International Relations Theories of Foreign Policy
by
Gunther Hellmann, Ursula Stark Urrestarazu
  • LAST REVIEWED: 01 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0104

Introduction

The academic discipline studying international relations (IR) is often subdivided into two fields: “systemic” international relations, which provide for a bird’s-eye perspective on the international system as a whole, and “subsystemic” foreign policy analysis (FPA), which zooms in on the placement and actions of states considered to be the most fundamental unit of this system. Views differ, however, as to how strongly this distinction should be emphasized. In part this obviously depends on how one defines “foreign policy.” Conceptions of foreign policy stretch from an emphasis on external actions of (state) governments to practices of boundary drawing between political communities. The former notion leads scholars to focus on such things as decision-making processes, whereas the latter tends to emphasize the mutual implication of foreign policy agency and systemic reproduction and transformation. In American IR the prevailing tendency is still to see two rather distinct subfields, whereas scholarship outside the United States tends to emphasize the connections and mutual dependencies between the fields. In any case, the distinction has affected (and has, in turn, been affected by) how scholars conceive of “theory” in foreign policy analysis and what it may mean to “theorize.” Generally speaking—and in contrast to systemic theories—the subject matter of foreign policy is often thought to require more complex (or less parsimonious) models or theories because many more factors or variables are deemed to be relevant. Some scholars even argue that such complexities render foreign policy theories primarily as tools for post-hoc explanation with little use for prediction, a crucial dimension often associated with theories. Yet in the 21st century there is largely consensus among IR scholars that some form of theoretical reflection has to play an integral part in analyzing foreign policy irrespective of whether it is primarily a tool for explaining specific cases or also one for prediction, whether it aims at general or country-specific theory. This survey, therefore, aims at an overview of the field with an emphasis on both explicit forms of theorization, as well as the broad varieties in understanding what such theorization might entail.

Classic Texts

Classics are must-reads in order to get a sense of a particular field from a broader historical perspective. They define the reach and limits of the field. Not all of the following works would necessarily be included by a scholar who defined the field more narrowly (see, e.g., Hudson 2007 cited under Textbooks). Yet notions of a dividing line between “foreign policy” and “international politics” are deeply ingrained. For modern IR Waltz 1959 lays the groundwork for conceiving of international relations and foreign policy as two separate fields in terms of “images” or levels of analysis. Snyder, et al. 2002, as the most prominent publication from the other side of the aisle, complemented this move by conceiving of foreign policy in a much more differentiating and at the same time more positivist way. However, more traditional European contributions did not necessarily follow this line. Despite some crucial differences (e.g., Morgenthau 1948, Aron 1966, and Bull 1977) they consider foreign policy to be inseparably connected with “systemic” processes. Still, in some respects by the 1960s, FPA had developed as a distinctly separate field, especially in the United States and in particular with regard to different notions of theory (Rosenau 1966). This separation received a major push with the publication of Allison 1999 and its three “lenses” (or “cuts”) of looking at the essentially identical decisions.

  • Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. New York: Longman, 1999.

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    Influential study of foreign policy decision making. Rather than advocating the presumed superiority of one theory, it convincingly shows that three different “lenses” or models (rational actor; organizational behavior; governmental politics) open up very different perspectives of key decisions. Three illustrative “cuts” on the Cuban Missile Crisis make it essential reading for any introductory course on foreign policy.

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  • Aron, Raymond. Peace and War: A Theory of International Relations. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966.

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    An “old-European” classic of IR and certainly part of the realist tradition—though not of the “billiard-ball” variant. It reflects Aron’s conviction that foreign policy and systemic dynamics must not be separated: he examines (1) theory (focused equally on the unity, means, and goals of foreign policy, as well as international systems, polarity, and war), (2) sociology (the “determinants and constants” of foreign policy), (3) history (focused on the nuclear revolution), and (4) praxeology.

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  • Bull, Hedley. The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics. London and Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 1977.

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    “International Society,” the key term of the so-called English School (which Bull helped to coin) is the product of interaction among political communities—and productive of what they do. Although this book is primarily about international order, it has helped to sharpen systemic theorization by emphasizing the conditioning of foreign policy via international institutions as much as it contributed to theorizing the causal role of great powers for the (re-)production of international order.

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  • Morgenthau, Hans. Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. New York: Knopf, 1948.

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    A widely read realist classic. Foreign policy amounts to the pursuit of the “national interest” defined in terms of power due to an innate drive for power maximization. Never positivist (as the book was sometimes misread to be), it essentially advocates a Weberian approach conceiving the statesman in ideal-type fashion as a rational leader who steers through the messiness of international politics.

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  • Rosenau, James. “Pre-theories and Theories of Foreign Policy.” In Approaches to Comparative and International Politics. Edited by R. Barry Farrell, 27–92. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1966.

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    This is not only one of Rosenau’s “best essays” (as he said himself in an interview in 2004) but is also one of the most influential articles in the history of the theorization of foreign policy by one of the giants of American FPA. The very notion of “pre-theory” was indicative of both the precarious theoretical status and the high ambition.

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  • Snyder, Richard C., H. W. Bruck, and Burton Sapin, eds. Foreign Policy Decision-Making (Revisited). With additional chapters by Valerie M. Hudson, Derek H. Chollet, and James M. Goldgeier. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002.

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    This “behaviorist” classic revolutionized foreign policy theory when originally published in 1954. Rather than perpetuating institutional, legal, or classical power analysis it propagated a Gestalt switch by focusing on those individuals “acting in the name of the state” (p. 59). Assuming that individual preferences were both situationally and biographically determined added complexity to the model; this made it an easy target for parsimonious theorizing but also an attractive model of “real world” decision making.

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  • Waltz, Kenneth H. Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis. New York: Columbia University Press, 1959.

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    Waltz has been adamant that a theory of foreign policy can never be built due to the complexities involved. However, in his first book, which examines the causes of war at three levels of analysis, he does theorize the state (and thus foreign policy)—if only to elaborate the point that anarchy as a systemic condition “imposes certain requirements on a foreign policy that pretends to be rational” (p. 201).

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Textbooks

There are of course a number of good textbooks about foreign policy theory (FPT) and foreign policy analysis (FPA), but to include all of them in this section would certainly break the mold of this survey. Presented here are both classical and more recent textbooks, as well as very influential books about theorizations of foreign policy in general. The latter is represented, for instance, by Rosenau 1980, a classic compilation of theoretical texts such as “Pre-Theories and Theories of Foreign Policy” (pp. 95–149) that should not be missed by students of FPT. Moreover, Neack, et al. 1995 provides a good overview of second-generation FPA scholarship, whereas Hudson 2007 and Smith, et al. 2008 present an account on the overall evolution of the discipline from classic to contemporary theory. Alden and Aran 2012 focuses on new approaches to FPA, particularly on foreign policy decision making, and Hill 2010 is on the impact of a changing international order on foreign policy. Finally, one of the most comprehensive works in this field is the five-volume handbook Guzzini and Carlsnaes 2011, which constitutes an ample stock-take of influential theoretical texts and different issue areas of the discipline.

  • Alden, Chris, and Amnon Aran. Foreign Policy Analysis: New Approaches. New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    Focusing on foreign policy decision making, the authors provide an overview of new approaches to central issues such as foreign policy bureaucracies, the state, globalization, and change.

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  • Guzzini, Stefano, and Walter Carlsnaes. Foreign Policy Analysis. 5 vols. London: SAGE, 2011.

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    This five-volume handbook represents a major collection of core texts. It provides a very comprehensive overview of classical texts (Part 1), as well as current theoretical approaches (Parts 2 and 3) and an account of central debates and problems in the field (Part 4).

