Foreign policy analysis (FPA) is the study of how states, or the individuals that lead them, make foreign policy, execute foreign policy, and react to the foreign policies of other states. This topical breadth results in a subfield that encompasses a variety of questions and levels of analysis, and a correspondingly diverse set of methodological approaches. There are four methods which have become central in foreign policy analysis: archival research, content analysis, interviews, and focus groups. The first major phase of FPA research is termed "comparative foreign policy." Proponents of comparative foreign policy sought to achieve comprehensive theories of foreign policy behavior through quantitative analysis of "events" data. An important strand of this behavioral work addressed the relationship between trade dependence and foreign policy compliance. On the other hand, second-generation FPA methodology largely abandoned universalized theory-building in favor of historical methods and qualitative analysis. Second-generation FPA researchers place particular emphasis on developing case study methodologies driven by social science principles. Meanwhile, the third-generation of FPA scholarship combines innovative quantitative and qualitative methods. Several methods of foreign policy analysis used by third-generation FPA researchers include computer assisted coding, experiments, simulation, surveys, network analysis, and prediction markets. Ultimately, additional attention should be given to determining the degree to which current methods of foreign policy analysis allow predictive or prescriptive conclusions. FPA scholars should also focus more in reengaging foreign policy analysis with the core of international relations research.
Pedagogical objectives and educational outcomes play a significant role in foreign policy analysis. The actor-centered approach of foreign policy analysis gives students the unique opportunity to place themselves in the shoes of decision makers and to understand the different constraints, both domestic and international, that influence the policies adopted by decision makers. In other words, foreign policy analysis can have two functions: to teach students about the processes by which foreign policy is made, or the substance of the foreign policies of various countries, and to enhance students' ability to imagine the perspectives of others. Whether foreign policy analysis does, in fact, manage to develop this ability is an empirical question that also depends on the course emphasis and pedagogies employed. In this sense, pedagogy does not only mean excellent teaching, but also systematic investigation of teaching methods and techniques, student learning outcomes, educational assessment, and curriculum development. The literature on foreign policy analysis, pedagogy, and curriculum emphasizes active learning strategies and the need for clearly articulated learning objectives for the curriculum as a whole and the place of specific courses within it. Examples of active learning pedagogies are case teaching, simulations, and problem-based learning. Despite some very worthwhile research that has been done, there are still some gaps that need to be addressed. One is the lack of empirical work that helps evaluate the merits of the various teaching strategies in foreign policy analysis, and another is the inconsistent findings produced by the empirical studies that do exist.
Foreign policy analysis (FPA) occupies a central place in the study of international relations. FPA has produced a substantial amount of scholarship dealing with subjects from the micro and geographically particular to the macro relationship of foreign policy to globalization. It brings together many different subject areas, indeed disciplines, as between international relations and comparative politics or political theory, or history and political science. FPA generates case studies of major world events, and the information that probes behind the surface of things, to make it more possible to hold politicians accountable. Meanwhile, officials themselves are ever more aware that they need assistance, conceptual and empirical, in making sense of how those in other countries conduct themselves and what can feasibly be achieved at the international level. However, each subject under FPA needs to be revitalized through the development of new lines of enquiry and through the struggle with difficult problems. Work is either already under way or should be pursued in eight important areas. These are (i) foreign policy as a site of agency, (ii) foreign policy and state-building, (iii) foreign policy and the domestic, (iv) foreign policy and identity, (v) foreign policy and multilateralism, (vi) foreign policy and power, (vii) foreign policy and transnationalism, and (viii) foreign policy and ethics.
The classical literature on leadership—or at least the portion of it relevant to questions of foreign policy analysis—greatly evolved and changed over time from its beginnings in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. As new theoretical approaches and methodologies appeared, scholars eventually began to study the contextual nuances in this relationship between leaders and foreign policy. Yet, in its earliest incarnation, the literature was dominated by the "great man" theory of leadership, which suggested that leaders were "born, not made"—that people who became leaders were uniquely special and had personal qualities and characteristics setting them apart from non-leaders. Eventually, this fell out of favor with the rise of more situationally based theories and critiques pointing out the need to include both the person and the situation in order to explain leadership. Another strong tradition in the leadership literature historically has been the application of psychology and psychoanalytic theory to explain leadership styles and foreign policy actions. These approaches often employed in-depth psychobiographies of leaders to link their personalities, childhood socializations, or other experiences to subsequent patterns of behavior in life, styles of leadership, and foreign policy successes or failures. Yet another approach to the study of leadership follows a very different path towards understanding the concept and focuses instead upon not only the leader, but the follower as well.
