What is a Foreign Policy?How and by whom it is made and implemented?

Improving the quality of life of its citizens is the prime objective of any state. Quality of life depends upon and consists of several things ranging from protection from external aggression, ensuring law and order, improving standards of living and creating harmony among different sections of the people. For this purpose, a state formulates several national policies. Foreign policy is one component of this set of national policies.
A country’s foreign policy can be defined as the strategies chosen by it to safeguard its national interests and to achieve its goals by interacting with other countries and with non-state actors. Formulation of a foreign policy of a country is a dynamic process and reflects the current world view of a nation’s policy making elite.
The world view a country’s policy makers hold, which is ultimately reflected in the foreign policy they formulate, is in turn shaped by a complex interaction among various variables and constants. Fundamental structural changes evolved over a period of time alter the perceptions of the policy makers according to their receptivity, maturity, knowledge and their respective preferences. These altered perceptions result in changing their perspectives to take decisions which in turn result is changing the ground realities, some expected some unintended.
In democracies, individual political leaders, parties, and interest groups play very important role in the formulation of foreign policy objectives. Under certain conditions, these various forces come together to support a united purpose in foreign affairs. At other times, these disparate groups can have conflicting views about foreign policy objectives. Likewise, they can even support the same foreign policy objective for different reasons. Leaders may be supporting a few common, general foreign policy objectives, but they may disagree on many others. Or they also disagree on the means that should be deployed to achieve the same foreign policy objective. The foreign policy that eventually results is a product of debate, political struggle, electoral politics, and lobbying by key interest groups.
Foreign policy of a country is basically an extension of its domestic policies; rather the other side of the same coin and as such aims to achieve the same objectives as are set for the other policies for the pursuit of national interest. We can discern the following four main sources impacting upon the process of formulation of foreign policy of a country;
Nature of Challenges: Every nation state faces multifarious challenges either due to internal dynamics or external situation. Some of these may be due to its own historical and structural contradictions or just due to global fault lines, threatening its very existence. In order to safeguard its national interest in the face of these challenges, a state formulates a comprehensive national policy consisting of host of social, economic and political policies.
Foreign policy is a part and parcel of this national policy which is formulated to achieve the objectives set to safeguard its national interest. Although its precise definition may differ from country to country and from time to time, the framework for the determination of the national interest of a country is fairly simple. Basically, it consists of four interrelated and interdependent propositions;

  • Maintaining Territorial Integrity: The first component of a country’s national interest is to maintain its territorial integrity by being able to defend itself from any external aggression. Related to the above is the preservation of its sovereignty in the sense that the state is able to take all the decisions without being under duress or command of outside forces.
  • Economic Well being of the People: The second component of the national interest of a country is the well being of its citizens by ensuring decent standards of living for its populace. This, in turn, is dependent upon a country growing at a rate commensurate with its survival and growth needs.
  • Maintaining Internal Order/Cohesion: Third component of the national interest of a country is to maintain internal cohesion and harmony: With few exceptions, all modern nation states are multi ethnic entities in which the different communities compete for the scarce resources. This is a healthy competition if it remains confined within the constitutional limits. However, if some groups cross those boundaries, it may weaken the very foundations of the state and create existential threat for the country. Thus the national interest of the country lies in containing that unrest and instead improves their cohesion.
  • Preserving Regional Peace: Lastly, it is the preservation of regional peace and stability which is an essential component of the national interest of a country. No country howsoever powerful may be, can live in peace and enjoy prosperity if there is turmoil just outside its borders. If nothing else, civil war in a neighbouring country results in the influx of refugees with attendant consequences. It may also result in internal turmoil if a section of the population starts taking part in that external conflict, crises or war on the basis of ethnic affinity or religious feelings. It is therefore part of the national interest of a country to ensure that there is peace and stability in the region where it is located or have vital interests.