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  • Hill, Christopher. The Changing Politics of Foreign Policy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

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    Cambridge professor Christopher Hill provides a detailed account on the structures, actors, and problems of foreign policymaking, focusing particularly on the changing nature of foreign policy within a changing international environment. One of the most recent and influential textbooks of the discipline.

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  • Hudson, Valerie M. Foreign Policy Analysis: Classic and Contemporary Theory. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.

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    Hudson provides an overview of both classical and contemporary theory of foreign policy, elaborating on the different levels of analysis (group and individual decision making, culture and identity, international systems) as well as on the evolution and prospect of the discipline as a whole.

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  • Neack, Laura, Jeanne A. K. Hey, and Patrick J. Haney. Foreign Policy Analysis: Continuity and Change in Its Second Generation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995.

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    Represents a useful collection of readings of the “second generation” of FPA scholarship and covers a variety of issue areas such as cognition, culture, and identity as well as domestic and foreign sources of foreign policy. Moreover, it also contains some reflections on the significance of the “generational change” in FPA.

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  • Rosenau, James. The Scientific Study of Foreign Policy. London and New York: Frances Pinter and Nichols, 1980.

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    A classic, this volume represents a compilation of the theoretical substance of Rosenau’s work on comparative foreign policy analysis. Contains all of his theoretical essays on foreign policy behavior and decision making, as well as his reflections on the theorization of foreign policy itself (i.e., “Pre-Theories and Theories”; see also Classic Texts).

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  • Smith, Steve, Amelia Hadfield, and Tim Dunne, eds. Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    This didactic and comprehensive textbook is useful as an introduction for students. It contains accounts of both major theoretical traditions of FPT (realism, liberalism, constructivism), as well as of actors, context, and goals of foreign policymaking. It also features key points, questions, and commented instructions on further reading after each chapter.

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Theoretical Traditions and Approaches

Theories of foreign policy have to position themselves according to how the subject matter fits into the larger picture of “international relations.” Although there are continuing discussions about the nature of theorization of foreign policy in relation to (systemic) international relations (see Introduction), there is at least implicit agreement that the scientific discipline of international relations (IR) cannot do without explicitly engaging the nature of foreign policy agency. Fundamental assumptions and, as a result, forms of foreign policy theorization do, however, differ significantly. Classical and modern versions of Realism continue to focus on the structural conditioning (“anarchy”) of and the central concern with power in foreign policy. In contrast, liberal approaches (see Liberalism) have always emphasized the causal role of “domestic” factors such as forms of rule (democracy in particular) and institutional arrangements in addition to the traditional emphasis on ideas and beliefs. Post-positivist approaches (see Constructivism/Post-positivism), on the other hand, are characterized by some epistemological specifics such as the rejection of positive “truths” and rigorous causality in political analysis, as well as an emphasis on the social (as opposed to material) nature of the international system. Approaches in the tradition of cognitivism (see Political Psychology/Cognitivism) generally emphasize cognitive schemes such as beliefs, mind-sets, personality traits, attitudes, and perceptions in political leaders that affect the process of foreign policy decision making in a significant way. Whereas forms of foreign policy theorization of these “paradigms” are shaped primarily by specific ontological and epistemological assumptions, the characteristic features of two additional forms of foreign policy theorization, Decision-Making Approaches and Rational Choice Approaches, are more a reflection of specific epistemological and methodological preferences.

Realism

Well into the second half of the 20th century, realist thinking seemed to be the backbone of foreign policy theorizing (see Classic Texts). It was only when standards of theorization became more rigid, and Kenneth Waltz insisted that he did not consider it possible to build a theory of foreign policy, that other traditions gained the upper hand (see Liberalism). Yet realists have followed up. Soon after Waltz, Gilpin 1981 presented a theory of international politics with a particular emphasis on war and change, which did see a major causal role for the state and foreign policy. Others followed with one of Waltz’s students (Walt 1987) identifying perceptions as a subsystemic variable with significant causal power. What turned out to be a new wave of foreign policy theorizing in the realist tradition (with a much richer set of variables) started to blossom under the name of “neoclassical realisms” (Lobell, et al. 2009) during the 1990s (Wohlforth 1993, Schweller 1998, Zakaria 1998). The only outlier working with a rather sparse theoretical core (yet explicitly also calling it a theory of foreign policy) was Mearsheimer 2001.

  • Gilpin, Robert. War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511664267Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    A stable international system is a function of states not profiting from attempts to change a given equilibrium or hierarchy of prestige. Yet states rise and fall, and rising states often have to establish their prestige via war. The drivers of change thus lie with the foreign policy of rising states, which reflects perceived costs and benefits of a given distribution of power and prestige.

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  • Lobell, Steven, Norrin M. Ripsman, and Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, eds. Neoclassical Realism, the State, and Foreign Policy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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    Does a great job in emphasizing the diversity of neoclassical approaches while identifying a set of distinct family resemblance characteristics that differentiate it from both classical realism and neorealism—especially regarding the role of state, the variable implications of anarchy for foreign policy, and methodological differences.

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  • Mearsheimer, John. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton, 2001.

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    Unabashedly propagates an “offensive” version of realism by preserving and transcending both Morgenthau’s assumption about an innate drive of states for power maximization and Waltz’s emphasis on structure. This is as much a theory of international relations as it is of foreign policy. His barren assumptions and fixation on security notwithstanding, Mearsheimer offers quite detailed historical case studies where even in his judgment his theory sometimes fails.

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  • Schweller, Randall L. Deadly Imbalances: Tripolarity and Hitler’s Strategy for World Conquest. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

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    This is one of the most radical realist critiques of the neglect of foreign policy agency in structural approaches. By focusing on the causes of World War II, the author develops a “balance of interests” theory (pp. 83–92) based on nine types of state pursuing eleven distinct strategies of foreign policy.

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  • Walt, Stephen M. The Origins of Alliances. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1987.

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    The main thesis (states balance against perceived threat rather than power alone) is a major refinement of structural realism since state “perceptions” presuppose a theory of foreign policy. Although such a theory is not fully developed, Walt’s findings have paved the way for “neoclassical realism,” which more explicitly takes on that task.

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  • Wohlforth, William C. The Elusive Balance: Power and Perceptions during the Cold War. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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    The balance of power is a systemic fact for many realists. This rich study of Soviet foreign policy during the Cold War challenges this view by showing how Soviet perceptions of such a balance reflected the ambiguities of relative power and how it repeatedly contributed to superpower crises as tests of political will.

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  • Zakaria, Fareed. From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

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    In one of the key works of neoclassical realism, Zakaria argues that the drive for exercising power internationally crucially depends on the ability of the state apparatus to extract resources from society for international purposes. He illustrates his point by focusing on the rise of the United States from the mid-19th century until the beginning of World War I.

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Liberalism

By its very nature liberalism has always emphasized the conditioning of foreign policy via sources that are in some way “internal” to the state. In many ways the Kantian view that peaceful exchange among states will prevail if republican (democratic) rule can be assured domestically has always been present. Yet it only became one of the major strands of contemporary research in the context of the “democratic peace” research program after Doyle 1983. For a long time research has mostly focused on the issue of whether democracy itself produces peace (the so-called monadic version as propagated especially by Rummel 1975–1981) or whether it is limited to interaction between democracies (the “dyadic” version). Recent research, however, has significantly expanded the agenda by also problematizing potentially unique ways of using force and violence tied to democracies (Geis, et al. 2006). Another strand of liberal foreign policy theorizing has emphasized special features of so-called trading states (in contrast to the traditional states of the “territorial world,” e.g., Rosecrance 1987), which tend to render international politics less war-prone because conquest no longer pays. Other strands of liberal thought have focused more on the linkages between the domestic and the international, such as Ikenberry 2000 and its focus on “great power” politics and institution building after major wars or, more specifically, on the interaction between domestic politics and international negotiation (Evans, et al. 1993). Finally the traditional affinity of liberalism with what was earlier called “idealism” has attracted significant attention during the last two decades in a wave of research examining the link between different types of ideas and beliefs on the one hand and foreign and security policy on the other, as seen in Goldstein and Keohane 1993 and Katzenstein 1996.

