PUAF 780: The American Foreign Policymaking Procss

Publication Date: 
September 2016


Publication File: 
Document Type: 

This course explores the theory and practice of U.S. foreign policymaking, focusing on the process by which international economic and security decisions are actually made. The Obama administration has pursued a consistently active foreign policy and an increasingly engaged trade policy, both in the context of a sluggish US economy dragged down by both domestic and international forces. But in security and economic matters alike, officials and institutions in the Obama administration and Congress are being driven, like their predecessors, to compete for influence at home even as they seek it abroad, and their decision making processes are being shaped at least as much by personalities and political/societal trends as by institutional and constitutional prerogatives. Recent examples include the administration’s struggle last year to win Congressional acceptance of the Iran Deal on nuclear matters, and current resistance in both parties to approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on trade completed early this year.

To encourage specific understanding about the actual practice of US foreign policymaking, the course presents a mix of historical cases and analyses of the policy process in general (models, the executive branch, Congress). After three introductory weeks centered mainly on general models and institutions, we will move to examination of economic and national security policymaking in specific administrations, beginning with those of John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon. Students will examine the roles and inter-relationships of key officials, and how they addressed major international security and economic issues. In so doing, we will explore repeatedly the relevance of theory to understanding of what actually happens. Readings will include contemporary documents, retrospective accounts by participants, and academic analyses.

To encourage focus on the people and processes involved, students will assume the vantage points of particular officials (e.g. President’s national security adviser, secretary of the treasury) and be prepared to discuss successive issues and administrations from their perspectives.