Does individual leadership only matter in crisis situations?

‘Crisis’ refers to problems so acute that they are believed by most governments concerned to carry a serious risk of war. It will probably have a variety of sources but nevertheless be publicly focused on a specific issue1. Leaders in these situations have choice in considering what to do, and it is this choice which ultimately matters most – they matter not only in crises, however but in all other situations also (as in trade agreements, political/social/economic sanctioning and in war, to name but a few).

While there is only time here to allow for a brief overview of this type of situation, it will become apparent that leadership is not theoretically concurrent – that is, it does not follow either one or another theory of International Relations – in all situations, or even in only one but rather that the outcome of a situation is heavily dependant upon the specifics of that situation. Leadership does indeed matter, in all situations, but leadership is merely a means to an end, in a specific ‘style’, itself dependant on the personality of the particular leader.

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What will determine a state’s wellbeing, however, is not necessarily the personality of the leader, but a states ability to reach its goals. Theorists of International Relations seem to talk of all action on behalf of / by states in terms of the “Liberal in character”, the “Realistic”, or the “Revolutionary”2. At this stage of events, however, it is impossible to contextualise a leader’s movements in terms of one or other theoretical perspectives – simply because leaders do not act in purely Realistic, Liberal or Revolutionary (or even other) ways all of the time. The main few theoretical approaches to mainstream thought in International Relations do not give an adequate framework for this individual approach to leadership. Of course, individual leadership does matter: Without a face to recognise as a particular leader – in any field – how is anyone to relate to those in power? Without a face to relate to, both those in power (at lower levels than a leader) and the general population are ‘at sea’ with no common focus to use as a conglomerating force.

With that face, however, a party, or any group, has a common focus and a recognised singular leader with which to attribute things such as the final say in a matter, the focus of a discussion e. g. as in all parliamentary discussions the person speaking is officially said to do so ‘through’ the chair, i. e. to be speaking at the Speaker. The reasons for this are simply understood: without a focus there is no reason to think that any decent sort of order will be kept, or even could be kept.

It is this precedent that is evident throughout the all forms of leadership and gives us the reason for leadership in the first place. Individual leadership in itself is a necessary thing and matters as such, but, what about mattering more in one situation than in another? Obviously a crisis, as used in our terminology is idealistically avoided. But, as per Kaplan: “In an imperfect world… good men bent on doing good must know how to be bad”4 if only to understand some of the moves/motives of their opponents.

So, it seems that avoiding a crisis is not always good policy. Indeed, the British and American co-operative choice was just this with relation to the Iraq problem. Obviously at the time that war was waged it was felt that all other possible avenues had been exhausted, and there was no choice but to go to war. The US had made up its mind – and even today we are reminded that G. W. Bush is a “… war President… ” – which tells us that this Machiavellian principle is truly alive and well.

Bad things were done in order that more good would be the outcome -this also fits the Machiavellian principle above. Bush reminded us, again, that his convictions are in line when, in his inaugural speech he states: We have seen our vulnerability… as whole regions of the world simmer in resentment and tyranny – prone to ideologies that feed hatred and excuse murder – violence will gather… [and that] we are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion: The survival of liberty in our land [America] increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.

The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world. 5 In times of crisis then, it seems that an individual’s convictions with regard to his leadership do indeed matter a great deal – especially in the contemporary context of crisis and management of war. However, the most important point to bear in mind here is that situations are vastly complex, and just because a state is considering/at war with [an-] other state/s, this does not mean that the subsequent actions taken will be of any specific character. I. e. he tactics used in one war may not be useful, in any size shape or form, in that of another. However, the question remains whether or not we must say the same for non-crises situations: For example, we could take the case of some hypothetical bilateral agreement. We could say it was on the issue of arms deals between two friendly states. The only goal, we shall assume, is to establish arms deals of as much mutual profitability as possible – furthermore, the productive capacity for these weapons is owned by the respective states themselves.

The exact dates of this are immaterial, as it is hypothetical, but let us imagine that one state can produce land mines (to choose a suitably controversial topic) and the other can produce bazookas – each with a economic ‘comparative advantage’ in the production of its chosen weapon. Economically, at least, it makes sense for these two friendly states to produce their respective weapons in this (mildly) specialised sense and then gain from trade. However, does the individual leadership of those conducting the arrangements of the fine details of the agreements have any influence over the situation?

More succinctly, does individual leadership matter in this non-crisis situation? As this is, essentially, a business deal between two states, should we look toward theories of business activity for an answer, or alternatively look toward other sources? The answer, I suggest, has to do with more than we can see from even this simple overview of an admittedly hypothetical situation. For we can only say that it is a non sequitur conclusion that all considerations are taken into account with our situation above.

And naturally so because we do not know, for example, the extent of the friendliness between the two states. Neither do we know between which people the friendliness extends – it may be that there are certain concerned operative persons within each state that enjoy very good ‘professional’ relations, whilst it may also be the case that there are those which do not, to some or other degree. Neither do we know the stratagems that each may use in this situation, nor the extent to which these stratagems may be applied.

Also, we cannot tell when such a stratagem may be put to use. For example, it may be that one of the states agrees to produce X amount of landmines, for an agreed price. Later, they may choose to keep the original agreement on price, but to drop the amount that was agreed at this price for any number of reasons, such as: ‘We have found out that our estimations of raw material cost are, at their present levels, well below the market level. We have no option but to increase our price. ‘

Obviously then, leaders in these types of situations matter a great deal – without them, as stated before, we might see all sorts of confusion and mayhem. But individual leadership matters everywhere. Not just in policy making, and not just in that of crisis, either: If, in our situation the state producing the landmines was able to exploit the other continuously, and not just the once, then the economic performance of that landmine producing state would be greatly enhanced, if only in the field of landmine production and transaction.

It is, arguably, just as important for a state to ‘win’ a war as it is to come out the more ‘better off’ in economic matters. Why so? Without economic wealth, a state’s wellbeing is as much challenged as it would be if it were to loose a war. Conclusively then, leadership matters, it matters a great deal in crises and in war. The different beliefs of different leaders in different situations will determine the different policies and ways in which goals are met.

However, leadership matters not only in crises and war, but also in all other matters and situations of statecraft – no matter how obscure or unimportant those matters my seem to the outside, indirectly concerned world. The situations encountered will always bear more importance than a leader’s ‘way’ of dealing with a situation, as it is not the leader’s wellbeing that is at stake, but ultimately, that of the state itself6. Individual leadership does not only matter in crisis situations.

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