  • Doyle, Michael. “Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs.” Philosophy and Public Affairs 12.1–2 (1983): 205–235.

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    The classic article of the modern-day resurgence of liberal research into the causes of peace at the level of domestic rule; based on historical cases and Kant’s philosophy it shows how liberal democracies have achieved tremendous success in establishing peace among themselves while continuing to engage in non-liberal practices vis-à-vis non-liberal societies.

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  • Evans, Peter B., Harold K. Jacobson, and Robert D. Putnam. Double-Edged Diplomacy: International Bargaining and Domestic Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    Includes a reprint of the agenda-setting article Putnam, Robert D. “Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games.” International Organization 42 (Summer 1988): 427–460. Eleven case studies illustrate the fruitfulness of an argument initially put forth by Robert Putnam that transcends the classical domestic-international dualism by focusing on statesmen as strategic actors seeking to simultaneously satisfy the competing demands and constraints placed upon them by domestic and international audiences.

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  • Geis, Anna, Lothar Brock, and Harald Müller, eds. Democratic Wars: Looking at the Dark Side of Democratic Peace. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

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    Just one example of a wealth of publications from the Frankfurt Peace Research Institute, which examines the “antinomies” of the democratic peace; the authors argue that it is necessary to examine the causes that lead both to the absence as well as the resort to force by democracies, emphasizing inclusionary as well as exclusionary discursive practices.

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  • Goldstein, Judith, and Robert O. Keohane, eds. Ideas and Foreign Policy: Beliefs, Institutions, and Political Change. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993.

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    Reclaims “ideas” as a core category of liberalism, which must not be reduced to cognitive processes; the impact of three types (worldviews, principled beliefs, and causal beliefs) is examined in case studies along three causal pathways by which they affect foreign policy: as road maps, focal points, and institutionally embedded constraints.

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  • Ikenberry, G. John. After Victory: Institutions, Strategic Restraint and the Rebuilding of Order after Major Wars. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

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    Argues that international orders are shaped by the outcome of major wars and the ability of the strongest states to use these “constitutional” moments to preserve or enhance their power. Yet institutional arrangements at the same time enable and constrain their creators; nicely illustrates the interplay of institutions and great power strategy since the early 19th century.

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  • Katzenstein, Peter, ed. The Culture of National Security: Norms and Identity in World Politics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

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    One of the most influential books opening up mainstream security studies to a broadly defined liberal-constructivist school of thought; shows how “national security” is as much the product of cultural-institutional contexts of policy as it is shaped by the “constructed identity” of states, governments, and other political actors.

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  • Rosecrance, Richard N. Rise of the Trading State: Commerce and Conquest in the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 1987.

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    One of the key works pushing the liberal idea that the nature of the state and its policies are the result of historically evolving systemic conditions, not of some fixed conditions such as anarchy. Shows how the expansion of international trade since the 17th century has started a process that gradually displaced the “territorial state.”

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  • Rummel, Rudolph J. Understanding Conflict and War. 5 vols. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1975–1981.

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    This voluminous work helped to resurrect the contemporary interest in democracy and peace. Although the democratic peace proposition is just one of thirty-three interrelated propositions regarding the causes of international conflict, the special twist Rummel added (i.e., that democracies are less warlike, even against non-democracies) has secured his place in the liberal tradition.

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Constructivism/Post-positivism

Along with developments in social science in general, the so-called interpretative turn in the late 1980s and early 1990s also reached the discipline of international relations (IR) and eventually also the subfield of foreign policy analysis (FPA). This change in perspective implied a shift in epistemological and methodological preferences of FPA scholars, from positivist—that is, a research philosophy based on the assumption of positive, objective, and falsifiable knowledge—toward post-positivist epistemological inclinations. These approaches generally emphasize that the rules, actors, and identities prevalent in the international system are “socially constructed,” i.e., established in a process of interaction and production of meaning between relevant actors, as stressed most prominently in Wendt 1999, but also in Hopf 2002. Thus, scholars in this tradition have a preference for methods that aim at systematically capturing and interpreting these construction processes and structures of meaning: e.g., discourse analysis, represented most prominently by Waever 2002 and Larsen 1997. This tradition has dealt with a remarkable variety of issues. Some major examples are security—theorized in Campbell 1992 and Hansen 2006—and diplomacy, reconstructed in its historicity in Der Derian 1987. But there are also a variety of different approaches and nuanced understandings of what “constructivism” is all about, discussed in its variety in Kubálková 2001.

  • Campbell, David. Writing Security: United States Foreign Policy and the Politics of Identity. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992.

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    One of the most influential post-positivist theorizations of foreign policy, Campbell conceives foreign policy as a boundary-producing practice that simultaneously constitutes a “domestic” along with a “foreign” sphere of political activity. He intends to show the relationship between “othering,” the construction of “threat,” and US foreign policy identity.

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  • Der Derian, James. On Diplomacy: A Genealogy of Western Estrangement. Oxford: Blackwell, 1987.

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    Offers a genealogical account of an essential practice of foreign policy—diplomacy—which is conceptualized as a practice of “mediating estrangement” between alienated societies. Der Derian presents a thorough reconstruction of the origins and transformations of diplomacy and its underlying cultural logics throughout history.

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  • Hansen, Lene. Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War. London: Routledge, 2006.

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    One of the most-cited studies applying discourse analysis and poststructuralist theory to the relation between identity and foreign policy. The book presents an elaborate analysis of both the historical roots of Western images of the Balkans as well as of respective British and American policy debates.

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  • Hopf, Ted. Social Construction of International Politics: Identities and Foreign Policies: Moscow, 1955 and 1999. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2002.

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    In a critique of conventional, “theoretically overloaded” constructivist identity research, Hopf seeks to “recover” the social dimension of identity in constructivist IR theory and with an inductive interpretative methodology to reconstruct Russian “identity topographies” and their subsequent impact on the countries’ foreign policies.

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  • Kubálková, Vendulka, ed. Foreign Policy in a Constructed World. Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2001.

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    Reflects the work of scholars from the Miami International Relations Group, in which various forms of “constructivism” in FPA are discussed. It presents both conceptual discussions under the premises of constructivism/post-positivism as well as examples of applied constructivist frameworks in empirical case studies.

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  • Larsen, Henrik. Foreign Policy and Discourse Analysis: France, Britain and Europe. London: Routledge, 1997.

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    Demonstrates the value-added of discourse analysis as a sound theory and methodology of foreign policy analysis. Larsen discusses the importance of political discourse in shaping foreign policy through an extensive empirical study of British and French policies toward Europe in the 1980s.

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  • Waever, Ole. “Identity, Communities and Foreign Policy: Discourse Analysis as Foreign Policy Theory.” In European Integration and National Identity: The Challenge of the Nordic States. Edited by Lene Hansen and Ole Waever, 20–49. London: Routledge, 2002.

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    This is probably the most influential and theoretically ambitious work on discourse analysis within FPA. Waever conceives of discourse analysis as a theory of foreign policy based on a model of layered discursive structures. These different layers consist of interrelated discursive structures regarding the compatibility of national and European foreign policy identities.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511612183Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This path-breaking book has been instrumental in launching constructivism as a distinct theoretical tradition in IR. In arguing against mainstream realism, Wendt stresses that the behavior of states in the international system is not determined by the distribution of power resources, but rather by the way in which states see each other (as enemies, rivals, or friends), giving rise to different “cultures of anarchy” (pp. 246–313).