There are several conceptions of culture which have become dominant in foreign policy analysis (FPA) in particular: culture as the organization of meaning, culture as value preferences, and culture as templates for human strategy. Prior to the 1990s, the Cold War constraints of bipolarity had left little room for idiosyncratic domestic-level variables such as culture to affect FP. However, once systemic constraints lessened and the decision making milieu became more ambiguous, scholars increasingly turned to questions about culture and identity. Using classic frameworks as a jumping off point, early work on national role conception and operational code analysis incorporated culture as a significant filter for decision making. Operational code analysis is another early approach that had elements of culture as part of the decision making context. In addition, there are a few works that investigate culture and FP with a different focus than FPA. But perhaps one of the most notable elements of FPA studies exploring culture is the idea that it need not be viewed as explaining whatever cannot be explained by anything else. Instead of merely an alternative theoretical explanation of state behavior, use of culture in the post-Cold War revival and today reflects an effort not so much to refute neorealism but to look at different questions.
Realists explain foreign policy in terms of power politics. They disagree on the exact meaning of power and on how and to what extent politics is likely to influence policy. But they all find that power has a strong materialist component and that the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy is likely to vary with security challenges stemming from the external environment. The relative size of a state's material resources is likely to influence its ability to set agendas and influence specific decisions and outcomes in international affairs. And the nature of the strategic environment, most importantly whether the security and survival of the state is under immediate threat, is likely to influence the relative weight of domestic influences on foreign policy. In sum, great powers enjoy a bigger external action space in their foreign policies than weaker states, and secure states enjoy a bigger external action space in their foreign policies than insecure states.Realism is a top-down approach to explaining foreign policy. Realists begin from the anarchic structure of the international system. They argue that the absence of a legitimate monopoly of power in the international system create a strong incentive for states to focus on survival as their primary goal and self-help as the most important means to achieving this goal. However, "survival" and "self-help" may take many forms. These forms are shaped by mechanisms of socialization and competition in the international system and systemic incentives are filtered through the perceptions of foreign policy decision makers and domestic institutions enabling and restraining the ability of decision makers to respond to external incentives. Neoclassical realists combine these factors in order to explain specific foreign policies. Offensive realists and defensive realists focus on the effects of structure on foreign policy, but with contrasting assumptions about the typical behavior of states: defensive realists expect states to pursue balancing policies, whereas offensive realists argue that only by creating an imbalance of power in its own favor will a state be able to maximize its security.In addition to being an analytical approach for explaining foreign policy, realists often serve as foreign policy advisors or act in the function of public intellectuals problematizing and criticizing foreign policy. This illustrates the potential for realism as an analytical, problem-solving and critical approach to foreign policy analysis. However, it also shows the strains within realism between ambitions of creating general theories, explaining particular foreign policies, and advising on how to make prudent foreign policy decisions.
Narratives of interesting, remarkable, or exemplary diplomatic and military events have traditionally occupied a prominent place in historiography. Addressed to actors shaping foreign policy, educated elites, or a more broadly conceived public, and varying widely in geographical and chronological coverage, histories of foreign policy pursue two goals. One is to provide comprehensive information, allowing readers to obtain an overview of past decisions and actions in the expectation that this will enhance the understanding of their short-, medium-, and long-term consequences. The second goal is to offer an analysis of factors determining foreign policy and its success or failure either generally or in more specific settings. In doing so, they offer orientation or concrete advice based on an authority acquired by profound knowledge of the past and the recognition of recurrent patterns (or "laws").The fact that these goals are not entirely compatible contributes to problems that accompany this intellectual pursuit, and which are distinct from empirical and conceptual difficulties involved in reconstructing past foreign policy. Any presentation of historical developments contains (debatable) hypotheses on causal relationships, even if they are only expressed via the selection of facts and the literary structure of a historical narrative. There are various interpretations of any major turning point, and it is never easy to choose between them. Furthermore, the identification of patterns in the past has rarely resulted in the accurate prediction of future events; in fact, misconceived historical analogies or trust in supposed perennial rules governing foreign policy can contribute to exacerbating political crises.This problem has created an enduring and perhaps increasing divide between a persistent demand for large-scale interpretations of the history of foreign policy (or the interaction of "great powers"), which make their contemporary relevance explicit on the one hand, and skepticism from parts of the historical discipline toward any form of applied foreign policy history on the other. In particular, it is called into question whether contemporary "states" can be identified with their predecessors—which is a precondition for identifying longer-term "national interests"; whether the focus on a limited number of determinants of foreign policy permits the formulation of general insights valid across time and space; and whether foreign policy can be said to exist in premodern settings at all. Though there are approaches that can reduce such problems, many practical difficulties are likely to remain.