Stages In Foreign Policy Decision Making Politics Essay

Foreign Policy is the use of political influence in order to induce other states to exercise their law-making power in a manner desired by the states concerned: it is an interaction between forces originating outside the country’s borders and those working within them.

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Prof. F. S. Northedge

Foreign policy of a state is concerned with the behaviour of a state towards other states. It refers to the ways in which the central governments of sovereign states relate to each other and to the global system in order to achieve various goals or objectives. Through its foreign policy it endeavours to persuade others in accordance with one’s own ends. It is primarily in proportion to its national power that its persuasive power is effective in this regard. However, even a powerful state cannot afford to enjoy a solo flight in this regard. It has to take into account, not only its own objectives and interests, aspirations and problems, but also those of other states. This process involves intricate processes of diplomacy short of war. It is also based on the observations regarding the traditional behaviour of a given state. Moreover, a state while implementing its foreign policy cannot afford to ignore the rules of International law and canons of international morality. The whole essence of this prelude is that the term foreign policy cannot be studied in isolation from the factors that determine it.

“Foreign policy is the key element in the process by which a state translates its broadly conceived goals and interests into concrete course of action to attain these objectives and preserve interests”

Padelford and Lincolin

So foreign policy is the bundle of principles and practices that regulate the intercourse of a state vis-a-vis other states. Through foreign policy a state seeks to achieve a variety of objectives. The objectives sought to be attained by a state are of different types and categories, yet there are certain objectives which are uniformly pursued by all states i.e. Political independence and territorial integrity, economic well being and, prestige and status of a nation. They have been classified into short range, middle range and long-range objectives.

Foreign Policy Analysis is the systematic study of and research into the processes and theories of foreign policy. It is that branch of political science, which deals with the study of and research into the processes and theories of foreign policy.

Foreign Policy Analysis involves the study of how a state makes foreign policy. Because Foreign Policy Analysis involves the study of both international and domestic politics, the academic discipline is located at the intersection of international relations theory and public policy. Foreign Policy Analysis also draws upon the study of diplomacy, war, intergovernmental organisations, and economic sanctions, each of which are means by which a state may implement foreign policy. In academia, foreign policy analysis is most commonly taught within the disciplines of Political Science or Political Studies, and International Relations.

Stages in foreign policy decision making

The making of foreign policy involves a number of stages:

aˆ? Assessment of the international and domestic political environment – Foreign policy is made and implemented within an international and domestic political context, which must be understood by a state in order to determine the best foreign policy option. For example, a state may need to respond to an international crisis. Pakistan has to cultivate and maintain good relations with the members of OIC; it has to support causes of the Umma because of the dictates of the public opinion. Similarly one reason Pakistan conducted tit for tat nuclear tests in May 1998 following Indian nuclear tests was inter alia public pressure.

aˆ? Goal setting – A state has multiple foreign policy goals. A state must determine which goal is affected by the international and domestic political environment at any given time. In addition, foreign policy goals may conflict, which will require the state to prioritise. In the post. As Pakistan’s and for that matter any state’s survival tops the agenda of objectives, so it has to side with the US in the wake of Post 9/11 and the latter’s decision to be down with the Taliban.

aˆ? Determination of policy options – A state must then determine what policy options are available to meet the goal or goals set in light of the political environment. This will involve an assessment of the state’s capacity to implement policy options and an assessment of the consequences of each policy option. Pakistan’s decision of entering into Western sponsored alliances in the 50s and taking a U Turn in the wake of 9/11 were in fact some of the policy options that Pakistani Policy makers opted for.

aˆ? Formal decision making action – A formal foreign policy decision will be taken at some level within a government. Foreign policy decisions are usually made by the executive branch of government. Common governmental actors or institutions which make foreign policy decisions include: the head of state (such as a president) or head of government (such as a prime minister), cabinet, or minister.

aˆ? Implementation of chosen policy option – Once a foreign policy option has been chosen, and a formal decision has been made, then the policy must be implemented. Foreign policy is most commonly implemented by specialist foreign policy arms of the state bureaucracy, such as a Ministry of Foreign Affairs or State Department. Other departments may also have a role in implementing foreign policy, such as departments for: trade, defence, and aid.

Short Range Objectives

They are called Core Objectives as well, because these objectives are attained at all costs. State cannot afford to show any laxity on this count. Among Core Objectives, territorial integrity and political independence enjoys to be the foremost priority of each and every nation-state. Without any physical unity the state would cease to remain a state. So it needs to be and it has to be the foremost objective of a state. The state has to girdle itself to realize these objectives directly, quickly, forcefully and effectively; it has no luxury of time in case of fulfilling these core objectives. It cannot afford the threat to magnify. Moreover, it has to deal with the source of the threat directly i.e. the demand is made on the single state or group of states who might pose threat to the geographical integrity of the country.

