The Politics of Foreign Policy (L2090)

15 credits, Level 5

Spring teaching

Who acts in international relations, and why? Why are foreign policy decisions often so secretive, and does the public have any say in them? And if not the public, what influences the formulation of foreign policies? How did state privatisation change foreign policy making? And what is the role of the current resurgence of nationalism in foreign policy?

All too often, in International Relations the focus seems to be on states, or other collective actors, with their interactions determined by the logic of broad systemic forces. However, this obscures that political actors are individuals who have choices. Foreign policy making is a political process with domestic implications, and concepts such as 'the national interest' are by no means as clear and uncontested as foreign policy elites would like to make out.

The module draws on classical and critical literature in foreign policy analysis to explore the broad tension between agency and structure (domestic and international) in international politics. It asks how:

  • decision-making in international politics may be less than rational
  • lobby groups and (perhaps) public opinion may influence foreign policy
  • foreign policy matters for the ‘return of the nation-state’ in global politics.

The module will conclude with a look at the contemporary foreign policies of selected states. Core skills you will learn include writing and arguing, but also independent empirical research beyond the library.


50%: Lecture
50%: Seminar


20%: Coursework (Presentation)
80%: Written assessment (Essay)

Contact hours and workload

This module is approximately 150 hours of work. This breaks down into about 22 hours of contact time and about 128 hours of independent study. The University may make minor variations to the contact hours for operational reasons, including timetabling requirements.

We regularly review our modules to incorporate student feedback, staff expertise, as well as the latest research and teaching methodology. We’re planning to run these modules in the academic year 2024/25. However, there may be changes to these modules in response to feedback, staff availability, student demand or updates to our curriculum. We’ll make sure to let you know of any material changes to modules at the earliest opportunity.


This module is offered on the following courses: