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POLSC311: United States Foreign Policy

Unit 2: Theories of International Relations and U.S. Foreign Policy   *Social science seeks to develop theories to help explain events in history. Theories help provide lenses and frames of reference for understanding events in the political and social world. Theories direct our attention to specific aspects of politics and governance, highlight issues that are important, and simplify reality. Employing theory to political and social life allows us to diagnose problems, predict the future, and propose solutions.

While foreign policy is more concrete and less theoretical than international relations, employing theories of international politics can help us to understand the conditions that influence foreign policy decision makers. For example, realism provides a way to understand the international system as anarchic, as well as concepts such as the security dilemma and balancing reveal how policymakers might view the world. In turn, you will consider how real world events might inform these more general theories.

In addition to using theories to understand the context in which foreign policy is made, you will learn about theories of the foreign policy process itself. These theories more specifically consider how the institutional context in which foreign policy is made can influence specific decisions and who is empowered to make these decisions in the first place. Theories of the foreign policy process help shed light on what kind of information is available to foreign policymakers, what goals these policymakers consider important, and why.*

Unit 2 Time Advisory
Completing this unit should take you approximately 20.5 hours. 

☐    Subunit 2.1: 14 hours
 

☐    Subunit 2.1.1: 2.75 hours

☐    Subunit 2.1.2: 3.5 hours

☐    Subunit 2.1.3: 7 hours

☐    Subunit 2.1.4: 0.75 hours

 

☐    Subunit 2.2: 6.5 hours

 

☐    Subunit 2.2.1: 4 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2.2: 1.5 hours

☐    Subunit 2.2.3: 1 hour

Unit2 Learning Outcomes
Upon successful completion of this unit you will be able to:
- describe how different theories of international relations might inform foreign policymakers; - list and define the key concepts that derive for theories of international relations relevant to foreign policy; and - explain how different theories of foreign policymaking are useful in understanding the foreign policymaking process and the key factors that influence foreign policy decision makers.

2.1 Theories of International Relations Relevant to U.S. Foreign Policy   2.1.1 Theory and the Study of U.S. Foreign Policy: An Introduction   - Lecture: YouTube: Academic Earth: Columbia University: Professor Lisa Anderson’s “Contending Theories and Policy Choices” Link: YouTube: Academic Earth: Columbia University: Professor Lisa Anderson’s “Contending Theories and Policy Choices” (YouTube)

 Instructions: This lecture discusses how theories of international
relations and foreign policy serve to both explain and inform the
actions of U.S. foreign policymakers. This lecture provides a useful
overview of theories that apply to foreign policymaking in the
United States.  

 Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take
approximately 45 minutes.  

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  • Reading: Foreign Policy: Jack Snyder’s “One World, Rival Theories” Link: Foreign Policy: Jack Snyder’s “One World, Rival Theories” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article.  

    This article provides an overview of the three major theoretical approaches in international relations (IR) and foreign policy: realism, liberalism, and idealism (constructivism). The author also discusses the connections between these theories and the views of specific foreign policymakers and groups. This serves as a general, but still informative, treatment of the major theories.

    Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.

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2.1.2 Realism   2.1.2.1 Realism as Timeless Explanation of World Politics   - Reading: Hellenic Resources Network: Alexander Kemos’ “The Influence of Thucydides in the Modern World” Link: Hellenic Resources Network: Alexander Kemos’ “The Influence of Thucydides in the Modern World” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this article which provides a discussion of the
significance of the Melian Dialogue in modern international
relations. Refer back to the Melian Dialogue as you read this
article.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 30 minutes.  

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  • Reading: University of California, Berkeley’s version of Thucydides’ “The Melian Dialogue” Link: University of California, Berkeley’s version of Thucydides’ “The Melian Dialogue” (TXT)

    Instructions: Read this text.  

    Realism is the dominant theory of international politics and one of the most important theories to understand when studying U.S. foreign policy, given its emphasis on power politics. Some scholars that favor realist theories point to its timeless quality and ability to explain international relations in any time period. The Melian Dialogue, a small portion of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian Wars, provides an illustration of realist principles and views of power politics. Whether or not you have heard of the Melian Dialogue before this class, you are likely familiar with its adage that summarizes realist thinking on international politics: “the strong do what they will while the weak suffer as they must.”