In order to maintain one’s geographical integrity, a state must have arms and ammunitions. Whereas in case of conventional weapons, it has to carry out ‘finite’ deterrence in order to deter the enemy from attacking it, in case of nuclear weapons, thanks to their expensive and destructive nature, only ‘minimum deterrence’ is considered enough. The message is “If you undertake a particular action, then the cost of that action would outweigh its gains”. However, some of the strategists advocate the strategy of ‘finite deterrence’ even in case of nuclear weapons as well. They believe in the accumulation of more and more weapons. They advocates of this kind of strategy argue that it is safer to ensure your survival against a danger by developing more and more sophisticated weapons. The strategy ultimately leads to unlimited arms race and arms building. The strategy of minimum deterrence believes in just enough retaliatory capacity to remove maximum danger. There must be enough material to inflict unacceptable damages upon the aggressor, if an attack accrues. The advocates of this strategy contend that by chalking out this strategy, the unnecessary costs of arms building are minimized.

As a matter of fact, question of Pakistan’s solidarity is given utmost priority by Pakistani policy makers. Traditionally, Pakistan’s policy has been India-centric, and its pattern of relations with the rest of the world has been subservient to that factor. Pakistan has concentrated her full attention on her eastern borders, because it perceives that its security stakes mainly rest there. Pakistan sees the situation through its fear-psychosis originating of its distrust of India. It is highly skeptical of increased Indian presence on Afghan soil, particularly the establishment of Indian consulates so close to Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

Political independence means that the state is able to play its prestigious role in the international arena at its own will, and if a state is able to do this then it is politically independent. States seek to safeguard the core objectives at all costs. It has no time to delay or postpone the fulfilling of these objectives.

Middle Range Objectives

This particular category is comprised of economic uplift of the people, raising their life standard, enhancing prestige and status of the nation, and expansion both territorial, as well as ideological. These objectives are sought to be achieved within a specific time period, implying that after the expiration the term, the objectives even if attained would have lost their real value. Here the targets are more than one or two states. A state has to carry out trade with a number of states and trade blocks. It has to deal with multiple sources while pursuing these objectives.

Foreign policy aims at achieving economic prosperity, as only an economically prosperous nation is to play more assertive role in international politics. That is why, Pakistan is endeavoring to gear up the pace of its economic progress and to attain economic prosperity. It is usually the keen desire of each state to establish, strengthen and widen its economic ties with other states. Status and prestige of a state can be secured only if the state is economically stable and prosperous. In the process, the state has to diversify its trade and economy in order to make it resilient enough to come up to the challenges of the competitive world. It has to export its goods, commodities and raw material to more than one destinations i.e. states; it has to strengthen its export base in more than one commodity or good, so that no state, MNC, or group could exploit its vulnerability in this regard.

Expansion whether territorial or ideological falls within the purview of middle range objective. Expansion through capturing lands is direct sort of expansion which is no longer in vogue today. What is of greater concern is the ideological expansion i.e. expansion through the propagation of ideas, ideologies, systems, cultures and values. The West has successfully launched this type of expansion at the expense of Afro-Asian and the Third World countries. Capitalism, market economy, English language and democracy of Western model and style have occupied a place in the international system just because of hectic and effective propagation of the same by the West. Courtesy this influence, the West and to some extent India has increased its soft power.

Long Range Objectives

A state while pursuing such type of objectives seeks to gain almost at the expense of all other states. Further they have no time restrictions, as time limit is usually employed in pursuit of core and middle range objectives. After the Communist Revolution of 1917 the Russian communist leaders, Lenin and Stalin reiterated that they would endeavor to expand communist ideology through the every nook and corner of the Globe, as to them the capitalist system was defective and exploitative in its very nature. It was the Long Range Objective of Communist Russia, because by doing so they did not set any time limit for the realization of these objectives. So, Long Range Objective are not only time consuming, but are also indefinite and vague i.e. nothing can be ascertained regarding the outcome of the pursuit, so they are unpredictable as well.

Similarly dissemination of capitalist economy and democracy is one of the long range objectives of the US policy. After the end of cold war it was believed that there is no serious rival to the Western Democracy. The “End of History and the Last Man” is a 1992 book by Fukiyama expanding the 1992 essay “The End of History?” published in the Foreign Affairs journal “The National Interest”. In the book, Fukuyama argues the controversial thesis that the end of cold war signals the end of the progression of human history:

“What we are witnessing is not just the end of cold war, or a passing of a particular phase of postwar history, but the end of history as such; that is the endpoint of humankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western Liberal Democracy as the final form of human government.”

