Foreign policy

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Foreign policy, or foreign relations policy, consists of self-interest strategies chosen by a country to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals within international relations milieu. The approaches are strategically employed to interact with other countries. In recent times, due to the deepening level of globalization and transnational activities, countries also interact with non-state actors. Since the national interests are paramount, foreign policies are designed by the government through high-level decision making processes. National interests can be pursued through peaceful cooperation with other nations, or through exploitation. Usually, creating foreign policy is the job of the head of government and the foreign minister (or equivalent). In some countries the legislature also has considerable oversight.


  • Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her [America's] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force…. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
    • John Quincy Adams, An Address … Celebrating the Anniversary of Independence, at the City of Washington on the Fourth of July 1821 (1821), p. 32. This appears with minor variations in punctuation and with italics in the phrase "change from liberty to force," in Walter LaFeber, ed., John Quincy Adams and American Continental Empire (1965), p. 45.
  • Yes, sir, from Constantinople, or from the Brazils; from Turk or christian; from black or white; from the dey of Algiers or the bey of Tunis; from the devil himself, if he wore a crown, we should receive a minister.
    • Henry Clay, "Emancipation of South America," speech in the House of Representatives, March 28, 1818, reported in The Life and Speeches of the Honorable Henry Clay, ed. Daniel Mallory, vol. 1, p. 359 (1844).
  • As we have seen, the Depression caused radical changes in economic policy in most countries, but radical changes in political and legal arrangements in only some. The sub-set of countries that also radically altered their foreign policies was smaller still. Most responded to the crisis as Britain and the United States did, by seeking as far as possible to avoid external conflicts. In his inaugural address in 1933, Roosevelt promised to base US foreign policy on the 'good neighbor' principle, winding up his predecessors' interventions in Central America and the Caribbean and preparing the ground for the independence of the Philippines. This was as much out of parsimony as altruism; the assumption was that the cost of fighting unemployment at home ruled out further expenditures on small wars abroad. Even the majority of authoritarian regimes were quite content to persecute internal enemies and bicker with their neighbours over borders. Stalin had no strong interest in the acquisition of more territory; he already possessed a vast empire. Military dictators like Franco were more likely to wage civil war than inter-state war; as a conservative he understood that foreign wars ultimately helped domestic revolutionaries. Only three countries aspired to territorial expansion and war as a means to achieve it. They were Italy, Germany and Japan. Their dreams of empire were the proximate cause of the multiple wars we know as the Second World War. As we shall see, however, those dreams were far from being irrational responses to the Depression.
    • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (2006), p. 278
  • The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world to the sole disposal of a magistrate, created and circumstanced, as would be a President of the United States.
  • The desire to preserve our country from the calamities and ravages of war, by cultivating a disposition, and pursuing a conduct, conciliatory and friendly to all nations, has been sincerely entertained and faithfully followed. It was dictated by the principles of humanity, the precepts of the gospel, and the general wish of our country, and it was not to be doubted that the Society of Friends, with whom it is a religious principle, would sanction it by their support.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to Messrs. Thomas, Ellicot, and others, November 13, 1807.—The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. H. A. Washington, vol. 8, p. 118 (1871).
  • I have come to a resolution myself as I hope every good citizen will, never again to purchase any article of foreign manufacture which can be had of American make be the difference of price what it may.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to B. S. Barton, February 26, 1815.—The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 19, p. 223 (1904).
  • It is, therefore, with the sincerest pleasure I have observed on the part of the British government various manifestations of a just and friendly disposition towards us; we wish to cultivate peace and friendship with all nations, believing that course most conducive to the welfare of our own; it is natural that these friendships should bear some proportion to the common interests of the parties.
    • Thomas Jefferson, letter to Sir John Sinclair, July 31, 1816.—The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 15, p. 54 (1904).
  • Peace, commerce, and honest friendship, with all nations—entangling alliances with none.
