Foreign Policy Of Us Politics Essay

Scholars have described foreign policy in a number of ways, highlighting its different aspects and roles; therefore, to quote on definition does not fulfill the purpose. Following are definitions by some prominent scholars:

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According to Charles O. Lerche, Jr. and Abdul Aziz,

“Foreign policy of a state usually refers to the general principles by which a state governs its reaction to the international environment” (Abegunrin, 2003)

On the other hand Kenneth W. Thompson and Roy C. Macridis state that:

“Foreign policy refers to the way in which policy-making institutions and official actors define their positions and that of their states vis-a-is the outside world over a period of time” (Abegunrin, 2003)

In the words of Cecil Crab,

“Foreign policy consists of two elements: national objectives to be achieved and the means for achieving them. The interactions between national goals and the resources for attaining then are perennial subject of statecraft. In its ingredients the foreign policy of all nations, great and small, is the same” (Abegunrin, 2003)

Howard Lenther states that,

“Foreign policy lies at the intersection of the domestic and international aspects of a country’s life” (Abegunrin, 2003)

According to Joseph Frankel,

“Decisions taken on foreign policy differ from those in other fields in that they are subject to a unique interplay between domestic and foreign environments. The person involved usually occupies certain official positions of trust and importance empowering them to act on behalf of their society in its external relations.” (Abegunrin, 2003)

From above definitions it can be concluded that foreign policy of any country is vital for protecting its interests; political, economic, social, and above all physical security. It is formulated by individuals working in specific institutions of state and having distinct ideologies.

Tools of foreign policy

There are basically following three tools of foreign policy through which it is implemented:




In political tools there comes alliances, diplomatic efforts; negotiations, mediation, bargaining, confidence building measures etc (Goldstein, 2004). However, in economic means the sanctions, trade terms, quotas, customs unions, protectionism, grants and aid are popular choices. Military tool is considered as last resort when all other tools are exhausted and only option for achieving foreign policy goals is the use of armed forces. Military measures include full scale wars, humanitarian interventions, alliance formation, use of air, land, marine and intelligence forces in some capacity.

Four principles of US FP

According to Walter Russel Mead, there are four prominent principles of US foreign policy which can be traced from its behavior over the years (Singh, 2003). These principles are based on ideologies of different presidents who have significant impact on US foreign policy. The following table highlights these principles:

Table 2.1 Four Principles of US Foreign Policy

Source: Singh, R. 2003. In American Government and Politics: A Concise Introduction (pp. 262-282). London: SAGE Publications Inc

Hamiltonians believe that America should integrate in Global economy as economic prosperity is very crucial for it being a super power internationally and also for domestic prosperity. To achieve this there must be a strong bond between federal government and business elites.

Wilsonians are more liberal in nature and are driven by the principles of US president Woodrow Wilson. They advocate the notion of democracy, human rights and respect for social value not with in America but throughout the world. To ensure this principle, US must play a leading role in international community.

Jeffersonians are peaceful in nature and are concerned more about domestic issues rather international responsibilities of the US. They argue that America should only focus on promoting and maintaining democracy at home and should not indulge in war for the promotion of democracy.

Jackosonians have realist tendencies as they believe in physical security of the country and also domestic prosperity. According to then America should work wholly to achieve those objectives.

Formation of US Foreign policy:

The formulation of foreign policy is quite different from the formulation of domestic policy. A sharp contrast is found in authorities and its process. Foreign policy is actually a bargain between different departments with their selfish interests which balance the actions and avoid exploitation (Reveron, 2004) .The following pyramid describes the hierarchy in foreign policy formulation with presidential powers at the top. After president, the decisions are in order influenced by the national Security Council (NSC), executive agencies; Department of State and Department of Defense, Congress, media, interest groups and public opinion.

Figure 2.1 Hierarchy of US Foreign Policy tools

Source: Adapted from Singh, R. (2003). In American government and politics: A Concise introduction (pp. 262-282). London: SAGE Publications Inc


The President of United States has two designations; Head of State or Head of Government and also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Article II of the Constitutions bestows the powers to president to enforce and implement laws created by Congress and to sign or veto the bills passed by congress but congress can override president’s veto by two-third of majority in both houses (The Executive Branch, 2012). To carry out regular federal administration tasks, the president appoints the heads of fifteen executive agencies from his cabinet and also has the command over other executive agencies such as CIA or Environmental Protection Agency. Moreover, the president appoints the heads of 50 independent federal commissions, ambassadors, federal judges and other federal officials. (Starling, 1982)

National Security Council

The office of National Security Council is next to White House and so is its importance in foreign policy after the president. The staff of the council is appointed by president himself which brief and suggest him about foreign policy as well as security issues of the country. Therefore, ideology of the council is similar to the president. NSC sessions are either conducted by the NSC Advisor or the president himself. Its usual attendees are Vice President, Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury, Secretary of Defense, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of and Director of National Intelligence. The heads of other departments are also invited when appropriate. (National Security Council, 2012)

Executive Agencies

Most influential executive agencies in foreign policy are considered to be Department of State and Department of Defense. The Department of State plays a leading role in devising and executing the foreign policy of President. The Major duties of the agency include the US representation abroad, military training programs, foreign assistance, countering international crime, and a wide range of services to U.S. citizens and foreign nationals in quest of entering to the U.S (The Executive Branch, 2012). The Secretary of State is also appointed by the president and comes next to him in succession matters and protocol. In theory the president relies more on Secretary of State for foreign policy matters but in reality according to recent phenomenon, the president depends more on NSC Advisor.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is the largest government agency which provides physical security to the state by waging or deterring war, providing armed forces and participating in disaster relief services, peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance. Pentagon is the Headquarter of DOD and also a mighty military symbol of America. The DOD consists of “the Departments of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as many agencies, offices, and commands, including the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon Force Protection Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Defense Intelligence Agency”. (The Executive Branch, 2012)

There is intense competition among different agencies, such as Department of Defense is an antagonist for Department of State and tries to maximize its influence on foreign policy. This competition keeps a check on foreign policy but sometimes can also be waste of resources.