The ‘end of history as such’, ‘the evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’; these were the sort of statements along with Fukiyama’s professed conviction that ‘the ideal will govern the material world in the longer run’ – that rang the alarm.


Those factors that influence and determine the foreign policy of a country are its determinants. Some of these factors are static or of unchanging nature whereas others are in a state of flux and their dynamics are continually adjusted to the changing circumstances.


1) Power Structure

The modern state system has been in existence since 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. The modern state system includes major, middling, and small powers. All states conduct their own foreign policies. One primary objective of each county’s foreign policy is to maintain its own political independence and security. In the traditional multi-polar system, it was easier for states to switch sides and gain maximum gains from all sides. Thus Italy used this skill deftly and switched sides during the height of World War I to gain its share in the post war colonial arrangement.

During the bipolar world system, however, the ideological fault lines were more clearly marked, and it was not easy for states to switch sides frequently. Thus during the cold war, the countries of the Eastern Europe under the security umbrella of the Warsaw Pact were under the direct influence of the former Soviet Union. And the countries of the Western Europe together with the US and Canada entered into an alliance known as North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The states were faithfully wedded to their respective alliances, and any signs of freedom were strictly checked by the two superpowers. The demise of the Soviet Union and the advent of the uni-polar world has its own system dynamics. Bush’s ‘either with us or against us’ sort of declaration made many states from the margins of the system to come forward and play effective roles in the so- called Global War on Terrorism (GWOT). Pakistan was to take a smart strategic U-turn in order to be able to take advantage from the changed international structure. Every type of power structure at international level has its own particular dynamics and that has its impact on the foreign policies of the states.

2) International Organizations

The role and importance of international institutions as instruments of states’ foreign policies, and the political, military, functional, economic and humanitarian roles played principally by the United Nations in international relations cannot be overestimated. These international organizations to varying degrees serve as modifiers of state behaviour and as independent actors in their own right. They have profound impact on the determination of the foreign policy of a state. No state can decide and conduct its policy arbitrarily to the detriment of other states. UN and other multilateral forums come to the rescue of the aggressed state. Usually sanctions are imposed which in some cases become very effective provided the international community imposes them sincerely.

3) Reaction of other states

Likewise the system of states is fast transforming into a society of states state where each and every individual states has regard for the rights of other states. Being sensible to the sensibilities of other states, no state can adopt a unilateral policy. It has to take into account, and accommodate, if possible, the interests of the other stake-holders as well. India and the US have to take stock of Pakistani interests in Afghanistan. They are also cognizant of the fact that no plan for Afghanistan can work until and unless Pakistan is taken aboard in this regard. In 1939, Hitler embarked upon the course of aggression vis-a-vis Poland and didn’t assess and anticipate British reaction to such a misadventure. This led to disastrous consequents for Germany and the Global system generally speaking. Pakistan though not fully comfortable with being a willing partner in the Global War on Terror, has to be committed to the same owing to international concerns and being apprehensive of international backlash.

4) World Public Opinion

Similarly the state, while formulating its foreign policy has to take into account the world public opinion. World public opinion is more effective when it is supported by the domestic public opinion of the given state. Israel usually flouts agreements and canons of international law with a least regard for them, but in the process it has lost international goodwill. Power is not about military hardware or nukes and ammunitions; its equally important component is a state’s prestige known as ‘soft power’ . It is well known that the US administration was made to effect changes in its Vietnam policy largely due to hostile world public opinion.

5) Alliances

Alliances concluded by various states also influence their foreign policy. The states parties to the alliances have to respond to the requests and demands of their allies and refrain from formulating policies or taking actions which are offensive to the alliance partners. During the decade of fifties when Pakistan was known as the most allied ally of the United States, Pakistan had to exercise its vote against the People’s Republic of China blocking its entry into the world forum. China on its part did understand Pakistan’s compulsions and didn’t entertain any ill-will against Pakistan. During the height of cold war, neither the member of the ‘Warsaw Pact’ nor those of ‘NATO’ could pursue any independent foreign policy.


1.Historical Influence

The foreign policy of a country is to a large extent the legacy of its history. Each country possesses an individuality of its own, which is the outcome of its historical and geographical configuration. The cultural and historical traditions go a long way in moulding the foreign policy of a state. To a large extent the approach of a nation to the foreign problems is determined by its traditional values and beliefs which have emerged on a period of history. Though the leadership can make modifications in these values and beliefs, yet it cannot go very far.

