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 decades, due to the deepening level of globalization and transnational activities, states also must interact with non-state actors. These interactions are evaluated and monitored in seeking the benefits of bilateral and multilateral international cooperation.
Since the national interests are paramount, governments design their foreign policies through high-level decision-making processes. Goals may be accomplished by peaceful cooperation with other nations, or through exploitation. Usually, creating foreign policy is the job of the head of government and the foreign minister. Modern states employ hundreds, thousands, or more professional diplomats in their diplomatic service. Much of their work involves implementing and researching the effectiveness of directives toward stated foreign policy goals. They see to the task of harmonizing compatible foreign policy goals between partner states and NGO's while also reporting to their agencies on both success in, and obstacles to, their efforts.
In some countries, the legislature also has considerable effects on foreign as well as other areas of public policy, most often in liberal democracies. States with stronger unitary executive branches of government and which lack parliamentary sovereignty have weaker legislative involvement with foreign policy, except in cases of autocracy where one ruler handles major decisions on all national policy, where the autocrat is the legislature. Elections and other shifts in government makeup can change the course of foreign policies, even on areas with long periods of consistency, when new leadership comes in with new goals and different views on the national interests.
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 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.
Some institutions of higher education offer foreign policy as an area of specialization as part of a master of political science or public policy degree, such as the Balsillie School of International Affairs, Sciences Po Paris, Munk School of Global Affairs, Graduate Institute Geneva, and London School of Economics, among others.


The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described humans as social animals, and friendships and relations have existed between humans as long as humans have existed. As organization developed in human affairs, relations between people also became organized. Foreign policy thus goes back to primitive times. Before writing, most of these relations were carried out by word of mouth and left little direct archaeological evidence. 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 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 obligations to the central government. There are treatises by Chanakya and other ancient Indian 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 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. In theory, diplomats at any level won't give away their home country or its interests without doing so as part of a calculated strategy hoping to maximize gain and minimize risk, but in practice, incompetence, opportunism, rivalries, bribery, corruption, lapses of sanity, personal grievance, pangs of conscience dissenting with official policy leading to leaks, defections and other acts of internal sabotage, overwhelming despair at a seemingly insurmountable disparity in arms and land, population, and other strategic factors during periods of intense inter-state competition, and unforeseeable flukes of circumstance, can all throw the best of intentions off track, and occasionally combine in a perfect storm of what eventually sorts out into world history.
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.
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 treat foreign policy as a source rather than the substance of international politics and bring it under study as a subject
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.

Need for a general theory

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

The absence of a general theory in this field leads to some serious consequences. Without theory:
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 recent, and a specific subset of international relations such as foreign policy analysis does not receive wide attention as a field of scientific study. Rather, terms like "foreign policy" and "foreign policy expert" are often used in news media and general discussions about government, when such experts may have more extensive backgrounds in fields other than foreign policy analysis. Ben 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 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: