AMERG003: Case Study in Foreign Policy

(!) Not running in 2015-16

Course convenor: Dr Tony McCulloch


This module examines a selected aspect of modern US foreign policy. The actual case study under review changes periodically to reflect staff expertise, student interest, and changing issue significance. The current case study examines US foreign policy towards Britain as a key ally since World War Two – the so-called Anglo-American ‘special relationship’. The course includes an optional trip to the National Archives at Kew where British historical documents on relations with the USA are kept.

The Anglo-American ‘Special Relationship’ from FDR to Obama

The course begins with an analysis of what is meant by the Anglo-American ‘special relationship’ with particular reference to Winston Churchill’s ‘Iron Curtain’ speech delivered at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, in March 1946. The origins of the ‘special relationship’ are then discussed in the light of the academic debate as to whether these are to be found in the years 1940-1945 and Churchill’s wartime premiership or whether they can be traced to an earlier period such as the Treaty of Washington, 1871, the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt or the First World War. In addition to this historical approach, reference is made to IR theory in analysing the Anglo-American relationship, and especially to ‘alliance theory’ which examines why states form alliances and what keeps them together.

For most of the course the focus is on the foreign policy of successive US presidents and their attitudes towards Britain and the ‘specialness’ or otherwise of the Anglo-American relationship. Particular attention is paid to several key relationships such as FDR-Churchill, Truman-Attlee, Eisenhower-Eden, JFK-Macmillan, Reagan-Thatcher, Clinton-Blair and Bush-Blair. Key issues in the US-UK relationship are also discussed including relations with the Soviet Union and NATO, policy towards the nuclear deterrent, relations with Europe, the issue of Northern Ireland, economic rivalry and cooperation and the regional nature of the ‘special relationship’.

A key question during the course is the extent to which US security interests have determined the nature of the Anglo-American relationship rather than historical and cultural similarities. There is also a comparison with other ‘special relationships’, such as the US-Canada and US-Israel relationships, in order to further define the distinguishing features of the US-UK relationship.


Teaching is through a combination of lectures and seminars. Assessment is based on a 4,000-word essay.

The programme of topics to be covered is as follows:

Week 1 – Introduction: FDR, Churchill and the Origins of the ‘Special Relationship’, 1940-1945

Week 2 – Truman, Attlee and the Cold War, 1945-1951

Week 3 – Eisenhower, Eden and the Suez Crisis, 1956

Week 4 – JFK, Macmillan and the Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962

Week 5 – LBJ, Wilson and the Vietnam War, 1964-69

Week 6 – Nixon, Heath and relations with Europe, 1970-74

Week 7 – Reagan, Bush 41 and Thatcher - the end of the Cold War, 1981-89

Week 8 – Clinton, Major and Blair – the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland, 1993-98

Week 9 – Bush 43 and Blair – 9/11 and the Iraq War, 2001-07

Week 10 – Obama, Brown and Cameron – the ‘Special Relationship’ today

Introductory Reading

A list of introductory reading for the course is given below. A full course reading list is normally issued at the beginning of the session.

  • John Baylis, Anglo-American relations since 1939: The enduring alliance (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997)
  • Alan Dobson, Anglo-American relations in the Twentieth Century (London: Routledge, 1995)
  • John Dumbrell, A Special Relationship (London: Macmillan, 2001)
  • Steve Marsh and Alan Dobson, Anglo-American Relations: Contemporary Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2012)
  • Ritchie Ovendale, Anglo-American relations in the Twentieth Century (London: Macmillan, 1998)
  • Stephen Walt, The Origins of Alliances (New York: Cornell University Press, 1990)

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