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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Daniel Chirot
SIS 590
Seattle Campus

Special Topics

Seminar. Course content varies. Offered occasionally by visiting or resident faculty.

Class description

Uses of Information and Research in American Foreign Policy

What sources of information influence the making of American foreign policy? Since the end of World War II, what institutions have been created to collect, process, and analyze information? How well do they work? The course will look at the history of some crucial decisions that have been made in American foreign policy since 1945 with respect to the Cold War, Vietnam, and since 2001, terrorism as well as at a few other crucial moments in foreign affairs. Students will be expected to pick a related research topic and write a serious paper taking one important international crisis and set of responses to that crisis by the United States.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Seminar -- discussion and research. Each student will get to present her or his research to the group.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Analysis, Information, and the Politics Shaping American Foreign Policy Spring 2010, SIS 590D – Special Topics Instructor: Daniel Chirot. Thomson 201. 685-2412 email: office hours: Mondays 1:30-3:20 and Tuesdays 1:30-2:20

American foreign policy is influenced by many different kinds of forces. Many are domestic interests. Others come from various foreign pressures and crises. Yet others are shaped by the ideologies of top policy makers and important political figures in Congress, or sometimes by influential commentators and analysts. Information received and analyzed by many different agencies, including the State Department, other branches of government, intelligence agencies, think tanks, and many others play a role as well. This course will look at how the United States has created institutions and ways of using information since the end of World War II to shape its foreign policies. We will study the origins of the Cold War and American responses to its new global role in the 1940s, the unfolding of the Cold War, and its end. We will examine the origins and consequences of the Vietnam and other wars that took place during the Cold War, and see what lessons were drawn from both successes and failures during this period. Then we will move to the 1990s and 2000s to look at America’s response to new global challenges, especially the rise of terrorist threats and the events that led up to and followed 9/11/2001. In conclusion, we will try to evaluate the current problems with the ways in which American leaders use, or misuse, analyze, or fail to analyze information.


Students will write a 20 to 25 page research paper due at the end of the quarter. Topics, however, must be turned in during the second week. A provisional bibliography must be turned in during week seven. Weeks eight through ten will be devoted to student presentations of their papers. We will start discussing how to prepare these papers during the first week, and at least some of each week’s class will be devoted to answering questions about guidelines and progress with the papers. 80% of the grade will be based on these papers, and the rest on discussion in class.

Topics and readings:

I. How making foreign policy works: competing interests and sources of information. [week 1]

Required reading: --Leslie Gelb, Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy. Harper, 2009. Chapters 5-13.

II. Shaping doctrine and institutions: The key actors, bureaucratic disputes, and ideologies that created America’s national security state after World War II. [Week 2]

Required reading: --Douglas T. Stuart, Creating the National Security State: A History of the Law that Transformed the United States. Princeton University Press, 2008. Pp. 1-108, 210-288. That includes the Introduction, Chapters 1-3, a part of Chapter 6, then 7 and the Conclusion.

Useful supplements: --Alex Abella, Soldiers of Reason: The Rand Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire. Harcourt, 2008. (RAND was such a key player in the shaping of Cold War strategy that this book is worth reading in order to better understand American policy during that time.) --Eugene Wittkopf and James M. McCormick, eds., Domestic Sources of American Foreign Policy, Rowman & Littlefied, 2007. (Some good and some less useful articles – this is the fifth edition and prior editions also have some good articles).

III. Decision making during the Cold War. (Students will turn in their research paper topics.) [Week 3]

Required Readings: --Melvyn Leffler, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. Hill and Wang, 2007. Chapters 1, 3, and 5.

Useful supplements: --Ernest R. May and Philip Zelikow, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis. Harvard University Press, 1997. (An eye opener on how decisions are really made.) --Ernest May, Philip Zelikow, and Kristen Lundberg, Dealing With Dictators: Dilemmas of US Diplomacy and Intelligence Analysis 1945-1990. MIT Press, 2006. (This may be about the past, but the questions it raises are as current today as ever. The late Ernest May was one of the foremost analysts of American Foreign Policy.) --David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. Hyperion, 2007. (Halberstam’s classic book on Vietnam, The Best and the Brightest, was published in 1972, and though it is still a great book, much more information on Vietnam has come out since then. His book on Korea, however, is very current and was his last work. Some of the chapters, particularly on General Douglas MacArthur’s relationship with President Truman, are classic examinations of military-civilian relations in the U.S. and on the uses and misuses of intelligence.)

IV. How intelligence and analysis can fail: the politics of decision making during the Vietnam War. (Student class presentations for weeks 6-10 will be scheduled.) [Week 4]

Required Reading: --Frederick Logevall, Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam. University of California Press, 2000.

