Concerns: incentives, game theory, and tragedy of the commons 39 those only taking the benefits without chipping in, are only a minority. In one seminal study, two researchers (who clearly noted that ‘neither of [them] is a trained economist’) were asked across twelve experiments to split resources for the group or for themselves. Overwhelmingly, the participants allocated between 40 and 60% of their resources to the common good, contradicting the free rider hypothesis. Interestingly, though, one group allocated a much lower amount than that: economic students did so on average with only 20% of the resources.9 Such studies seem to suggest that cooperation between individuals is more natural than realists would put it for the state level. Furthermore, group identity can foster such cooperation, given that members who have already met will meet again (otherwise defecting becomes more attractive) and have information about their past behaviour – which, for states, are all realistic assumptions to have.10 The book will delve more into these points when looking at food and water security, where common fears do not find echoes in research results: cooperation is the prevalent case when food and water are scarce resources. The bottom line is hence that there is much room to challenge predictions of outcomes from game theory and from fears of free riders. There is a last concern as to group leadership theory in international relations: is it really leadership if everyone leads? Leadership A short answer to the above question is that our perception of ‘leadership’ is a construct; to make sense of the term, we need to break from the brazen use of the word in the everyday corporate environment. One argument that would lend credence to a negative answer to the above question is an oft-quoted passage from Plato about a ship analogy. Plato, via the voice of Socrates, asks his reader to imagine a 9 Gerald Marwell and Ruth E. Ames, 1981. ‘Economists free ride, does anyone else? ’, Journal of Public Economics, 15:295–310. See as well, Robert H. Frank, Thomas Gilovich, and Dennis T. Regan, 1993. ‘Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 7 (2):159–171. 10 For an excellent overview, see Peter Kollock, 1998. ‘Social Dilemmas: The Anatomy of Cooperation’, Annual Review of Sociology, 24:183–214. 2 The Theory 40 physically strong captain whose crew keep quarrelling to replace him. The crew ‘never learned the art of navigation and cannot say that anyone ever taught it them, or that they spend any time studying it; indeed they say it can’t be taught and are ready to murder anyone who says it can’. The crew admired captains with hands-on experience and were dismissive of anyone with their heads in the sky. They didn’t know that a ‘true navigator must study the seasons of the year, the sky, the stars, the winds’ and more to be successful in steering the boat on course. Plato uses the analogy to demonstrate the relevance of knowledge (and philosophy), and to refute to some extent democracy: expert knowledge is necessary even if the general public refuses to accept it (as recent waves of anti-expert populist movement in elections have highlighted). The argument can, however, be spun on its head in favour of group theory. Because of the vast complexity of issues addressed in international relations, there is a need to combine different expert opinions tackling diverse aspects of the same issue. No expert needs to be hierarchically organised on top of others; they can all be on the same level. Anyone with the best knowledge, skills, and predispositions to accomplish a task supporting the achievement of an overarching goal can take the ‘lead’ for the task. The point about knowledge expertise only provides a partial answer to the question. Commonly, we think that we need for leadership: a leader, followers, and a context conducive to it. If everyone leads, a legitimate question is: who are the followers? There has been much nonsense written about leadership, so much so that it is understandable if people clam up at the mere mention of it. Definitions opposing it to management and glorifying its status are countless. And often, they do not align with one of the strongest movement in social sciences since the 1990s: constructivism. Constructivism holds that stories we tell reflect linguistic constructs and are the outcome of competing narratives. The dominant narrative does not constitute any truth per se, but merely reflects that certain actors have been successful in imposing the interpretation or angle of a story as the dominant one. A few of the readers may have been involved in fights at school in their wild young years. As two kids battle, there is no referee counting the number of punches and kicks that successfully land on each oppo- Leadership 41 nent. There is similarly no scientific or traceable method to declare who won, and often this is highly unclear. When no broken nose, no bleeding eyebrows and no knockout have occurred – possible graphic and potent signals – how is the ‘winner’ determined? School kids talk then, a lot. And the one declared ‘winner’ will not be the one who’s shown the best techniques but the one who’s been able to shape the narrative so as to take the praise. It is an act of powerful