    • Thomas Jefferson, inaugural address, March 4, 1801.—The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Andrew A. Lipscomb, vol. 3, p. 321 (1904). This thought had been similarly expressed earlier in his letter to Edward Carrington, December 21, 1787: "I know too that it is a maxim with us, and I think it a wise one, not to entangle ourselves with the affairs of Europe."—The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, ed. Julian P. Boyd, vol. 12, p. 447 (1955). George Washington did not use any form of "entangle," but shared a like political view in his letters to Patrick Henry, October 9, 1795: "My ardent desire is … to keep the U States free from political connexions with every other Country. To see that they may be independent of all, and under the influence of none," and to Gouverneur Morris, December 22, 1795: "My policy has been … to be upon friendly terms with, but independent of, all the nations of the earth. To share in the broils of none."—Writings of George Washington, ed. John C. Fitzpatrick, vol. 34, p. 335, 401 (1940).
  • By this I mean that a political society does not live to conduct foreign policy; it would be more correct to say that it conducts foreign policy in order to live.
    • George F. Kennan, "The Two Planes of International Reality," Realities of American Foreign Policy, p. 4 (1954). This was originally delivered as the first of the Stafford Little Lectures, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, March 1954.
  • Now this problem of the adjustment of man to his natural resources, and the problem of how such things as industrialization and urbanization can be accepted without destroying the traditional values of a civilization and corrupting the inner vitality of its life—these things are not only the problems of America; they are the problems of men everywhere. To the extent that we Americans become able to show that we are aware of these problems, and that we are approaching them with coherent and effective ideas of our own which we have the courage to put into effect in our own lives, to that extent a new dimension will come into our relations with the peoples beyond our borders, to that extent, in fact, the dreams of these earlier generations of Americans who saw us as leaders and helpers to the peoples of the world at large will begin to take on flesh and reality.
    • George F. Kennan, "The Unifying Factor," Realities of American Foreign Policy, p. 116 (1954). Originally delivered as the fourth of the Stafford Little Lectures, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey, March 1954.
  • The purpose of foreign policy is not to provide an outlet for our own sentiments of hope or indignation; it is to shape real events in a real world.
    • John F. Kennedy, address at the Mormon Tabernacle, Salt Lake City, Utah, September 26, 1963.—Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1963, p. 736.
  • To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required—not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.
    • John F. Kennedy, inaugural address, January 20, 1961.—Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1961, p. 1.
  • Here’s something that the [Western] mainstream media has left out when talking about Trump’s plan to withdraw troops from Syria: Congress never authorized sending troops to Syria. In fact, the UN also never approved. Our troops in Syria are in violation of domestic and international law.
  • The challenges before us are monumental. But it is not every generation that is given the opportunity to shape a new international order. If the opportunity is missed, we shall live in a world of chaos and danger. If it is realized we will have entered an era of peace and progress and justice. But we can realize our hopes only as a united people. Our challenge—and its solution—lies in ourselves. Our greatest foreign policy problem is our divisions at home. Our greatest foreign policy need is national cohesion and a return to the awareness that in foreign policy we are all engaged in a common national endeavor.
    • Henry Kissinger, secretary of state, speech to Boston World Affairs Council, Boston, Massachusetts, March 11, 1976. Excerpts of official text, The New York Times, March 12, 1976, p. 4.
  • But much of what Mr. Wallace calls his global thinking is, no matter how you slice it, still "globaloney." Mr. Wallace's warp of sense and his woof of nonsense is very tricky cloth out of which to cut the pattern of a post-war world.
    • Clare Boothe Luce, remarks in the House, February 9, 1943, Congressional Record, vol. 89, p. 761. It was in her maiden speech in the House that Mrs. Luce coined the term globaloney to describe then Vice President Henry Wallace's post-war theories.
  • Our idea is to create a situation in which those lands to which we have obligations or in which we have interests, if they are ready to fight a fire, should be able to count on us to furnish the hose and water.
    • Richard Nixon, on-the-record interview with C. L. Sulzberger, March 8, 1971.—The New York Times, March 10, 1971, p. 14.
  • The fundamental question for the United States is how it can cooperate to help meet the basic needs of the people of the hemisphere despite the philosophical disagreements it may have with the nature of particular regimes. It must seek pragmatic ways to help people without necessarily embracing their governments. It should recognize that diplomatic relations are merely practical conveniences and not measures of moral judgment.
    • Nelson A. Rockefeller, "Quality of Life in the Americas," text of the Rockefeller Mission report, The Department of State Bulletin, December 8, 1969, p. 515.
