POL S 321 A: American Foreign Policy

Meeting Time: 
MW 11:30am - 12:50pm
SAV 260
Elizabeth Kier

Syllabus Description:



Winter 2019

PS 321: American Foreign Policy

MW, 1130-1250, SAV 260


Prof. Kier

Office hrs: Mon, 430-600, Gowen 129, ekier@uw.edu


Teaching Assistants:

Yusri Supiyan (AA & AB), office hrs.: Tues, 10:30am-12:30pm, Smith 33

Nicolas Wittstock (AC & AD), office hrs.: Tues, 1-3pm; Smith 35


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 reliance on contractors and privatized military force. The course concludes with a discussion of the future of American foreign policy.


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 available through the course website. 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  You have a choice:

            Option one:   Two exams (30% each), policy memo (30%), and section (10%)

            Option two:   Two exams (45% each) and section (10%)

Choice must be made by Feb 8 (indicated by submission of paper topic). Decisions are final and late decisions not accepted. 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 a week.
  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


Option one: 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 . . . 

  • impose new sanctions on Russia because of its armed seizure of three Ukrainian ships?
  • reduce its military aid to Nigeria because of the Nigerian military's repeated human rights violations? 
  • withdraw its support for NATO's Article 5 if members do not spend 2% of their GDP on defense?
  • use the Magnitsky Act to sanction individuals responsible for China’s repression of the Uighur people?
  • withdraw from the INF treaty? Or work with Russia to extend START II?
  • build more low-yield nuclear weapons?
  • end all military and intelligence support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen?
  • work for regime change in Iran (or another country)?
  • provide more assistance to efforts to stop human trafficking and enslavement in Africa?
  • proceed with regularly scheduled military exercises with South Korea? (Trump has cancelled at least eight since the Singapore meeting).
  • continue current funding levels for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. (Trump’s prior budget proposal called for significant reductions.)
  • sign the Intl Criminal Court, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or any particular intl treaty?
  • increase foreign (non-military) aid to Nigeria (or any other particular country)?
  • 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. Egypt, Philippines, Turkey, Poland or Hungary)?
  • reconsider its withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the TPP, or the Iranian nuclear agreement?
  • reverse its decision to provide lethal military aid to Ukraine to help Kiev resist Russian incursions? Or accelerate the provision of military aid?
  • rethink its posture of “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan?
  • accept 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next year?
  • pressure Israel to halt settlements in lands envisioned as part of a Palestinian state in a “two-state solution”? Or reconsider the U.S. decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel?
  • build a wall along the southern border to prevent illegal immigration?
  • suspend foreign aid to countries that do not support the United States in the United Nations?
  • allow the CIA to engage in assassination
  • sanction Saudi Arabia for murdering a journalist?

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 8Topic 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.

     - Late submissions not accepted.

March 14: 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.

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. 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, be specific and  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 and an assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of your policy proposal 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 think tanks that focus on foreign policy, check under "Announcements" on the website. 

Your memo should be about 10 pages (or 2,225–2,500 words) not including citations. Put a word count on the first page and consult stylebooks to ensure consistent 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  

Consult http://depts.washington.edu/pswrite/plag.html if you are uncertain about the meaning of plagiarism and how to avoid it. The University has a license agreement with Vericite, an educational tool that helps identify plagiarism. You will submit your research paper through this service. The Vericite Report indicates the amount of original text in your work and whether material that you quote, paraphrase, summarize, or use from another source is appropriately referenced.


Mon, Jan 7: Introduction


Wed, 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 Mearsheimer, “Anarchy & the Struggle for Power,” The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, 2001.


Mon, Jan 14: 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


Wed, Jan 16: 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 21: No class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Explore topics for policy memo.


Wed, 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.