persuasion, not of powerful physical violence. Something similar to the aftermath of a school fight occurs each time we try to pin down why one person is a leader and another is not. This has less to do with the evasive characteristics of leaders as with constructing a coherent and, most importantly, persuasive, narrative of a series of actions. This is of primary importance when trying to answer who follows whom: accordingly, no one may genuinely follow anyone and only linguistic gimmicks have convinced us that our perception was correct. Consequently, traditional charismatic ‘leaders’ have seen their share of characteristics probably vastly exaggerated: courage, authority, creativity, boldness and decisiveness may belong more to the myth than we’d like to admit. Sex and romantic appeal has often ensued from this overly positive picture of leaders. In fact, a few authors even go as far as positing that the term ‘leadership’ is a ‘euphemistic usage’ for seduction.11 These authors note that ‘seduction includes leadership: seduction means to lead (astray); to mis-lead [mis: badly, wrongly]. Seduction is leadership gone wrong’. On the other hand, ‘leadership includes seduction: to lead is to attract and stimulate, to overcome. Thus, to seduce is to lead wrongly, and it seems that to lead is to seduce rightly’. They conclude that this underlying sexuality has always been present in the term usage, which suggests as well our keen interest in the topic. There is also a sad realisation of why we have turned to the concept of ‘leadership’ with so much effervescence: to deflect our own responsibility. Two authors of an article eloquently describe the reason behind this deflection: 11 Marta B. Calás, Linda Smircich, ‘Voicing Seduction to Silence Leadership’, Organization Studies, 12 (4):567–301. 2 The Theory 42 [W]hen members of a group are faced with uncertainty and ambiguity regarding direction, they often report experiencing feelings of anxiety, helplessness, discomfort, disappointment, hostility, and fear of failure. Frightened by these emerging emotions and impulses, which are ordinarily held in check by absorption into the prevailing social system, they collude, largely unconsciously, to dispel them by projecting them onto ‘leadership’ or the ‘leader’ role.12 Here again, our utmost human basic needs can explain interest in ‘leadership’; not sexuality, but this time, our necessary experience as an infant and then as a child to have been taken care of completely by our parents, without a conscious effort on our part. Concepts of ‘leadership’ bring back, unconsciously, memories of such happy times of insouciance. In case you doubt it, consider the following. In the midst of the Euro-crisis in November 2011, while Greece was looking for ways to restructure its debt and fears that the Eurozone could break up were tangibly rising, the then Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski, made a seemingly passionate call to Germany. The then German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, had refused to let the European Central Bank act as a ‘lender of last resort’ while Angela Merkel had ruled out deploying euro-bonds. In France as much as in Germany, the public was still enraged that taxpayers’ money had ended up bailing out banks despite the banks’ bad behaviour. Also, the Greek debt crisis was coming after Spain and Ireland had become distressed, and the European Central Bank had already initiated a $100 billion a month bond buying program (quantitative easing) while cutting interest rates. In this context, Sikorski gave a speech in Berlin at the German Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank: I demand of Germany that, for its own sake and for ours, it help the Eurozone survive and prosper. Nobody else can do it. I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say this, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear its inactivity. You have become Europe’s indispensable nation. You may not fail to lead: not dominate, but to lead in reform [emphasis in original]. His call for leadership from Germany did not fall on deaf ears, making the front page of the Financial Times the following day. Poland was 12 Gary Gemmill, Judith Oakley, 1992. ‘Leadership: An Alienating Social Myth?’, Human Relations, 45 (2):113–139. Leadership 43 part of a clear group, namely the Eurozone group. Poland’s desperate call for more German ‘leadership’ raises the uncomfortable question of whether the country had also exhausted all the options it could from its side to salvage itself – before resorting to others to do so. The troika – the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – along with the governments of the concerned countries (prominently, Greece) – were the key actors to solve the crisis. This is not the place to delve into the complicated intricacies of the European Union’s processes (during the crisis or even during ‘normal’ times) with its numerous power struggles. Nor to dwell on the past and on responsibilities – for instance on the insistence of Germany, along with France, in 2003 to not have a strong enforcement mechanism for a budget deficit rising above the ceiling of 3% of GDP. The different ‘packages’ discussed by the European Union during the crisis have