Influence of Government and Policy Makers on UK Classrooms

“Mathematics educators have often emphasized reasoning as one of the primary goals of

learning mathematics.” (Hwang et al., 2017)

The aim of this essay is to analyse the empirical literature which discusses the current government and policy maker’s influence on UK classrooms which suggest that introducing East Asian pedagogical practices would improve mathematical achievement and numerical reasoning to raise standards towards levels seen in renowned internationally successful nations.

 In 2012, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)’s Programme tested over half a million children from over 65 regions, countries and economies around the globe, with a focus on mathematical attainment. Mathematical performance, for PISA, was formulated to measure the ‘mathematical literacy of 15-year-olds to employ and interpret mathematics in a variety of contexts to describe, predict and explain phenomena, recognising the role that mathematics plays in the world.’ (OECD, 2018). To be successful on the PISA test, students must be able to reason numerically and use ‘mathematical concepts, procedures, facts and tools to describe, explain and predict phenomena’. (OECD, 2016). The 2012 study illustrated findings showing that children from Shanghai and Singapore were the top performers in mathematics, with the equivalent of nearly three years of schooling above most other counties being displayed by children from Shanghai. Whilst there were many other East Asian nations also in the highest performing group, three of our European Counterparts were also there: Liechtenstein, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Results indicate that ‘23% of students in OECD countries, and 32% overall, failed to master the simplest maths problems’. (OECD, 2014). Almost half a million children took part in the PISA assessments in 2015, these children represent about 28 million 15-year-olds in the schools across the 72 participating nations, economies and countries taking part. (OECD, 2018). These findings and conclusions show that four countries within Asia continue to ‘outperform all other countries/economies in mathematics’ (OECD 2016). The first PISA results (OECD, 2014) surprisingly claim that ‘only 20% of the students in OECD countries frequently encounter mathematics problems that are set in real-world context and where argumentation skills are demanded’.

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Another international-scale study, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) was designed to provide a ‘perspective’ on international teaching and learning in mathematics and science ‘designed to inform educational policy and practice’, was carried out in 2011. Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan were ranked in the top 5 respectively for 10-11 year olds (Mullis et al., 2012); the 2015 study showed that those same nations remained the most successful; with the remainder of the world remaining at least 23 points behind (the same margin as in 2011). The purpose in TIMSS’ aims are to ‘understand how mathematics curricula should be improved and how to improve students’ mathematics achievements’ (Mullis et al., 2012) through testing the numerical reasoning skills of children on an ‘international scale’. Furthermore, in 2015, results indicate that only 6% reached an advanced mathematical level where they are able to ‘apply understanding and knowledge in a variety of relatively complex situations and explain their reasoning’. In ‘Singapore, Hong Kong SAR and Korea 41-50% of pupils achieved the advanced benchmark, but 10% or fewer did in 34 of the 49 countries that took part’ at age 10-11 years. (Mullis et al., 2015). These results have been discussed, analysed and sensationalised; making national and international headlines on numerous occasions – educators and policy makers in the UK create the impression that it is surprising, demoralising and depressing that we are unable to challenge the mathematical abilities of the most successful countries. These reports of international success, however, should be used to motivate other nations and demonstrate the capabilities of children when given the ‘optimal conditions to succeed’. Mullis et al (20012) states that ‘they demonstrate that our children’s current achievement is not the best they can do; they can achieve much more’.

There have been many studies on the impact of East Asian methods due to their successful results in PISA and TIMSS surveys. For their theoretical study, Jerrim & Choi (2014) aimed to develop a ‘better understanding of how children’s performance on internationally standardised math tests changes between ages 10 and 16’, through comparisons between the experiences of English children compared to the highly successfully performing East Asian jurisdictions (Japan, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong); discussing reasons why children from such countries are, on average, more than one school year ahead of their Western peers (Jerrim and Choi 2014). Fundamental limitations in this study are expressed at the outset in that ideally, longitudinal data would be available to analyse findings in this study, however, the researchers’ use of cross-sectional data ‘repeated cross-sectional data, where samples have been collected from the same, or very similar, cohorts of school children at various points in time’. Jerrim & Choi create a credible study by discussing limitations to their empirical study in that there are some conceptual differences in the skills being measured between PISA and TIMSS data collection, however, they question whether the slight difference in focus is of substantive importance. (Detail findings and methods – focus on rigour and credibility)

