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foreign policy

Foreign policy is the policy of a sovereign state in its interaction with other sovereign states. U.S. foreign policy focuses on the relationship between the U.S. and the other nations of the world. 


Which branch of the government has the most responsibility for foreign policy?

Most of the responsibility for foreign policy resides in the executive branch and with the president and Secretary of State.


What role does Congress play in foreign policy?

Congress' role in foreign policy is limited and resides almost wholely in the U.S. Senate. 

  • The Senate, by a 2/3 majority, must ratify all treaties
  • The Senate approves all U.S. ambassadors
  • Congress has the power to declare war, but has only done so five times
  • Congress has some measure of control over the budget, which contains foreign policy expenditures


As commander in chief, the president often commits troops into harm's way without a formal declaration of war. What law governs the ability of the president to commit troops?

The president's ability to commit troops absent a declaration of war is governed by the War Powers Resolution (1973). Under the resolution, the president must notify Congress within 48 hours of committing troops to a military action and cannot commit troops for more than 60 days (with a 30-day withdrawal period) without congressional approval. 

Every president since Richard Nixon has regarded the War Powers Resolution as unconstitutional.


What role in foreign policy is played by the State Department?

The State Department is the international face of the United States and conducts negotiations, protects American citizens abroad, and administers financial aid to other countries. The State Department also runs the Foreign Service, through which diplomats are assigned abroad. 


What is the United States Foreign Service?

The United States Foreign Service administers the U.S. embassies and consular posts. Working under the State Department, the Foreign Service coordinates the various functions of U.S. services abroad, including commercial and agricultural agreements.


Which four governmental groups play the largest role in developing and administering U.S. foreign policy?

The four governmental groups are:

  1. The State Department, which oversees U.S. diplomatic relations with other nations and conducts negotiations with foreign powers
  2. The National Security Council, which promotes policies aimed at enhancing U.S. national security
  3. The CIA, which monitors and reports on developments in other nations
  4. The Department of Defense, which coordinates U.S. military relationships with other nations


What is the role of the president's national security advisor?

The national security advisor is independent of both the State Department and the Department of Defense and serves to provide the president an independent voice on national security issues. The advisor is a member of the National Security Council and, in times of emergency, heads the White House Situation Room.


Who serves on the White House National Security Council?

The National Security Council coordinates national security and foreign policy issues among various governmental agencies and departments. Per statute, it is comprised of the president, the vice president, and the Secretaries of State and Defense. Non-statutory attendees typically include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the treasury secretary, the president's chief of staff, the national security advisor, and other security and foreign policy personnel as needed.


What role does the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) play in foreign policy?

The CIA plays a threefold role in foreign policy:

  • collects and distributes intelligence analysis to policymakers
  • conducts covert operations abroad to further U.S. interests
  • serves as the intelligence liaison between Congress, the executive branch, and the intelligence community


How does the Department of Defense advance U.S. foreign policy?

The Department of Defense plays many roles, the most overt of which is to commit troops to military action in foreign countries. In addition, the Defense Department works with international military organizations such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and provides humanitarian assistance such as during the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004.

The secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs advise the president on foreign policy matters as it relates to the military.


unilateral declaration

A unilateral declaration is a statement made by a sovereign state acting only for itself.

As an example, the Monroe Doctrine was a unilateral declaration that the United States would not permit European nations to establish further colonies in North and South America.


What is a bilateral agreement?

A bilateral agreement is an agreement between two sovereign states.

For instance, the United States and Canada have bilateral agreements governing aviation safety, warships on the Great Lakes, and extradition of criminals. Prior to World War I, bilateral agreements were the most common form of international agreement.


multilateral agreement

A multilateral agreement is an agreement between a number of sovereign states.

Examples include NATO, the Geneva Convention, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), all of which had multiple signatories.


What is the difference between sole executive agreements and congressional executive agreements?

Sole executive agreements are made by the president with foreign leaders, are less formal than treaties, and only apply to the incumbent presidents (not binding on his successors).

Congressional executive agreements arise out of a congressional authorization to conclude a particular agreement, usually through an appropriation of funds or other legislation. Congressional executive agreements typically have the force of treaties but do not require approval of 2/3 of the Senate.


