What is Psyplomacy?

International relations are the relationships between people and groups of people. The fundamental causal unit of international relations underlying economics, strategy, geopolitics, foreign policy, liberalism, law and democracy etc  is the individual human, their emotions, cognitions, behaviour, relationships and their interaction and participation in group and intergroup dynamics.

The psychological paradigm in international relations

After the September 11th attacks, many asked, “Why do they hate us so much?” People knew they needed to find a way to stop this, or worse, from happening again. People tried to understand the mind of the terrorists. Some tried to empathise with those who live in the climate that breeds such behaviour. Al Jezeera, the previously unknown Arabic satellite station, suddenly became a household name. Some Western politicians became interested in the views of “the Arab street” and tried to facilitate dialogue with countries in the Middle East.

As the memory fades, the challenge is to maintain the momentum of this more psychologically-sophisticated approach to foreign policy.

The traditional modes of international relations models, including economics, geopolitics, liberalism, sociology, law and strategy, remain valid and useful. However, it is important not to overlook that we are talking about people. The fundamental causal unit is the individual human, whose emotions, cognitions, intentions, behaviour and relationships determine their interactions with group and intergroup dynamics.

By looking through the lens of psychology, we can gain a view to help manage the relationships between peoples.

The realities of economic interconnectedness include easy travel, mass communication and the availability of weapons of mass destruction to more states and potentially non-state actors.  It has become less possible for countries to treat one another as objects from a distance, and impossible, even for the most powerful countries, to ignore the weakest.

A powerful military will remain essential, but wont be enough. Being good at negotiating and bargaining with other governments’ representatives will become more important, especially where interests are divergent, but will not be enough.

From a realist perspective, it is now in our interests, and not just “nice,” to work harder on the soft side of inter-group relations, to promote better understanding, communication and to seek to have a favourable relationship with as many peoples as possible.