Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy

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Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy

Although the aspirations and goals of states are often motivated by external political pressures, analysis of recent foreign policy decisions demonstrates how internal political forces can play equally crucial roles in the pursuit and execution of these objectives. Thus, it would be invalid to claim that domestic politics and the nature of regimes play minor roles in either the goals a state pursues or the means it employs to reach them. By understanding how the diffusion of power in governments affect policy decisions, one can develop increased awareness of the linkages that exist between the internal pressures of domestic politics and the external forces of foreign politics.

Before discussing the impact of domestic politics on foreign policy objectives and their execution, one must first understand the different types of policies that states pursue. The foreign policy of states can be directed toward the protection and enhancement of valued possessions (“possession goals”) or intended to improve the environment in which it operates (milieu goals). More specifically, possession goals pertain to national possessions where states aim to enhance or preserve one or more things they value such as territory, permanent membership in international organizations like the UN Security Council, or access to trade areas. And while milieu goals are different from possession goals in that states that work towards achieving them are not seeking to defend or increase their possessions but instead attempting to shape conditions beyond their national boundaries, milieu goals can be seen as an indirect way of achieving possession goals. A nation that pursues a milieu goal—such as the promotion of peace through the signing of international treaties—provides clear benefits for the international community but ultimately serves to enhance its own national security by creating a safer environment where its national possessions are protected from external threats. But for many states, whether their foreign policy objectives assume the form of possession goals or milieu goals, the pursuit and execution of these goals are often constrained by the powers of domestic politics. And in the case of American foreign policy, the Constitution of the United States as well as recent history provides compelling support to this claim.

American foreig...

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...reted without reference to domestic politics or leadership. Realists argue that the interests of states transcend domestic politics and leadership change because that the broad orientation of foreign and defense policies are unchanging. Although the realist model may be most appropriate for analyzing actions when vital interests are at stake such as in times of crises, it seems to have little explanatory power for national security policy making in times without crisis.

Although the aspirations and goals of states are often partially motivated by external pressures, it is important to recognize that internal forces also play equally crucial roles in the pursuit and execution of these objectives. The decisions of foreign policymakers must take into account domestic political considerations. This fact is especially evident in the political landscape of the United States, where the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch allows Congress to act as a counterweight to the power of the president. All states, whether their governments are democratic or authoritarian, must contend with domestic political considerations when evaluating foreign policy decision.
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