What makes them tick: Challenging the impersonal ethos in International Relations

Gadi Heimann, Zohar Kampf*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


International Relations scholars and practitioners commonly agree that relationships in world politics are managed impersonally. Personal connections between agents of states are perceived as having only little impact on foreign policy of states. The current article challenges this impersonal ethos, suggesting that personal relationships play an important role in conducting, and thus understanding, interstate relations. Interviews conducted with 21 senior Israeli officials concerning mundane professional practices reveal three elements that are essential for successful statecraft: acknowledging the power of interpersonal relations; substantive knowledge of counterparts; and the excellent communicative competencies needed to realize the potential of personal connections. We argue that statespersons’ behavior can be located on an impersonal-interpersonal continuum. Furthermore, we suggest explanations for deviations from the impersonal ethos and discuss the role of interpersonal practices in managing interstate relations. At the very least, the personal aspect should be taken into consideration when examining foreign policy. However, personal relations may have a highly significant impact on interstate interactions, thus requiring a revision of the current paradigm in IR, which marginalizes the personal aspect.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)346-363
Number of pages18
JournalCooperation and Conflict
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Communicative competencies
  • diplomacy
  • interpersonal relations
  • knowledge
  • statecraft


Dive into the research topics of 'What makes them tick: Challenging the impersonal ethos in International Relations'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this