Pakistan’s apprehensions of India and India’s those of China are the product of their historical traditions. India and China have to some extent shelved their historical mistrust in order to pave ground for their mutual trade. It is believed by the Complex Interdependence theorists that in the present age of interdependence, it is highly improbable that the two countries would go to war. They apply the same formula to India and Pakistan whereby increased trade volume and interdependence would raise the stakes of both states in the maintenance of peace. When they would refrain from creating any war mania for sometime, that would decrease trust deficit between the two nuclear armed neighbours which in turn may help them to resolve their outstanding issues down the road.

However, this is only one viewpoint. There are analyses and views, mostly on Pakistani side, that no trust could be build up unless and until both the parties are able to make any substantial movement towards the resolution of their outstanding issues. They therefore consider Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) a useless tactic unless there is a real progress on the count of issues resolution.

2. Size and Geography

The geopolitical location of a state is one of the external determinants on its foreign policy. It matters where on the globe a country is located. It matters whether the country has natural frontiers: that is whether it is protected by oceans, high mountains, or deserts. It matters who one’s neighbors are and whether a given country is territorially large, populous, affluent, and well-governed. Geographical factors exercise a permanent and paramount influence on the foreign policy of a country. Dr Eayers has rightly said,

“Pacts may be broken, treaties unilaterally denounced, but geography holds its victims fast”

It may, however, be noted that when we speak of the impact of geography on the foreign policy of a country, we keep in mind the extent of its territory, its general configuration, the texture of the soil, climatic conditions, rainfall, waterways and location of the country vis-a-vis the other powers. Geographical location has exercised a great impact on the foreign policy of Britain. Similarly USA could follow a policy of complete isolation mainly because of her geographical location. The foreign policy of France has been determined by the presence of Germany on her border, while that of Nepal by its proximity to India and People’s Republic of China. It has been contended by some of the theorists that the development of modern means of communication and the invention of sophisticated weaponry have rendered the importance of geographical factor obsolete. This view, however, cannot be fully subscribed to. Even today the vast size of states like China and Russia renders the talk of their conquest problematic.

3. Natural Resources

The natural resources of a country also profoundly influence the determination of a foreign policy. The natural resources apart from minerals, gas and water resources also include the food grain. During the present century, food has tended to be an important factor in the determination of a country’s foreign policy. It is said that during the Second World War the foreign and military policy of Germany was to a large extent, determined by her limited food reserves. She resorted to massive action because she was to win a quick victory in view of the danger of starvation faced by the German army. In the post World War II, Oil diplomacy in the Middle East has greatly determined foreign policy not only of the states of the region, but also of the entire world. The attitude of the super powers during the cold war, towards the region of the Middle East in particular, was to a large extent, dictated by their desire to control the oil.

We can say that the natural resources and raw material exercise considerable influence upon the foreign policy of a country. In the absence of a sound industrial complex, they can make a state vulnerable to foreign intervention, but with their domestic consumption and indigenous input, they can be a real boon for any country. In such a case, the state would pursue its foreign policy more confidently and assertively.

4. Economic Development

The level of economic development attained by a country has deep impact on the foreign policy of the state. One of the middle range objectives of the foreign policy of a state is to expand, diversify and strengthen its economic relations with the external world. An increased economic activity warrants that the surplus goods, raw material and services of the country have markets outside the country and that the state may ensure the procurement of the needed products, raw material and services at economical rates. Pakistan and India are energy deficient courtiers. This deficiency on the part of these countries in particular and the rest of the world in general has been one of the important determinants of their foreign policies.

Pakistan and India are bargaining with Iran for the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline and with Turkmenistan for the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline project. Besides a proposal for exporting gas from Qatar is also under consideration. India has received a big boost in this regard with the coming into force fo the US-India deal on the peaceful nuclear technology. This has virtually legitimized Indian nuclear programme much to the chagrin of Pakistan which has since been strenuously lobbying for getting the same status. However, owing to Pakistani track record on the AQ Khan saga, the response from the US and the West has been lukewarm in this regard. However, People’s Republic of China has been amenable to Pakistani requests on this count. Similarly Pakistan is always concerned about securing markets for its raw material, cotton, rice, leather products, sportsware and cotton products. The level of economic development has a direct relationship with the life standard of the citizens of the given country.

5. Industrial Development

The industrial development of a state also plays an important role in determining its foreign policy. This is evident from the fact that industrially developed countries like USA, Russia, Japan, Germany, France and England are able to exercise great influence in the international affairs. Realizing the importance of this factor in adding to the strength and prestige of a country even the underdeveloped and agricultural countries are keen to get industrialized as quickly as possible. A country possessing rich natural resources has to depend on the advanced countries for capital and technical assistance, so that these resources are exploited to the maximum level. A naturally gifted state devoid of effective infrastructure is almost as poor and backward as any resourceless state can be. So development of a sound infrastructure is a sine qua non in order to enable the naturally gifted state to fully capitalize on its natural resources, and utilize them in their industrial complex.