Conversely, Jerrim and Vignoles (2015) studied two of the most frequently asked questions by education policymakers ‘What drives East Asian educational success?’ and ‘What can we do to catch up’? Their paper attempts to provide some robust evidence to begin to fill this important gap in the literature. Specifically, it provides evidence as to how introducing a particular East Asian inspired teaching method into a Western schooling system influences children’s mathematics test scores. (Detail findings and methods – focus on rigour and credibility)

Boyd and Ash (2018) investigate teachers’ beliefs during implementation of a textbook-based Singaporean mastery approach to teaching mathematics. (Detail findings and methods – focus on rigour and credibility)

There has been a vast amount of study into different approaches that could be adopted to improve mathematical reasoning within the primary classroom. Key findings of Nunes et al‘s research study found that ‘mathematical reasoning, even more so than children’s knowledge of arithmetic, is important for children’s later achievement in mathematics’. Mathematical reasoning and knowledge of arithmetic (assessed at age 8-9 years) make ‘independent contributions to children’s achievement in mathematics in KS2 and 3’ (Nunes et al.,2009). While both are important, Nunes et al. (2009, p.1) claim that mathematical reasoning is more important than knowledge of arithmetic for achievement in KS2 and 3. Mathematical reasoning has been defined in a number of ways (Bolton, 2017; Erdem & Gürbüz, 2015; Holton, Stacey & Fitzsimmons, 2012; Herbert et al, 2015): though researchers generally accept that mathematical reasoning involves critical thinking; focus on mathematical relationships; drawing inferences; involving in-depth discussion; metacognitive explanation; argumentation; justification of solutions; and reflection on the strategies and methodology applied in the process. Corollary, researchers commonly agree that reasoning and proof form the foundation of mathematical understanding. This large longitudinal study survey of children investigated children’s progress at different stages through primary and early secondary school. Findings discuss the advantages of heterogenous groupings in place of more traditional homogenous (ability) groupings which ‘in Primary school improves the mathematical reasoning of children in the top ability group, but the effect is small. It hinders the progress of children in the other groups.’ Claiming that children’s self-confidence in the subject has a small but significant impact on attainment in mathematics reasoning.

The aims of Herbert et al. (2015)’s research study was to create a framework of teachers’ perceptions towards and of mathematical reasoning which would enable the tracking of teacher perceptions (which in turn could then be utilised in further study to adopt professional learning and enhance pedagogical application). Herbert et al. claim that the framework produced can provide a ‘vehicle to assess teachers’ awareness of aspects of reasoning’; facilitating this tracking tool could both evaluate professional learning requirements and assess the impact of this learning. Furthermore, claiming the framework capable of ‘maximising the change in teachers’ perceptions of mathematical reasoning.’ A pragmatic philosophy appears to have been adopted when selecting this phenomenology paradigm; to investigate the participants’ perceptions of the concept of investigation as opposed to the researchers’ bias, experience or predetermined ideas. (Describing learning as a change in the way a student conceives the object of learning (Booth, 1997; Ramsden, 1988)). Herbert et al. (2015)’s investigation clearly followed a robust and rigorous process underpinning the importance of eliminating bias in the phenomenology paradigm; illustrating that ‘phenomenography to be an effective methodology to provide evidence for establishing this framework’. Limitations into generalising this study included the socio-cultural features of the schools participating; limited teaching experience in some participants. Additional limiting factors are highlighted as teachers’ lack of vocabulary to discuss mathematical reasoning. However, the framework successfully developed creates opportunity for further research to determine the effectiveness of professional learning on participant’s perceptions of mathematical research.