    Reading this material should take approximately 1 hour.

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2.1.2.2 Overview of Realism   - Lecture: YouTube: Columbia University: Professor Richard Betts’ “Realism” Link: YouTube: Columbia University: Professor Richard Betts’ “Realism” (YouTube)

 Instructions: Watch this entire lecture. Having established the
timeless nature and essential elements of realism through the Melian
Dialogue, this lecture provides a more detailed and contemporary
account of realist theory. Realism views the international system as
anarchic (that is, there is no ultimate arbiter to settle disputes
among states); it sees states as rational, unitary actors, and
considers the distribution of power among states to be the most
important component of international politics.  

 Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take
approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.  

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2.1.2.3 Realism and the Security Dilemma   - Reading: Tufts University OpenCourseWare: Professor Jeffrey W. Taliaferro’s “Strategy, the Security Dilemma, and the Offense-Defense Balance” Link: Tufts University OpenCourseWare: Professor Jeffrey W. Taliaferro’s “Strategy, the Security Dilemma, and the Offense-Defense Balance” (HTML or PDF)

 Instructions: One of the most important concepts in realist
thinking is the idea of the “security dilemma,” which holds that
states cannot ever really know the intentions of other states and
are thus likely to perceive actions taken for defensive reasons as
belligerent. This concept can help us understand how foreign
policymakers perceive the actions of other states and can explain
phenomena such as arms races. Clicking on the link above will take
you to a page where you will see thumbnail pictures of Professor
Taliaferro’s lecture slides. You can click on the first slide and
continue the presentation by clicking next, or you can download a
PDF version of the slides by clicking on the link at the top of the
page.  

 Reading these slides should take approximately 45 minutes.  

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displayed on the webpage above.

2.1.3 Liberalism   2.1.3.1 Overview of Liberalism in International Relations   - Lecture: Middlebury College: Professor James Morrison’s “Lecture on the Democratic Peace Thesis” Link: Middlebury College: Professor James Morrison’s “Lecture on the Democratic Peace Thesis” (MP3 or PPT)

 Instructions: This lecture provides a contemporary scholarly
account of the democratic peace thesis. Scroll down to “Class 8: The
Democratic Peace: Institutions and Norms as Determinants of
Conflict.” You can listen to the lecture by clicking on the link
that says “Audio.” You may find it helpful to download the lecture
slides by clicking on the “Slides” link to the right of the audio
link and following along as you listen.  

 Listening to this lecture should take approximately 1 hour and 15
minutes.  

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  • Reading: University of California, Berkeley: Michael W. Doyle’s “Liberalism and World Politics” Link: University of California, Berkeley: Michael W. Doyle’s “Liberalism and World Politics” (HTML)

    Instructions: Read this article. It is critical to understand the difference between the contemporary usage of “liberal” in American politics with the traditional or classical use of the term, which is what Doyle and others refer to when they discuss liberalism. This article provides a more nuanced discussion of liberalism than the earlier article by Snyder. In particular, it highlights the distinctions within the liberal tradition, which are significant. As you read, consider the parallel between liberal internationalism and the democratic peace thesis. Keep these points in mind as you read the article.

    Reading this article should take approximately 3 hours.

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2.1.3.2 Liberalism and International Institutions   - Lecture: YouTube: Columbia University: Professor James Fearon’s “Anarchy Is a Choice: International Relations and the Problem of World Government” Link: YouTube: Columbia University: Professor James Fearon’s “Anarchy Is a Choice: International Relations and the Problem of World Government” (YouTube)

 Instructions: An important assumption of realist thinking is the
idea that the international system is anarchic. Anarchy means that
there is no ultimate arbiter to resolve disputes among states;
therefore, states must fend for themselves and try to accrue as much
power as they can. Liberals do not necessarily disagree with this
assumption, but they contend that states can mitigate the conditions
of international anarchy by building institutions that facilitate
cooperation between states. However, this still leaves many
questions about how such institutions ought to be structured and
their role in the international system. This lecture addresses these
issues.  

 Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take
approximately 2 hours.  

