This article is the second in a two-part series. Read the first piece here.
Fear is not the first emotion that springs to mind when thinking of leaders like Vladimir Putin. Anger, defiance or contempt – that is more likely to be the case. There are neuropsychological and semantic reasons for this: Some emotions want to be expressed. Anger, for example, fulfills an important function in communicating that a red line has been crossed (van Kleef et al. 2008: 16f). A deeper look into contemporary affective science suggests that all emotions have physiological manifestations. For example, specific “micro-expressions” – contractions of the facial muscles that last only a fraction of a second – that cannot be suppressed or hidden (Ekman 2003: 15). Analogous to this, so-called evaluation theories of emotion suggest that the physiological “activation” precedes the cognitive evaluation of a situation (Lazarus 1991; Tomaka et al. 1997: 63). Even if socio-cultural norms, identities or values should restrict the behavior of the individual, emotions often overwrite them (Turner 2009: 341). These observations should also apply to political activists, including the Russian leader.
In a post on E-International Relations in November 2020, I argued that we could use emotions as a conceptual tool for analyzing foreign policy. The piece focused on fear and suggested that human emotions present us with a phenomenon that has been extensively studied in psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience and is to some extent generalizable. It could therefore provide us with analytical leverage and a way of solving some of the more difficult epistemological and methodological problems facing the discipline: the debate about the primacy of structure or freedom of choice, bridging the gap between theory and practice, or the seemingly inevitable choice of a level of analysis. This article, focusing again on the feeling of fear, examines the plausibility of some of the theoretical points made earlier by applying it to episodes in Russian-Western relations.
It was an evaluation of the academic literature on Russian foreign policy that primarily piqued my interest in psychological explanations. The prevailing theoretical paradigms have a mixed track record of analyzing Russian foreign policy, let alone making predictions about future policy moves. A telling example: in a survey at the end of February 2014, only 13.9% of IR scientists believed that Russia would intervene militarily in response to the political crisis in Ukraine, while more than half ruled out this possibility (Maliniak et al. 2014 ). However, there is a wide range of opinions. Something Social constructivists suggest that Russia’s assertive twist is the product of a process of identity formation in relation to Europe (e.g. Neumann 2016; Tsygankov 2016). Analysis informed by liberal The theory traces Russian foreign policy back to key domestic policy tendencies (e.g. Lynch 2016; McFaul 2018). Because of the ambiguity of the term, reference should be made to a summary of what “liberalism” refers to in the context of foreign policy analysis (see Doyle 2012). Structural realismOn the other hand, it continues to emphasize that Russian behavior is the inevitable result of flawed, ideologically motivated Western politics (e.g. Mearsheimer 2014). The guideline specifications based on these analyzes vary accordingly.
These theories have some flaws in modeling the behavior of individual decision-makers in a social context. Structural realism and liberalism are based on the assumption of a rational actor, while much of the constructivist science, which emphasizes the intersubjective nature of the social world, offers no unequivocal theory of individual actorhood. Both rationalist and constructivist models rely on a traditional, “cognitivist” view; H. You focus on factors that are “known” and “understood” and do not reflect the state of the art in decision science. Notwithstanding these shortcomings, my investigation raised the question of whether we were lacking in order to examine patterns of change and continuity in Russian-Western relations and, more generally, to analyze states’ foreign policies. Have the scholars made good enough use of all the explanatory tools available?
The broader movement in IR promoting reintegration into human nature and focusing on affective phenomena, which my work is a part of, should therefore not be confused with an attempt to refute rationalist or constructivist models. Indeed, affective science confirms the assumptions of other theories in many cases. The aim is to demonstrate the usefulness of emotions as a lens for foreign policy, to combine material skills, to govern structures, ideas and the individual. In the spirit of Graham Allison’s insightful study of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the main purpose of “conceptual lenses” is to compare and contrast. In this way he suggested, “We see what each magnifies, highlights, and reveals, and what each blurs or neglects” (Allison 1971: v).
Some affective phenomena already play a prominent role in the field of foreign policy analysis. Academic interest in Russia (as well as China) Status concernsIn particular, the Russian reactions to the perceived disregard or denial of its great power status have steadily increased (e.g. Larson and Shevchenko 2010; Forsberg 2014; Tsygankov 2014). In international politics, status is more than just being beautiful. As a “call for power”, the status makes states safer and enables them to achieve their goals without having to use force (Gilpin 1981: 31). The historical status of the great power can also promote the domestic political goals of the ruling elite by providing a concept for creating a national identity and for strengthening community relations. The prototypical response to a denial of status, i. H. Failure to recognize someone else’s rightful place in the social hierarchy is a form of anger. It could therefore be argued that the literature on status problems is based on psychological claims about social identity, perceptions of “unfair” treatment, and anger. In this context, anger, defiance, or indignation should be understood as more than just an automated, primitive response, but rather as the affective component of an attempt to restore status. The point here is that foreign policy analysis based on status concerns generally fails to make explicit the connections between the concept of status and affective experience. By delving deeper into the psychology of status seeking (and denial) and the experiential byproducts of anger, we should be able to hypothesize the conditions under which certain concerns such as security, military might, territory, status, or values matter when a One concern is more important than another.