made it in any case rather incomprehensible – consider this list put together by two Economist writers, John Peet and Anton La Guardia, in their book Unhappy Union: ‘six-pack, two-pack, fiscal compact, Euro plus Pact, European semester, annual growth survey, excessive deficit procedure, macroeconomic imbalances procedure, “contractual arrangements” for reform, and much more’. Still, in a very rudimentary fashion, this highlighted that there is another way to look at the leadership question during the crisis. A lot of actors other than Germany played a crucial role in putting into the question the desperate call of the Polish Foreign Minister to Germany. The European Central Bank operates with one vote per council member, and decisions usually require only a simple majority. The European Central Bank intervened to save the euro currency, rattled by the Greek crisis, with its €500 billion bail-out fund, the ‘rudiments of a banking union’, as the Economist called it, and its promise to engage in massive quantitative easing should it be necessary. As the promise was made, panic on the markets subsidised; the pinnacle of the crisis had been reached. The International Monetary Fund also agreed to take on a part of Greek’s public debt but still required the Greek government to consolidate their fiscal deficit. Lastly, within the Council of Ministers (an organ bringing together ministers and in charge of preparing legislation), changes in voting majority that came into force in 2014 meant that Germany held a majority at 16%; but 2 The Theory 44 other coalitions could offset this advantage. Poland holds a bit less than half of the Germans’ vote share. The Germans did not function as a monolith either: a programme of the European Central Bank, the Outright Monetary Transactions, met resistance from the German central bank’s president, Jens Weidmann, when the German government supported it. Yes, the Germans still played their part as well. Two months following Sikorski’s speech, 25 of 27 EU states signed a pact for stricter budget discipline, following a German model. As Germany was stepping in, much criticism arose, however. Germany’s focus on austerity measures was highly controversial and against Keynesian thinking (where more public spending would drive inflation, re-boot the economy, and effectively decrease the euro-denominated debt). The lack of empirical evidence for such an approach and the number of studies proving that it was misleading meant that Germany came under excruciating criticism – until it reversed slightly course only in 2017, increased its spending and started reducing its abnormally high fiscal surplus. In short, not everything fell on German shoulders; and when Germany leads, as much as when it doesn’t, the country is decried. That may explain the country’s emphasis of leadership as a whole group when Angela Merkel visited Poland in 2018: ‘The future of Europe is dear to my heart — and that means the Europe of 27 member states, and not a Europe of the Eurozone or some other group’. Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski’s call to Germany is to be understood within a broader trend around personal responsibility. This broader trend, as uncomfortable to admit as it is, can explain the recent timing of the surge of interest in ‘leadership’. After the Second World War, there was a movement to own one’s action and a sense that deflecting responsibility for one’s own action onto peer pressure was morally insufficient. Hannah Arendt’s essay Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship, published in 1964, was central in this debate. Arendt rejected the depiction of a Nazi officer, Adolf Eichmann, as a monster; this depiction, she argued, helped make him a scapegoat and contributed to individuals evading the burden of their own moral responsibility. Those who supported the regime chose to do so – to which her critiques charged that she was blaming victims for collaborating. And Leadership 45 yes, she was. She quoted in her essay another author, Mary McCarthy: ‘If somebody points a gun at you and says, “Kill your friend or I will kill you,” he is tempting you, that is all’. Those who chose not to support the regime preferred death or a future where they did not have to live with the knowledge that they had committed atrocities. A generation later, this feeling of being responsible for one’s own fate and actions has arguably declined. In a way, this context can explain why discussions of ‘leadership’ picked up, especially in the mideighties through to the mid-nineties. Keith Grint, a scholar who has spent much time on the topic, once said that there were roughly, in the 1980s, ‘five articles a day published on leadership in the English language; by the 1990s this had doubled to ten a day’.13 Ironically and paradoxically, talking more and more about leadership would hence mean that we increasingly try to deflect our own responsibility, which would mean that we collectively try to move away from leadership. This could give credence to supporters of the idea that our state of international affairs is now a leaderless one, or is at least moving that way. But as we’ve seen with constructivism, context is key to explain how we perceive leadership. This is further the case in