AMERG011: Post-Cold War US Foreign Policy

Course convenor: Dr Tony McCulloch


This course considers how the end of the Cold War bipolarity between the US and the Soviet Union has affected American foreign policy since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and its replacement by the Russian Federation and a number of other states. The first half of the course focuses on US policy towards Russia, the former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and former members of the Warsaw Pact such as Poland and Czechoslovakia. It begins by briefly reviewing the Reagan era, the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet leader in 1985 and the subsequent end of the Cold War. It then examines the main paradigms in International Relations theory that attempt to explain US foreign policy such as Realism, Liberal Internationalism, Marxism and Constructivism.

This introduction is followed by an examination of the foreign policies of each of the presidents in the Post-Cold War era with particular reference to their dealings with Russia, Eastern Europe and NATO. Thus George H Bush’s presidency and the concept of a ‘New World Order’ is discussed in relation to the first Gulf War, the role of Gorbachev and his replacement by Boris Yeltsin. The foreign policy of Bill Clinton is then examined with particular reference to the problem of Serbia, the Kosovo Crisis and Russia’s decline as a great power under Yeltsin. The role of democratic enlargement in Clinton’s foreign policy and the reasons for Putin’s rise to power at the end of 1999 are also considered. Attention is then paid to the impact of 9/11, the Iraq War and the enlargement of NATO on relations between the US and Russia during the presidency of George W Bush. The attempt by Barack Obama and his first Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to ‘reset’ relations with Moscow is then discussed in the light of the return of Putin as Russian President in 2012 and the current crisis in Ukraine. Finally the view of some commentators that another phase in the Cold War has begun is considered.

The second half of the course concentrates on four other key regional issues in US foreign policy in the Post-Cold War era – (1) Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and the ‘Greater Middle East’; (2); Cuba and Latin America; (3) the threat of radical Islamic terrorism in Africa; and (4) the rise of China and the recent announcement of a US pivot towards the Asia-Pacific. In each case, the degree of continuity and change between the foreign policies of Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush 43 and Obama is discussed, as is the question of whether the foreign policy of each president can be defined in terms of a ‘presidential doctrine’, such as the Bush Doctrine associated with the invasion of Iraq and the evolution of an ‘Obama Doctrine’. Finally, the course examines the debate over ‘American decline’ and considers the main trends in US foreign as Obama enters the last quarter of his presidency.


The course is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. Assessment consists of an essay of 4,000 words on a major topic arising out of the course.

Core Text

Cox, Michael and Doug Stokes, eds., American Foreign Policy, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)

Introductory Reading

  • Brands, Hal, From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search For Purpose (University Press of Kentucky, 2008)
  • Herring, George, From Colony to Superpower: US Foreign Relations since 1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008)
  • Hook, Steven and Spanier, John, American Foreign Policy Since World War Two, 19th edition (New York: C Q Press, 2013)
  • Lindsay, James and Ivo H. Daalder, America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy (Washington DC: Brookings, 2005)
  • Lynch, Timothy J. and Robert Singh, After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy (2008)
  • Parmar, Inderjeet, Linda B. Miller, Mark Ledwidge (eds), Obama and the World: New Directions in US Foreign Policy, 2nd edition (London: Routledge, 2014)