POL S 321 A: American Foreign Policy

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

Syllabus Description:

Winter 2021


MW, 1130-1250


Prof. KIER

office hrs: Wed, 430-600pm, link here 



Teaching Assistants:

Ian Callison (AC & AD), icalliso@uw.edu, office hrs: Tues, 1-3pm, zoom link 

Yusri Supiyan (AA & AB), yusri@uw.edu, office hrs, Thurs, 11:30am - 1:30pm, zoom link


This course examines the sources of American foreign policy and the implications of these sources for policy design. 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 examines 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: NATO expansion and humanitarian intervention. We then explore the role of nuclear weapons: their nonuse since World War II 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 privatized military force.


Remote instruction  Lectures and sections are synchronous via Zoom. Lecture recordings will be available on Canvas to students taking the course. Sharing recordings outside of class violates student rights under FERPA. Lecture outlines are also available under “Files” on Canvas. Office hours and section are NOT recorded.

UW students taking courses while overseas are subject to the laws of their local jurisdiction. Local authorities may limit access to course material and take punitive action towards you. UW has no authority over these laws or their enforcement. If you are living abroad, exercise caution when enrolling in courses that cover issues censored in your jurisdiction. Contact your academic advisor who will assist you in exploring options if you have concerns regarding a particular course. 


Readings The readings are available through the course website under “Files.” Daily reading of the New York Times is also required. For digital subscriptions at the reduced college rate, see NYTimes.com/UWashington


Requirements  You have a choice between two options:

Option 1:  Two take-home exams (30% each), policy memo (30%), and section (10%). You take the exams, but we eliminate the lowest score from final grade calculations.

Option 2:  Three take-home exams (30% each) and section (10%)

Choice of option must be made by Feb 10. Decisions are final (as indicated by paper topic submission). 

The exams will be available on Canvas. You’ll have 48 hours to complete each. They will be open book, open note, but you will be required to work independently. Consulting others is a violation of university policies on academic honesty. The exams will specify the expected word count. They will also list when Prof. Kier and the TAs will be available to answer questions about the exam.

You will submit your exams and (optional) policy memo through SimCheck on Canvas. SimCheck is an educational tool that identifies plagiarism. It indicates the amount of original text and whether material that you quote, paraphrase, summarize, or use from another source is appropriately referenced.

No make-up exams unless you provide a written excuse from a physician or some other recognized authority for having missed an exam. For additional information on courses, grading, academic conduct, and university policies, see UW and Department policies.


Section discussion will focus on applying course themes to contemporary issues in U.S. foreign policy. You are expected to come prepared to discuss current events and to actively participate in the discussions. If you are unable to attend a section, submit a 350-550 word essay that relates a recent article in a national news source (e.g. NYT, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, or the Economist) to course themes. Include a link to the article.


Accommodations  Contact the Disability Resources office to request accommodation. 448 Schmitz Hall, 543-8924 (voice), 543-8925 (TTY), 616-8379 (fax), uwdss@uw.edu. With a letter from them, we can arrange accommodations.

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at Religious Accommodations Policy (https://registrar.washington.edu/staffandfaculty/religious-accommodations-policy/). Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form (https://registrar.washington.edu/students/religious-accommodations-request/).


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.


Policy Memorandum (optional)

President Biden 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 provides an 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. 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 economic aid abroad?"

Here are some examples, but you are free to choose any topic in consultation with your TA.

Should the United States . . . 

    • sign the Intl Criminal Court, the Convention on Cluster Munitions, or any particular treaty?
    • rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, the TPP, the JCPOA or any particular treaty?
    • restore its humanitarian assistance to Yemen (suspended March 2020)?
    • terminate/increase military and intelligence support for the Saudi-backed war in Yemen?
    • reverse its June 2018 decision to withdraw from the UN Human Rights Council?
    • work with Russia to extend New Start?
    • raise/lower the cap on the number of refugees or individuals granted asylum (the refugee program is for those in conflict zones and other imperiled locations abroad; asylum is for those on U.S. soil who claim fear of harm if returned to their native countries).
    • replace its posture of “strategic ambiguity” with an explicit commitment to defending Taiwan from an armed attack?
    • decrease/increase the number of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea or Japan?
    • withdraw all its forces from Germany?
    • Continue/reverse its troop drawdown in Afghanistan?
    • withdraw its support for NATO's Article 5 if members do not spend 2% of their GDP on defense?
    • work for regime change in Iran (or another country)?
    • use the Magnitsky Act to sanction individuals responsible for China’s repression of the Uighurs?
    • expose companies to criminal proceedings if their supply chains rely on the forced labor of China’s Uighur minority?
    • significantly increase the refugee allocation for applicants from Hong Kong in response to China’s assault on Hong Kong’s political freedom?
    • reverse its December 2020 decision to recognize Morocco’s claims over the disputed Western Sahara?
    • provide more/less assistance to efforts to stop human trafficking and enslavement in Africa?
    • increase/decrease funding for the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria?
    • join and significantly fund Covax, the WHO-backed program to deliver billions of vaccine doses to less-developed nations?
    • increase/decrease foreign (non-military) aid to Nigeria (or any other particular country)?
    • increase/decrease military aid to Egypt (or any other particular country)?
    • 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)?
    • continue sanctions against Venezuela and/or release more money to the opposition from the Venezuelan government’s frozen assets in the United States?
    • scale back/accelerate current plans to spend more than $1 trillion to modernize US nuclear weapons?
    • embrace a “no first use” policy?
    • reverse its August 2018 decision to terminate financial support for UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East)?
    • pressure Israel to halt settlements in lands envisioned as part of a Palestinian state in a “two-state solution”? Or reverse the decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital?

