The Dark Matter of World Politics: System Trust, Summits, and State Personhood, with Jennifer Mitzen. International Organization. 2022. (Winner of Best Article Award, Diplomatic Studies Section, ISA 2023)
International Relations (IR) theory has had a trust revival, with scholars focusing on how trust can enhance inter-personal cooperation attempts between leaders. We propose there is another type of trust in play in world politics. International system trust refers to a feeling of confidence in the international social order, which is indexed especially by trust in its central unit, state persons. System trust anchors ontological security, and its presence is an unstated assumption of the IR trust scholarship. In this paper we conceptualize system trust. We illuminate its presence by flagging the production of state personhood in a familiar case in IR trust scholarship, the 1985 Geneva Summit between Reagan and Gorbachev. Inter-personal and system trust perspectives highlight different aspects of the same summit. The juxtaposition suggests new lines of research into: the production of state persons in diplomacy, the relationship between inter-personal and system trust, and the impact of the rise of personalistic/patrimonial leadership on diplomacy and international order.
The recent revival in the interest in summitry in International Relations scholarship conceptualises it as an elite-centred or foreign policy-focused process targeting foreign governments and publics. This article makes a theoretical intervention on the effects of summitry by foregrounding publics as audiences of international politics who can exercise agency. Because summits are primarily elite-staged performances of Westphalian principles of state sovereignty, they generate a political space for audiences to publicly embrace or contest summitry performances and their meanings of sovereignty. They can do so by co-performing with or by counter-performing elitist summitry performances, which can generate narratives with potential to shape and alter domestic societies in the long run.
Kim Jong Un's Reconsideration of Diplomacy. 2022 US-Korea Joint Academic Studies: South Korea's Response to New National Identity Pressures. Vol. 33. Korea Economic Institute of America. 2022.
This chapter argues that the inter-Korea summits of 2018-9 reflect the contesting views of South Korea's identities vis-a-vis North Korea: while the conservatives favor a more hawkish approach that perceives South Korea as a higher-status country than North Korea, which reflects the present-day South Korean identity, the progressives are more future-oriented, viewing inter-Korea relations as between equals, thus favoring engagement and dialogue. In contrast to elites, the public, especially younger South Koreans, is more ambivalent towards unification and North Korea, instead preferring peaceful co-existence and engagement that minimizes security threats from North Korea. South Korea’s aspirational identity of a unified Korea is thus weak in younger South Koreans’ perception of identity. These different views, however, seem to have been attenuated by North Korea and Kim Jong Un's sudden turn to public summitry, as exposure to media representations of the inter-Korea summits influenced the South Korean public opinion towards North Korea, Kim, and inter-Korea efforts in military de-escalation to shift, albeit briefly, in a positive direction.
State Personhood, Ontological Security, and the Pursuit of Dignity by Japan and North Korea, with Nina C. Krickel-Choi
In spite of the ontological security scholarship’s contribution to illuminating actor behavior, it is still missing an appreciation of the role of state personhood in ensuring states’ ontological security. This paper problematizes the taken-for-grantedness of sovereignty practices which create states as persons, i.e. as moral actors with agency and a personality that demands to be respected. The performance and reciprocal recognition of state personhood plays out in myriad ways including, but not limited to, routine diplomatic interactions and security practices. These practices reaffirm states’ self-understanding as ontological equals endowed with the right to self-determination, and satisfy their expectation to be treated with dignity and as a person of equal moral worth. This paper draws out the emotional and behavioral consequences of a states’ pursuit of dignity via a comparison of Japan and North Korea. Even though they could not be more different, with Japan being one of the most internationally integrated states of the post-war period while North Korea is one of the most isolated ones, both states engage in diplomatic and security practices to gain acknowledgement of their state personhood from the international community. Comparing them sheds light on the importance of state personhood for ontological security.
Performing Past-Future Discontinuity: Summitry as Ritual in Reconciliation
International Relations (IR) scholarship has reduced analytically summit diplomacy, or diplomatic activity conducted personally by a head of state or government, to individual leaders and their interactions with other leaders, overlooking its publicness and the audience dimension that makes it a political event. By drawing on ontological security literature, I highlight the political effects of a summit on an audience by arguing that summitry performance can influence a lay audience's experience of the international political reality through three functions: actualizing, liminalizing, and ritualizing. A leader-centered performance not only becomes a social event, but also helps construct international political reality that reinforces people's sense of ontological security in the face of changes in foreign policy. Using original archives and focus group study, I illustrate how unfamiliar scenes from summitry performances allow for lay people to accept foreign policy change using the 2000 US-Vietnam symbolic summit. Through the US’s performance at the excavation site of an American plane crash near Hanoi, American veterans and some members of the American public felt validation as the Vietnam War and the veterans were being remembered as a shameful past for the US.
Works in Progress
System Trust and International Conflicts. With Jennifer Mitzen.
The Logic of Performance in World Politics: Summits, Audience Impressions, and Disruption.
Performance Approach to Apology in World Politics.
Deterrence as Performance: Audience Attention and Ontological (In)Security. With Brian Finch
Pre-PhD Program Publications
The role of identity in South Korea's policies towards Japan. Korean Social Science Journal. 2016.
This paper asks why South Korea’s relations with Japan is so vulnerable to disputes over history in the post-Cold War period. It argues that South Korea’s identities vis-à-vis Japan and North Korea respectively conflict with each other and leads to inconsistent policy towards Japan that hovers between cooperation and discord. By analyzing South Korea’s relations with Japan as well as its policies and behavior in the post-Cold War period, this paper aims to show how identity factor affects a state’s foreign policy and behavior towards other states. In doing so, it questions the rationality assumption of state behavior in IR and offers alternative explanations on how to better understand “emotional” foreign policies.
Students in Beijing 3: Reconstructing Tianxia through Time Travel. (ed. Young-Sun Ha). Seoul: East Asia Institute, 2016. (E-book, in English)
Kyushu: 21st Century Joseon’s Embassy to Kyushu. (ed. Young-Sun Ha). Seoul: East Asia Institute, 2016. (E-book, in Korean)
Rational Emotions: The Role of Identity and Emotions in Dokdo/Takeshima Dispute between South Korea and Japan. EPIK Journals Online. 2015.
The Growing “Discomfort” with Comfort Women between South Korea and Japan. E-IR. November 2015.