From an opposing perspective and approach to improving attainment of mathematical reasoning; the research study of Gürbüz & Erdem (2016) uses correlation analysis to determine a relationship between mental computation and mathematical reasoning in primary aged children. An explorative approach appears to be used to facilitate the quantitative research methods allocated to the investigation; utilising a correlation model. This study focused on 118 primary aged children nominated using random selection techniques to identify participants from ‘low and middle socioeconomic areas in a city in Turkey’. An analytical survey and Inferential analysis was used allowing generalisations to be formed. Correlation analysis found a ‘relationship between mental computation and mathematical reason of the students involved in the study’. In literature, only correlation values of 0.65 or higher in education research will show that it represents the correlation correctly and will allow individual predictions that are reasonably accurate for generalisation purposes. This study found a 0.654 correlation that there is a ‘significant’ and ‘highly positive relationship’ between students’ mental computation and mathematical reasoning’. This robust and credible study used clearly defined parameters to analyse and discuss findings. Conclusions identified a highly positive relationship between mental computation and mathematical reasoning. To move from explorative to more transformative research, Gürbüz and Erdem (2016) suggest further study to investigate the relationship between mental computation and mathematical reasoning qualitatively; examining the impact of addressing mathematical misconceptions, perceptions and ability on mathematical reasoning through more constructivist and transformative descriptive analysis.

With regards to policy-makers making decisions on adopting East Asian pedagogies and teaching formulas, Jerrim & Choi (2014) state that East Asian children vastly out-perform their English peers even when they have been through the English schooling system.[1]. A claim that is justified by indicating that perhaps it is generally high expectations along with cultural and community ethos that contribute to high levels of achievement, which in the UK cannot be a short-term focus seeing as it is notoriously difficult to modify people’s attitudes and beliefs ‘. Bray (2003) also highlights issues with this kind of cultural expectation which can result in ‘pressure which students (physical and psychological) and parents (financial) must put up with’. However, is this the kind of pressure which could allow our children to achieve at the superior level in PISA and TIMMS similar to that of our East Asian counterparts to ensure financial prosperity and long-term economic success?

Some studies have found that many primary teachers are not confident in defining reasoning (Loong et al., 2013). Teaching methods, attitudes and perceptions in an education system along with teacher subject knowledge, pedagogical application and professional development are paramount in improving achievement in mathematical reasoning in primary classrooms. Herbert et al.’s research could be used as a basis to create a tracking tool to assess perceptions and to improve professional development outcomes as a new curriculum initiative is introduced.

Developing classroom dynamics including specific grouping and encouraging confidence in mathematical ability can improve children’s achievement in mathematical reasoning (Nunes et al, 2009). Providing sufficient opportunities to engage in mental computational mathematics is important to ensure children’s mathematical knowledge can be applied to other contexts (Gürbüz & Erdem, 2015). This mental computation forms an important component of the method in which Eastern Asian countries apply their mathematical teaching methods with significant success internationally as seen in the PISA and TIMSS results.

Even when policies and teaching methods have been proven to be effective in East Asia, culture and context potentially limit the extent to which such initiatives can be successfully transferred to other countries (Cowen, 2006,). Family and social commitment to education is also reflected in the large number of weekly hours East Asian students spend in self-study activities (Jerrim & Choi, 2014) and, as Zhu and Leung (2011) argue, the ‘great impact extrinsic motivation has on their mathematics test performance (much more so than their Western peers)’. However, here the issue of causality exists. (Jerrim and Vignoles, 2015) Indeed, it appears that instead of at secondary level that mathematical reasoning develops fully, it appears that East Asian countries that top the PISA and TIMSS survey appear to ’pull ahead’ before age 10 and then maintain the mathematical superiority which exists between them and other countries globally. Furthermore, these children display a ‘situated mathematical mindset’: a belief held in varied ways by teachers and children, that the more you practice at the edge of your current attainment level in maths, the more intelligent you will become as a mathematician (Boaler, 2016).