Industrial development, though dependent upon the natural resources and raw materials at home, is sometimes not limited to the scarcity or absence of them. Just to refer to one of the industrial giants i.e. Japan, it doesn’t have the indigenous resources to satiate the ever-increasing needs and requirements of its industry; it has to import most of them. However this limitation on its part has not incapacitated it; rather it has prompted its policy maker to come up with new techniques and planning strategies and become an industrial leader.

6. Military Power

Besides all the preceding factors, the military strength of a country also determines the effectiveness of its foreign policy. A state possessing sufficient military strength has greater initiative and bargaining power in the international arena. The case of Israel can be quoted as an example. She continues her precarious existence despite the combined opposition of the Allied nations; she has power to maintain an assertive foreign policy. Unlike geographical and natural resources, the military capacity is not a static factor. It keeps on changing. The states try to impress about their military superiority in a number of ways, such as nuclear tests, mobilization of army, periodical display of military forces, devices and techniques.

Military strength of a country is closely linked to its resourcefulness and the development of its industry. A developed civil industry can be made to manufacture military hardware during the time of wars and crises.

7. Population

The human force constitutes another determinant of foreign policy. The strength of a nation depends upon the quality and quantity of its human factor. The enormous population of China enabled it to pursue a forceful foreign policy. On the other hand the falling birth rate in France compelled her to toe a weak foreign policy during the inter-war period. Qualitatively, the population should be healthy, educated and prosperous. It should also possess technical know-how. It is however, to be noted that the population of a country has to be evaluated in relation to its other attributes. If the resources of a country are not sufficient to meet the requirements of the large population, the latter may pose a serious challenge to the very existence of the state. But if there are sufficient resources to meet the requirements of a large population, then it certainly adds to the power of the state, as this may enable it to mould its foreign policy accordingly. Instances from USA and the defunct Soviet Union’s history can be quoted to substantiate this point. On the other side if the state possesses sufficient natural resources but less population, then it may not be able to assert it. The example of Canada can be quoted in this respect. Canada has been pursuing a liberal Immigration Policy to overcome this deficiency.

8. Good Governance and Leadership

The government and the leadership play an important role in determining the role of their country, which it is going to play in the international field. In fact, it is government and leadership, which convert the potential power of a state into actual power. The quality of government depends upon a number of factors, such as support extended to it by the population, the organization of the government, the quality of persons serving the government, willingness of the government to take the aspirations of the general people into account etc. The quality of a government to a large extent depends upon the type of leadership available to it. Leaders like Hitler, Mussolini, Ball Thackeray, and Nrindra Modi could easily disturb the forward and steady movement of the nation; they jeopardize international peace and security as well. Whereas leaders like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Jawaharlal Nehru, Kenneth Kuanda, Marshal Tito would serve the nation most efficiently and steer the nation’s ship safely from the troubled waters to the safe shores.

9. Quality of Diplomacy

And last but not the least, quality of diplomacy of a country exercises profound influence upon the foreign policy of country. History of inter-state relations is full of examples where the countries succeeded in attaining their objectives through wise diplomacy, even though they lack other elements of power e.g. Prussian success against France in 1870 under Price Ottowan Bismarck. Likewise certain very powerful states failed to attain their goals owing to ineffective and weak diplomacy. A good diplomat must have a clear concept and perception of the national goals and the will of their attainment. Plus he should be skillful enough to use the tools of statecraft for the realization of the national objectives. Bhutto while launching campaign against President Ayub claimed that the President actually lost what Pakistan had won in the battlefield while referring to the Tashkent Agreement between Pakistan and India brokered by the former Soviet Union. Here Indian diplomacy was equal to the task. But a few years later in the wake of the dismemberment of Pakistan, it was none other than Bhutto himself who excelled in diplomatic skills at Simla.

10. Political Organization

Political organizations and institutions of the country also determine the foreign policy of country. Usually, democracies are not very prone to war, at least within themselves . There is some evidence to suggest that democracies do not usually go to war against each other. As the world in general becomes more democratic, it is hoped that war will be replaced with peaceful methods of conflict resolution. However, dictatorships faced with the problem of legitimacy at home and abroad usually create issues out of non-issues in order to justify the continuation of their illegal rule. Hitler and Mussolini embarked upon the path of international conquests because they were to deliver to