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Political Psychology/Cognitivism

Psychological and cognitivist theories of foreign policy began to gain popularity as early as the so-called behavioral turn took hold in the discipline around the late 1950s. In this context, studies that focused on the cognitive dispositions of political leaders became more and more widespread, whereas in the 1960s and 1970s it had become a firmly established paradigm within FPA/FPT. The starting point of this theoretical tradition is that cognitive schemes such as beliefs, mind-sets, personality traits, attitudes, and perceptions create certain dispositions in political leaders that affect the process of foreign policy decision making in a significant way. Yet, the “cognitive” or “psychological” tradition is of course a quite broad label, as scholars have employed these approaches from a variety of different perspectives, using different concepts and operationalizations. They can be focused on theorizations of the relation between individual action and group dynamics (de Rivera 1968, Singer and Hudson 1992); or on the emotional aspects of individual and group identity, such as Bloom 1990, which offers a psychological account of national identity dynamics and foreign policy. The following classification presents first some classic books that could be understood as foundational for this theoretical tradition (such as Jervis 1976 and Vertzberger 1990), followed by characteristic “schools” that due to their particular research assumptions are worthy to be singled out: operational code analysis and role theory, followed by an even more particular “lineage”: decision-making approaches.

  • Bloom, William. Personal Identity, National Identity and International Relations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511558955Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Offers a psychological account of nationalism, mass mobilization, and their effects on foreign policy processes. Drawing on (mainly psychoanalytical) identification theory, Bloom explicates the potentially conflicting dynamics of national identity and its emotional dimensions on an individual as well as a collective level.

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  • de Rivera, Joseph. The Psychological Dimension of Foreign Policy. Columbus, OH: Merrill, 1968.

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    A classic in this theoretical tradition. De Rivera presents an exhaustive survey of early applications of psychological theories to the study of foreign policy and discusses psychological dynamics of selected US foreign policy episodes both on the individual as well as group level (perceptual distortions, group pressures, and personal biases).

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  • Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

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    One of the early works advancing a cognitive perspective on the study of foreign policy. Jervis presents a rich discussion of different aspects of the cognitive logics of perception and misperception (cognitive consistency and dissonance, fear and desires, learning) and its influence on policymakers.

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  • Singer, Eric, and Valerie M. Hudson, eds. Political Psychology and Foreign Policy. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1992.

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    Edited by second-generation scholars working with psychological approaches. Singer and Hudson collect a series of articles dealing with cognition, perception, personality, and group dynamics, attempting to deliver both a critical overview of past scholarship along with the latest empirical findings on political psychology in FPA.

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  • Vertzberger, Yaacov Y. I. The World in Their Minds: Information Processing, Cognition and Perception in Foreign Policy Decision-Making. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.

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    In a very far-reaching review of existent literature on information processing, Vertzberger highlights the significance of the decision maker’s personality, non-rational and affective influences, the social milieu of decision making, the cultural context, and the use of analogical reasoning from history.

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Operational Code Analysis

Operational code analysis (OCA) can be understood as a particular type of cognitivist theorizing that emerged in the context of the beginning of the Cold War, particularly in the context of “McCarthyism” and increasing anti-Communist sentiments. Early studies in operational code analysis, such as Leites 1951 and Leites 1953, intended to give answers to the puzzling intentions and behavior of Soviet decision makers by tracing their ideational mind-sets and related attitudes framed as “operational code”—a complex set of “beliefs” comprising both ontological and causal assumptions as well as prescriptive norms and associated positive and negative “affects.” It subsequently was elaborated further and developed into a quite distinct “lineage” of cognitivist theories of foreign policy (George 1969, Holsti 1977).

  • George, Alexander. “The ‘Operational Code’: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision Making.” International Studies Quarterly 23 (1969): 190–222.

    DOI: 10.2307/3013944Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Building on Leites’s approach, George presents a simplified version of the operational code model. He conceives of the elements of political strategy mainly as cognitive rather than affective phenomena. George’s conception—intended to be better applicable in the context of political science—also figures among the most cited contributions to OCA.

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  • Holsti, Ole. The “Operational Code” as an Approach to the Analysis of Belief Systems. Final report to the National Science Foundation, Grant SOC 75-15368. Durham, NC: Duke University, 1977.

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    Based upon George’s work, Holsti designs in this study a typology of six different belief systems in the form of a 2 x 3 matrix composed of different combinations of beliefs about the “fundamental sources of conflict” and the “nature of the political universe.”

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  • Leites, Nathan. The Operational Code of the Politburo. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1951.

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    Classic book that first introduced the operational code model into the study of foreign policy. Under the auspices of the RAND Corporation, this study was intended to guide policymakers in understanding the Politburo’s mind-set by charting central features of its operational code.

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  • Leites, Nathan. A Study of Bolshevism. New York: Free Press, 1953.

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    Second and more comprehensive volume of Leites’s research on the operational code of the Politburo. Leites presents in this volume an extensive elaboration of groups of categories meant to delineate the central premises of the Bolshevik mind-set or “spirit.”

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Role Theory

Role theory in FPT/FPA represents a particular kind of conceptualization of the connection between distinct role conceptions and foreign policy behavior. Based on sociological and social-psychological role theories and highly influenced by the behavioral thrust of the discipline at the beginning of the 1970s, it was introduced by Holsti 1970 in a seminal article and can still be considered one of the most widespread theorizations of foreign policy and surely one of the most engaged within the broader theoretical tradition of cognitivist theories. Studies such as Walker 1987 and Le Prestre 1997, also more recently Harnisch, et al. 2011, have picked this focus up and continued to apply and extend it in collections of different case studies.

  • Harnisch, Sebastian, Cornelia Frank, and Hanns W. Maull, eds. Role Theory in International Relations: Approaches and Analyses. London and New York: Routledge, 2011.

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    Most recent volume in this context, which intends to trace the evolution and prospect of role theory within FPA and IR. The authors provide comparative case studies of foreign policy roles of states and international institutions and probe these approaches in combination with theoretical concepts such as socialization, learning, and communicative action.

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  • Holsti, Kalevi. “National Role Conception in the Study of Foreign Policy.” International Studies Quarterly 14.3 (1970): 233–309.

    DOI: 10.2307/3013584Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Building particularly on Mead’s theory of social identity and related role theoretical research, with this seminal article Holsti introduced the role theoretical approach to FPA. In a comprehensive typology he presents seventeen ideal typical role conceptions based both on internal as well as external prescriptions of foreign policy actors.

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  • Le Prestre, Phillipe, ed. Role Quests in the Post-Cold War Era: Foreign Policies in Transitions. Montreal: McGill University Press, 1997.

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    One of the most cited books in this area and quite useful for those interested in roles as an indicator of foreign policy transformation. Extending Holsti’s work, this volume focuses on changes in foreign policy roles, which are investigated through the efforts of the great powers in the post–Cold War era to redefine their role in a changing environment.

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  • Walker, Stephen, ed. Role Theory and Foreign Policy Analysis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1987.

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    Represents an essential contribution to the “anchoring” of role theory in FPA. Giving special attention to the compatibility of role theoretical approaches and neorealist assumptions (particularly Waltz’s), it is presented as a fruitful theoretical focus and a potential bridge between different research programs.

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Decision-Making Approaches

Although in many aspects related to cognitive approaches, the study of foreign policy decision making (FPDM) does show a particular “research program,” inspired by quite heterogeneous epistemological and methodological preferences, as for instance illustrated by George 1980, which relies on a number of different theoretical approaches, from psychological aspects to organizational behavior and small group effects. Despite this heterogeneity, studies in this tradition share a common interest: the procedural dimension of foreign policy. This common focus can be considered foundational for the discipline, as it represents one of the earliest research programs in FPA (see, e.g., Allison and Zelikow 1999 cited under Classic Texts). Located roughly within comparative foreign policy studies (CFP), inspirations in this field range from a variety of cognitive and social psychological theories (Hermann, et al. 1987) over theories focusing on bureaucratic dynamics (Halperin, et al. 1974) to cybernetic theory (Steinbruner 1974), decision, and game theory. Some other contributions—such as East, et al. 1978—collect essays on different aspects of FPDM. It is thus worthy to be treated as a distinct “lineage” of foreign policy theory.

