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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Robin Datta
POL S 321
Seattle Campus

American Foreign Policy

Constitutional framework; major factors in formulation and execution of policy; policies as modified by recent developments; the principal policymakers - president, Congress, political parties, pressure groups, and public opinion.

Class description

This quarter we will critically analyzes the historical development of U.S. foreign policy. Proceeding chronologically we will trace the enduring values, interests, institutions, and processes of American foreign policy in order to throw into relief modern elements of continuity, of change, and of chronic contradiction. We will end by considering contemporary challenges to American Hard and Soft Power as they shape the 21st Century international environment.


Student learning goals

Demonstrate an understanding of the historical development of US Foreign Policy.

Demonstrate an understanding of the role that culture and ideology played, and continues to play, in the conceptualization and conduct of US Foreign Policy.

Use the lessons of history to critically consider contemporary challenges in foreign policy.

General method of instruction

Case analyses, podcasted lectures, and group discussions.

Class Topic List:

Week One: "Introduction to Foreign Policy and Refresher on International Relations Theory" introduces some of the basic concepts and definitions used throughout the course. How is foreign policy defined and how do IR Theories (Liberalism, Realism, and Constructivism) play a role in framing policy.

Week Two: "Decisionmaking: Theories, Environments, and Contexts of US Foreign Policy" introduces some of the ways that scholars use to understand how decision-makers make decisions and explores a case study to show how individual psychology, bureaucratic institutional politics, and domestic and international political pluralism affect those decisions.

Week Three: "The American 'Way' of Foreign Policy: Cultural antecedents and changing political realities" explores the mix of isolationism, internationalism, evangelism, and economics that grounds the US self-conception and informs the nation's foreign policy endeavors.

Week Four: "Remembering the Maine and taking up the 'White Man's Burden: The Rise to Globalism" challenges the notion that the United States was an isolated nation during the 19th Century and explores the ways in which the US Self-Conception resulted in the creation of an expansionist power.

Week Five: "Cold War and the Universal Doctrine of Containment" explores the creation, development, and function of Containment as a diplomatic, economic, and military tool and considers how that thinking contributed to foreign policy successes and failures.

Week Six "From MAD to NUTS and Beyond: The Nuclear Peace, Sub-Nuclear War, and Detente" explores the role that nuclear weapons played in keeping the strategic peace between the superpowers but at the same time creating intense conflict via foreign policy proxies.

Week Seven: :Running the Table: The End of the Cold War and America's Unipolar Moment" considers the reasons behind the sudden collapse of the Soviet Unionand the brief emergence of the United States as hegemonic power and explores the emergence of new forms of conflict that had hitherto be subsumed under the rubric of superpower conflict.

Week Eight: "Fragmentations: Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama and the politics of necessity" continues the discussion begun during week seven by exploring the emergence of asymmetric conflicts and the struggle by both the United States and the International Community to address human rights violations, genocidal conflicts, ethnic violence, and the "rise" of terrorism. Special emphasis is placed on the debate between collective action and "going it alone" and the politics of humanitarian intervention.

Weeks Nine and Ten: "Going Forward into the 21st Century: A Hegemon in Decline and New Challenges" considers contemporary challenges including the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, responding to the spread of terrorism, and the economic crisis.

Recommended preparation

Students should possess a basic understanding of International Relations Theory (Realism, Liberalism, Constructivism) and a general awareness of the development of the International System during the 19th and 20th Centuries. Regular reading of foreign policy news also required.

Class assignments and grading


Steven W. Hook and John Spanier, American Foreign Policy Since World War II, 19th Edition. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4522-2671-2 (This text may be purchased in the UW Bookstore).

Other readings and resources will be made available via the online schedule or using the UW Library e-Res system.


Four short response papers themed around class lectures and readings. Scores on optional participation in class discussions (four) will be added to response papers.

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.
Additional Information
Last Update by Robin Datta
Date: 05/17/2013