Useful supplement: --Willard C. Matthias, America’s Strategic Blunders: Intelligence Analysis and National Security Policy 1936-1991. Penn State University Press, 2001. (Matthias was an intelligence analyst for a long time. His book would fit just as well in part V, below, except that it is more historical.)

V. Institutional confusion and how intelligence is really gathered, analyzed, and used or misused: the crisis of 9/11. [Week 5]

Required Reading: --Amy B. Zegat, Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11. Princeton University Press, 2007. Part of Chapter 3, Chapters 4-8. Pp. 51-197.

Useful Supplement: --Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: the History of the CIA, Doubleday, 2007. (A discouraging summary of six decades.)

VI. Dealing with current perils: shaping new strategies [Week 6]

Required Readings: --Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World. W.W. Norton, 2008. --The U.S Army and Marine Corps (with a Foreword by General David H. Petraeus, Lt. General James F. Amos, and Lt. Colonel John A. Nagel). Counterinsurgency Field Manual. University of Chicago Press, 2007. Chapters 1-3, 6-7.

Useful supplement: --Robert Crews and Amin Tarzi, eds., The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan. Harvard University Press, 2008. (Many useful background articles one the situation there.)

VII. Taking stock. General discussion of what we have learned so far. Students will briefly discuss their research projects and turn in their bibliographies and outlines. [week 7]

VIII. The last three weeks of the class will be devoted to student reports. Students will be writing research papers about some aspect of information analysis and the handling of a particular foreign policy crisis. The scheduling of these reports will have been done during the second week of the class.

A very partial list of some useful journals:

Survival, Foreign Affairs, Harvard International Review, Intelligence and National Security, Orbis, International Security, Policy Review, SAIS Review, Jane’s Intelligence Weekly, Jane’s Defense Weekly, Middle East Journal (and other similar area studies journals), Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.

Possible Paper Topics:

Each student should take one of these topics (whether a numbered one, 1, 2, 3, etc. or a lettered one, a, b, c, etc.) Students may propose an alternative topic, but it has to be cleared with the instructor before embarking on it. The list tries to avoid duplicating any of the topics and readings above, and no student paper should cover exactly the same ground as the topics previously discussed in class, though some overlap is inevitable. The earlier numbers refer to historical issues between the end of World War II and the end of the Cold War. The later numbers cover more contemporary foreign policy problems. Depending on a student’s interests, any of these topics, whether historical or contemporary, are acceptable. Remember that historical topics can be very useful for understanding the present, too, particularly when it comes to understanding how certain contemporary American foreign policy institutions and traditions were shaped by the past.

1) The Berlin crises of 1948 and 1961: when neither diplomacy nor war is a good option. 2) The Korean War: intelligence and diplomatic failures, deciding on war, and civilian-military relations in times of extreme crisis. 3) Dealing with the postcolonial Third World. a. The emergence of Third Worldism: Tito, Nehru, Nasser, and Sukarno and the problems they presented. b. The CIA in Africa, particularly the Congo c. America’s relations with India and Pakistan after independence. d. Israel and the Arab world: from 1948 to Suez and the wars of 1967 and 1973. e. Angola, oil, and South Africa: and example of how different American pressure groups want opposite outcomes. 4) Arms Control and analyzing the Soviet Union’s capacities. How did MAD come to be and how was it modified over time?

5) Coping with changes in Latin America after 1959. a. Trujillo, Duvalier, Somoza and other “friendly” tyrants. b. Military coups in the Southern Cone (Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile) c. The drug “war” and relations with Mexico, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. d. The Chavez problem and contemporary issues in Latin America. e. The challenge of the new Latin big power, Brazil. 6) The collapse of communism and is aftermath. a. Afghanistan 1: defeating the Soviet Union and the aftermath. b. Dealing with Gorbachev: the competition for Ronald Reagan’s mind. c. Handling the crisis in the Balkans. d. Nuclear proliferation in the post-Cold War world: Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and others. 7) Persisting inequality and development problems in the former Third World (pick a particular case or region). 8) Failed states (pick a particular case). 9) America and Islam. 10) The two Gulf Wars. 11) The current Afghan War. 12) Human rights and democracy (pick a particular case or region). 13) Should there be a policy about preventing or stopping genocides? The lessons of Somalia, Rwanda, and Yugoslavia. 14) Globalization and conflicts over trade and energy. 15) Climate change as a strategic danger. 16) The strategic dangers of economic crisis. 17) The new Asian giants, China and India. 18) Bioterrorism and ways of dealing with it. 19) How should the U.S. deal with the European Union? 20) Is the new Russia a friend, an enemy, both, or neither?

20% of grade based on quality of student's discussion in class, and 80% on the research paper.

The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Daniel Chirot
Date: 02/03/2010