  • East, Maurice A., Stephen A. Salmore, and Charles F. Hermann. Why Nations Act: Theoretical Perspectives for Comparative Foreign Policy Studies. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE, 1978.

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    One of the most cited classics in FPDM, this edited volume represents a compilation of studies on specific aspects of the decision-making process: for instance, personal characteristics of political leaders, political regimes, decision structure, and national attributes. The authors intend to integrate these perspectives into a coherent theorization of foreign policy behavior.

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  • George, Alexander L. Presidential Decisionmaking in Foreign Policy. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1980.

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    George provides a compendium of the essential aspects of FPDM processes (from psychological aspects to organizational behavior as well as small group effects), possible impediments of information processing, as well as potential malfunctions of policy advisory processes in search of “quality decisions.”

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  • Halperin, Morton H., Priscilla Clapp, and Arnold Kanter. Bureaucratic Politics and Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 1974.

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    One of the most-cited books focusing on bureaucratic dynamics. The authors present an extremely detailed account of different aspects of bureaucratic decision-making behavior (i.e., presidential and organizational interests, information dynamics), enriched with a number of illustrations of defense policymaking of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson administrations.

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  • Hermann, Charles F., Charles W. Kegley, and James N. Rosenau, eds. New Directions in the Study of Foreign Policy. Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1987.

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    Provides a comprehensive collection of different perspectives on the study of foreign policy. Parts 4 and 5 are dedicated to FPDM, representing a state-of-the-art collection in collective and cognitive aspects of foreign policy behavior of that time.

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  • Steinbruner, John D. The Cybernetic Theory of Decision: New Dimensions of Political Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1974.

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    Steinbrunner applies the “cybernetic paradigm” to the theorization of complex decision-making processes. He intends to complement the rational and cognitive perspective on policy analysis with this paradigm that seeks to grasp organizational complexity more aptly. This very specific but nevertheless influential take on decision making is further exemplified with a study on nuclear sharing.

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Rational Choice Approaches

In general rational choice is not widely used in the field of foreign policy and vice versa. This mutual neglect may, in part, be due to the parsimonious core of rational choice, which does not seem to easily mirror the complexities of foreign policy. In addition, large sections of foreign policy analysis (FPA) are often fixated on decision-making output rather than the dynamics of interaction that are an obvious strength of rational choice. Yet there are a few works, such as Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman 1992, which are explicitly committed to a rational choice perspective and at the same time aim at developing a theory of foreign policy. Snyder and Diesing 1977 moves beyond the purity of rational choice by combining it with decision-making variables. Still, even if these works have attracted few followers in foreign policy analysis, the key influence of a few rational choice classics for foreign policy such as Schelling 1960 cannot be denied.

  • Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce, and David Lalman. War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

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    Explicitly aiming at a “theory of foreign policy” this key work underlines that realism and rational choice are distinct approaches; it shows, among other things, that domestic considerations impact critically on foreign policy choices with regard to negotiation and cooperation as well as acquiescence and war.

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  • Schelling, Thomas. Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1960.

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    This is a must for anyone needing an introduction to international politics. From a foreign policy perspective it brings out most succinctly why it is imperative to study the interdependence of decision making between two or more actors. Although Schelling focuses more on crises, escalation, and war, the underlying logic is fundamental for all foreign policy decision-making situations.

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  • Snyder, Glenn H., and Paul Diesing. Conflict among Nations: Bargaining, Decision Making, and System Structure in International Crisis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977.

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    International crises may be seen as catalysts of international politics, but here they also serve as catalysts for a form of theory synthesis that is rare in both IR and FPA. Systems structure is seen to set external constraints, but crisis bargaining is also significantly conditioned by structures of decision making and perceptions held among decision makers.

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Core Problems in Foreign Policy Theory

It is typical for international relations (IR) to structure the discipline along theoretical traditions as outlined in Theoretical Traditions and Approaches. Another perspective is opened up by focusing on some of the most central problems and debates within the discipline. These “core problems,” however, are quite different in nature and scope, some referring to central theoretical and conceptual problems, whereas others are more closely related to different levels of analysis and critical issue areas of foreign policy theory (FPT). The former applies to the question of Theory and History of Foreign Policy, a problem relating to the uses of history in theorizing on foreign policy. Moreover, one of the most crucial theoretical debates is represented by the so-called structure-agency problem (see Structure and Agency), which can be seen as a constitutive debate for the discipline as a whole given that it refers to very basic notions of foreign policy agency (as opposed to “structure”). The same applies to theorizations of change in foreign policy actions, preferences, strategies, etc. (see Foreign Policy Change), as well as the fundamental distinction between theory and practice of foreign policy (see Theory vs. Practice of Foreign Policy). Among the problems related to critical-issue areas of FPT we will look at the possibility of ethical foreign policy (see Ethics and Foreign Policy) and also at some other foreign policy matters that are traditionally seen as distinct areas but have increasingly become more prominent: foreign economic, fiscal, and trade policy as well as foreign aid (see Theorizing Foreign Economic, Fiscal, and Trade Policy, and Foreign Aid). On both the conceptual and issue-related side there is also the theorization of individual EU members’ foreign policies and the foreign policy of the EU itself (see Theorizing EUropean Foreign Policy), as well as the theorization of national foreign policies (see Theorizing National Foreign Policy).

Theory and History of Foreign Policy

Some notions of theory (especially in the form of nomothetic generalization) seem to mark the very opposite of history with its emphasis on uniqueness, memory, temporality, and contingency (Kratochwil 2006). This has led to perennial disputes between historians and political scientists about proper standards of scholarship or science and how history may be used in academic work (see Elman and Elman 2001). It is undisputed, though, that the application of historical knowledge has played a critical role in the practice of foreign policy itself for a long time. Neustadt and May 1988 and Khong 1992, among many others, have convincingly demonstrated this. Byman and Pollack 2001 shows how the personality factor as a highly contingent and historically situated variable can be theorized. Nexon 2009 demonstrates how religion as a driver of “foreign policy” might figure in a theoretical account that is sensitive to historical contingency.

  • Byman, Daniel L., and Kenneth M. Pollack. “Let Us Now Praise Great Men: Bringing the Statesman Back in.” International Security 25.4 (2001): 107–146.

    DOI: 10.1162/01622880151091916Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Forcefully criticizes the tendency in IR to sideline the role of personality in foreign policy decision making. Illustrates the impact of political leaders in five cases from the 19th and 20th centuries and generates hypotheses under what conditions what type of individual characteristics may affect decision-making outputs.

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  • Elman, Colin, and Miriam Fendius Elman, eds. Bridges and Boundaries: Historians, Political Scientists, and the Study of International Relations. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

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    This collection of articles by political scientists and historians, originally published in International Security, nicely illustrates how much the two sides depend on one another for reproducing disciplinary identities based on different methodological standards of scholarship as well as the reach and limits of single case studies and comparative case studies.

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  • Khong, Yuen Foong. Analogies at War: Korea, Munich, Dien Bien Phu, and the Vietnam Decisions of 1965. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.

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    Analogies have always been a tool in historical analysis. This is one of the most influential works showing how policymakers also draw on analogies in defining decision-making situations. Based on social psychology it illustrates the underlying cognitive processes against the background of US decision making in three cases during the Vietnam War.