  • A man must first care for his own household before he can be of use to the state. But no matter how well he cares for his household, he is not a good citizen unless he also takes thought of the state. In the same way, a great nation must think of its own internal affairs; and yet it cannot substantiate its claim to be a great nation unless it also thinks of its position in the world at large.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, "Nationalism and International Relations," Social Justice and Popular Rule (vol. 17 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed.), chapter 12, p. 108 (1926).
  • There is a homely old adage which runs: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far." If the American Nation will speak softly, and yet build, and keep at a pitch of the highest training, a thoroughly efficient navy, the Monroe Doctrine will go far.
    • Theodore Roosevelt, speech, Chicago, Illinois, April 2, 1903.—Presidential Addresses and State Papers, part 1 (vol. 13 of The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, executive ed.), p. 266 (n.d.). In America and the World War, chapter 2, p. 24, he referred to "the homely proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick.'"—The Works of Theodore Roosevelt, national ed., vol. 18 (1926). In the last chapter of Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography, p. 524 (vol. 20 of Works, national ed.), he says: "The only safe rule is to promise little, and faithfully to keep every promise; ‘to speak softly and carry a big stick.'"
  • The Government of the United States is not entitled to affirm as a universal proposition, with reference to a number of independent States for whose conduct it assumes no responsibility, that its interests are necessarily concerned in whatever may befall those States simply because they are situated in the Western Hemisphere.
    • Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury, letter to Sir Julian Pauncefote, November 26, 1895.—U.S. Department of State, Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States … 1895, part 1, p. 566 (1896). Lord Salisbury was objecting to U.S. Secretary of State Richard Olney's interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine in Venezuela's boundary dispute with Great Britain. This interpretation, which maintained U.S. right to intervene in international disputes in the Western Hemisphere, is known as the Olney Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
  • Every day, for example, politicians, of which there are plenty, swear eternal devotion to the ends of peace and security. They always remind me of the elder Holmes' apostrophe to a katydid: "Thou say'st an undisputed thing in such a solemn way." And every day statesmen, of which there are few, must struggle with limited means to achieve these unlimited ends, both in fact and in understanding. For the nation's purposes always exceed its means, and it is finding a balance between means and ends that is the heart of foreign policy and that makes it such a speculative, uncertain business.
    • Adlai Stevenson, Call to Greatness, p. 2 (1954). The quotation from Holmes is from "To an Insect," lines 7–8, The Complete Poetical Works of Oliver Wendell Holmes (1900), p. 3.
  • We have noted that the federal Constitution put the permanent control of the nation's foreign interests in the hands of the President and the Senate, which to some extent frees the Union's general policy from direct and daily popular control. One should not therefore assert without qualification that American democracy controls the state's external affairs.
    • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence, vol. 1, part 2, chapter 5, p. 226 (1969). Originally published in 1835–1840.
  • If the establishment of an "unlimited" treaty power is to be the ultimate conclusion on this great question, it must be admitted that the incorporation of the treaty-making power into the Constitution of the United States was the introduction into our governmental citadel of a Trojan horse, whose armored soldiery, for years concealed within it, now step forth armed cap-à-pie, shameless in their act of deception, eager and ready to capture the citadel upon which they pretended to bestow their gift. If such construction be possible it would be of interest to know for what purpose the Tenth Amendment was ever demanded and incorporated into the Constitution.
  • To me "bipartisan foreign policy" means a mutual effort, under our indispensable two-Party system, to unite our official voice at the water's edge so that America speaks with maximum authority against those who would divide and conquer us and the free world. It does not involve the remotest surrender of free debate in determining our position. On the contrary, frank cooperation and free debate are indispensable to ultimate unity. In a word, it simply seeks national security ahead of partisan advantage. Every foreign policy must be totally debated (and I think the record proves it has been) and the "loyal opposition" is under special obligation to see that this occurs.
    • Arthur H. Vandenberg, The Private Papers of Senator Vandenberg, ed. Arthur H. Vandenberg, Jr., p. 552–53 (1952). The phrase "his majesty's opposition" was coined by John Cam Hobhouse, later Lord Broughton, in the House of Commons, April 10, 1826. Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), vol. 15, col. 135. It is usually heard now as "loyal opposition." Bergen Evans, Dictionary of Quotations, p. 499, no. 9 (1968), notes that Hobhouse said he was praised by Canning, but at the time Canning merely repeated the phrase. The praise came from the Rt. Hon. George Tierney: "[Hobhouse] could not have invented a better phrase to designate us … for we are certainly to all intents and purposes, a branch of his majesty's government." Op. cit., col. 145.

See also


U.S. Foreign policy

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