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Foreign policy

Foreign policy

A country's foreign policy, also 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 other countries. The study of such strategies is called foreign policy analysis. In recent times, due to the deepening level of globalization and transnational activities, the states will also have to interact with non-state actors. The aforementioned interaction is evaluated and monitored in attempts to maximize the benefits of multilateral international cooperation.

Since the national interests are paramount, governments design their foreign policies through high-level decision-making processes. National interests may be accomplished as a result of peaceful cooperation with other nations, or through exploitation. Usually, creating foreign policy is the job of the head of government and the foreign minister (or equivalent). In some countries, the legislature also 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 a country can have a profound and lasting impact on many other countries and on the course of international relations as a whole, such as the Monroe Doctrine conflicting with the mercantilism policies of 19th-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 since the beginning of human interaction. As the organization developed in human affairs, relations between people also organized. The 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 organization 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 many 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 such as the Han dynasty and its subordinate kings, the more powerful of which conducted their own limited foreign relations as long as those did not interfere with their primary obligations to the central government, treatises by Chanakya and other scholars, and the preserved text of ancient treaties, as well as frequent references by known ancient writers to other, even older sources which have since been lost or remain in fragmentary form only.

20th century

Global wars were fought two 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 during the 1960s, many researchers in the U.S. particularly, and from other 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 international relations, international systems, and international politics, but the need for a theory of foreign policy (that is, 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 unlike today, it was not considered appropriate for the public 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.

The 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 may play a significant part in the future of international relations could be a subject for further study by interested individuals/groups and is encouraged at the educational level.

Writers researching foreign policy in the 20th 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 organizations 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 foreign policy can be divided into two groups:

  1. World war writers who treat international politics and foreign policy as an indifferent, single field of study

  2. Writers who recognize foreign policy as a source rather than the substance of international politics and bring it under study as a subject

(The second group restricts to foreign policymaking.)

The works of the second group come closer to the theory of foreign policy, but there is 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.[1]

Need for a general theory of foreign policy

Shapiro, in his comparative study of the 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 foreign policy literature.

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

Or why do we need a general theory of foreign policy?

The absence of a general theory in this field leads to some serious consequences.

Without theory:

  • We cannot 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 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 other governments.

  • His or her estimate, however, will certainly be simplistic and heavily influenced by his or her own perceptual blinders, leading to faulty (or biased) policy judgments.

A theoretical framework of foreign policy is needed to analyze 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 such as foreign policy analysis does not 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 may have more extensive backgrounds in fields other than foreign policy analysis. The organization Foreign Policy Interrupted recognized the gender disparity in foreign policy expert representation and is amplifying the number of female voices in foreign policy media coverage. Government officials involved in making foreign policy often perceive risk in giving away information about their policy-making processes and do not discuss the subject since control of information is itself 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 to its development in many ways:

  • Collation of systematic empirical studies with a view to articulating general propositions 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 such as the rational actor model, domestic-public model, etc.

  • Studies undertaken to prepare world order models.

See also

  • International relations

  • International relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)

  • International relations theory - mostly a list of different schools of thought on IR and some of their history

  • List of diplomatic training institutions

  • Foreign relations of India

  • Foreign policy of Russia

  • Foreign policy of the United States

  • Foreign relations of the European Union

  • Common Security and Defence Policy (Europe)

  • Foreign relations of China

  • Foreign relations of India

  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization

  • United Nations


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgMorgenthau, Hans J.. Politics among nations; the struggle for power and peace. 4th ed. New York: Knopf, 1967. Print.
Sep 30, 2019, 8:54 PM
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Sep 30, 2019, 8:54 PM
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Sep 30, 2019, 8:54 PM