Important due dates: 

Feb 12Topic selection due at the beginning of section. State question and list at least 8 sources.

     - No more than 10% of the sources can be blogs or other unfiltered sources. Note instructions on sources below.

     - Late submissions are not accepted.

Submission of paper topic indicates choice of option #1.


March 12: Policy memo due by 900 am. Submit on Canvas.

     - Late papers lose .5 pts/day (e.g. a 4.0 becomes a 3.5).

     - Note instructions below on length, format, and structure.

A rubric describing how your policy memo will be assessed is available under “Files.” 


Memo Outline

policy memo is a practical, professionally written document that provides analysis and recommendations for a particular audience regarding a particular situation or problem.

Your memo will include four parts:

  • Presentation of issue (less than one page). Describe the problem and your solution: What is the issue, why is it important to the United States, and what (in one sentence) is your policy recommendation?
  • Recommendation (4-5 pages). Describe your 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. But also recognize that every policy also has disadvantages (and explain those). Be sure to link your theoretical discussion to the policy you are recommending.  
  • Critique  (3-4 pages). Describe how the competing theoretical perspective would react to your recommendation: Would it disagree with the policy, and if so, why? If it would agree with the policy but provide a different rationale, then detail that reasoning. Again, be specific and directly link this discussion to the policy you are recommending.
  • Retort  (2-3 pages). Defend your policy recommendation against this critique.

The objective of your policy memo is to provide President Biden the rationale for choosing a particular policy. In this sense, you are advocating for a specific policy. But there are always value trade-offs. 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 by discussing the benefits and the costs of your favored 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 the advantages and disadvantages of it. It is not an opinion piece based on your thoughts about the issue or your take on realism and liberalism.

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. See https://guides.lib.uw.edu/research/faq/scholarly for instructions on how to access peer-reviewed journals.

You may use sources available on a think tank website, but it is important to both ensure it is a reputable organization and that you know its politics. Check under “Files” on Canvas for a list of think tanks focusing on U.S. foreign policy. 

You may also wish to consult  http://guides.lib.washington.edu.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/content.php?pid=199359&sid=1667575  http://guides.lib.washington.edu/polisci  

Your memo should be 10-12 pages (or 2,225–2,500 words) not including citations. Do not exceed this word count. Policy-makers are busy and keeping to a word limit encourages careful editing. Put the 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   

Tightly-written policy memos have a much better chance of influencing their intended audience. An indispensable guide to writing well is Strunk & White’s, Elements of Style. I also recommend that you exchange your memos with colleagues for comments on your argument and assistance with your writing. Even the most accomplished authors profit from editorial feedback.


Mon, Jan 4: Introduction


Wed, Jan 6: 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 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

Thomas Gaulkin, “What the United States loses by quitting the Open Skies Treaty, ”The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, April 13, 2020. https://thebulletin.org/2020/04/what-the-united-states-loses-by-quitting-the-open-skies-treaty-in-one-chart/


Wed, Jan 13: Liberalism: Ideas & Institutions, part II  

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

President Jimmy Carter, “Commencement Address at the Univ. 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


Mon, Jan 18: No class: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Explore topics for (optional) policy memo. See list of think tanks under "Files" to read about various issue areas.


Wed, Jan 20: 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 25: Comparing Realism and Liberalism

Prepare “Comparing Realism & Liberalism” questions under "Files," "lecture outlines." 