What is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)?

NATO is a mutual defense agreement, originally between the United States, Canada, and the western European countries, to counter potential military action by the Soviet Union and its allies.

Today, NATO is comprised of 28 nations, including several former satellites of the Soviet Union. NATO military missions have participated in conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Libya. 


Which agreement sought to eliminate barriers to trade and investment between the US, Canada, and Mexico?

In 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect, which eliminated barriers to investment and trade (such as tariffs) between the three countries.

Under the treaty, many American manufacturing companies have set up operations in Mexico, where the cost of labor is cheaper, resulting in a loss of U.S. jobs.


What is the Central American Free Trade Agreement?

Similar to NAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) is a trade agreement signed in 2004, which eliminates tariffs on many manufactured goods. 

The CAFTA signatories are the United States, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Some scholars refer to the agreement as CAFTA-DR, because of the addition of the Dominican Republic.


What is the World Trade Organization?

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an agreement between 157 member nations. Although the WTO does not itself implement trade agreements, it provides a framework to set the rules governing trade agreements.

As an example, the WTO requires that a member must apply the same conditions on all trade with other WTO members; i.e. a WTO member cannot grant more favorable conditions on a product type that it doesn't provide to other members. 


What is the Group of Seven?

The Group of Seven countries, often called the G-7, is comprised of seven of the world's 10 largest national economies. Annual G-7 summits focus on foreign and economic policy.

The countries comprising the G-7 are Canada, the United States, Italy, France, Great Britain, Japan, Germany. 


What is the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?

Composed of 188 nations, the IMF acts to promote international economic cooperation, international trade, and exchange rate stability. It often serves to make financial resources available to nations struggling to meet balance of payment needs, often tying these resources with mandated internal economic reforms.

The IMF is related to, and often works with, the World Bank.


What is the role of the World Bank?

The World Bank lends funds to poor countries to assist in capital development. The official goal of the World Bank is the reduction of poverty.


Which international organization has the most nation-state members?

The United Nations has the most nation-state members with 193. The purpose of the United Nations is to advance international legal cooperation, international security, human rights, economic development, and conflict prevention.


Which group of the United Nations is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security? 

The United Nations Security Council is responsible for maintenance of peace and security. The council has 15 members.

Five permanent members (Russia, China, the United States, Great Britain, and France) were the winning powers in World War II, and each has a veto over Security Council resolutions. The ten other seats on the council are filled by other nations in semi-annual elections from among the General Assembly.


In early 1947, President Harry Truman announced that the United States would provide aid to _____, where pro-Western forces were involved in a civil war with communist troops.


Truman announced the aid with the statement that "[t]he policy of the United States is to support free people who are resisting subjugation by armed minorities or by outright pressure.”

Truman's support for non-communist nations resisting communist forces became known as the Truman Doctrine.


Mutual Assured Destruction

Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, marked the end point if the Cold War turned "hot." As a theory, MAD contended that both the Soviet Union and the U.S. would avoid nuclear confrontation because it would result in the destruction of both countries.

MAD required each nation to have enough nuclear weapons to survive a first strike in order to retaliate. In turn, this required a massive arms race.



Isolationism is a foreign policy under which one isolates their country from economic and diplomatic relations with other countries. Isolationists typically devote their country's entire efforts to their own internal advancement.

During the 1930s, American foreign policy was profoundly isolationist.



Détente is a French term referring to the easing of a strained relationship. Détente with the Soviet Union occurred during the Nixon Administration, as President Nixon and Henry Kissinger successfully negotiated several agreements with the Soviet Union to relieve tensions and forestall nuclear war.

At least in part, Nixon's détente resulted from renewed relations between the U.S. and China (a traditional Russian rival, though both were Communist).


What is disengagement?

Disengagement is a foreign policy thesis that arose after the United States' involvement in the Vietnam Conflict. Disengagement posits that the United States should avoid active and long-lasting military commitments such as Vietnam.


When the United States grants _____ to a foreign government, it acknowledges that government as a sovereign nation, allowed to engage in normal diplomatic relations.


Especially with emerging nations, recognition carries powerful connotations, and several states have never been recognized by the United States, such as the Turkish Republic of Cyprus.