Foreign policy

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This article is about international relations. For the magazine, see Foreign Policy.
"Foreign affairs" redirects here. For other uses, see Foreign affairs (disambiguation).

A country's foreign policy, also called the foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by the state to safeguard its national interests and to achieve goals within its international relations milieu.[citation needed] 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 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 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 one 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 mercantilist 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. 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.

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[which?] give much evidence[clarification needed] of thought concerned with the management of relations between peoples.

Need for a general theory of foreign policy[edit]

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 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 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 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[how?] 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. Government officials involved in making foreign policy often perceive risk in giving away information to about their policy making processes and do not discuss the subject, as 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 in its development in many 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 such as the rational actor model, domestic-public model, etc.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]