two separate ways. Context may lead to requiring an exercise in authority (say, because no one else is willing to step up to take decisions); and context can also mean that any exercise of authority by one ‘leader’ will have virtually no consequences, positive or negative. This dichotomy can be confusing, and merits investigation. Beginning with the latter and with an example: in 2010, Sebastián Piñera was elected President of Chile. He benefited from some good economic conjecture with high copper prices, Chile’s main export accounting to nearly half of its export revenues. His successor, Michelle Bachelet, inherited a much different picture, with constantly falling copper prices (at one point half of what they were during Piñera’s government) putting downward pressure on the Chilean economy, on her fiscal policies, and in turn, on her approval ratings. Many CEOs of large corporations may find themselves in the same seat as Piñera: 13 Keith Grint, 1997. Leadership: classical, contemporary, and critical approaches, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press. 2 The Theory 46 with the overall economy under a tailwind, they could find themselves in a similarly very good seat, where the company would be doing very well even without any management decisions from the board. Naturally, this school of thinking – that the CEOs’ decisions, coming with a very large pay check for the executives, do not exert much of an influence when considered in the greater scheme of things – is very unpopular amongst top management who like to value their own work. And also naturally, CEOs could end up in a similar situation to Bachelet – in which case, attribution biases dictate that they are this time much more likely to point out the role of fortune to explain the poor performance of the company. Many in the US might share this point of view about top managers already: a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center asked people which professions, out of 10, ‘contribute “a lot” to society’s well-being’. Business executives came up ninth, right before lawyers, while the military, teachers, and medical doctors took the top spots. As mentioned earlier, explanations of leadership that focus on the great quality of the leader overstress such importance, and may miss the point, namely that certain situations require it. This has less to do with a leader-follower type of dichotomy hence, but with the situation per se. Because of pre-conditions, or because a crisis erupted, a person may be pushed to take decisions, ultimately fostering construction of the person as a leader. This was the case with Warren Buffet when he declared himself to have won the ‘ovary lottery’ by being born male and in the US; this was the case with George W. Bush when he initiated the war in Afghanistan in 2001 after 9/11; or again, this was the case with Carles Puigdemont, the de facto leader of the independence movement in Catalonia.14 The decision-makers were there when the crisis occurred, requiring their ‘leadership’ and contributing to their elevation to a status above an ordinary manager, head of state, or decision maker. 14 Puigdemont’s case is somewhat less known than Buffet or Bush and may need a short explanation. Catalonia was cornered after a 2010 ruling from Spain’s Constitutional Court. The ruling curtailed part of the 2006 Statue of Autonomy of Catalonia. Puigdemont, then President of Catalonia from January 2016, called that year for a referendum, which eventually took place with clashes with police in September 2017. Leadership 47 The three arguments we have just seen – leadership as a construct, as a shift of responsibility, and as irrelevant when compared with global environment – build up towards stating that the question of ‘who leads whom if everyone leads’ is extremely misleading. Instead, accepting that leadership is constructed, it appears that there is room for another theory, in which the main narrative would be that everyone plays an equal role, taking up their responsibilities and navigating through the global environment with the necessary modesty required. Advantages of group leadership theory We need to acknowledge early on that such a form of ‘leadership’ may not be welcome, or equally accepted, in all types of organisation; culture plays a role as well. For instance, it is rather common for Swedish executives to seek to build consensus in an egalitarian way before taking an important decision. Italians and US organisations tend, on the other hand, to follow more a model of a centralised command-andcontrol decision structure. This also means that the theory of group leadership, whether in the context of international relations or of decision-taking within a private company, is already likely to encounter more resistance from people immersed in a culture where expectations of steep hierarchy are strong. This group theory form of approach in ‘leadership’, however, has several advantages, some of which have already been touched upon when discussing motivation. In short, it results in people becoming more motivated, more efficient, and as they take responsibility for the work, this motivation and efficiency is also more sustainable than with other traditional forms of ‘leadership’. A nice poem by