Whichever, teaching method is adopted, researchers generally agree on one vital component for mathematical and numerical reasoning success – mastery is paramount. ‘Learning for Mastery (LFM) is a group-based, teacher-paced approach to mastery instruction wherein students learn, for the most part, cooperatively with their classmates’ (Block and Burns, 1976). Traditionally, in the UK classroom, approaches to differentiation commonly involve some children being identified as ‘mathematically weak’ and are taught a reduced curriculum with simplified mathematical work to carry out, possibly in heterogenous ability classes but generally in same-ability groupings; whilst others are identified as ‘mathematically able’ and given further challenges and extension tasks, or more simply moved to the following years’ skills. This approach has been adopted with the best of intentions: to offer additional support to those encountering difficulties with understanding mathematical concepts, with a view to ensuring competence of key concepts within mathematics. Nonetheless, this can only have negative connotations for these children surrounding their mathematical ability, the perception of their own mathematical ability, their motivation and mindset surrounding the subject and their future numerical application. In the light of international evidence from high performing jurisdictions in the Far East, and ‘mindset’ research (Hattie, 2012), mastery appears to be the most common form of pedagogy within those nations who boast the highest levels of success. Most modern mastery applications stem from the word of Benjamin Bloom (1971, 1976, 1984), who discussed how teachers might adapt their pedagogy to improve learning in classrooms. Bloom suggested ‘if teachers could provide the necessary time and appropriate learning conditions, nearly all students could reach a high level of achievement’ Guskey, 2010). ‘The notion that Singaporean teachers place more emphasis on whole class mastery of concepts is supported by the Teaching and Learning International Survey (Micklewright et al 2014)’ (Jerrim and Vignoles, 2015). The class simply do not move on until every member of the class has acquired mastery of each concept. More able children investigate the aspect in more depth, whilst the teacher focuses on those children who need more support in achieving the mastery. Additional support in terms of parental partnerships and after-school tutoring is also commonplace for these children in order that they can also become fluent in the fundamentals of mathematics along with their classmates. Furthermore, the’ Singapore system concentrates more on developing problem-solving skills rather than mental arithmetic’ (Cohen, 2017). Indeed, the English National Curriculum for Mathematics states that ‘… decisions about when to progress should always be based on the security of pupils’ understanding and their readiness to progress to the next stage. Pupils who grasp concepts rapidly should be challenged through being offered rich and sophisticated problems before any acceleration through new content. Those who are not sufficiently fluent with earlier material should consolidate their understanding, including through additional practice, before moving on’ (Department of Education, 2014). In many mathematical schemes of work in the UK, there are time constraints to different areas of the curriculum to ensure adequate ‘coverage’ – these schemes create constraints on the time for which each concept is taught. In Wales, one scheme of work indicates that one week at the start of each year should be dedicated to place value, followed by one week of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division respectively – arguably the most important cornerstones of mathematics, without an in-depth knowledge of each, children could not possibly hope to compete on an international scale with those children from our East Asian counterparts. Researchers studying the importance of learning for mastery (Jerrim and Vignoles, 2015; Guskey, 2010; Mercer, 2006; Mevarech, 2015) would strongly disagree with this padagogy, agreeing with a 2012 publication by the independent Advisory Committee for Mathematics Education (ACME) which advocates ‘depth in place of acceleration’ and which states that ‘users of mathematics should experience a deep, rich, rigorous and challenging mathematics education, rather than being accelerated through the school curriculum’.

It could be suggested that although elements of East Asian pedagogy can be learned from and are generally agreed to be highly effective, it cannot be proven unequivocally that they could be implemented successfully within any other educational setting to equalise mathematical performance with East Asian nations without also (impossibly) committing to cultural and historical mirroring. Instead, a focus and commitment of changing the methods and pedagogy through which mathematics is taught in the UK appears to be a more realistic target. Ensuring mastery in the fundamental mathematical areas of place value; addition and subtraction, multiplication and division; their inter-relationships; and the reasoning and application of methods and strategies to solve calculations and numerical problems, should instead be the focus to improving numerical reasoning and mathematical attainment within the primary classroom.

