POL S 321 A: American Foreign Policy

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 11:50am
SAV 260
Elizabeth Kier

Syllabus Description:


Prof. Kier


lecture: M/W, 10:30-11:50, Savery 260

office hrs: Mon., 330-500, Gowen 129 




Teaching Assistants:

Yu Sasaki (AB, AD), office hours, Mon, 12-2, Smith 43

Waleed Salem (AE, AF), office hours, M/W, 12-1, Gowen 34. 


Course Description This course examines the sources of American foreign policy. We begin by reviewing how two dominant approaches to international relations, Realism and Liberalism, explain U.S. foreign policy. We then use these approaches to examine pivotal events, actors, and developments in U.S. foreign policy since World War II. The first section looks at two crucial questions about the Cold War: why it ended and its consequences for the American state (and U.S. foreign policy). The second section examines two prominent issues in the immediate post-Cold War period that continue to shape U.S. foreign policy today: NATO expansion and humanitarian intervention. We then explore the role of nuclear weapons: their effect on foreign policy and the causes and consequences of nuclear proliferation. Finally, we address current issues in U.S. foreign policy, such as China’s rise and the increased reliance on contractors and privatized military force.

Lecture outlines are available here.

Course readings are available here

Reading questions are available here.

Past exams are available here.

An outline of how your policy memo will be assessed is available here


Readings The readings are online or available through the above link. Daily reading of the New York Times is required. For the print version at the reduced college rate stop by or call the By George Newsstand 206.543.4087. This rate also provides unlimited digital access. For digital subscriptions at the reduced college rate, see NYTimes.com/UWashington


Requirements Two exams (30% each), a policy memo (30%), and section (10%). Participation in lecture can also positively affect your final grade. Exams must be taken on the scheduled date. To avoid sanction for missed exams or late papers, students must submit a written note from a physician (or some other recognized authority). Students must complete all requirements.  

To request disability accommodation, contact Disability Resources for Students: 448 Schmitz Hall, 543-8924 (voice), 543-8925 (TTY), 616-8379 (Fax), uwdss@uw.edu. With a letter from their office, we can easily arrange accommodations.

For additional departmental policies: http://www.polisci.washington.edu/Dept_and_Univ_Policies.pdf


Policy Memorandum

President Trump has asked you to analyze an issue in American foreign policy and to recommend a specific course of action. You must use either a liberal or a realist understanding of international politics as a basis for your recommendation and then defend your recommendation against the other theoretical perspective’s critique of it.

This memo will involve substantial research and careful thought. You must first master the details of a specific policy problem, and then think theoretically about how realists and liberals would approach it.

The memo has three purposes. First, it gives you the opportunity to apply your understanding of theory to an important issue in U.S. foreign policy. Second, it allows you to dive into a foreign policy issue that interests you. Third, it will improve your research and writing skills.


Topic selection:

You may choose any issue in U.S. foreign policy that the lectures and assigned readings do not address. Here are some examples but you are free to choose any topic in consultation with your TA.

Should the United States . . .

  • withdraw its support for NATO's collective defense commitment if members do not spend 2% of their GDP on defense?
  • ally with Assad’s Syria to defeat ISIS?
  • continue to support the Saudi-led military coalition’s war in Yemen?
  • withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement?
  • end/increase its covert CIA program training and supporting Syrian rebels?
  • withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
  • reverse the Obama administration’s opening to Cuba?
  • sign the Intl Criminal Court (ICC), the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or any particular intl treaty?
  • increase its foreign (non-military) aid to Pakistan (or any other particular developing country)?
  • significantly increase its contribution to the Global Health Initiative?
  • maintain its targeted-killing policy of suspected terrorists in Yemen and Pakistan?
  • decrease the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea or Japan?
  • downgrade its relations with a government that reverses its commitment to democracy (e.g. Turkey, Egypt, Poland or Hungary)?
  • stop providing explicit support for democracy promotion in Myanmar (Burma)?
  • support Islamist governments (specify country) that ascend to power through free and fair elections?
  • modernize its nuclear forces? Or resume nuclear tests?
  • reopen the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program?
  • stop attending ASEAN?
  • actively implement the Paris climate agreement?
  • (and NATO) help Ukraine resist Russian incursions?
  • rethink its posture of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan?
  • use “enhanced interrogation methods” (torture)?
  • accept 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next year?
  • support efforts to ban the production, deployment, and use of autonomous weapons?
  • pressure Israel to halt settlements in lands envisioned as part of a Palestinian state in a “two-state solution”?

