POLSC311: United States Foreign Policy

Course Syllabus for "POLSC311: United States Foreign Policy"

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What is the best way to respond to global nuclear proliferation? Under what circumstances should American soldiers be sent to war? How should U.S. policymakers navigate a global economy? Will a global energy crisis precipitate a third world war? How does history inform contemporary U.S. foreign policymakers, and what issues will challenge future leaders? Such questions can seem beyond the scope of an individual, but they are questions that foreign policy decision makers in the United States must confront. Further, the issues that such questions raise must also be considered by members of the government bureaucracy and any citizen that wishes to be an informed participant in American democracy. The prominent role of the United States and a global leader makes examining and understanding the actions that the U.S. takes toward the rest of the world and how these decisions are made important for both American and citizens of other nations alike. This course will provide history, theory, and perspectives on current foreign policy issues to provide you with a foundation for understanding the study of foreign policy and perspectives to analyze a variety of pressing foreign policy issues. In general, the foreign policy of the United States includes policy decisions regarding international issues and relationships with foreign countries. The phrase “politics stops at the water’s edge” alludes to the way in which foreign policy issues are treated differently from domestic issues in the study and conduct of American politics. While there are many ways in which foreign policy is a unique policy area in the context of politics and governance in the United States and warranting separate study, it is nonetheless important to apply theories of both domestic politics and international relations to understand and analyze U.S. foreign policy. Towards these ends, this class will begin by outlining the constitutional foundations of foreign policymaking in the United States as well as the structure of and interplay between the formal and informal institutions that craft and implement U.S. foreign policy, including the president, Congress, the bureaucracy, the media, and public opinion. Next, you will examine theories of international relations that may inform and explain U.S. foreign policy as well as specific theories of foreign policymaking to better understand the decisions of policymakers as well as the outcomes of these decisions. In order to fully understand contemporary issues in foreign policy, it is important to study how the United States’ relationship with the world has changed over time and how world events and U.S. foreign policy have mutually influenced one another. Units 1-3 of this course provide this overview. Towards these ends, you will gain an understanding of the history of U.S. foreign policy and how American priorities and goals, as well as the means of achieving them, influence foreign policy. In Unit 4, you will then address several issues relevant to current U.S. policymakers in a manner that is informed by the previous units on the foreign policymaking process, the theories used to understand these processes, and historical perspective. In this regard, you will not only consider the most pressing foreign policy issues of the day but also understand how these issues have and will continue to change. For example, the importance of traditional foreign policy issues such as military security, war, and alliances; issues such as food and energy security; environmental issues such as climate change; and human rights have increasingly become part of the agenda of foreign policymakers. In Unit 5, you will step back and consider U.S. foreign policy from a broad perspective by considering issues of grand strategy and projects for the future.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion of this course, the student will be able to:

  • identify the processes and institutions relevant to foreign policymaking in the United States;
  • compare and contrast competing theories of international relations that relate to U.S. foreign policy as well as specific theories foreign policymaking, and explain how these theories help us understand U.S. foreign policy;
  • trace the historical development of U.S. foreign policy, including key historical events that have shaped and were shaped by U.S. foreign policy, and apply this historical context to contemporary issues in U.S. foreign policy;
  • list and describe substantive and geographical issues relevant to contemporary foreign policymakers in the United States, and provide informed policy proposals for addressing these issues;
  • synthesize information about U.S. foreign policy goals, values, contemporary issues, and trends to articulate a grand strategy for U.S. foreign policymakers to follow;
  • critically evaluate and analyze U.S. foreign policy goals, values, and contemporary issues using the conceptual and theoretical tools of the field. Explain how foreign policy goals and priorities have and will continue to change, and identify issues that will be important to future policymakers; and
  • apply theoretical principles from international relations and foreign policy analysis to explain and understand why the U.S. created and implemented specific foreign policy decisions.

Course Requirements

In order to take this course, you must:

√    have access to a computer;

√    have continuous broadband Internet access;

√    have the ability/permission to install plug-ins or software (e.g. Adobe Reader or Flash);

√    have the ability to download and save files and documents to a computer;

√    have the ability to open Microsoft files and documents (.doc, .ppt, .xls, etc.);

√    have competency in the English language; and

√    have read the Saylor Student Handbook.

Course Information

Welcome to POLSC311: United States Foreign Policy. Below, please find general information on this course and its requirements. 
Course Designer: Sean Miskell
Primary Resources: This course is comprised of a range of different, free online materials.  However, the course makes primary use of the following materials:

Requirements for Completion: In order to complete this course, you will need to work through each unit and all of its assigned materials. Pay special attention to Units 1 and 2, as these lay the groundwork for understanding the more advanced, exploratory material presented in the later units. You will also need to complete the Final Exam.

Note that you will only receive an official grade on your Final Exam. However, in order to adequately prepare for this exam, you will need to work through all of the resources in each unit.

In order to “pass” this course, you will need to earn a 70% or higher on the Final Exam. Your score on the exam will be tabulated as soon as you complete it. If you do not pass the exam, you may take it again.

Time Commitment: This course should take you approximately 126.75 hours to complete. Each unit includes a “time advisory” that lists the amount of time you are expected to spend on each subunit. These should help you plan your time accordingly. It may be useful to take a look at these time advisories and to determine how much time you have over the next few weeks to complete each unit, and then to set goals for yourself. For example, Unit 1 should take you 27.25 hours. Perhaps you can sit down with your calendar and decide to complete subunits 1.1 and 1.2 (a total of 4.5 hours) on Monday night; subunit 1.3.1 (a total of 4.5 hours) on Tuesday night; subunit 1.3.2 (a total of 6 hours) on Wednesday and Thursday nights; etc.

Tips/Suggestions: This course is organized such that each unit provides information on different aspects of U.S. foreign policy. Unit 1 focuses on how foreign policy is made in the U.S.; Unit 2 addresses theories of foreign policymaking and international relations that help us understand the decisions of leaders and the behavior of states in the international system in a broad perspective; Unit 3 provides an overview of U.S. foreign policy from the time of George Washington to the Obama administration; Unit 4 addresses contemporary issues relevant to foreign policymakers (as well as citizens) of the U.S.; Unit 5 looks to the future role of the U.S. in the world. Be sure to consider how each unit informs the others as well as the purpose of each unit. For example, Unit 1 emphasizes discrete facts, such as the institutions and rules that are relevant to foreign policymaking, while Unit 2 provides general theoretical perspectives that can help you understand a wide range of phenomena and should be kept in mind as you proceed through the following units. The subunits of Unit 4 are in many ways discrete issues, but they are surely connected by their relationship with one another as well as the historical information found in Unit 3. In sum, as you proceed through each unit, be sure to consider how they connect with and inform one another.

Make sure to take comprehensive notes as you work through the resources in each unit. These notes will serve as a useful review as you study and prepare for the Final Exam.

Preliminary Information

  • American Government and Politics in the Information Age

    You will be prompted to read sections of this book throughout the course. You may choose to download the text in full now and skip to the appropriate section as prompted by the resource boxes below, or you can simply download the specific sections of the text assigned as you progress through each resource box below.

    Reading: American Government and Politics in the Information Age (PDF)

    Terms of Use: This text was adapted by The Saylor Foundation under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License without attribution as requested by the work’s original creator or licensee.

Table of Contents: You can find the course's units at the links below.