GIR Colloquium: Exploring Leadership mechanisms and conflict: Micro-data from the CIA
Thursday 9th April, via Zoom
Scholars believe that the idiosyncratic traits of world leaders make state behavior difficult to predict. If leadership-based uncertainty is important to the conduct of world affairs, the elites in one country should spend time learning about foreign leaders. Do they? If so, what specific traits do they focus on? To isolate the leadership variables that are important in real-world cases, we examine Presidential Daily Briefs (daily intelligence reports from the CIA to the president) from 1962 to 1977 using a combination of machine and hand-coding techniques. We find that the CIA mentions 270 (65%) foreign leaders that take power during the period we have data for. We find systematic variation in the timing of leadership mentions that matches theories about new leaders and uncertainty: leader-specific reporting spikes during leadership transitions, particularly irregular ones. However, there is no increase in leader-specific reporting when a foreign country engages in a militarized crisis or joins a commercial institution. We also find systematic variation in what specific information the CIA reports about foreign leaders. The CIA almost always (90%) reports on leadership autonomy. Yet of the 270 leaders discussed, the CIA reports on a foreign leader’s personal traits (18%), pre-tenure work experience (31%), and the worldviews (29%) in only a handful of cases. The exact information that the CIA reports to the president depends on why a country is important to the United States, and how a leader takes office. For example, the CIA is more likely to report pre-tenure experience for countries prone to militarized disputes, or countries otherwise important for American security interests. But worldviews are commonly reported for American economic partners.
About the Speaker
Michael Joseph is the Henry Chauncey Postdoctoral Fellow at Yale University. Next year, he will start as an Assistant Professor at UC San Diego. He studies international relations with a focus on peace and conflict. Specifically, he developed a new technique to integrate the historical and cultural determinants of a state’s foreign policy into formal models of world politics. Using this technique, he produces unique predictions about conflict during crisis bargaining, power transitions, nuclear bargaining and other interactions critical to American foreign policy. In empirical work, he shows that conflict in these different settings is explained by how states exploit historical information to understand their rival’s motives using survey experiments with real-world intelligence analysts, machine coded text, and statistical methods. Before his academic career, Dr. Joseph worked as a foreign policy consultant in Iraq, Jordan, Australia and elsewhere. For fun, he makes furniture and ice-cream. He was once on comedy central’s (Australian version) “New Faces” as a stand up comic!