You should focus on a particular issue, such as “should the United States sign the ICC,” or “should the United States increase economic aid to Pakistan and not a general question, such as “should the United States sign human rights treaties or should the United States increase its economic aid abroad?


Important due dates:

Feb 9: Topic selection due at the beginning of section. State question and list at least 8 sources.

  • No more than 10% of the sources can be websites, such as blogs or other unfiltered sources.
  • Not graded, but late submission will lower your grade on the final paper (.2 pts for each day).

March 9: Policy memo due by 900 am. Late papers lose .5 pts for each day (e.g. a 4.0 becomes a 3.5).

  • Note instructions below on length, format, and structure.
  • The grading form on the website details how your memo will be assessed.


Memo Outline

 Your policy memorandum will include four parts:

  1. Presentation of issue (1-1.5 pages) Describe the problem: Who are the major actors? What are the major issues? Why is this issue important to the United States?
  2. Recommendation (3-4 pages): Describe your liberal or realist policy recommendation: what does the policy entail? Be specific (do not talk in generalities). Then defend it. Detail why realists/liberals would recommend this policy given their assumptions about international politics. Be sure to link your theoretical discussion to the issue that you are addressing.
  3. Critique (2-3 pages): Describe how the competing theoretical perspective would critique your recommendation: on what basis would realists/liberals disagree, and why? Again, do not talk in generalities; directly link this discussion to the issue that you are addressing.
  4. Retort (1-2 pages): Defend your recommendation against this critique.

 Remember that there are always value trade-offs: every policy has advantages and disadvantages. Do not treat your memo as if it were a lawyer’s brief. Recognize the complexity and competing interests in the design of U.S. foreign policy.

Sometimes the realist or liberal position on a particular issue is straightforward but oftentimes realists and liberals disagree amongst themselves. Your job is not to recommend the “correct” liberal or realist position (as often there is not one). Instead, it is to propose and defend a particular policy in realist or liberal terms. Some liberals or some realists might view the issue differently and that’s OK. We will assess your memo based on how well you develop a (not the) realist or liberal perspective.


Research and Writing

The memo requires research on your policy issue. It is not an opinion piece based on your thoughts about the issue or your take on realism and liberalism. Emily Keller, the polisci research librarian, constructed a library guide tailored to the assignment http://guides.lib.uw.edu/research/americanforeignpolicy. You may also wish to consult: http://guides.lib.washington.edu/polisci  http://guides.lib.washington.edu.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/content.php?pid=199359&sid=1667575

Be careful in your use of the web: Do not rely on blogs or other unfiltered sources. Use the UW library website to access journal and newspaper articles.

Your memo should be 9-10 pages (or 2,225–2,500 words, not including citations). Put word count on the first page and consult stylebooks to ensure a consistent use of a citation format. http://guides.lib.washington.edu/content.php?pid=69943&sid=517698  

Your memo must be well written and carefully edited (and will be assessed on content and style). An indispensable guide is Strunk & White’s, Elements of Style. You might also consult the PoliSci Writing Center. http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite

If you are uncertain about the meaning of plagiarism and how to avoid it, consult http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html

Wed, Jan 4: Introduction


Mon, Jan 9: Realism: Power & Anarchy          

Hans J. Morgenthau, “A Realist Theory of International Politics,” and “The Balance of Power,” from Politics among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, New York, A.A. Knopf, 1948.

John J. Mearsheimer, “Anarchy & the Struggle for Power,” from The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, NY: Norton, 2001.

Max Fisher, “French Election Hints at a European Shift Toward Russia,” NYT, Nov. 30, 2016.


Wed, Jan 11: Liberalism: Ideas & Institutions, part I            

Hedley Bull, “Does Order Exist in World Politics,” from The Anarchical Society, NY: Columbia, 1977.

