Le’ Notes #49: Foreign policy analysis – it all starts at home

So far, we’ve covered how foreign policy is formulated and executed by individuals or a small group of individuals. We’ve discussed how these individuals often do not make so-called rational decisions; instead, they are often influenced by their own outlooks of the world and their institutional interests.

But for most of the world, foreign policy is not always just dictated by individuals. This is not to say that these prominent individuals do not have any power. There are often many other parties that may restrain the extent of an individual’s (or a small group of individuals’) power. You might know these as domestic political institutions, and they play an important role in keeping democracies afloat.

In this post, we’ll explore the role these institutions play in shaping foreign policy. Note that here, I use the term “institutions” quite loosely to refer to the many domestic structures that exist in democracies, such as political parties. This doesn’t cover public opinion, interest groups or the media; that’ll be addressed in a later post.

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Le’ Notes #47: Foreign policy analysis – group units

As I covered in Note #44, the individual leader is not the only person making foreign policy decisions. Even if the buck stops there, the buck may have been passed from one person to another, and in the process, the final ‘buck’ is a result of a synthesis of often conflicting opinions and interests. In this note then, we’ll explore how groups, especially those close to the leader, have a hand in shaping foreign policy decisions. 

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Le’ Notes #44: Foreign policy analysis – the individual level

This is the second post in the Foreign Policy Analysis miniseries which discusses the role of cognition and belief sets in influencing foreign policy decisions.

Remember President Truman and his “The buck stops here” sign? The function of the sign was to remind him that he was the one who would make the final call on a policy decision. Not his Vice President. Though Barkley could chip in his two cents, by virtue of structural authority, Barkley did not have any power to execute a policy decision.

Margaret Hermann and Joe Hagan (1998) [paywall] wrote:

We grade Bill Clinton’s performance abroad; argue about why Benjamin Netanyahu is or is not stalling the Middle East peace process; debate Mohammed Khatami’s intentions regarding Iranian relations with the United States; and ponder what will happen in South Africa or Russia when Nelson Mandela or Boris Yeltsin leaves office.

What Hermann and Hagan observed was the importance of a state leader as an important decision unit in foreign policy analysis. They are the ones who perceive the international system and domestic political landscape, interpret signals and conditions, and then act upon they believe to be the best course of action. So the question now is, how do we analyse these individuals and understand their way of thinking?

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Le’ Notes #43: Foreign policy analysis – an introduction

This post marks the start of my Foreign Policy Analysis mini-series.

Index of posts in this mini-series:
1. Le’Notes #44: The individual level – cognition and belief sets
2. Le’Notes #47: The group level – small group dynamics
3. Le’Notes #49: The domestic level – institutions

In 2014, President Joko Widodo announced his vision of a “global maritime fulcrum”. Indonesia would be a center of activity in Asia, maximizing its geographical position between the Indian and Pacific Ocean. This vision would form the basis of Joko Widodo’s foreign policy.

By now you may be wondering, what is foreign policy? It is a phrase thrown out there by politicians and IR scholars all the time: “U.S. foreign policy in Asia”, “Japan’s foreign policy in Northeast Asia”, “China’s foreign policy”… what does it mean?

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