History of Foreign Policy

History of Foreign Policy

The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle described humans as social animals. Therefore, friendships and relations have existed between humans since the beginning of human interaction. As the organization developed in human affairs, relations between people also organized. Foreign policy thus goes back to primitive times. The inception in human affairs of foreign relations and the need for foreign policy to deal with them is as old as the organization of human life in groups. Before writing, most of these relations were carried out by word of mouth and left little direct archaeological evidence.

The literature from ancient times, the Bible, the Homeric poems, the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, and many others, show an accumulation of experience in dealing with foreigners. Ancient Chinese and Indian writings give much evidence of thought concerned with the management of relations between peoples in the form of diplomatic correspondence between rulers and officials of different states and within systems of multi-tiered political relations such as the Han dynasty and its subordinate kings, the more powerful of which conducted their own limited foreign relations as long as those did not interfere with their primary obligations to the central government, treatises by Chanakya and other scholars, and the preserved text of ancient treaties, as well as frequent references by known ancient writers to other, even older sources which have since been lost or remain in fragmentary form only.

20th century

Global wars were fought two times in the twentieth century. Consequently, international relations became a public concern as well as an important field of study and research. After the Second World War and during the 1960s, many researchers in the U.S. particularly, and from other countries in common, brought forth a wealth of research work and theory. This work was done for international relations and not for foreign policy as such. Gradually, various theories began to grow around international relations, international systems, and international politics, but the need for a theory of foreign policy (that is, the starting point in each sovereign state) continued to receive negligible attention. The reason was that the states used to keep their foreign policies under official secrecy, and unlike today, it was not considered appropriate for the public to know about these policies. This iron-bound secrecy is an essential part for the framework of foreign policy formulation.

World War II and its devastation posed a great threat and challenge for humanity which revealed to everyone the importance of international relations. Though foreign policy formulation continued to remain a closely guarded process at the national level, wider access to governmental records and greater public interest provided more data from which academic work placed international relations in a structured framework of political science. Graduate and post-graduate courses developed. Research was encouraged, and gradually, international relations became an academic discipline in universities throughout the world.

The subject of whether or not constructive attempts at involvement by citizens benefits the disciplines of the “art,” or whether or not such disciplines as intercultural and interpersonal communications and others may play a significant part in the future of international relations could be a subject for further study by interested individuals/groups and is encouraged at the educational level.

Writers researching foreign policy in the 20th century were unaware of whether or not agencies who most closely dealt with foreign policy kept logs of statistical experience not unlike the actuarial statistics kept by organizations of the insurance industry assessing the risk and danger involved (e.g., when situation “C” happened before, and subject included instances of “E” and “L”, how was it handled and what was the result? When were peaceful and amicable results leading to better relations ever obtained through considered action and what was that action?).

The writers who worked with the foreign policy can be divided into two groups:

  1. World war writers who treat international politics and foreign policy as an indifferent, single field of study
  2. Writers who recognize foreign policy as a source rather than the substance of international politics and bring it under study as a subject

(The second group restricts to foreign policy making.)

The works of the second group come closer to the theory of foreign policy, but there is no attempt to formulate a basic theory of foreign policy. Hans Morgenthau’s works on principal elements of foreign policy seem to have covered the most ground.

[Attributions and Licenses]


This is a lesson from the tutorial, West African Foreign Policy and you are encouraged to log in or register, so that you can track your progress.

Log In

Share Thoughts