President Woodrow Wilson, “The Fourteen Points,” from his address to the U.S. Congress, Jan. 8, 1918. http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=62&page=transcript


Mon, Jan 16: No class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day


Wed, Jan 18: Liberalism: Ideas & Institutions, part II  

Margaret E. Keck & Kathryn Sikkink, “Transnational Advocacy Networks in International Politics,” from Activists beyond Borders, Ithaca: Cornell, 1998.

President Carter, “Commencement Address at the University of Notre Dame,” May 22, 1977. Read or watch: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=7552#axzz1XkJgCgHM http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/153890-01

Coral Davenport, “Trust & Money at Core of Crucial Paris Talks on Climate Change,” NYT, Dec. 6, 2015.


Mon, Jan 23: The Cold War: Why did it End?                        

Background: Felix Gilbert & David Clay Large, The End of the European Era: 1890 to the Present, NY: Norton, 2002, pp. 517-558 (focus on 517-548). 

John Lewis Gaddis, "Hanging Tough Paid Off," Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 45/1 (Jan. 1989): 47-61.

Soviet Gen. Sec. Gorbachev’s address to the 43rd U.N. General Assembly, Dec. 7, 1988 (excerpts).


Wed, Jan 25: War and State-building: What effect on the State?

Bruce D. Porter, “War and the American Government,” from War and the Rise of the State: The Military Foundations of Modern Politics,” NY: The Free Press, 1994, pp. 243-96.

Tim Arango and Rick Gladstone, “In Turkey’s Unrest, Some See an Extreme Version of Post-9/11 American, NYT, January 7, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/world/europe/turkey-terrorist-attacks-erdogan-crackdown.html 


Mon, Jan 30: The Cold War: What effect on the American State? (Part I)

Andrew J. Bacevich, “The Tyranny of Defense Inc., The Atlantic, Jan./Feb. 201

Nicholas D. Kristof, “What Holbrooke Knew,” New York Times, May 14, 2011.

Gordon Adams, “Does Mission Creep Matter?, in Mission Creep: The Militarization of US Foreign Policy, edited by Gordon Adams and Shoon Murray, Georgetown University Press, 2014.


Wed, Feb 1: The Cold War: What Effect on the American State and U.S. Foreign Policy? (Part II)

David Rieff, “Blueprint for a Mess,” NYT Magazine, Nov. 2, 2003.

Excerpts from Timothy Carney, “We're Getting In Our Own Way,” Washington Post, June 22, 2003

Mark Malan of Refugees International, Africa: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, Testimony before the Subcommittee on African Affairs, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2007.

Anne Barnard, “Lessons of the Past Hint at Hurdles in Fight to Stop ISIS,” NYT, Dec. 8, 2015.

Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward, “Pentagon Buries Evidence of $125 billion in Bureaucratic Waste,” The Washington Post, Dec. 5, 2016.




Wed, Feb 8: First exam. Bring blue book 


Thurs, Feb 9: paper topic due at the beginning of section


Mon, Feb 13Post Cold War: Should NATO Expand?

James M. Goldgier, “NATO Expansion: The Anatomy of a Decision,” in Wittkopf and McCormick, eds., Domestic Sources of Foreign American Policy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Michael Mandelbaum, “NATO: Open up the Ranks to the East European Democracies,” The Washington Post, Sept. 8, 1993.

Henry Kissinger, “Expand NATO now,” Washington Post, Dec. 19, 1994.

Thomas L. Friedman, “Europe’s Wild Ride,” New York Times, Feb. 16, 1997.

George K. Kennan, “A Fateful Error” New York Times, Feb. 5, 1997.


Wed, Feb 15:  Cold War: A Responsibility to Protect (humanitarian intervention)?

Jon Western, “Sources of Humanitarian Intervention,” in Eugene R. Wittkopf and James M. McCormick, eds., The Domestic Source of American Foreign Policy, Rowman & Littlefield, 2003.

Richard Haass, “What to do with American Primacy,” Foreign Affairs (Sept./Oct. 1999): 37-39, 45-48 (note page numbers).

Mark Landler, “Obama’s Choice: To Intervene or Not in Libya, New York Times, March 5, 2011.