Congress is the legislative branch of US and consists of two houses; House of Representatives and Senate. Under Article I of the constitution, the congress has the right to ratify bills, declare war, oppose president’s decisions challenge his appointments and also to use its substantive investigation powers (Starling, 1982).

The House of Representatives consists of 435 members elected proportionally from 50 states of the US according to their population. The Speaker of House, elected by representatives, presides the sessions and is third in the line of succession to the Presidency. The House also includes six non-voting members which represent six territories of the US such as District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (The Legislative Branch, 2012)

The Senate ensures equal representation from all states; therefore, there are two senators from each state thus making a total of 100 senate members. These members are elected by popular vote for six years tenure. The Vice President of US preside the senate and can use his vote in case of a tie. Senate has the exclusive power to ratify treaties and confirm president’s appointments. In case of a new legislation, the bill must be passed by majority votes in both houses before the final approval from the president.

Congress has a contested role in foreign policy and enjoys fewer powers in high politics or security issues. However, after Vietnam War the powers of congress are extended which challenge presidential powers directly and keep a check on them.

War powers – Congress VS President

As US is aggressively using military interventions to achieve its goals, the question erupts who has the power to declare war? The constitution is murky about this matter and no absolute power is mentioned which creates complexities and confusions. The power and decision making authority is thus divided among different institutions to keep a check and avoid futile decisions. The separation of powers among congress and president in foreign policy can be explained by following table:

Table 2.2 Comparison of US Presidential and Congress Powers

Adapted from Singh, R. (2003). In American government and politics: A Concise introduction (pp. 262-282). London: SAGE Publications Inc

From the above table, it is obvious that neither legislative nor executive branch is given expressed, exclusive power to declare war; therefore, both claim to have enumerated powers which results in a lot friction among institutions with endless confusions about how war is actually declared. Initially, the congress was given authority to decide about war matters and once it has approved war, the president would guide forces and execute war. This division of power ensured that there are no power abuses from any end. However, the things changed entirely when President Polk in 1846 waged war without congress approval. The trends changed after this and almost all presidents especially after President Roosevelt used armed forces in some capacity and without congress approval. When President Nixon launched the covert bombings on Laos and Cambodia, it was last nail in the coffin after which congress took action against unchecked presidential powers in using force. As a result War powers resolution in 1973 was jointly passed over the veto of President Nixon which is effective till today.

According to War Powers resolution, the president can only use force without congressional approval if there is a threat to US security or existence also in dire emergency. But this use of force must be reported in next 48 hours to the congress and if congress does not approve this military action then president is bound to call back forces within sixty-days of action (Singh, 2003).There are disputed views about this resolution as one group considers that it curtails presidential powers and hinder in actions; however, the other group takes it as an incentive or regulator which keep a check on powers. However, it is clear that in domestic policy the congress is main authority for passing laws and taking decisions as president is just the part of the process. But in foreign policy, the president is the main authority and congress is just a formality with no concrete role in decision making, thus president ahs different roles at both fronts.

History of US Military Interventions

In the first decade of independence, the US used massive force in North American continent and Caribbean as it was moving towards its Manifest Density, a popular belief that it was the destiny of America to spread across continent, from sea to shining sea (Scott, 2003). In that course, the force was used in Cuba, Hispaniola, New Orleans, Spanish Florida and Puerto Rico against Spanish, British, French and Mexican troops (DeRouen, 2000).In the first half of nineteenth century, US started using force for protecting its shipping interests and exhibited forces in Sumatra, Barbary Coast, Fiji Islands, Drummond Island, Samoa and Johanns Islands (DeRouen, 2000). To save American continent from race of territory among colonial powers, US President James Monroe introduced Monroe Doctrine in 1823 which promoted isolationist policies under which European powers did not intervene in American continent and America did not intervene outside its continent.

In later half of nineteenth century, US militarily intervened in newly independent states of Latin America such as Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama and Uruguay. The US also played an active role in suppressing revolutionaries in Chile, Nicaragua, Syria, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Honduras and China. (DeRouen, 2000) The Roosevelt Corollary to Monroe Doctrine later declared that US would intervene in Western Hemisphere to protect its interests. Under this new doctrine major targeted areas were Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Honduras, Cuba and Haiti. (Scott, 2003)

In twentieth century, the US took part in two world wars and proved itself one of the main powers of the world which is adopting internationalism. After World War II, the US used excessive military power to contain communism and Soviet Union in a bipolar world such as in Korean War and Vietnam War. After Cold War, the use of force did not come to a halt but it was used under the umbrella of humanitarian interventions as in Kosovo, Kuwait and Somalia.

The US military interventionist policies in twentieth century were shaped by 9/11 terrorist attacks on US soil after which policy makers are more willing to use force for the protection of US security and interests. In the wake of these policies, three major interventions occurred in ten years period; Afghanistan War, Iraq war and Libyan intervention. This interventionist thrust shows that the US is more rapidly using military as a mean to achieve its political end and making it an important part of its foreign policy (Brown, 2003). This brief history of US military interventions shows that force and military tools were always popular among presidents in one way or the other. The next chapters will therefore apply the mentioned foreign policy principles on two recent military interventions by the US.