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2.1.3.3 Liberal Foreign Policy   - Reading: MIT Center for International Studies: Nick Bromell and John Tirman’s “Recovering the Liberal Foreign Policy Tradition” Link: MIT Center for International Studies: Nick Bromell and John Tirman’s “Recovering the Liberal Foreign Policy Tradition” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this article, which explores connections between
the liberal tradition and foreign policymaking in the United States.
The authors focus on how the Obama administration can develop a
foreign policy agenda based on liberal values. As you read, think
about how a “liberal foreign policy” differs from a “realist foreign
policy.”  

 Reading this article should take approximately 45 minutes.  

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2.1.4 Constructivism and U.S. Foreign Policy Analysis   - Reading: Social Science Research Network: Ramon Pacheco Pardo’s “Seeing Eye to Eye: A Constructivist Explanation of Sino-American Cooperation” Link: Social Science Research Network: Ramon Pacheco Pardo’s “Seeing Eye to Eye: A Constructivist Explanation of Sino-American Cooperation” (PDF)

 Instructions: Download this paper and read the article.    

 This article provides a useful application of constructivist
principles to the specific relationship between the United States
and China. The article also includes a basic and very brief summary
of the constructivist framework, which focuses on “the role that
ideas play in shaping actors’ identities and interests, and,
consequently, actions.” This article also highlights the contrast
between realist and liberal explanations of U.S.-China relations –
in other words, this article helps to highlight the key differences
among the major theoretical perspectives.  

 Reading this paper should take about 45 minutes.  

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2.2 Other Theories and Approaches to Foreign Policymaking   2.2.1 Bureaucratic Theories   - Reading: National Chengchi Univesity: Graham Allison’s “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis” Link: National Chengchi Univesity: Graham Allison’s “Conceptual Models and the Cuban Missile Crisis” (PDF)

 Instructions: Scroll down to the “Readings of October 24” heading
and click on the link titled “Conceptual Models of the Cuban Missile
Crisis” to view the PDF of Allison’s article.   

 Realism and liberalism tend to focus on larger processes, the
“bigger picture.” However, many foreign policy analysts believe that
an understanding of how foreign policies are actually made requires
us to take a much closer look, literally going inside organizations
to see how bureaucratic agencies and the people who run them
interact to produce policy outcomes. Allison’s account of the Cuban
Missile crisis is the most famous example of a study of the way in
which bureaucratic structures, routines, and dynamics influence the
way foreign policymakers respond to crises. As you read this
article, consider how the outcome might have changed if the
decision-making structure was different. As you do so, consider the
earlier reading about the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.  

 Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.  

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  • Reading: Kentucky Political Science Association: Bruce Hicks’ “Bureaucratic Politics and the 9/11 Attacks: The Case of FBI Agent John O’Neill” Link: Kentucky Political Science Association: Bruce Hicks’ “Bureaucratic Politics and the 9/11 Attacks: The Case of FBI Agent John O’Neill” (PDF)

    Instructions: Select the fifth link, titled “FBIand911KPSA.pdf,” to access the reading.

    This article provides an example of how the bureaucratic politics approach can be applied to the 9/11 attacks. The author focuses primarily on one agency, the FBI, and tells the story from the perspective of a single FBI agent. This article also provides a useful follow up to the 9/11 Commission Report.

    Reading this article should take approximately 2 hours.

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2.2.2 Cognitive Approaches and Foreign Policy Decision Making   - Reading: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: Josh Kerbel’s “Thinking Straight: Cognitive Bias in the U.S. Debate about China” Link: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency: Josh Kerbel’s “Thinking Straight: Cognitive Bias in the US Debate about China” (HTML)

 Instructions: Read this article.    

 In this paper, Kerbel draws from various constructivist accounts of
how socially-constructed identities and interests shape the
behaviors of actors on the international stage. He argues that
cooperation between the U.S. and China is primarily explained by
each country’s cultural, social, and historical identities; material
considerations are secondary. Do you agree with this argument? Why
or why not?  

 Reading this article should take approximately 1 hour and 30
minutes.  

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2.2.3 Soft Power   - Reading: YouTube: Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government: “Joseph Nye on Soft Power” Link: YouTube: Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government: “Joseph Nye on Soft Power” (YouTube)

 Instructions: Watch this video.    

 While soft power is less of an approach to foreign policy and more
of a concept, it has gained currency in policy circles.
Understanding this concept is important for navigating contemporary
debates about foreign policy.  

 Watching this lecture and pausing to take notes should take
approximately 1 hour.  

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