POL S 321 A: American Foreign Policy

Meeting Time: 
MW 12:00pm - 1:20pm
PCAR 192
Elizabeth Kier

Syllabus Description:




Winter 2018

PS 321: American Foreign Policy

MW, 1200-120, PCAR 192


Prof. Kier

Office hrs: Mon, 430-600, Gowen 129



Teaching Assistants:

Travis Nelson (AA & AB), office hrs.: T & TH 1130-1230, Gowen 36

Yusri Supiyan (AC & AD), office hrs.: T, 2-4pm, Smith 33


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 of nuclear proliferation. Finally, we address current issues in U.S. foreign policy, such as China’s rise and the reliance on contractors and privatized military force.


Go to "Files" on the left to find:

  • Lecture outlines 
  • Course readings  
  • Reading questions 
  • Past exams 
  • An outline of how your policy memo will be assessed


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 (25%), and section (15%). 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.


Grading Policy: To request a re-grading of your work (outside of tabulation errors):

  1. Within a week of receiving your exam, give your TA your work and a typed statement of no more than one page that explains why you believe the grade should be altered. This must be about the substance of your work, not the effort you put into the class.
  2. Your TA will review and return your materials within the passing of two quiz sections.
  3. If you’re still dissatisfied, the other TA will review your materials.
  4. If the second evaluation is still to your dissatisfaction, your TA will pass the materials to Kier for her evaluation.


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 is not the focus of lectures and readings. 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?
  • reconsider its decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
  • provide more assistance to efforts to stop human trafficking and enslavement in Africa?
  • cut $800 million from the global fight against HIV & AID (as Trump’s 2018 budget proposal envisions)
  • implement the ban on using certain cluster bombs with failure rates over one percent?
  • withdraw U.S. military and intelligence support for Saudi involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
  • withdraw from the Iranian nuclear agreement?
  • sign the Intl Criminal Court (ICC), the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or any particularintl treaty?
  • do more to promote Tibetan autonomy or address human rights violations in Tibet?
  • put U.S. nuclear weapons back in South Korea?
  • actively involve itself in addressing the cholera crisis in Yemen?
  • increase its foreign (non-military) aid to Pakistan (or any other particular developing country)?
  • 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?
  • re-impose sanctions on Myanmar because of its ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority?
  • downgrade its relations with a government that reverses its commitment to democracy (e.g. Philippines, Turkey, Egypt, Poland or Hungary)?
  • modernize its nuclear forces? Or resume nuclear tests?
  • reopen the Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear program?
  • reconsider its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the Trans Pacific Partnership, or UNESCO?
  • return to Obama’s opening toward Cuba?
  • rethink its decision to provide lethal military aid to Ukraine to help Kiev resist Russian incursions? Or further accelerate the recent decision to do so?
  • 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 8: 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/day).

March 8: Policy memo due by 900 am. Late papers lose .5 pts/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.

 All students are required to discuss their papers in section (or lose 1.0 points on final paper).


Memo Outline

Your policy memorandum will include four parts:

  • Presentation of issue (1 page) Describe the problem: What is the issue and why is it important to the United States?
  • Recommendation (4-5 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. 
  • Critique (3-4 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.
  • Retort (2-3 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 and the ability to assess the advantages and disadvantages of your policy proposals from a realist and a liberal perspective. 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.

For a list of well-known think tanks that focus on foreign policy, check under "Announcements" to the left. 

Your memo should be about 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 3: Introduction


Mon, Jan 8: 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.




Mon, Jan 15: No class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Explore potential topics for your policy memo.


Wed, Jan 17Liberalism: Ideas & Institutions, part II            

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 22: Liberalism: Ideas & Institutions, part I

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.


Wed, Jan 24The 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.

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


Mon, Jan 29: War and State-building: How does war affect states?

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 


Wed, Jan 31: The Cold War: How did it affect the U.S. state & its foreign policy? (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.

Editorial Board, “The Trump Administration Is Making War on Diplomacy,” NYT, Nov 18, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/18/opinion/sunday/the-trump-administrati...


Mon, Feb 5:  The Cold War: How did it affect the U.S. state & its foreign policy? (II)

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

Helene Cooper, “White House Pushes Military Might Over Humanitarian Aid in Africa, NYT, June 26, 2017.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/25/world/africa/white-house-pushes-military-might-over-humanitarian-aid-in-africa.html


Wed, Feb 7: First exam. Bring blue book 


Thurs, Feb 8: paper topic due at the beginning of section


Mon, Feb 12Post 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 14Cold 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

- For a brief overview of today’s deployment of U.S. forces: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/opinion/americas-forever-wars.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront


Mon, Feb 19: No class: Washington’s Birthday


Wed, Feb 21:  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...


- See the tests: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/05/when-we-tested-nuclear-bombs/100061/ and esp “Operation Cue”: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/05/video-gallery-nuclear-bomb-tests/238461/  

- On the size of the U.S. stockpile over time and relative to potential targets: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/10/26/opinion/trump-nuclear-ars...


Mon, Feb 26Nuclear Proliferation: Why the bomb?  

 Tom Lehrer, “Who’s Next.”

Tom Lehrer - Who's Next - with intro

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

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


Wed, Feb 28:   U.S. Trade Policy: Equal bargaining or unequal leverage?

                         Guest Lecture: Vanessa Quince,

Ph.D. candidate, Political Science; John E. Sawyer Dissertation Fellow, Washington Institute for the Study of Inequality and Race Graduate Fellow, University of Washington International Security Colloquium Graduate Fellow

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 5:  China’s Rise: Engage or contain?

When will China bypass the United States? Vary growth rates to 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.

Jane Perlez, “Xi Jinping Pushes China’s Rise Despite Friction and Fear, NYT, October 22, 2017.  https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/22/world/asia/china-xi-jinping-global-po...


Wed, March 7:  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-roof.html?_r=0

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_somalia_east_africa_executive_outcomes

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 8:   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.


Thurs, March 15, 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 - 9:45pm