Same goes for fear. Despite its fundamental place in IR literature, the phenomenon has been studied primarily in the rationalist framework of deterrence, negotiation, or strategic choice. The way in which the subjective experience of fear or loss aversion affects decision-makers on a personal level was comparatively less taken into account. If some events in international politics are based on psychological processes, as seems to be an assumption underlying all of our traditional IR theories (if only implicitly), it stands to reason that the mechanisms by which these phenomena unfold should get more attention.
A main category in explaining Russian-Western relations is the former Fear of being encircled. It is based on both social and psychological factors. Through a socialization process, the historical precedent of multiple land invasions has left the Russians feeling insecure. In part, this has been and is compounded by the size of the country and the associated challenge of protecting its vast borders. In his theory of “affective geopolitics” Gerald Toal argues that, while the size of Russian territory already evoked a “feeling of vulnerability,” it was accompanied by discourses of conspiracies and plans for encircling historical enemies depicting Russia as a besieged fortress “Education , Culture, religion, national holidays and rituals have created “the nation state as an embodied state.” (Toal 2017: 46-47) In other words, many Russians care deeply about the security and integrity of the motherland in ways that Western observers do not appears.
There is no reason to assume that this deep-seated concern does not extend to the elites of the state. As Neil MacFarlane (2016: 351) suggests:
Putin and his colleagues in the Soviet security apparatus were drawn into this perception of isolation, hostility and threat in their founding years. This formation can influence the cognitive design of your current situation. In other words, despite the potential instrumental value of their rhetoric, they can also believe what they say about the threat from the West.
To this end, digging deeper into how the fear of encirclement is perceived by executives and the types of affective action tendencies that it might encourage can be instructive. Some of the possible consequences of anxiety are discussed in my previous article. Among them, “the fearful” have a higher tendency to identify future threats (including those that do not exist) and are worse at calculating the costs and risks of their decisions. As a result, they can behave in such a way that, even if they are intended to be defensive, they are viewed as threatening by others.
The fears that the Russian elites may already have had been exacerbated by the country’s slide into chaos and corruption in the 1990s and the associated feelings of powerlessness vis-à-vis a prosperous and self-confident West. In particular, the decision of the USA and its European partners to take military action against Yugoslavia in 1999 despite loud protests from Moscow marked a decisive turning point in relations. To this day, the NATO bombing campaign is used as an example of US hegemonic ambitions pursued as humanitarian intervention outside the common framework of international law. It challenged the post-Cold War role of Russian policymakers that the UN Security Council foresaw among international institutions, but above all their self-image. Humiliation aside, the Russians agreed that the NATO intervention set a dangerous precedent. Fears of West-backed uprisings in the “near abroad” and destabilization in the peripheral regions of Russia have been planted in the elite. The resulting defiant stance helped formulate a shared vision for a Russian Federation to restore its rightful status as a great power.
A Russian observer noted that NATO bombed not only Serbia, but also the United Nations and Europe after the Cold War “as an idea, as a political and civilizational project”. For many, Gorbachev’s crystal dream of a “common European home” was in pieces ”(Grachev 2009). Such a swan song for Russian drafts of a rule-based international order could have masked a deeper civilizational change that began around the same time. Until the turn of the century, Europe was widely viewed as the “main path of civilization” (Putin 1999) – a model that should be emulated. “We are part of Western European culture. Regardless of where our people live, in the Far East or in the South, we are Europeans, ”declared the new President in a speech to the German Bundestag (Putin 2000: 169).
By the mid-2000s, the outlook for Europe had changed significantly. The talk of a “common European homeland” had given way to portrayals of Europe as something “different”, “wrong” or even “lazy” (Neumann 2016: 1392). It should be noted that such representations did not arise out of nowhere. Russian ideas of Europe and “Western” patterns of human development had evolved and changed over the centuries (see Greenfeld 1992: 267; MacFarlane 1994). Regardless of whether it was viewed positively or negatively, Europe has always been central to the Russian self-image and the psychological, ideal and normative aspects of this relationship. The concept of Europe, according to MacFarlane, “occupies a psychological as well as an institutional and geographical space” and encompasses evolving perspectives in relation to “European” ideas and norms (MacFarlane 1994: 237). In other words, concepts of Russia and Europe are interdependent. Or, as Andrei Tsygankov puts it: “The assessment of the“ other ”by the“ self ”is subject to fluctuations, depending on the willingness of the“ other ”to accept the influence of the“ self ”” (Tsygankov 2018: 103).