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  • Kratochwil, Friedrich. “History, Action and Identity: Revisiting the ‘Second’ Great Debate and Assessing Its Importance for Social Theory.” European Journal of International Relations 12.1 (2006): 5–29.

    DOI: 10.1177/1354066106061323Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Critiques prevalent notions of “theory-building” based on epistemological criteria independent of concrete situations of action. It also rejects the view of history as a storehouse of fixed data emphasizing instead how much it is a product of memory, which in turn is deeply involved in our constructions of identity and of the political projects we pursue.

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  • Neustadt, Richard E., and Ernest R. May. Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers. New York: Free Press, 1988.

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    This work of historical scholarship and political advice examines cases of presidential decision making in the United States where historical knowledge was misappropriated and also put to good use. It also suggests and illustrates the application of a series of questions to be asked in critical situations in order to render decision making more rational.

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  • Nexon, Daniel H. The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

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    A sophisticated theoretical reflection on and integration of religious and secular factors in explaining the process of the formation of the modern state via a distinct form of foreign policy in the 17th century; marks a sharp contrast to standard state-fixated approaches in IR while at the same time showing how theorization can incorporate historical contingency.

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Structure and Agency

The so-called agency-structure problem is usually characterized as being one of the core theoretical problems of the discipline. Initially discussed within different branches of social science, it refers to the way in which “structures” and “actors” of international politics are interrelated and determined by one another. The correspondent debate in international relations (IR) theory had its heyday in the early to mid-1990s, triggered particularly by Wendt 1987, and resulted in a more or less shared consensus that the connection between structure and agency should be best described as being “co-constitutive,” that is, reciprocally established. This debate is also central to foreign policy theory (FPT), as it is related to the central question of foreign policy as the site of agency and actorhood and its relevance to the evolution of the structure of international politics as a whole, as emphasized by Carlsnaes 1992. Theorizations related to this discussion and the essential distinction between “actors” and “structures” of international politics can be found in prominent articles such as Fearon 1998 and Hudson 2005.

  • Carlsnaes, Walter. “The Agency-Structure Problem in Foreign Policy Analysis.” International Studies Quarterly 36.3 (September 1992): 245–270.

    DOI: 10.2307/2600772Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Carlsnaes links the structure-agency debate explicitly to FPA and discusses the theoretical implications for this subfield. He argues that structures both constrain and enable foreign policy actions, while being the outcome of human agency, and that FPT should thus methodologically rest on historically contingent empirical generalizations.

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  • Fearon, James D. “Domestic Politics, Foreign Policy and the Theories of International Relations.” Annual Review of Political Science 1 (1998): 289–313.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.1.1.289Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Equally prominent and unorthodox, this article addresses the fundamental question of the distinction between “systemic theory” and “theory of foreign policy” as well as between “domestic” and “structural” explanations of foreign policy action, arguing that domestic-political theory can vary depending on how systemic theories are conceived.

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  • Hudson, Valerie M. “Foreign Policy Analysis: Actor-Specific Theory and the Ground of International Relations.” Foreign Policy Analysis 1.1 (2005): 1–30.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-8594.2005.00001.xSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    In this seminal article, Hudson holds that the FPA subfield provides the best conceptual connection to the empirical ground of IR theory. She makes the case for a renewed interest in “actor-specific theory” and holds that IR could significantly benefit from FPA’s theoretization of human agency and its relation to foreign policy and structural outcomes.

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  • Wendt, Alexander. “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory.” International Organization 41.3 (1987): 335–370.

    DOI: 10.1017/S002081830002751XSave Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    One of the most-cited references in this regard, this article was one of the earliest to discuss the “agent-structure problem” in IR theory. Wendt theorizes the “co-constitutiveness” of structure and agency building on Giddens’s “structuration theory” and discusses the implications of this approach for the explanation of state action.

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Foreign Policy Change

One of the central questions within foreign policy theory (FPT) is the question of what particular aspects determine change in foreign policy actions, preferences, strategies, etc., and how these processes relate to or are affected by international dynamics. This line of research was particularly fueled by the assertion of some scholars that models related exclusively to structural theorizing could not entirely explain the end of the Cold War and other important instances of foreign policy change. Along with the theoretical relevance of this question, this research on foreign policy change is also very much normatively underpinned, given that these issues often touched on questions related to inclination toward not only peace and war and great power rivalry but also toward cooperation and integration. These questions are addressed with a variety of theoretical inspirations, ranging from cognitive, social psychological, and organizational theories to approaches focusing on institutional learning (Breslauer and Tetlock 1991, Etheredge 1985). Holsti 1982 is focused particularly on foreign policy “restructuring” under conditions of pronounced (inter)dependence. Legro 2005 frames foreign policy change in terms of changing the “interpretative lens” or ways in which states view themselves, international order, and security. Other studies such as Welch 2005 rely on rational cost-aversion models.

  • Breslauer, George W., and Phillip E. Tetlock, eds. Learning in US and Soviet Foreign Policy. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991.

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    One of the most-cited books in this line of research, this volume applies learning theoretical approaches to explain changes in US-Soviet relations from different perspectives. Building on diverse theoretical inspirations, the authors seek to demonstrate the institutional and cognitive limits to rationality in foreign policymaking.

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  • Etheredge, Lloyd S. Can Governments Learn? American Foreign Policy and Central American Revolutions. New York: Pergamon, 1985.

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    This book is a good example of the application of organizational learning and personality theories to the explanation of foreign policy action. Etheredge argues that US foreign policies toward Central America under the Reagan administration were driven by the (in)ability to learn from past experiences (Cuba) and by the learning-averse personality traits of American leaders.

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  • Holsti, Kalevi J. Why Nations Realign: Foreign Policy Restructuring in the Postwar World. London: Allen and Unwin, 1982.

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    Holsti and his co-authors present a collection of case studies of (un)successful foreign policy change (Bhutan, Chile, Tanzania, and China among others), concluding that high (inter)dependence often leads to the pursuit of nationalist, autonomy-maximizing foreign policy behavior.

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  • Legro, Jeffrey W. Rethinking the World: Great Power Strategies and International Order. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005.

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    Legro conceptualizes foreign policy change in terms of changing collective “ideas” of nation-states about themselves, international security, and international order. These patterns function as a kind of “interpretative lens” and thus lead actors to “rethink the world” in a particular way. Offers an interesting theorization of the nexus between foreign policy, change, and international order.

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  • Welch, David A. Painful Choices: A Theory of Foreign Policy Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

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    One of the most cited books on foreign policy change. Building on a “loss-aversion” model of political leaders, Welch holds that foreign policy change is most likely to occur when existing policies are perceived to lead to painful losses or costs and other available options appear more favorable.

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Theory vs. Practice of Foreign Policy

Theorizing and practicing foreign policy obviously require different talents and skills. Yet the functional differentiation that accompanies knowledge production and decision making need not lead to a situation where the two sides can no longer speak to one another productively. Academic work such as Smith and Clarke 1985 has shown that foreign policy is more than decision making. It has also shown that the forms of communication between scholars and practitioners are more diverse than often assumed (Girard, et al. 1994). One may disagree to what extent such exchanges are necessary or useful. A lot depends on one’s ideal of scholarship and foreign policy practice. Yet there is also some empirical evidence as to what types of knowledge are useful from the practitioner’s point of view, as seen in George 1993 and Hill and Beshoff 1994.

  • George, Alexander L. Bridging the Gap: Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy. Washington, DC: US Institute of Peace, 1993.

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    An easily accessible summary of George’s rich experience of decades spent in both academia and policy advisory roles. Even though the gap between knowledge and action may be unavoidable due to different rationales, the book shows what forms of generic knowledge about strategy may be useful and how they might be fashioned without compromising academic standards.

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  • Girard, Michel, Wolf-Dieter Eberwein, and Keith Webb, eds. Theory and Practice in Foreign Policy-Making: National Perspectives on Academics and Professionals in International Relations. London: Pinter, 1994.