the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (Plato’s elder by circa 150 years) sums this up nicely: A leader is best When people barely know he exists Not so good when people obey and acclaim him Worse when they despise him But of a good leader, who talks little, When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, 2 The Theory 48 They will say: We did it ourselves. From a pure management perspective, a last argument to consider in favour of group leadership is that strong leaders can demotivate other members of the group from contributing. Instead of drawing on everyone’s strength, a figure perceived as too strong can create a climate not conducive to building on every member’s strength. Most notably, some people are introverts – even up to one third of the population, according to some commentators. Introverts do not participate in meetings as extroverts would: they are quieter, favouring one-on-one discussions as opposed to group-wide ones; they need time to think, to prepare, and more importantly, to build up the courage to share their thoughts. While extroverts think out loud and are comfortable engaging in pushng for half-baked ideas, introverts would rather just keep their counsel. In meetings, this means that introverts need to be given pre-reading material and an agenda in order for their participation to be as valuable as possible. If this argument applies for people working in a group, this may very well translate to countries too. A ‘shy’ country may decline to participate for the very good reason already evoked earlier – one of responsibility: why do it when one knows that a larger, more prominent, ‘power’ will fill the shoes of the leader role anyway? But informal settings can boost their participation. In the context of G-meetings, socalled ‘sherpas’ – a usually non-elected high ranking government official close to the minister – discuss behind closed-doors preparatory meetings not only the agendas of the upcoming summit but also the final joint statement. They tease out where compromise can be reached and where positions can be softened. Sherpas do not have the final say, but will know their minister’s preference well enough to speak in their name. This setting is arguably much more suitable for countries that are more uncertain about the weight of their contribution to global issues. This brings us to consider a couple of arguments in favour of group theory from the perspective of international relations, and to start with the ominous focus on ‘big’ powers. The number of books and articles looking at the potential of a physical conflict between the US and China has seen a rise recently, comparable to the trite literature Advantages of group leadership theory 49 on ‘leadership’ in the 80–90s. The argument is simple: the US will fight not to be dethroned by China, and China will fight for a place at the top. The excitement of looking into the topic is understandable: the sheer destruction potential that images of a conflict involving the powerful US and Chinese militaries evoke raises up this excitement. Such a conflict would certainly re-shape international affairs by strongly shaking up the status quo. The problem with a focus on large power is that it does not take into account how other changes in smaller countries’ international relations with one another can add up to the point of representing global shifts as meaningful at the global scale. As already argued, there are other ways to think about leadership in international relations than in terms of who sits at the top. Paying attention to the multilateralism of other non-Western states will highlight these further nuances. The soup of acronyms is suggestive that these states aren’t sitting completely idle: BRICS, OAS, AL, ASEAN, ECOWAS, GCC, SADC, SCO, AU, EAEG. In plain text English, that is: Brazil Russian India China South Africa, Organisation of Arab States, Arab League, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Economic Community of West African States, Gulf Cooperation Council, Southern African Development Community, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Arab Union, and the East Asia Economic Caucus. Naturally, we’d have to look at the details of each of these circles to assess to what extent these groups are bringing about change. But also, the aforementioned list is naturally not comprehensive and it would be misleading to merely dismiss them ab initio, which a focus on large countries as ‘leaders’ of the world order does. As the acronym soup further suggests, countries do join circles to work together, a picture that is a world apart from the head-to-head chess game that realists like to describe. The monograph has been so far unfair to Francis Fukuyama, the author of the article and of the book The End of History (he dropped the question mark between the publication of the article and of the book). In his other much-publicised book, The Origin of Political Order, Fukuyama cites individual natural (or biological, as he calls them) characteristics as drivers of international relations, notably humans’ natural ‘reciprocal altruism’. In other words, we humans are selfish and go after our self-interest, but 2 The Theory 50 we also like to hang out in groups and take care of one