References:

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[1] In 2011, 78.5% (76.6% in 2015) of Chinese children achieved five or more A*–C grades including Maths and English. This compares to a national average of 58.2% (57.1% in 2015); 61.8% (61.1% in 2015) of Asian pupils achieved five or more A*–C grades including Maths and English https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/219306/sfr03_2012_001.pdf; https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/494073/SFR01_2016.pdf
 

Personality of Decision Makers in International Relations

This essay will explore the extent to which the personality traits of a decision maker impact upon his foreign policies. It will not argue that such idiosyncratic variables alone are the exclusive determinants, but that they have a significant role to play. As political scientist James Barber remarked, “Every story of decision making is really two stories: an outer one in which a rational man calculates and an inner one in which an emotional man feels. The two are forever connected” (quoted in Brewer, 1992, p.149). Foreign policy decision making is an outcome of how individuals with power perceive and analyse events. Political leaders are not beyond the reach of the human traits of assumptions, subjectivity, prejudices and biases. Their underlying beliefs and motivations will have a bearing upon the conclusions they reach. Culture, geography, history, ideology, and self-conceptions shape the thought process of a decision maker, forming what has been referred to as the psycho-socio milieu of decision-making (Sprouts, 1965). The foreign policy decisions of Harry Truman, Saddam Hussein and Charles de Gaulle will be used as case studies to demonstrate how personality can affect the formulation and implementation of foreign policy, whilst also providing the opportunity to show the differing extents to which such traits have occasion to make an impact, due to situational factors such as in a crisis or in non-democratic regimes. This essay will conclude that the influence of individual personality traits is most evident in the foreign policies of persons in unrestricted positions of authority, and in crisis situations. In democracies, during non-critical times, the extent to which the leader’s personality influences decision making varies according to his relative passive/aggressive nature. Dominant leaders will seek to reshape the international political system in accordance with their own personal vision, resulting in tenacious foreign policies through which they attempt to advance a central idea, whilst maintenance of the status quo can be attributed more to low-dominance, introvert individuals, seeking to power-share and delegate decision making (Etheredge, 1978).