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    This is a rare comparative study of the relationship between IR academics and foreign policy practitioners in the West and Russia. It provides rich empirical evidence that diverse forms of contacts are actually in place, that these exchanges are expanding and that long-term institutionalized exchanges are more highly valued by both sides.

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  • Hill, Christopher, and Pamela Beshoff, eds. Two Worlds of International Relations: Academics, Practitioners and the Trade in Ideas. London: Routledge, 1994.

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    The widely familiar imagery of academia and foreign policy practice forming two separate worlds is nicely illustrated here, primarily against the background of British experience. Different professional roles, tasks, and experiences are analyzed with an eye at the nexus between academic subfield (e.g., international law) and practical functions in government.

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  • Smith, Steve, and Michael Clarke, eds. Foreign Policy Implementation. London: Allen and Unwin, 1985.

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    Decision as output has long been the primary concern of FPA theorizing. This is one of the first works to problematize the difference between output and implementation leading to international outcomes; seven case studies underline both the difficulty to establish centralized control over implementation, as well as the need to integrate outcomes with a broader notion of foreign policymaking.

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Ethics and Foreign Policy

Given that foreign policy issues are closely related to questions regarding cooperation and conflict (but also to violence and power abuse) the necessity and possibility of ethical foreign policy is one of the most important normative questions in the study of foreign policy. Even though related questions have always been relevant to FPT and IR —as stressed, for instance, by Amstutz 1999—these questions have only recently grown into a distinct issue area in the field, particularly in the context of post-9/11 developments in world politics. With the application of a theoretically quite ambitious model, Bulley 2009 argues that foreign policy as such ought to be conceptualized as ethics, given that both ethics and foreign policy represent similar forms of relating to “otherness” in international relations. In Smith and Light 2001 the very meaning of ethical foreign policy is explored, whereas other books in this issue area focus on certain themes related to ethical dilemmas of foreign policy, such as the war on terror, global security, culture, and economics (MacDonald, et al. 2007), or—as in Chandler and Heins 2007—the particular challenges to and the possibilities of ethical foreign policymaking.

  • Amstutz, Marc R. International Ethics: Concepts, Theories and Cases in Global Politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999.

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    An excellent book at the borderline between monograph and textbook, focusing on the link between the ethical foundations of global society and moral reasoning in foreign policymaking. In several case studies of historical and contemporary foreign policymaking Amstutz assesses the impact of “international political morality” (p. 7) on some crucial aspects of foreign policy practice, such as the use of force, intervention, and economic sanctions.

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  • Bulley, Dan. Ethics as Foreign Policy: Britain, the EU and the Other. London: Routledge, 2009.

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    An interesting re-conceptualization of foreign policy as ethics on the grounds that both ethics and foreign policy refer to possible ways to relate to “otherness.” Bulley studies the ethical claims of British and EU foreign policy and concludes that ethical foreign policy is neither possible nor impossible, but undecidably both and neither.

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  • Chandler, David, and Volker Heins, eds. Rethinking Ethical Foreign Policy: Pitfalls, Possibilities and Paradoxes. London: Routledge, 2007.

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    Collects a number of articles on different issues regarding the ethical challenges of foreign policy. Particularly interesting to followers of the debate on ethics and foreign policy as it moves beyond the typical dichotomy of interest versus values and assesses the limits and possibilities of ethical policymaking on its own terms.

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  • MacDonald, David B., Robert G. Patnam, and Betty Mason-Parker, eds. The Ethics of Foreign Policy. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2007.

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    Focuses on four interrelated themes regarding the dilemmas of ethical foreign policymaking: war on terror, global security, culture, and economics, the rule of law, as well as practitioners’ insights. The authors show that the very definition of “ethical foreign policy” is highly contested and allows for quite different interpretations.

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  • Smith, Karen E., and Margot Light, eds. Ethics and Foreign Policy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511491696Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Explores the meaning of “ethical foreign policy” and the (potential) instruments of ethical foreign policymaking both in a theoretical and an empirical perspective. These considerations are more closely examined in three case studies that assess both the difficulties and possibilities implied in the incorporation of ethical considerations into foreign policymaking.

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Theorizing European Foreign Policy

Foreign policy in Europe as a whole, i.e., reaching from Portugal and Iceland all the way to Russia, may not be all that different from foreign policy on other continents. However, EUropean foreign policy, i.e., the foreign policy of the European Union (EU), is. The EU is widely considered to be sui generis, i.e., a form of political community formation that must neither be reduced to another international organization or regime nor equated with the nation- state. The wave of studies on foreign policy in the EU and by the EU, as well as the vocabulary chosen by the EU to describe its external relations, easily point to the classical conceptual tools applied in foreign policy analysis. It is unsurprising, therefore, that such studies have been framed for some time in these terms. White 2001 has been an influential early example. This does not mean, however, that the theoretical toolbox is limited to FPA as broad surveys, such as Tonra and Christiansen 2005 show. Yet in few other fields is it so obvious that foreign policy action and institutionalization cannot easily be separated. Accordingly, Smith 2003 theorizes this link in particular. What is now widely called “Europeanization” is the specific expression of these developments in the context of EUropean foreign policy—meaning both the foreign policy of members of the EU and the foreign policy of the European Union itself. Wong and Hill 2011 provides an excellent overview. Steinmetz and Wivel 2010 and Larsen 2005 illustrate how the interplay between nation-state foreign policy and EUropean foreign policy operates among the smallest members of the EU.

  • Larsen, Henrik. Analysing the Foreign Policy of Small States in the EU: The Case of Denmark. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230511422Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    The foreign policy of small states such as Denmark is Europeanized by necessity. However, based on seven case studies, this study finds that the extent of such influences varies significantly in different issue areas leading to all but the disappearance of a Danish signature in some areas whereas it remains visible in others, such as post-9/11 policies on terrorism.

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  • Smith, Michael E. Europe’s Foreign and Security Policy: The Institutionalization of Cooperation. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511491702Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    One of the most comprehensive and systematic theoretical treatments of the evolution of European foreign and security policy focusing on the ad-hoc cooperation and institutionalization as mutually implicating dynamic processes.

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  • Steinmetz, Robert, and Anders Wivel, eds. Small States in Europe: Challenges and Opportunities. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

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    Brings together two strands of foreign policy research, the focus on “small states” and research on foreign policy within the EU. It emphasizes different types of binding strategies as tools of small states to delimit the room of maneuvering of great powers by showing under what conditions they choose one type of binding over another.

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  • Tonra, Ben, and Thomas Christiansen, eds. Rethinking European Union Foreign Policy. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005.

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    This collective theoretical endeavor aims at reconceptualizing the external relations of the EU in terms of conceptual understandings familiar to foreign policy analysis broadly conceived. It does so with a particular emphasis on the links to and differences from typical forms of theorizing systemic international relations and integration.

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  • White, Brian. Understanding European Foreign Policy. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave, 2001.

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    It may be a bit dated as far the institutional underpinnings of European foreign policy is concerned, but this is still one of the most succinct and theory-informed overviews of its history, emphasizing three interrelated types of policy: community foreign policy, union foreign policy, and national (member-state) foreign policy.

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  • Wong, Reuben, and Christopher Hill, eds. National and European Foreign Policies: Towards Europeanization. London: Routledge, 2011.

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    This is one of the most systematic and integrated treatments of two strands of Europeanization research that have thus far largely been pursued individually, i.e., top-down Europeanization of national foreign policy within the EU as well as bottom-up “uploading” of national foreign policies shaping EU foreign policy outputs.

