In episode 78 our guest, Professor Nick Wheeler, discusses several crucial aspects of international relations and diplomacy. He explores the concept of “reassurance summits” and the role they play in diplomacy, where leaders attending diplomatic summits seek reassurance and test whether the other side perceives their defensive actions as stemming from fear and insecurity rather than hostile intent.
He challenges the conventional wisdom that leaders should only engage in face-to-face diplomacy when their interests are already aligned. He introduces the idea of “security dilemma sensibility” in international relations, challenging the notion that uncertainty inevitably leads to competition and distrust. He emphasizes the need for leaders to understand the defensive motivations of others and break the cycle of misperceptions to promote cooperation and trust.
Nick Wheeler delves into the possibility of developing social bonds and trust in the absence of face-to-face interaction. Drawing from Randall Collins’ work, he suggests that weaker social bonds can indeed be formed without physical proximity, particularly through textually mediated interactions. He highlights the importance of shared security dilemma sensibility and shared mood in this context.
He shares a cautionary tale from Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” to illustrate the limits of trust in transactional relationships. He argues that trust based solely on individual calculations of benefits and risks can quickly erode when the context changes.
Shifting his focus to India-Pakistan relations, Wheeler examines the trust dynamics between leaders like Vajpayee and Sharif, emphasizing the importance of “trust, capacity, vulnerability” in assessing whether leaders can fulfill their promises and commitments. He also highlights the complexity of trust and opportunism in adversarial relationships.
The discussion continues with an exploration of the role of interpersonal dyads in changing conflict situations. Wheeler underscores the significance of leaders being able to deliver on their commitments and the challenges of scaling up trust beyond individual relationships. He emphasizes the need to embed trust within decision-making processes and society itself to address future uncertainty.
Finally, he touches upon his upcoming book with Marcus Holmes, “Personal Chemistry: Social Bonds and International Conflict.” The book aims to demystify the concept of personal chemistry in international relations by developing a theory that explains why leaders sometimes establish positive interpersonal relationships and sometimes do not. Through case studies, they aim to shed light on the factors influencing leaders’ relationships and trust dynamics in diplomacy and conflict resolution.