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The effects of personality on decision making are difficult to quantify. Interpersonal generalisation theory suggests that behavioural differences in interpersonal situations have some correlation to behavioural differences in international situations, for example, a relationship between self-assertiveness/dominance, and willingness to resort to military action (Etheredge, 1978). However, it would be naive and over-simplified to state that certain personality traits of a decision maker lead a country to war; instead they can be seen as tipping the balance towards or against a certain policy, because, put succinctly, “some leaders are willing to gamble the destiny of their people in a war; others are not” (Ali Musallam, 1996, p.5) It is also important to take into consideration the extent to which individual traits can be separated from role-playing. Decision makers may act how they perceive a leader in their society is expected to act, taking role-appropriate decisions which are not necessarily in line with their personal nature.
No individual can know all the relevant factors when making a decision, thus each individual’s perception of reality will be different from reality. This incongruence between the psychological and operational environments permits filters, such as the past experiences of leaders, to shape decision making. It has been argued that “there is strong, robust evidence that most human choice is preconscious and strongly and quickly influenced by emotion…despite their expertise, foreign policy makers are no less biased than other people” (Gross Stein, 2008, p.113). Core beliefs are held to be true even if they cannot be verified, providing the foundation of myths and ideologies; efforts to challenge them are met with hostility. The phenomenon of cognitive dissonance enables even the most intelligent of human minds to resist and deny important, uncomfortable aspects of reality. Human psychological make-up limits rationality, having a need for simplicity. In the processing and analysing of complex information, we break down information and choose how we want to interpret it.
When analysing the influence of personality upon foreign policy, it is important to emphasise that the differing political environments surrounding leaders will naturally create highly variable boundaries within which they have the freedom to operate. It is a given that a dictator in an authoritarian regime has much greater, unconditional, unaccountable power to create policies suiting his personal interests, than the leader of a democracy. Within a democracy, the head of government is obliged, to some extent, to take into consideration the opinions of other authorities and experts, and must especially consult the Foreign Minister with regard to foreign policy. However, ultimately, the final decision does lie with the leader, and he does possess the power to override other opinion if he wishes. Leaders of governments can also have the advantage of hand-selecting those who they put into positions of power. A leader is likely to choose key advisors who share his core beliefs and he considers to be generally cooperative, creating an environment in which groupthink has the potential to flourish.
Political leaders in democracies should, theoretically, and sometimes in practise, reflect the attitudes and core values of their citizens. Having been through the same socialisation process and sharing the same core cultural values as his citizens, the democratic leader can be seen as an embodiment of societal character. Decision making is an institutionalised process, in which “personality factors merge with cultural background factors and can often be explained in more generalisable group terms” (Cerny, 1980, p.13). The mood of society sets broad boundaries around the theoretical foreign policy alternatives of decision makers. However, it has been alleged that, beyond academic elites in foreign affairs, there exists a lack of public interest in foreign policy; seemly too distant and irrelevant compared to domestic issues. It is argued that the general public is “ill-informed and unstable, prone to changes in opinion…at worst [they] possess non-attitudes with respect to international politics” (Robinson, 2008, p.139). This gives the government greater freedom of movement than in formation and implementation of domestic policies, and hence greater scope for domination by significant personalities and ideologies. Nonetheless, it could also be argued that this apparent apathy is now declining due technological, transportation and communications revolutions which enable foreign affairs to be brought much closer to the daily lives of ordinary people.
Personality can impact to differing extents on the formulation and implementation of foreign policy. Whilst a policy can be formulated, within the relative situational and bureaucratic restraints, to the particular personal liking of a leader and his colleagues, the implementation stage, translating foreign policy objectives into practise and desired outcomes, is more complex. Attempts to implement a policy can come into conflict with the objectives of other actors and the environment, as the boundary between decision makers and the outside world is crossed. It is true that “orders may be easily issued, but that is only the beginning of the process of attempting to achieve one’s goals…for all kinds of states… [because] leaders rely on sub-contracting to bureaucratic agents, some of whom may take the opportunity to slow down or undermine the policy, or even to run their own policies in competition” (Brighi&Hill, 2008, pp.130-4). Foreign policy is not self-executing, and requires resources, support or mobilisation of the public, and some political consensus, particularly in a democracy. The more charismatic, persuasive and motivational the leader, the greater his chances of overcoming such opposition. This task is made particularly easy in authoritarian regimes such as North Korea, where the media is subject to state control. A leader can gain public support for his policy through the strategic use of propaganda, promoting both his ‘greatness’ as a decision maker, and that of the policy.