First take-home exam will be available under "Assignments" at the end of the class (1pm)


***First take home exam will be available under "Assignments" at 1pm, Mon, Jan 25.***

The exam is open book, open notes, but you are expected to work independently. Consulting others is a violation of university policies on academic honesty. The exam will specify the word count and list when the instructors will be available to answer questions about the exam. You will have 48 hours to complete the exam. Submit your answers on Canvas by 1pm on Wed, Jan 27.


Wed, Jan 27:  No lecture: first take-home exam due by lpm today.

Note instructions immediately above.


Mon, Feb 1: 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, Jan 7, 2017.   https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/06/world/europe/turkey-terrorist-attacks-erdogan-crackdown.html


Wed, Feb 3: The Cold War: How did it affect the U.S. state & its foreign policy? (part I)

Andrew J. Bacevich, “The Endless Fantasy of American Power. Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy,” Foreign Affairs, Sept 18, 2020.

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.


Mon, Feb 8: The Cold War: How did it affect the U.S. state & its foreign policy? (part 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

Nick Turse (excerpts), “How One of the Most Stable Nations in West Africa Descended Into Mayhem,” NYT, Oct 15, 2020.


Wed, Feb 10:    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.  

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

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


** Friday, Feb 12: (optional) paper topic due at the beginning of section **

This is the last day to choose option #1 (as indicated by submission of paper topic).


Mon, Feb 15: No class: President’s Day  


Wed, Feb 17: 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.

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


***Second take-home exam available under "Assignments" by 1pm, Sat, Feb 20***

The exam will specify the word count. It will also list when the instructors will be available to answer questions about the exam. The exam is open book, open notes, but you are expected to work independently. Consulting others is a violation of university policies on academic honesty. You will have 48 hours to complete the exam. Submit your answers on Canvas by 1pm on Mon, Feb 22.


Mon, Feb 22:   No lecture: second take-home exam due at 1pm today

Note instructions immediately above.


Wed, Feb 24:  Nuclear weapons: Why non-use since Hiroshima & Nagasaki?

Excerpts from John Hersey, “Hiroshima,” The New Yorker, August 31, 1946. Hersey chronicles the lives of six individuals in the weeks after Hiroshima. Choose one person from part I and follow their story. Be sure to read from part IV, “Panic Grass and Feverfew.”

Recommended:  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


Mon, March 1: Nuclear Proliferation: Why the bomb?  

Tom Lehrer, “Who’s Next.”  Tom Lehrer - Who's Next - with intro

Jung H. Pak, "What Kim Wants: The Hopes and Fears of North Korea's Dictator," Foreign Affairs, 99, 3, May-June 2020.

Peter Wilby, History tells us why North Korea really wants the bomb, The New Statesman,  7 Sept 2017; and excerpts from:  Dave Mosher, North Korea is not building nuclear weapons to destroy the US — the real reasons are much more surprising, Business Insider, Jan 21, 2018.   

Recommended: Nuclear stockpiles over time (global and individual states; cumulative and comparative – latter esp. interesting): https://thebulletin.org/nuclear-notebook-multimedia


Wed, March 3: 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 Labs, 2010, Broken Arrow, North Carolina, 1961 Also see the highlighted section of document about the near miss. https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/799655-mcnamara.html#document/p2/a122657


Mon, March 8: China’s Rise: A New Cold War?

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

Recommended:  Visual depiction of China’s relative rise. Scroll to “China’s Economic Rise” and hit “replay” https://www.visualcapitalist.com/china-economic-growth-history/


Wed, March 10: Privatized Military Force: Good for Democracy & U.S. Foreign Policy? 

Kate Brannen, “The Company Getting Rich Off the ISIS War,” The Daily Beast, Aug 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, Aug 8, 2016.

Marc Fisher, Ian Shapira, & 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

Declan Walsh, “By Air and Sea, Mercenaries Landed in Libya. Then the Plan Went South,” NYT,

May 25, 2020; Updated June 9, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/25/world/middleeast/libya-mercenaries-arms-embargo.html?action=click&module=Well&pgtype=Homepage&section=World%20News


*** Optional policy memo due by 900 AM, Friday, March 12 ***

Note instructions on length, format, and structure (above and on Canvas).  A rubric describing how your policy memo will be assessed is available under “Files” on Canvas.



 *** Final take-home exam available on Canvas by 230pm, Mon, March 15 ***

The exam is open book, open notes, but you are expected to work independently. Consulting others is a violation of university policies on academic honesty. The exam will specify the word count and list when the instructors will be available to answer questions about the exam. You will have 48 hours to complete the exam. Submit your exam on Canvas by 430pm on Wed, March 17.


Wed, March 17: Third take-home exam due by 430pm.

Note instructions immediately above.


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: 
October 12, 2020 - 11:51pm