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What is Foreign Policy?

Michael Anissimov
Updated May 23, 2024
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Foreign policy dictates how a country will act with respect to other countries politcally, socially, economically, and militarily, and to a somewhat lesser extent, how it behaves towards non-state actors. Foreign policy can also be known as international relations policy or simply diplomacy. It seems likely that foreign policy, in some form, has been around since the early days of humanity on the plains of Africa, when large tribes would presumably interact from time to time without engaging in all-out war. Today, foreign policy is handled by foreign ministers, ambassadors, and/or the Secretary of State (in the US).

Although foreign policy has always been important, it is especially true today, when air travel makes the world smaller and more interconnected, and powerful weapons make the risk of diplomatic breakdown all the more dire. Many thinkers in the field put the genesis of modern foreign policy and statesmanship with Cardinal Richelieu, a statesman in early 17th century France. Richelieu became famous for consolidating French power, making France among the first of the Great Powers, and feuding with the Hapsburg dynasty, which ruled in both Austria and Spain. He ordered all the castles of the lesser nobility and feudal lords to be razed, causing the royalty of France to become more powerful than ever before.

The 400 years since Richelieu has been marked by intense foreign policy interactions and negotiations among the world's most powerful nations, especially those in Europe, where the world's power was centralized until the mid 20th century, when nations like America and China came into their own. An important milestone in foreign policy and international relations came in 1919, when World War I came to a close with the Treaty of Versailles (which would anger the Germans into starting WWII), and the League of Nations was established. The League of Nations was the first true international organization of countries, and was a forerunner of the modern-day United Nations.

Today, many official proclamations and foreign policy actions are channeled through the United Nations, which serves more like an international forum rather than any unified political body. There are many thinkers in foreign policy that either support the United Nations, calling it a step to a more unified and civilized world, or repudiate it, calling it an useless charade. The most important body in the United Nations is the Security Council, a board consisting of the countries of the United States, United Kingdom, Russia, China, and France. This makeup has been criticized by other countries as merely representing the winners of WWII, and not really reflective of the international will. Still, the UN Security Council does get considerable attention and press, and while its influence over world events is not unlimited, it surely is strong.

Historical Index is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Anissimov
By Michael Anissimov , Writer
Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism to his articles. An avid blogger, Michael is deeply passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. His professional experience includes work with the Methuselah Foundation, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and Lifeboat Foundation, further showcasing his commitment to scientific advancement.

Discussion Comments

By anon249463 — On Feb 21, 2012

I would like to be part of this program. We should be discussing African foreign policy also.

By anon243964 — On Jan 30, 2012

America is itself a most diplomatic and terrorist country. In spite of having all fatal weapons, how America can claim to stop the rest of the world? The world knows the drama of Al Qaeda and Osama just to enter into the Asia region to hit pakistan. It was a preplanned game.

By surfNturf — On Aug 10, 2010

Subway11- Public opinion foreign policy is important to a degree. Americans feel that having a strong foreign-policy initiative around the world means to protect American interests and keep us safe.

The current administration’s foreign policy analysis is very weak. Having Iran and North Korea have the ability to possibly have a nuclear weapon is a little scary.

While it is a challenging situation, many around the world and at home feel that we should do more.

Also, I don't feel that we are supporting Israel enough. This is a major ally in that region and we should do more to help them. This protects our security interests too.

By subway11 — On Aug 10, 2010

Sunny27- I agree with you. Some people believe that there should be talks regarding foreign policy dilemmas, while that is true there come a point where you have to take action.

The 9 11 foreign policy changed the way Americans looked at terrorism. We deployed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in efforts to root out terrorism threats. We even established the Patriot Act which allowed wiretapping in order to gain intelligence regarding terrorism threats.

One can say the Bush presidency was clearly defined by the actions of 9/11 and the “War on Terror” as he called it.

His aggressive stance against terrorism kept us safe during his presidency.

By Sunny27 — On Aug 10, 2010

Greenweaver- I remember those glory days, especially when President Regan said to Gorbachev to “Tear down this wall.” It brought tears to my eyes of how proud I was of our country to support freedom like that.

Foreign policy today should be about spreading freedom. It requires very hard stance, which we currently do not have.

For example, President Regan would have never have allowed the North Korea foreign policy to get to where it is. He would have taken aggressive action to ensure that North Korea would not have the ability to create a possible nuclear weapon.

He would have applied severe economic sanctions as well as military force to contain North Korea.

By GreenWeaver — On Aug 10, 2010

I think if anyone were to study foreign policy they would have to do spend a considerable amount time on the Reagan foreign policy.

President Reagan defined his legacy by eliminating communism in most of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. By establishing the National Security Decision Directive he used a multiple step approach to combat communism, by lowering the USSR’s ability to obtain higher quality defense technology, increasing US military defense expenses which made the USSR to do the same because it had to keep up with the United States.

This would also devastate an already failing economy of the USSR. His plan worked. Everyone remembers the day that the Berlin wall came down and a few years later the USSR ended its reign of communism forever. In fact the Soviet states became independent for the first time.

Michael Anissimov

Michael Anissimov


Michael Anissimov is a dedicated Historical Index contributor and brings his expertise in paleontology, physics, biology...
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