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


Mon, Jan 28: 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.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/world/europe/turkey-terrorist-attacks-erdogan-crackdown.html


Wed, Jan 30: 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-administration-is-making-war-on-diplomacy.html




Wed, Feb 6:  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


**Fri, Feb 8: paper topic due at the beginning of section – no late submission  **         




Wed, Feb 13Realism and Liberalism

Prepare “Comparing Realism & Liberalism” questions

Statement from President Donald J. Trump on Standing with Saudi Arabia, November 20, 2018.  https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/statement-president-donald-j-trump-standing-saudi-arabia/


Mon, Feb 18: No class: President’s Day  


Wed, Feb 20:  First exam. Bring blue book 

Exam will start at 1140 to leave sufficient time for students in Mercer's class to arrive on time. 

It will be a one hour exam. 


Mon, Feb 25:  Post-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 27: Post-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, March 4Nuclear use since 1945: Why the Non-use since Hiroshima & Nagasaki

Read the “Executive Summary,” Nuclear Policy Review (Obama adm), April 2010. https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/defenseReviews/NPR/2010_Nuclear_Posture_Review_Report.pdf

Read the “Executive Summary,” (v-xvii); skim Chap. 4 & 5 (19-24 & 25-27); and compare with Obama’s NPR Table of Contents, Nuclear Policy Review (Trump adm), Feb. 2018. https://media.defense.gov/2018/Feb/02/2001872886/-1/-1/1/2018-NUCLEAR-POSTURE-REVIEW-FINAL-REPORT.PDF

David E. Sanger, “U.S. General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam War, Cables Show,” NYT, Oct. 6, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/06/world/asia/vietnam-war-nuclear-weapons.html


See the tests: http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/05/when-we-tested-nuclear-bombs/100061/, 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-arsenal.html?rref=collection/sectioncollection/opinion&utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=EBB-10-26&utm_term=Editorial%20-%20Military%20-%20Early%20Bird%20Brief


Wed, March 6:  Nuclear 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).

Recommended: on the size of global stockpiles over time, https://thebulletin.org/nuclear-notebook-multimedia


CANCELLED:  Not required but Waltz is a classic and well worth the read

Nuclear Proliferation: Is More Better?

Kenneth N. Waltz, “The Spread of Nuclear Weapons: More may be Better,” in Richard K. Betts, ed., Conflict after the Cold War: Arguments on Causes of War & Peace, NY: Pearson Longman, 2005.

Excerpt from "Always/Never: The Quest for Nuclear Safety, Control, and Survivability," Sandia National Laboratories,  2010, Broken Arrow, North Carolina, 1961Also see highlighted section of secret document discussing the near miss. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/799655-mcnamara.html#document/p2/a122657


Mon, March 11:  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

Graham Allison, “Imagine China were just like us,” in Destined for War: Can America and China escape Thucydides’ trap? Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017, pp. 89-106.

Evan Osnos, “Making China Great Again,” The New Yorker, January 8, 2018. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/01/08/making-china-great-again


Wed, March 13Privatized Military Force: Good for Democracy & U.S. Foreign Policy? 

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

Kate Brannen, “The Company Getting Rich Off the ISIS War,” The Daily Beast, August 2, 2015; and 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.

Marc Fisher, Ian Shapira, and Emily Rauhala, “Behind Erik Princes’ China Venture,” Washington Post, May 4, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/world/wp/2018/05/04/feature/a-warrior-goes-to-china-did-erik-prince-cross-a-line/?utm_term=.224d43ddf30d

Mujib Mashal, “As Afghanistan Frays, Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Is Everywhere,” NYT, Oct 4, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/04/world/asia/afghanistan-erik-prince-blackwater.html


CANCELLED DUE TO SNOW DAY:  The Future of U.S. Foreign Policy: More of the Same? 

Barry R. Posen, “The Rise of Illiberal Hegemony: Trump’s Surprising Grand Strategy,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018.

Jake Sullivan, “The World After Trump: How the System Can Endure,” Foreign Affairs, March/April 2018.


Thurs, March 14:   Optional 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.


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: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:08pm