UCL Institute of the Americas


AMER0012: Post-Cold War US Foreign Policy

Module convenor: Dr Tony McCulloch


This module considers how the end of the Cold War bipolarity between the US and the Soviet Union has affected American foreign policy since1989. It begins by briefly reviewing the onset of the 'Second Cold War' during the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, the advent of Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet leader in 1985 and the subsequent ending 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 a week-by-week analysis of each of the Post-Cold War presidents and the main themes associated with their foreign policies, especially in relation to the position of Russia, nuclear proliferation rising concern about the growth of 'international terrorism'. The presidency of George H Bush is analysed first and the concept of a New World Order after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the formation of a 'Coalition of the Willing' against Saddam Hussein is discussed. Bill Clinton's foreign policy and the notion of 'democratic enlargement' in Eastern Europe and the Balkans are examined next and then we focus on the presidency of George W Bush, 9/11, the Bush Doctrine, the 'War on Terror' and its impact on Iraq and Syria. Finally, we discuss the foreign policy of Barack Obama, with reference to the notion of 'American decline' and we assess the first year of Donald Trump's foreign policy.

The second half of the module, after the Reading Week, focuses on issues arising in each of the 5 major geo-political regions in US foreign policy strategy since the end of the Cold War. These include US policy towards Britain and Europe and the notion of an 'Anglo-American 'special relationship'; the legacy of the Monroe Doctrine and US relations with Cuba and the rest of the Americas; the US relationship with Israel and the quest for a Middle East peace settlement involving the Palestinians and the Arab states; US relations with China and the concept of an American pivot towards the Asia-Pacific in the 21st century; and finally US policy towards Africa since the end of the Cold War with particular reference to the reasons for the relative neglect of the region by US presidents.

Teaching, learning and assessment

The module is taught through a combination of lectures, seminars and tutorials - with a lecture from 12.00 till 1.00 on Mondays followed by one-hour seminars at 2.00, 3.00 and, if necessary, 4.00pm. Assessment is by means of a 4,000-word essay in which students analyse an issue in Post-Cold War US foreign policy arising out of the course. Students can choose a topic of their own, subject to the agreement of the module convenor. Tutorials are available to students during the module to advise on the assignment.

Introductory Reading

    • Cox, Michael and Doug Stokes, American Foreign Policy, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012)
    • Herring, George, The American Century and Beyond: US Foreign Relations 1893-2014, 2nd edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017)
    • Hook, Steven and John Spanier, American Foreign Policy since World War II, 20th edition (Los Angeles: Sage, 2015)
    • Jentleson, Bruce, American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st century, 2nd edition (New York: Norton, 2003)
    • O'Tuathail, Gearoid, Simon Dalby and Paul Routledge, 2nd edition, The Geopolitics Reader (New York: Routledge, 2006)
    • Smith, Steve, Amelia Hadfield and Tim Dunne, Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases, 2nd edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012)

    NOTE: Students taking the course are also advised to familiarise themselves with the main journals interpreting current US foreign policy such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy and The National Interest.