US Foreign Policy

Course Material 2020/21

By most measures, the United States has been the most powerful country in the world since 1945.  The U.S. is centrally involved with almost every important international political issue, from international security and economic regulations to transnational issues such as climate change and human rights regimes. For these reasons, the factors which shape U.S. foreign policy are of concern to people around the globe. 

This paper is designed to develop students’ understanding of these factors, both historically and in their present state.  It explores how U.S. foreign policy coincides with--and sometimes confounds--prominent theories of international relations.  The paper will familiarise students with important literature and debates on the intellectual and cultural foundations of U.S. foreign policy, including anti-statism, liberalism, and the illiberal assumptions used to legitimise continental and hemispheric domination. It will address the development of domestic American political institutions and their involvement in foreign affairs.  This includes the balance between the presidency and the Congress as established in the Constitution and day-to-day politics; workings of the foreign policy bureaucracy; the impact of public opinion and social movements on political leaders and vice versa; and the sometimes pluralistic, sometimes oligarchic constellation of interest groups which foreign policymakers find it prudent to heed. It will examine significant aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards different regions of the world, especially since 1945. It will look at major issues such as terrorism, climate change, and nuclear weapons.  Lastly, the paper will cover debates over the nature and consequences of U.S. power and the potential decline of the U.S. relative to other states, especially in a world ravaged by a global pandemic that is challenging the tradition of US leadership.

Selected readings:

  • Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth, America Abroad: The United States’ Global Role in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2016)
  • Alexander Cooley and Daniel Nexon, Exit from Hegemony: The Unravelling of the American Global Order (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020)
  • G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011)