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Political Leadership in International Relations


This seminar is offered for POL, IP and IRO students and will take place in THE HAGUE

Admission requirements

Participation in the seminar is only permitted if the propaedeutic phase has been passed (60 EC).


What is the role of political leaders in international relations? Studies in IR generally focus on interactions between states on the state and/or systemic level and ignore the possible influence of the individual level of the leaders. The potential influence of leaders is not per se ignored, no one would argue for example that WWII would have been different if it was not for Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin, but the systematic study of leaders is often not incorporated into the structure-based theories of IR.

There are, however, many intriguing questions that can be investigated when we study the relations between states. Do different leadership styles lead to different foreign policy decision making? What is the impact of the images and beliefs leaders hold about ‘the enemy’? How do individual differences of leaders affect foreign policy decision making? Does it matter that many political leaders are often quite old when they come to power for their decision making?

This seminar introduces you to a selection of political psychological theories that can be applied to study the role political leaders play in international relations and use a political psychological approach.


Objective 1: Students will learn to think and write about:

  • The role of actors within international relations and foreign policy

  • Political psychological approaches to study leaders

Objective 2: Students will acquire the following skills:

  • Appraise the strengths and limitations of political psychological approaches to IR and foreign policy.

  • Based on evidence and theories discussed in class, present and evaluate different scenarios on how actor-centric approaches relate to the study of IR and foreign policy

  • Learn to apply the concepts and theories to empirical cases

Method of instruction

Class discussion and student presentations

Study Material

Journal articles and book chapters.


In principle, we’ll speak English during the classes. In the case that all participants master Dutch, we might decide to switch to Dutch. Papers can be written in Dutch and in English. I recommend you to write in the language you feel most comfortable in.

Course Requirements and Assessment:

Your final grade is based on:
Participation: 20%
Short papers (750 words): 40%
Final paper: 40%


See 'Practical Information'


See 'MyTimetable'