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Theorizing National Foreign Policy

Probably influenced by the legacy of James Rosenau, who sustained the view that the only true theory of foreign policy (as opposed to “pre-theory”; see Classic Texts) can be based on particular cases, the theorization of national foreign policies can be seen as the widest issue area in the field. Yet, approaches to theorizing national foreign policy are as distinct as the theoretical traditions listed in this survey and imply a number of different epistemological and methodological inspirations. This selection is based both on a variety of theoretical import as well as regional representativeness. Kalu 2000 is a good example of theoretical adaptation of realism into a distinct regional (African) environment, Escudé 1997 has a similar take with its theory of “peripheral realism,” but contextualized in Latin America. In a similar theoretical statement, although relying on post-positivist methodologies, Mullins 2006 focuses on foreign policymaking under conditions of authoritarianism in Latin America. Acharya 2008 examines the premises of realism in relation to Singapore’s foreign policy in an effort to strengthen liberal-institutionalist as well as constructivist perspectives. A completely different take is adopted by the Chinese case study Shih 1990, which takes a rather unorthodox “psychocultural-cybernetic” perspective. Other studies such as Rittberger 2001 compare the explanatory power of different theoretical approaches with regard to a certain case. Sanders 1990 and Goetschel, et al. 2005 apply a role theoretical view on post-empire Britain and Switzerland respectively. From another perspective, the study of national foreign policies can also be focused on a certain type of foreign policy actor, such as small states (Hey 2003).

  • Acharya, Amitav. Singapore’s Foreign Policy: The Search for Regional Order. Hackensack, NJ: Institute of Policy Studies/World Scientific, 2008.

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    Acharya holds that the dominant realist perspective on Singapore’s foreign policy is rather shortsighted and highlights the positive effects of economic interdependence and regional institution building in an effort to strengthen liberal-institutionalist as well as constructivist perspectives on this case. Thus, this book represents an interesting example of habitual conceptualizations of national foreign policy and their critics.

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  • Escudé, Carlos. Foreign Policy Theory in Menem’s Argentina. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1997.

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    Also a reconceptualization of realism as a normative theory of foreign policymaking of “peripheral states” (“peripheral realism”). Represents an interesting example of a reconceptualization of (mainly Western-centric) foreign policy theory in terms of a somewhat different cultural environment, nevertheless still operating with its instruments.

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  • Goetschel, Laurent, Magdalena Bernath, and Daniel Schwarz. Swiss Foreign Policy: Foundations and Possibilities. London: Routledge, 2005.

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    Exemplifies a role theoretic approach of a somewhat unusual case—Switzerland. The authors show that although Swiss role concepts no longer corresponded to outside expectations, they remained central to Swiss national identity. Represents an interesting case study for those interested in the relevance of role conceptions in foreign policymaking.

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  • Hey, Jeanne A., ed. Small States in World Politics: Explaining Foreign Policy Behavior. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003.

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    Focuses on the peculiarities of a specific type of actor in world politics—small states—whose foreign policies are examined in the attempt to develop a theory of small-state foreign policy. The foreign policies of eight countries from different regions are analyzed on three levels of analysis (inspired by Rosenau’s work): individuals, state, and system.

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  • Kalu, Kelechi A. Economic Development and Nigerian Foreign Policy. Studies in African Economic and Social Development 14. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 2000.

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    Relying on an adaptation of realism to “Third World countries” (“modified structural realism”), Kalu puts foreign policy in the context of economic development and discusses the implications of the very distinction between the domestic and external spheres for less-developed states in general and Nigeria in particular.

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  • Mullins, Martin. In the Shadow of the Generals: Foreign Policy Making in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006.

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    Mullins pursues a post-positivist methodology while emphasizing the relevance of power politics and realist thinking in foreign policy formation in the Southern Cone countries from the early 1980s up to the 21st century. Interesting for its portrayal of cases that share the experience of colonialism as well as dependency and authoritarianism with all their differences and similarities.

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  • Rittberger, Volker, ed. German Foreign Policy since Unification: Theories and Case Studies. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2001.

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    Figures among the most-cited books in the analysis of German foreign policy. It represents an evaluation of the explanatory power of three theoretical approaches on the case of German foreign policy after reunification—neorealism, utilitarian liberalism, and constructivism. This volume thus offers a comprehensive, comparative theory–driven analysis of the German case.

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  • Sanders, David. Losing an Empire, Finding a Role: An Introduction to British Foreign Policy since 1945. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.

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    Very insightful and informative account of British foreign policy in the context of the deep transformations that came along with the demise of the British Empire and the quest for new roles, especially with regard to the relationship with Europe and the United States (“special relationship”) based on an eclectic combination of theoretical concepts.

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  • Shih, Chih-yu. Spirit of Chinese Foreign Policy: A Psychocultural View. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.

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    A rather unorthodox take at Chinese foreign policy from a “psychocultural-cybernetic” perspective. The author analyzes the historical-cultural contexts of Chinese leaders and aims at theorizing the link between the motivation, making, implementation, and outcome of foreign policy.

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Theorizing Foreign Economic, Fiscal, and Trade Policy, and Foreign Aid

For a long time the implicit understanding of foreign policy was that its subject matter was “high politics,” i.e., matters of diplomacy and security. Yet since the toolbox of foreign policy practice has always been broader than that, other issue areas have increasingly become more prominent. This is due in large part to the influential book Baldwin 1985, which reestablished the proper place of the tools of economic statecraft besides the classical tools of diplomacy and war making. Research on sanctions (e.g., Hufbauer, et al. 2007) and monetary policy as a means of coercion (Kirshner 1995) followed. On the other hand, studies such as Hook 1995, Lumsdaine 1993, and Lancaster 2007 argue that the practice of giving foreign aid also ought to be conceived as a manifestation of foreign policy.

  • Baldwin, David A. Economic Statecraft. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985.

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    Impressively shows both how much economic instruments of foreign policy (broadly conceived as positive and negative economic sanctions) have been neglected in foreign policy analysis and how critical they are as a far-reaching historical survey reveals. It also provides an analytical framework drawing on the social power literature for assessing the utility of economic techniques of statecraft.

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  • Hook, Steven W. National Interest and Foreign Aid. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 1995.

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    A good example of the unusual contextualization of foreign aid in a broader foreign policy context. Hook advances the understanding of foreign aid as an instrument of statecraft and thus a genuine technique and manifestation of foreign policy, which as such is mainly driven by national interest (however, understood in a broader sense).

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  • Hufbauer, Gary Clyde, Jeffrey J. Schott, Kimberly Ann Elliot, and Barbara Oegg. Economic Sanctions Reconsidered. 3d ed. Washington, DC: Petersen Institute for International Economics, 2007.

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    This updated classic examines 174 cases of economic sanctions imposed since World War I focusing on fourteen political and economic variables. The authors find sanctions to be at least partially successful in 34 percent of the cases. However, the success rate importantly depends on the type of policy or governmental change sought.

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  • Kirshner, Jonathan. Currency and Coercion: The Political Economy of International Monetary Power. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1995.

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    Based on almost two dozen case studies, this book examines how states can use and actually have used international currency relationships as instruments of coercive power for the advancement of state security—in particular how monetary power is affected by different monetary regimes and what factors lead states to turn to its use.

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  • Lancaster, Carol. Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

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    A contribution to the debate on why donors give aid at all—whether it is an instrument of diplomacy, driven by national interests or humanitarian norms. Lancaster argues that because of domestic factors in aid-giving countries, it has always been (and will continue to be) used to achieve a mixture of different goals.

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  • Lumsdaine, David H. Moral Vision in International Politics: The Foreign Aid Regime, 1949–1989. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993.

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    Lumsdaine challenges the conventional (realist) assumption that a country’s foreign policy—including its foreign aid programs—is chiefly determined by political and economic self-interest. He holds in contrast that values, ethical principles and a “moral vision” of international politics equally inform these policies.

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