another. In a way, this is strongly reminiscent of Plato’s description of humans as ‘political animals’. (Fukuyama further argues that humans have an innate propensity to create norms, and to have recourse to violence – not only for economic gain but for recognition as well.) This is also reminiscent of another influential definition within political science, the one of the ‘political’ as a distinction of groupings between ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’. Politics is, at its core, divisive; but it also attracts similar thinkers together. Such a definition of the political is slightly controversial, less for the definition itself but because of the man who brought it, Carl Schmitt. In 1932, Schmitt published his seminal essay The Concept of the Political while in Germany and stayed there during the Second World War. More than just residing there, he joined the Nazi party one year after publishing his essay, partook in book burnings, and received several appointments, including one by Hermann Göring as ‘State Councillor of Prussia’ and one as professor in Berlin, teaching legal philosophy in line with the then currently forming autocratic state. That aside, the definition remains potent and gives strength to group leadership theory: groups will form, some facing each other in an adversarial manner, others merely to advance an otherwise neglected agenda. Fukuyama’s reciprocal altruism tends to be lacking in other forms of approach to world order and leadership, but can account for much in group leadership theory. Furthermore, and especially when looking at non-formal settings of groups, or international groups meeting outside a rigid institutional framework, states do not have to be the only actors present at the discussion table. There has been a notable paradox in the international relations literature. Although a consensus seems to have emerged (putting the realist school of thought aside) that non-state actors, ranging from international terrorist groups à la al Qaeda or the Islamic State to multinational corporations from Facebook to General Electric, have grown in importance in shaping the international political agenda, theory has remained quiet on giving them a share of the pie. Group leadership theory presents the advantage to be adaptive and not to constrain the type of actors being part of the group. It brings in alignment the observation that companies and nongovernmental organisations play an important role in shaping the Advantages of group leadership theory 51 world, that their decisions should not be left out of the political process, and that solving problems through involving such organisations can also ensure a certain efficiency. Lastly, the theory puts an emphasis on the great flexibility that states seek, and it reflects this flexibility. The case of the G8 is informative in this regard. In February 2014, Russia invaded a part of Ukraine, Crimea – Russia did not regard it as such, but rather argued that the military intervention was necessary to ensure that the result of a referendum during which Crimeans voted to be part of Russia would be respected. During that year, Russia had the presidency of the G8. This has importance: as the G8 operated without a secretariat, this meant that the country with the presidency would not only host the meeting, but would also be largely in charge of setting the agenda. But a month following the invasion of Crimea, the rest of the members of the G8 declared: This Group came together because of shared beliefs and shared responsibilities. Russia’s actions in recent weeks are not consistent with them. Under these circumstances, we will not participate in the planned Sochi Summit. We will suspend our participation in the G-8 until Russia changes course and the environment comes back to where the G-8 is able to have a meaningful discussion and will meet again in G-7 format at the same time as planned, in June 2014, in Brussels, to discuss the broad agenda we have together. To which the then-10 year Foreign Minister, deeply loyal to Putin, Sergei Lavrov, responded that the ‘G8 is an informal club’, adding that ‘no one hands out membership cards and no one can be kicked out of it’. Both sides’ comments highlight the nature of these groups. Politics changes, as does the shape of circles within it. States do not need to align on every point to be within the same circle but the circle needs to follow a similar goal. When at least one side feels that this is no longer a good fit, it can leave, easily. Interestingly, in the case of the G8, both sides decided that it was no longer a good fit – although Russia’s statement may have been only to save face. After this, the remaining members of the G8, who were all members of the G7, kept meeting within the framework of this really-not-so-different group-of-seven. This change of circles of ‘friends’ or enemies is clearly independent of institutions. Another example of this arose again recently. French President Emmanuel Macron called the last 2018 G7 summit a G6+1 summit be- 2 The Theory 52 cause of the US stance on protectionism and trade tariffs. Again, this shows how alliances evolve, and how the group could still survive without the US. The arrogance of the US to think that it can bully the