Houssein Al Malla joined the GIGA Doctoral Programme in October 2022. He is currently working on his dissertation titled “Personality and Foreign Policy: The Role of Political Psychology in Accounting for the Outcomes of International Sanctions”. Get to know Houssein in this interview.
Houssein Al Malla joined the GIGA Doctoral Programme in October 2022. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy at the University of Erfurt and was previously a Student Research Assistant at the GIGA for the project “The Termination of International Sanctions: Causes, Processes, and Domestic Consequences”. He is currently working on his dissertation titled “Personality and Foreign Policy: The Role of Political Psychology in Accounting for the Outcomes of International Sanctions”. Get to know Houssein in the interview below.
What is your main motivation to address the topic of your PhD? Most studies on the determinants of sanction effectiveness underline that not a single, but a combination of different factors is likely to increase or decrease the probability of sanction success. When delving deeper into the literature on how the framing of sanctions in sanctioned states can lead to a “rally around the flag” effect - where targeted populations showcase increased levels of support to targeted state leaders - I was intrigued to take the research a step further and investigate how a leader’s unique leadership traits profile and distinct beliefs may also account for the outcomes of sanctions.
If you could choose one person to discuss your research topic with, who would that be?
Definitely Prof. Margaret G. Hermann! Prof. Hermann is a Professor of Political Science, and one of the biggest names in Political Psychology in our world today. She has developed techniques for assessing the leadership styles of heads of government at-a-distance, and she studies the effects of different types of leaders and decision processes on the management of crises that cross borders and boundaries. My research was inspired by her work, and I utilise her method for Leadership Trait Analysis as the core of my work to study sanction outcomes.
What difficulties do you expect to encounter during your project?
The biggest difficulty I expect to encounter definitely has to be situating my project within the bigger field of International Relations (IR). My project challenges the overarching belief in IR that international relations are exclusively explained from a state-centric perspective, on a larger systemic level (thus mostly ignoring the individual level of analysis, and assuming that single individuals cannot explain phenomena in International Relations). In my project, I place heavy emphasis on the individual level of analysis – I work from the basis that individuals (in this case, state leaders) have different interpretations of the objective structural factors (such as power distributions among states), thus making it the individual’s interpretations of these structures, rather than exclusively the structures themselves, that also defines the different choices states take on the foreign policy decision making level.
Theory or practice?
Practice, practice, practice! The proof is always in the pudding.
Qualitative or quantitative?
Time to be controversial: Numbers can only mean so much when they are not supported by qualitative evidence.