President Truman provides an interesting example of a decision maker in a democracy acting under crisis conditions. In the turbulent international conditions of the closure of WWII, he was thrust into power, following the sudden death of President Roosevelt. It was President Truman who took the historical, controversial decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It would be difficult to argue that, under the power of a different presidential personality, the US would definitely not have taken this dramatic course of action. However, a number of factors related to Truman’s personality and previous experiences can be linked to his ultimate decision to drop the bomb. The first Truman had heard of the atomic bomb came after his inauguration. This bomb changed the nature of warfare to a degree that is difficult to comprehend. With such little time to absorb such information, having fought as an artillery officer in WWI, it is possible that Truman “may have thought about the atomic bomb as [simply] a larger…explosive than the ones he fired in Europe” (Strong, 2005, p.15). Its radical scale of destruction was close to incomprehensible. A self-confessed amateur in foreign policy, in the shadow of Roosevelt, he wanted to establish himself. He was an active decision maker, preferring to do something rather than nothing, “who enjoyed his presidential powers”, and preferred not to delegate authority, believing that “the President makes foreign policy” (Frankel, 1963, p.21). A direct, pragmatic character, he was willing to be accountable for his decisions, “proud of the sign…on his desk announcing that ‘the buck stops here'” (Strong, 2005, p.18).
Truman continued his presidency from the aftermath of WWII into the beginnings of the Cold War. Under the heightened tension of possibly imminent nuclear war, presidential power and responsibility was great; the “president’s finger was, indeed, on the nuclear trigger” (Fraser & Murray, 2002, p.5). His conviction in the superiority of capitalism, the benefits to be gained from its adoption in other parts of the world, and the dangers outlined by Domino Theory, lead him to take a foreign policy of ‘containment’ with regards to communism. In line with his military background, Truman adopted a confrontational attitude to USSR, what came to be known as the ‘Iron Fist’ approach, partly in reaction to the previous Western failure of appeasement to stop Nazi expansionism. He was sceptical of all totalitarian states, claiming “I don’t care what you call them – Nazi, Communist or Fascist-…they are all alike” (Gaddis, 1982, p.66). To follow through with the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan, Truman needed the support of Congress and the public, which he won using his popular, persuasive, extroverted personality. A supporter of the UN, Truman was “a convinced internationalist, conscious that the United States should not repeat the isolationist errors of the 1920’s” (Fraser & Murray, 2002, p.9). This helps explain why he followed such an interventionist foreign policy during his presidency. He was willing to place himself as leader of the free world, protecting and expanding his core beliefs in democracy and capitalism.
In a dictatorship, foreign policy decisions lie almost solely in the hands of the leader; his decisions can be made without the accountability, checks and balances which exist in a democracy. In 1990, Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein took the decision to invade neighbouring Kuwait. Arguably, “the whole war… [is] to be found in his psyche [and] insecurity” (Hughes-Wilson, 1999, p.350). In the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq, the country was financially destitute. Recent acrimonious encounters with the West added to Hussein’s growing feeling of paranoia and desperation. Having “bludgeoned his way to the top”, Hussein was prepared to use any means possible to stay there (Ali Musallam, 1996, p.45). He had a need to live up to his own hard-line rhetoric, to avoid meeting the fate he had recently seen Romanian dictator Nicolae fall to. Saddam was “devious, untrustworthy, greedy, ambitious…[and] broke…his own people did have about three goes at assassinating him in the seven months before he invaded Kuwait”, so his paranoias of public rioting and coups were not unfounded (Hughes-Wilson, 1999, p.341).
Saddam took Kuwait’s refusal of a moratorium on its wartime loans, and refusal of other financial aid to Iraq, as a personal affront. Kuwait was incredibly rich in oil, and virtually defenceless, so “to a personality like Saddam Hussein the temptation to solve his economic problems at a stroke must have been irresistible” (Hughes-Wilson, 1999, p. 322). The invasion was symptomatic of the stereotypical qualities of a dictator. Aggressive, egotistical and unwilling to compromise, Hussein simply decided he would take what he wanted. His bloodthirsty, ruthless nature and readiness to resort to violence can be traced back to his childhood socialisation. Suffering the physical and psychological abuse of his stepfather, Hussein “was raised in the hard world of the mountains, and mafia-like warlords and family clans that control them. Guns [were seen] as essential to a man…it is alleged that Saddam had shot and killed his first man by the age of eleven” (Hughes-Wilson, 1999, p. 314). This culture of casual violence influenced his beliefs in the harsh realities of the survival of the fittest. As a child, he would be sent to work in the fields whilst his stepbrothers would be allowed to go to school, aiding the development of his intense inferiority complex which would lead to his hunger for power and glory in later life (Ali Musallam, 1996).