This (re) definition of the “self” in relation to Europe explains the downturn in Russian-Western relations from the mid-2000s. Depending on whether the “self” (Russia) and its influence are recognized or denied by the “other” (Europe and the West), it can generate both to hope or Resentment and the perception of threat (Tsygankov 2018: 103). This has a decisive impact on whether the “self” is geared towards benevolence or defiance – towards cooperation or as a spoiler. According to Tsygankov, this emotional development from fear to hope to frustration has been a recurring pattern in Russian-Western relations for the past 19 yearsth Century:
Hope often turned into frustration at what Russia viewed as the other side’s unwillingness to reciprocate, and ultimately into suspicion and fear that Western nations were actually aiming to undermine Russia’s sovereignty and security. Persistent fear and mistrust occasionally turned into anger and anger-shaped politics to abandon cooperative initiatives and adopt patterns of defensive or assertive behavior (Tsygankov 2014: 346).
Jack Barbalet, who investigated the emotional effects of differently distributed levels of power and prestige, argues that anger and resentment often go hand in hand with fear when someone simply becomes too powerful for one’s own side to pursue their interests (Barbalet 1998: 133 )). In contrast to a scenario where a lack of power is viewed as a failure of one’s own, and fear leads to an escape reaction or social withdrawal, fear occurs along with resentment when the other side is blamed for their impotence, and the reaction is probably of the “fighting” kind. “Such perceptions”, writes Turner, “can be mobilized by ideologies or arise spontaneously, but in both cases very intense emotions such as vindictiveness are aroused, and these are the emotions of violence” (Turner 2009: 350).
Towards the end of Putin’s second term, these emotions were fully visible. He was best known when he launched a verbal tirade against the unipolarity of the USA at the Munich Security Conference in 2007: “(…) The United States has exceeded its national borders in every respect. This is evident in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies that it imposes on other nations. (…) It means that nobody feels safe. I want to emphasize this – nobody feels safe! “In August of the following year, Russia’s assertiveness manifested itself in indisputable words. Putin reacted with overwhelming force to a Georgian attack on the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, crippling the Georgian military in all but five days. The Russian actions also took a heavy toll on the civilian population and were heavily criticized by the Western world.
The subjective hierarchy of concerns can be used to explain why Russian decisions in the early stages of the war did not seem to take into account the potential impact of “disproportionate” action against Georgia. These included, for example, the threat of sanctions, capital flight, the increasing unsolvability of the war the longer it lasted, and the humiliation that resulted from the refusal of some CIS states to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The affective intensity of the officials’ fear and indignation outweighed the potential consequences of any action. Since these consequences were harder to avoid, their policy implications were recognized. By recognizing that Russian behavior during the August War was heavily affective, we can reconcile the scale and intensity of the initial invasion with the decision to forego going into Tbilisi just five days later and remove the Georgian President from the Force to force.
Ukraine’s move to sign an Association Agreement with the EU (and later refuse to sign it) sparked another series of fateful events in 2013, culminating in the annexation of Crimea in late March 2014. In stark contrast to much of the Western expert opinion in the media, well-known IR theorist John Mearsheimer blamed the West for the crisis because it fell victim to “liberal delusions” and ignored the political reality of how important it was to the Russian elite to maintain control of its border areas (Mearsheimer 2014). Regardless of how one evaluates Mearsheimer’s argument, his structurally realistic stance towards Ukraine underscores the role of fear in many of our classic frameworks of IR theory that are used to investigate cases in international politics.
Realism generally describes politics as determined by the anarchic structure of the international system (structural realism) or the lust for power inherent in human nature (classical realism). However, realistic politics can also be traced back to fear. Viewed through the prism of fear, the pursuit of power is not an end in itself, but an essential strategy for survival. Classical realists have said this very clearly: “Power struggles emanate either from the animus dominandi of human nature or from fear or from a mixture of both” (Neumann and Sending 2010: 685). Structural realists, too, make psychological assumptions, despite their emphasis on the balance of power between states; The state-centrism of the theory merely obscures its ontological foundations in human nature (Freyberg-Inan 2004: 3; Johnson and Thayer 2016).