world (in this case, with trade tariffs) and that the world would miss it when is gone is spectacularly clear. This sort of flexibility that the G8/G7/G6+1 illustrate may not happen in otherwise established institutions. Within any institution, much coordination is required, occurring through a well-sitting bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the bread and butter of organisations, not solving problems, or discussing issues. Bureaucracy, while following a purpose for checks and balances, brings inherent barriers, making it harder to solve the issue at stake. A famous quote from the former US President Ronald Reagan comes to mind: No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth! Amy Zegart, a famous author, elaborates on this in The Atlantic with much punch: Whenever a crisis hits, the natural response is to add a new organization and stir. But if today’s chief challenge is developing coherent, coordinated policy in the face of complexity, creating more organizations to coordinate doesn’t get you very far. Over time, the whole bureaucratic universe just keeps growing bigger, filled with obsolete organizations alongside new organizations; fragmented jurisdictions, overlapping jurisdictions, and unclear jurisdictions; and silos so specialized that nobody can see across all the key issues easily. On top of that, joining an institution means formalising an alliance, making it potentially more difficult to leave. One needs to pledge money, and as in a divorce, upon leaving, one has to settle the bill, often reluctantly. Yet, countries do not need to set up organisations to work together. Going further, they do not need the level of commitment associated with formally joining an organisation to work efficiently together. A corollary of low barriers of entry is, however, that it is also easier to leave. The inherent motivation associated with the task at hand may compensate for this, at least in theory. Advantages of group leadership theory 53 Changing alliances is not only a theoretical point by any means. As Trump lambasted Mexico on immigration, pushing for the country to pay for a wall along the US border, and on trade, the country started looking elsewhere for close partners early in Trump’s presidency. While renegotiations of the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA) were under way, reports came out that Mexico was looking to closely partner with other Latin America countries. The nature of the deal would be different than the one with the US, but it did not have to be less beneficial for the country. Argentina delivered wheat, Chile apples, and China other goods, as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Mexican tomatoes, avocadoes and broccoli, which used to find their way to the US, could find new landing stations elsewhere. Changing alliances does not have to be for the better, either. Allegations that North Korean hackers teamed up with Iran to launch cyber attacks, as a British intelligence official quoted in The New York Times in October 2017 seemed to believe, would not be a welcome development. Group leadership theory, while inherently more moral because it is more inclusive than an autocratic view of leadership, is not completely perfect either. It does not have to be; it merely reflects our human nature. Wrapping up the theory The complexity of our world makes it impossible for any one individual to tackle large challenges on their own. Zegart, quoted above, has a funny story that serves to illustrate this point. The invention of pilot checklists occurred following the 1935 crash of a bomber bearing the flashy name of ‘Flying Fortress’. After the crash, investigators concluded that the problem had not stemmed from the machine but from a human error. During the take-off, the pilot had forgotten to unlock the rudder – a piece of metal allowing the steering of the aircraft. This memory gap was, however, understandable: the ‘Flying Fortress’ was too complicated, or as a journalist later put it, ‘too much an airplane for one man to fly’. The same can be true with the complexity of today’s world, with its many actors, from states to companies, and with networked, rising 2 The Theory 54 threats from terrorism to cyber security to climate change. This means that no one state can handle it all, let alone lead it all. But as a group, where everyone leads, tackling such tasks becomes doable. Empirical evidence supports this – and we will start by looking at this in regard to what concerns a threat to our very human existence: climate change. Wrapping up the theory 55

Chapter Preview



The US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the ‘Iran deal’, UNESCO, as well as the UN Human Rights Councils: issues like these convey the impression that the world order has changed. Without US leadership, it may seem that we have entered into what Ian Bremmer, an oft-quoted political pundit, calls a G0 world, a world without any leadership. Clement Guitton argues against this world view, as it disregards evidence of global leadership around the world on matters ranging from climate change, to trade, to security. Going a step further, Guitton claims that there is even evidence of a new form of leadership in international affairs: group leadership.