For a summary of U.S. military interventions from 1798-2009 (does not include covert actions), skim http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl32170.pdf


Mon, Feb 20: No class: Washington’s Birthday


Wed, Feb 22: Nuclear Weapons: A Revolution in Warfare?

John Meuller, The Essential Irrelevance of Nuclear Weapons,” in Robert Art and Robert Jervis, eds., International Politics: Enduring Concepts and Contemporary Issues, NY: Longman, 2002.

William Burr, “The U.S. Plan to Nuke Everyone: Why LBJ vetoed the Dr. Strangelove option,” Foreign Policy (Dec. 11, 2012). http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/12/11/the_us_plan_to_nuke_eve...

Photos & video of tests: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/05/when-we-tested-nuclear-bombs/... See esp “Operation Cue”: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/video-gallery-nucl...


Mon, Feb 27: Nuclear Proliferation: Why the Bomb?

Tom Lehrer, “Who’s Next.”

Jacques Hymans, “Think Again: Nuclear Proliferation,” Foreign Policy (Nov. 2005).

Ted Carpenter & Charles Peña, “Rethinking Non-Proliferation,” The National Interest (summer 2005).

Jane Perlez, Will Trump Rethink A China Showdown, NYT, Nov. 26, 2016.


Wed, March 1: U.S. Trade Policy: Equal Bargaining or Unequal Leverage?

Guest Lecture: Vanessa Quince, Ph.D. candidate, Political Science; Richard B. Wesley Fellow in Intl Security and Chair of the UW Intl Security Colloquium; and Graduate Fellow, Washington Institute for the Study of Inequality & Race

Richard E. Feinberg, "The political economy of United States’ free trade arrangements," The World Economy 26.7 (2003): 1019-1040.

Fred Bergsten. “The Backlash Against Globalization,” The Peterson Institute for Economic Policy, May 9, 2000. https://piie.com/commentary/speeches-papers/backlash-against-globalization

James McBride and Mohammad Aly Serge, “NAFTA's Economic Impact,” Council of Foreign Relations, July 26, 2016. http://www.cfr.org/trade/naftas-economic-impact/p15790


Mon, March 6:  China's Rise: Engage or Contain?

When will China bypass the United States? Vary growth rates and see: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2014/08/chinese-and-american-gdp-forecasts

John Mearsheimer, “China's Unpeaceful Rise,” Current History (April 2006).

John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China and the Future of the West: Can the Liberal System Survive?” Foreign Affairs 87/1 (2008): 23-37.

Eduardo Porter, “A Trade War Against China Might Be a Fight Trump Couldn’t Win,” NYT, Nov. 22, 2016.

Javier C. Hernandez, “With Odes to Military March, China Puts Nationalism Into Overdrive, NYT, Nov. 15, 2016.


Wed, March 8:  Privatized Military Force: Good for Democracy & U.S. Foreign Policy?

Tim Shorrock, “Put the Spies Back under One Roof,” NYT, June 17, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/opinion/put-the-spies-back-under-one-r...

James Bridger & Jay Bahadur, “The Wild West in East Africa: What do a handful of South African mercenaries do for an encore in Somalia, once all the pirates are gone,” Foreign Policy (May 30, 2013). http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/05/30/pirates_mercenaries_som...

Emily B. Hager and Mark Mazzetti, “Emirates Secretly Sends Colombian Mercenaries to Yemen Fight,” NYT, Nov. 26, 2015.

Kate Brannen, “The Company Getting Rich Off the ISIS War: For the Middle East, the growth of the self-proclaimed Islamic State has been a catastrophe. For one American firm, it’s been a gold mine, The Daily Beast, August 2, 2015.

Kate Brannen, “Spies-for-Hire Now at War in Syria: It’s not just U.S. troops battling ISIS. Now the Army is sinking millions of dollars into private intelligence contractors for the fight,” The Daily Beast, August 8, 2016.


Thurs, March 9:   Policy memo due by 900 AM.

           Note instructions above on length, format, and structure.
           The grading form on the website details how we will assess your memo.


Mon, March 13, 830 AM: Second exam. Bring blue book




Catalog Description: 
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.
Department Requirements: 
International Relations Field
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:16pm