The former French President Charles de Gaulle was highly driven by his ideology and patriotism. He took a keen interest in foreign policy, and had the ultimate goal of restoring French historic cultural ‘greatness’ on the international stage. De Gaulle came to power as a highly respected, charismatic military leader with great moral authority, often playing up to this image by making public appearances in military uniform. He obsessed over his legacy, wanting to be an inspiration for the generations of French citizens that would come after him; becoming a symbolic embodiment of how he perceived ‘France’. He was well aware of his own great personality and prestige, “conscious of living his own biography”, and often spoke of himself in the third person (Grosser, 1967, p.26). He assumed the role he believed a leader should take whilst in public, conforming to the perceived requirements of the title, whilst keeping his private life as detatched as possible.
De Gaulle’s father, passionate about politics and history, was a professor who instilled his pride of France and her past into his son (de Gaulle, 1998). He considered all the actions he made by how they would mark history; less concerned with the criticisms made by those at the time of his action, and more by their judgement by future historians. Despite being a strong advocate of democracy, de Gaulle grew up in a royalist environment, and carried with him to adulthood its goals of continuity, leadership and an embodiment of the state, which were reflected in his politics. De Gaulle’s first Prime Minister was Michel Debré, “a devoted Gaullist… [who] could not refuse to do what his hero asked him to do” (Thody, 1998, p.23). There was a certain unwillingness amongst de Gaulle’s advisors to disagree with their charismatic leader; he encouraged an environment of groupthink by surrounding himself with people of a similar view point. This was the perfect occasion for his personality to strongly influence the direction of French foreign policy. Possessing a certain distrust of diplomatic personnel, “there is no doubt that it is General de Gaulle himself who makes the decisions on foreign policy issues” (Grosser, 1967, p.13). A strong believer in intuition, if he felt a decision was right for France, he would take it.
De Gaulle’s foreign policy was farsighted in that it was based upon his image of a post cold-war world, in which “the mature nations of the old world and the newly independent states of the Third World would act to counterbalance the…hegemony of…the US and the Soviet Union” (Cerny, 1980, p.1). A born maverick, de Gaulle was not afraid to make his foreign policy disruptive of the world order. His self-perception was that of a guardian of national interest; he wanted to develop autonomy for his people by resisting the strength of the superpowers and exercising power inconsistent with his relatively limited resource capabilities, through manipulation of the international system; it would be fair to say that he had “a taste for the impossible” (Grosser, 1967, p.65). His policy of boycotting NATO and UN conferences was “to oblige others to take greater account of France through absence than they do when she is obliged to join in decisions over which she can exert no decisive influence” (Grosser, 1967, p.132). His doubts over the support of the US against Soviet invasion lead to his decision to develop a French nuclear deterrent, and to withdraw troops from NATO in 1966. He refused to accept that the two superpowers should be the sole possessors of nuclear power. De Gaulle strongly linked the notion of national security to independence, the intertwining of diplomatic and military strength, which can be explained by his military background. It would appear that “the personal style of the General gives its special shape to a policy which…corresponds to French desires…it is a policy that dares to take risks, to gamble for high stakes, to court failure rather than resigning itself to mediocrity and timidity” (Grosser, 1967, p.xi). De Gaulle symbolically rejected Britain’s entry into the ECC, fearing it would upset the Franco-German leadership. He saw Britain as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for America to gain greater influence in Europe, and was so strong in his beliefs he dared to take a stance against the other five ECC members; “it is unlikely that any French politician other than de Gaulle would have vetoed Great Britain’s attempt to join the ECC” (Thody, 1998, p.29).
This essay has shown that the role of personality in the formulation and implementation is variable. The more critical a situation is perceived to be, the fewer people will be directly involved in its management, and so there is a greater likeliness that their conclusions and actions will reflect their own personal beliefs, attitudes and interests. Despite institutional constraints, the political leader has a significant influence over decision making, particularly when national security is seen to be at stake, or when policy can be formed relatively secretly. Even in non-crisis situations, a political leader has “the potential to exercise power and thereby impose his preferences on policy. The extent to which he does so “depend[s] on his own values, beliefs, background and personality” (Brewer, 1992, p.160). Every person in a position of power brings personal experiences, values, preconceptions and emotions to their decision making, although some will allow bureaucracy and the power-sharing nature of democracy to counter and balance these idiosyncrasies. Ultimately, the personality of a leader has the most influence in unaccountable, dictatorial regimes, often due to the climate of fear surrounding their unlimited powers. However, even a dictator cannot continuously take whichever foreign policy actions he pleases without some eventual restraints posed by resources, the international community, uprising of his own people or a coup.