Why Study US Foreign Policy?

Why might it be useful to study US Foreign Policy as part of your international relations degree? This post is by Katharine Hall, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, QMUL Online. 

The United States has been a driver and shaper of many international organisations that influence international relations today, but perhaps more importantly, the US provides an interesting case for different approaches to the study of international policy making more generally.

I imagine that if you collected syllabi from US foreign policy modules over the last fifty years or so, they would all end with a week dedicated to the question: Is the US, as a superpower, in decline? Today this debate is framed around the real (or relative?) decline of the dollar, the rise of China and Russia as potential challengers to US dominance, the potential break with traditional allies under the Trump Administration, and so on.

The centrality of the US to the international system – whether seen as slipping away or being maintained – isn’t questioned in these debates. The Biden Administration recognised this, when Biden announced “America is Back” at the Munich Security Conference in February ().

How this influence is maintained remains to be seen, but a study of the history of US foreign policy is in many ways a study of how the US has sought (often successfully, but not always) to shape key institutions and norms of the international community.

But the study of US foreign policy is also interesting as a case through which to think through the relationship between the international and the domestic. In international relations we tend to focus outside the state, on what happens between states. The domestic can tend to become a black box.

Yet these distinctions are just analytical devices – in reality these areas heavily influence one another; the boundaries between them are blurred.

Take something like the use of military force by the United States abroad. The ability for the US president to use military force without congressional approval is regulated by the War Powers Resolution. Debates over when this resolution applies, as was the case with Libya in 2011, aren’t just about debates over when intervention is seen as necessary or not. They are also debates over the separation of powers within the structure of the US government itself.

The influence of domestic politics on international relations and policies is not unique to the US, of course, but rather serves as a reminder of the influence it can have.

You will explore a range of issues relating to US Foreign Policy, including how and by whom it is made, in Queen Mary Online's MA in International Relations module, ‘Themes And Cases in US Foreign Policy’. The course is part-time and you can start in May or September:

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Topics: MA international relations

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