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The term foreign policy refers to a state’s international goals and its strategies to achieve those goals. Foreign policymakers follow the same five steps with which public policy gets made:

  1. Agenda setting: A problem or issue rises to prominence on the agenda.
  2. Formulation: Possible policies are created and debated.
  3. Adoption: The government adopts one policy.
  4. Implementation: The appropriate government agency enacts the policy.
  5. Evaluation: Officials and agencies judge whether the policy has been successful.

Unlike domestic policy, however, foreign policymaking usually involves fewer people and less publicity. In the United States, the president serves as the chief diplomat and is charged with running American foreign policy. The president employs three tools to conduct foreign policy:

  1. Diplomacy
  2. Foreign aid
  3. Military force


Diplomacy is the act of dealing with other nations, usually through negotiation and discussion. Diplomacy involves meetings between political leaders, sending diplomatic messages, and making public statements about the relationship between countries. The American president, for example, often hosts leaders and chief diplomats of other nations at the White House in order to discuss a variety of issues. Most diplomacy occurs behind the scenes as officials hold secret negotiations or meet privately to discuss key issues.

Approaches to Diplomacy

States generally pursue diplomacy in one of three ways:

  • Unilaterally: The states acts alone, without the assistance or consent of any other state.
  • Bilaterally: The state works in conjunction with another state.
  • Multilaterally: The state works in conjunction with several other states.

There are pros and cons to each of these three approaches. Acting unilaterally, for example, allows a state to do what it wants without compromise, but it must also bear all the costs itself. Acting with allies, on the other hand, allows a state to maintain good relations and to share the diplomatic burden, but this often requires compromise.

American Isolationist Versus Internationalist Attitudes

Americans have always debated what role the United States should play on the global stage. Those people who advocate a strategy of largely ignoring the rest of the world are called isolationists. In contrast, those people who advocate taking an active role in world affairs are called internationalists. Since World War II, U.S. foreign policy has taken an active leadership role in international politics.

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