MSc International Relations of the Americas
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AMERG009: Politics of US Foreign Policy

This course examines the politics of the American foreign policymaking process, both contemporary and historical. It asks how decisions are made, who and what influences foreign policy and why the US government acts as it does. Its emphasis is on the domestic politics of foreign policy within the context of international relations more generally. An historical approach is adopted during the course but one informed by the main tenets of Foreign Policy Analysis.

We begin by considering the domestic influences on the President and his administration in formulating and executing US foreign policy, with specific reference to the current crisis in Syria as an on-going case study, e.g. the attitude of Congress, opinion within the political parties, competing views within the foreign policy-making bureaucracy (State Department, Defense Department, National Security Adviser), the role of the media, etc.

Next we examine some of the main theories or paradigms within the study of International Relations that attempt to classify and explain the interaction of states and other actors on the world stage and that necessarily involve the analysis of US foreign policy as part of this process. These theories – Realism, Liberal Internationalism, Constructivism, etc - are explored in terms of the light they shed on the relationship between domestic politics and US foreign policy.

The bulk of the course consists of a series of case studies drawn from some of the most significant events and decisions in the history of modern US foreign policy. We start by analysing the domestic politics involved in the US decision to declare war on Spain in 1898 – an event often taken as signaling America’s emergence as a world power. Next we examine the US decision to reject membership of the League of Nations in 1920 and Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policy in the context of American “isolationism” in the 1930s. We then focus on a number of key episodes during the Cold War - the Truman Doctrine of 1947, McCarthyism and the Korean War, the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 and US policy during the Vietnam War, with particular reference to the role of the Anti-War Movement. Finally, the domestic politics of the post 9/11 era of US foreign policy are briefly surveyed and the idea that the US could be entering a new era of “isolationism” is discussed.

The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars and is assessed by means of a 4,000 word essay in which students analyse the role of domestic political considerations in the conduct of US foreign policy with reference to a specific case study. Students can choose to focus on one of the case studies explored during the course or to choose one of their own, subject to the agreement of the course convenor. Tutorials will be available to students on a regular basis throughout the course.

Introductory reading

Cox, Michael and Stokes, Doug, US Foreign Policy, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Heffner, Richard and Heffner, Alexander, A Documentary History of the United States, 8th edition (New York: Signet, 2009)

Hook, Steven and Spanier, John, American Foreign Policy since World War II, 19th ed.(Los Angeles: Sage, 2013)

Mead, Lawrence, Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Can Change the World (New York: Routledge, 2002)

Herring, George, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)

Hill, Christopher, The Changing Politics of Foreign Policy (New York: Palgrave, 2004)

Hogan, Michael J. and Thomas G. Paterson, Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations, 2nd ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Jentleson, Bruce, American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st century, 2nd ed. (New York: Norton, 2003)

Smith, Steve, Hadfield, Amelia and Dunne, Tim, Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases, 2nd ed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)