A country's foreign policy, additionally called foreign relations or foreign affairs -policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals within its international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with additional countries. The study of such strategies is called foreign policy analysis. In recent times, due to the deepening level of globalisation and transnational activities, the states will additionally have to interact with non-state actors. The aforementioned interaction is evaluated and monitored in attempts to maximise benefits of multilateral international cooperation. Since the national interests are paramount, foreign policies are designed by the government through high-level decision making processes. National interests accomplishment can occur as a consequence of peaceful cooperation with additional nations, or through exploitation. Usually, creating foreign policy is the job of the head of government and the foreign minister (or equivalent). In a few countries the legislature additionally has considerable effects. Foreign policies of countries have varying rates of change and scopes of intent, which can be affected by factors that change the perceived national interests or even affect the stability of the country itself. The foreign policy of one country can have profund and lasting impact on a large number of additional countries and on the course of international relations as a whole, like the Monroe Doctrine conflicting with the mercantilist policies of nineteenth century European countries and the goals of independence of newly formed Central American and South American countries.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described humans as social animals. Therefore, friendships and relations have existed between humans after the beginning of human interaction. As the organisation developed in human affairs, relations between people additionally organized. Foreign policy thus goes back to primitive times. The inception in human affairs of foreign relations and the need for foreign policy to deal with them is as old as the organisation of human life in groups. Before writing, most of these relations were carried out by word of mouth and left little direct archaeological evidence.

The literature from ancient times, the Bible, the Homeric poems, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, and a large number of others, show an accumulation of experience in dealing with foreigners. Ancient Chinese and Indian writings give much evidence of thought concerned with the management of relations between peoples in the form of diplomatic correspondence between rulers and officials of different states and within systems of multi-tiered political relations like the Han dynasty and its subordinate kings, the more powerful of which conducted their own limited foreign relations as long as those didn't interfere with their primary obligations to the central government, treatises by Chanakya and additional scholars, and the preserved text of ancient treaties, as well as frequent references by known ancient writers to other, even older sources which have after been lost or remain in fragmentary form only.


According to Business Dictionary.com, foreign policy is plan of action adopted by one nation in regards to its diplomatic dealings with additional countries. Foreign policy is established as a systemic way to deal with issues that might arise with additional countries. In the modern era, no country can afford to live in isolation in this age of interdependence.

Twentieth century

Global wars were fought three times in the twentieth century. Consequently, international relations became a public concern as well as an important field of study and research. After the Second World War and throughout the 1960s, a large number of researchers in the U.S. particularly, and from additional countries in common, brought forth a wealth of research work and theory. This work was done for international relations and not for foreign policy as such. Gradually, various theories began to grow around the international relations, international systems and international politics but the need for a theory of foreign policy, that's the starting point in each sovereign state, continued to receive negligible attention. The reason was that the states used to keep their foreign policies under official secrecy and it wasn't considered appropriate for public, as it is considered today, to know about these policies. This iron-bound secrecy is an essential part for the framework of foreign policy formulation.

World War II and its devastation posed a great threat and challenge for humanity which revealed to everyone the importance of international relations. Though foreign policy formulation continued to remain a closely guarded process at the national level, wider access to governmental records and greater public interest provided more data from which academic work placed international relations in a structured framework of political science. Graduate and post-graduate courses developed. Research was encouraged, and gradually, international relations became an academic discipline in universities throughout the world.

The subject of whether or not constructive attempts at involvement by citizens benefits the disciplines of the "art," or whether or not such disciplines as intercultural and interpersonal communications and others might play a significant part in the future of international relations can be a subject for further study by interested individuals/groups and is encouraged at the educational level.

Writers researching foreign policy in the twentieth century were unaware of whether or not agencies who most closely dealt with foreign policy kept logs of statistical experience not unlike the actuarial statistics kept by organisations of the insurance industry assessing the risk and danger involved (e.g. when situation "C" happened before, and subject included instances of "E" and "L", how was it handled and what was the result? When were peaceful and amicable results leading to better relations ever obtained through considered action and what was that action?).

The writers who worked with the foreign policy can be divided in two groups:

  1. World war writers who treat international politics and foreign policy as an indifferent, single field of study.
  2. Writers who recognise foreign policy as a source rather than the substance of international politics and bring it under study as a subject.

(The second group restricts its work to foreign policy making.)

The works of second group comes closer to the theory of foreign policy but there's no attempt to formulate a basic theory of foreign policy. Hans Morgenthau’s works on principal elements of foreign policy seem to have covered the most ground.

Need for a general theory of foreign policy

McGowan and Shapiro, in their work on comparative study of foreign policy of different countries, felt that the lack of a basic theory of foreign policy was particularly disabling, and pointed out the harmful effect of the absence of a general theory of foreign policy on the foreign policy literature.

The most fundamental question that arises here is: why do we lack theories of foreign policy? Or why do we need general theory of foreign policy?

The absence of a general theory in this field leads to a few serious consequences. Without theory:

  • We can't explain the relationships we discover; we can make predictions only about the foreign policy behavior.
  • We will have to depend on luck and educative guesses to come up with worthwhile research hypothesis.
  • Research will become an ad-hoc or unplanned research, with no justification provided for the selection of cases—no system and no consistency.
  • A field without theory is hardly an area of disciplined scientific inquiry.
  • A diplomat will be likely to have a more complex estimate or knowledge of additional governments. His or her estimate, however, will certainly be simplistic and heavily influenced by their own perceptual blinders, leading to faulty (or biased) policy judgments.

A theoretical framework of foreign policy is needed to analyse the day-to-day interactions in international relations and to compare individual foreign policies. The focus is primarily on the policies of state actors with defined territories and jurisdictional boundaries, and less so on non-state actors, except in the context of how they impact national government decisions and policies. The formal field of study of international relations is itself fairly recent and a specific subset of international relations like foreign policy analysis doesn't receive wide attention as a field of scientific study, as opposed to the widespread use of terms like 'foreign policy' and 'foreign policy expert' in news media and general discussions about government when such experts might have more extensive backgrounds in fields additional than foreign policy analysis. Government officials involved in making foreign policy most often perceive risk in giving away information to about their policy making processes and don't discuss the subject, as control of information is itself most often a part of foreign policy.

The vast record of empirical data and research is given academic attention to fit it into the framework of a general theory of foreign policy.

The second group of writers has made contributions in its development in a large number of ways:

  • Collation of systematic empirical studies with a view to articulating general pro-positions pertaining to state behavior.
  • Analysis of foreign policy making with an emphasis on the process itself and the determinants that influence foreign policy.
  • Development of a scientific approach to and model for foreign policy analysis like the rational actor model, domestic-public model, etc.
  • Studies undertaken to prepare world order models.