As a part of overall national policy, the foreign policy of a country strives to achieve the objectives set to safeguard its national interest described above. For example, in order to ensure its territorial integrity and preserve its national sovereignty, a state must have a well-trained and well equipped defence forces as well as its own defence armaments capability. As such, one of the prime objectives of the foreign policy would be to cultivate friendly relations with those countries who are capable of meeting its need for requisite military equipment. At the same time, it should have at least one permanent member of the Security Council and good number of other countries on its side to help it in case of external aggression.
Coming to the second component of national interest of improving the standard of living of its citizens, a state must have a vibrant economy growing at a reasonable rate for which it needs access to foreign markets not only to ensure un-interrupted supply of essential resources including technology but also to sell its exportable surplus at competitive rates. Only a vibrant foreign policy can help a country to achieve this objective. It not only helps its exporters in getting the best deal for their exportable surplus in maximum number of markets but also enables a country to get foreign assistance and foreign direct investment, so essential for meeting resource requirements and technological modernisation.
Geostrategic Compulsions-Geography of a state is relatively the most permanent and stable factor of its foreign Policy. The topography of land, its fertility, climate and location are the major geographic factors which influence the Foreign Policy of a nation. These factors determine both the needs as well as the capability to fulfil the needs of the people of a nation. Suitable geographical factors can help and encourage the nation to adopt and pursue higher goals. The role played by English Channel in the development of Britain as a major naval power and consequently as an imperial power is well known.
National Ethos Foreign Policy is a set of principles and a strategic plan of action adopted by a nation to fulfill the goals of national interest. It has always an ideological content. For securing support for its goal as well as for criticizing the foreign policy goals of other nations, it needs and adopts an ideology or some ideological principles. It, therefore, always tries to use the ideology as well as to popularize its ideology. The ideology of communism remained an important factor of the foreign policies of communist nations during 1945-90.
Historical Moorings– The cultural heritage and the history of a nation are again important and valuable factors of its Foreign Policy. The norms and traditions that characterize the life of the people of a state are highly influential factors of its foreign policy. During the process of interpreting and formulating the objectives of national interest, the decision makers are always governed by their cultural links, historical traditions and experiences. Strong cultural unity of the people is always a source of strength for them. It materially influences their ability to secure the objectives of national interest during the course of international bargaining.
Success or failure of a country’s foreign policy is dependent upon several factors and is result of joint efforts of those who formulate the foreign policy and those who execute it i.e., foreign office. Like all other policies, it is the prerogative of the legislature of a country to formulate the foreign policy of the country. Foreign office is just the marketing department of a country although its inputs are extremely invaluable for the legislative branch in this respect. It cannot convert the domestic failures of a country into foreign policy success by any stretch of imagination. No way.
Tools of Foreign Policy
Once formulated, the foreign policy of a country is implemented with the help of one or more of the following tools available in the toolkit of the foreign office;
Diplomacy: Diplomacy is the act of dealing with other nations, usually through negotiations and discussions and involves meetings between political leaders, sending diplomatic messages, and making public statements about the relationship between countries. Diplomacy is as old as international relations. The Amarna letters written between the pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty of Egypt and the Amurru rulers of Cannan during the 14th century BCE are one of the oldest diplomatic writings. Ottoman, Byzantine, Chinese and Roman empires had diplomatic missions. India with its numerous princely states has a rich history of diplomacy. These can be called the predecessors of modern-day diplomatic missions and relations, but there were no defined laws governing diplomats, missions and mission objective.
In Europe, early modern diplomacy’s origins are often traced back to Italy in the early renaissance period. The first embassies as we know them were established in the 13th century. The state of Milan in Northern Italy played a leading role in spreading diplomacy through diplomatic missions. Venice and Tuscany were vital, flourishing centres of diplomacy from the 14th century onward. It was in Italy that most of the modern concepts of diplomacy arose. Niccolo Machiavelli’s “The Prince” is the first book that covers the issue of diplomacy. In fact, Machiavelli is considered the founder of modern political science in which diplomacy plays an integral role. Milan was the first state to send a representative to the court of France in 1455, marking the written history of diplomacy.
Princely states, and developed cities and towns have had diplomatic relations in the past, but they were very different from diplomacy as practised now. Each and every major civilisation, empire has had diplomatic relations.
Most diplomacy occurs behind the scenes as officials hold secret negotiations or meet privately to discuss key issues. Depending on the relative power of a country and the need of the time, states generally pursue diplomacy in one of the three ways:

  • Unilaterally: The state acts alone, without the assistance or consent of any other state.
  • Bilaterally: The state works in conjunction with another state.
  • Multilaterally: The state works in conjunction with several other states.

There are pros and cons to each of these three approaches. Acting unilaterally, for example, allows a state to do what it wants without compromise, but it must also bear all the costs itself. Acting with allies, on the other hand, allows a state to maintain good relations and to share the diplomatic burden, but this often requires compromise.
Foreign Aid
States often help each other to improve relations and achieve their own foreign policy objectives. There are two types of foreign aid:

  1. Military aid: States donate, sell, or trade military equipment and technology to affect the military balance of power in certain key regions of the world
  2. Economic aid: States donate or loan money to other counties to boost economic development.

Use/Threat of Military Force
In some cases, states use military force or the threat of military force to achieve their foreign policy objectives. The use of military forces often involves stronger states pressuring weaker states to get what they want. The practice of forcing a weak state to comply with a stronger state via the threat of force is sometimes called Finlandization. In the final days of World War II, Finland reached a peace agreement with the Soviet Union. Even though both countries knew that the Soviets could have easily overwhelmed the Finns, neither wanted war, and the Soviets preferred to use their military elsewhere. The terms of the peace treaty basically gave the Soviets everything they wanted, so much so that Finland almost became a puppet of the Soviet Union.
Throughout the Cold War, the United States relied on the strength of its nuclear and conventional weapons to deter the Soviet Union from invading Western Europe.
Soft Power
Lately the use of soft power enjoyed by a state in the form of its cultural superiority, historical relationship or the clout enjoyed by a state’s Diaspora has gained currency as a tool of foreign policy. Developed by Joseph Nye, Soft Power refers to the ability of a country to attract and co-opt rather than by coercion (hard power), using force or giving money as a means of persuasion. A defining feature of soft power is culture, political values, and foreign policies.
Alliance Building
Building alliance with those who share your views on foreign policy issues for any reason is an age old practice and has been used successfully throughout the history for waging wars or defending against foreign aggression. While alliance building can be a useful instrument to ward off the threat of a foreign aggression, it also entails the possibility of unnecessary involvement in an unwanted war started by one member of the alliance

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