The analysis of Russian foreign policy, shaped by “liberal” theory, contradicted more structurally realistic conclusions. While the term does not refer to the same, uniform explanation for all cases, liberal accounts often take a similar, western-leaning stance. Based on this normatively charged position, Russian foreign policy often serves as an inverted model, as a “dark double” of US foreign policy (Foglesong 2007: 11). As a result, liberal declarations of Russian behavior often fit in with the official US foreign policy line. Obviously, when political regulations precede the analysis, the explanations of government behavior are somewhat limited. Furthermore, a liberal stance could blind the analyst to see how the effects of one’s own politics are being perceived. Why, for example, NATO expansion, the recognition of Kosovo’s independence or the establishment of a missile defense system in Europe are so vehemently rejected by Russian officials are important questions in and of themselves that often remain unanswered.
Such questions are more difficult than they seem. The argument that Russia should be afraid of NATO, for example, is not counterbalanced by a rating of “hard”, i. H. Mainly military-related security factors supported. In the early 1990s, Russia viewed NATO as a Cold War relic that now has no purpose. The expansion plans were wrong due to organizational inertia, but they did not pose any real threat (Patrushev 2005). Even after the final phase of enlargement, experts suggested that NATO’s presence on the Russian border was more of a “speeding” than a credible deterrent. Then why do Russian leaders keep referring to the alliance as the greatest threat to national security? The answer has to be socio-psychological: the purpose of NATO was seen as a constant attack on Russian culture and values. The threat posed by the alliance is therefore not perceived as military, but primarily as psychological or ontological.
The “affective” lens causes the analyst to be sensitive to these nuances in managerial perception and motivation. Neither the Russo-Georgian war nor its invasion of Ukraine can be directly attributed to an affective reaction or even viewed as a consequence of the deterioration in relations between Russia, Europe and the US. However, the emergence of an embedded, almost institutionalized, contemptuous attitude towards the West certainly lowered the threshold and assisted the Russian elites in rationalizing and ex post justification of decisive measures.
Niccolò Machiavelli, in his treatise on leadership written for Lorenzo de Medici, suggested that a prince (or head of state) should have two fears: the other external, concerning foreign powers. He can defend himself against the latter with his effective weapons and effective allies. (…) With regard to his subjects, he must fear that external affairs will not change if they do not change. The prince will protect himself from this danger by avoiding being hated or despised and by making people happy with him ”(Machiavelli and Bondanella 2005: 63-64).
In other words, the prince’s two fears are foreign invasion and popular uprising. Since the late 1990s, Russian leaders have been very vocal about both types of fear, including frequent references to Western-backed uprisings in the “near abroad” or even in Russia. However, in their own experience, the threats they responded to may have been different. Rather than a military invasion, the elites may be more sensitive to challenges to a system of government they have built, no doubt with hard work providing for their livelihood and physical well-being. Russian officials have suggested this by expressing their distaste for democratization and regime change – although such clues are less than warnings of Western incursion using a security language. “Since 2004, Putin and his colleagues have viewed the democratization of neighboring countries, particularly Ukraine, as a compelling threat, not so much to Russia as to the structure of power and profit that he and his colleagues have been trying to build in Russia.” (MacFarlane 2016: 351-52).
It is possible that Putin and those around him instigate fear of encirclement in order to rationalize other, more existential fears themselves. Mark Galeotti (2016) argues: “For many in and around the Kremlin, Russia faces a real threat, not from tanks and missiles, but from cultural influences, economic pressures and political penetration. In their eyes, this is a civilizational threat aimed at making Russia a homogenized, castrated, subaltern state. “At the center of this civilizational threat is the centrality of individualism and political competition in Western societies, which is opposed to the collectivist desires for stability and stability and concentrated authority in Russian culture (Tsygankov 2018: 102). The encirclement narrative is thus closely linked to self-identification as “superior” through a process of affective change. As Alexander Motyl (2014) notes, “the superiority of Russia and Russian civilization are still entrenched values, as is the belief that the West is hostile and that the country needs a strong leader, Putin, to grow Russia’s greatness claim and fight western influence. ‘
In the future, Putin will have to face a simple reality: with each additional month in office he has more to lose and fewer ways out. It has also been documented that longtime leaders like him are prone to psychopathologies such as distancing, hubris, or fear of persecution (see Robertson 2015). For Putin, who certainly believes that Russia’s prosperity and security depend on him, it is not just his political legacy that is at stake. Viscerally, the success of his policies, the course of the country and the question of his succession have a direct impact on his financial and physical security. All of this increases the stake in the conductor’s perception considerably and provides fertile ground for highly intense affective reactions.
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