Where does the most significant power lie in US foreign policy making?

Essay, 2011

13 Seiten, Note: 2,0



The last decade of U.S. foreign policy was determined by severe military efforts in order to face the threat of global terrorism. Meanwhile, the post-Cold War period challenged the traditional tie to western allies of the USA. Thus, the academic debate stressed the unilateral approach of neo-conservative foreign policy and its consequences for U.S. power in international affairs.1 The question arises, which resources of U.S. foreign policy making are most significant in achieving foreign policy goals. I limit its scope by referring to international terrorism and the adjustment of U.S. foreign policy with regard to the international polity in order to address the major issues of U.S. foreign policy which defined its power after the Cold War.

Ultimately, I argue that military power of the U.S. is pre-dominant in contemporary times, because it serves the immediate interest of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, its impact is constrained if “soft power” is not used effectively. However, the power of attracting other actors is evaluated as declined. Major impacts of soft power can be only observed in situations of crisis which enhance U.S. influence in international affairs.

This claim will be proved in three main parts. The first section deals with the state of U.S. power in order to evaluate which resources played a major role in foreign affairs with regard to hard power and soft power. The second section examines the impact of hard power by analysing the ultimate effects and impacts on target actors as well as on major allies of the U.S. The third section stresses the influence of soft power and its correlation to hard power methods in order to identify the resource which constitutes the main power in U.S. foreign policy making. Finally, the conclusion recapitulates the main line of argumentation and suggests further research questions.

Nature of U.S. Power in International Relations

Evaluating power resources of U.S. foreign policy making requires providing an overview of resources which has played a role in foreign affairs. First of all, a major strength lies in military capabilities, proved by the fact that U.S. military expenditures are higher than the expenditures of the next fifteen countries combined.2 U.S. power is further exemplified by its involvement in the NATO, which provides a platform to enhance U.S interests and promote its values. Moreover, military and economic aid serves as incentives for other nations to comply with the U.S.3

Hard power defines a coercive approach which induces an actor to comply with demands. Military efforts played a crucial role in both the Afghanistan and Iraq War. Basing on the assumption that only U.S. leadership in foreign affairs will serve its interest the U.S. follows a unilateral approach of foreign policy. As a result, mutual cooperation is not the guideline of U.S. foreign policy, which led to an alienation of its traditional European allies, especially of France and Germany.4 However, the U.S. approach follows the principle of preserving primacy of U.S. influence. Acting multilaterally is only applied if it does not constitute obstacles in promoting U.S. interests and values.5

In contrast, soft power as resource to persuade other actors „of doing the right thing‟ by complying with U.S. positions, constitutes a distinct characteristic of U.S. foreign relations. Attraction of European states had been significant in influencing their preferences during the Cold War. Furthermore, despite increased scepticism towards U.S. foreign policy among European publics, American values and ideas are not universally rejected.6

The following section will examine the impact of both aspects and their significance in U.S. foreign policy.

Hard Power: Impact of Unilateral Coercion

Evaluating military power as strongest resource for coercion requires examining the war against terror in the middle-east region. If one takes the war against Afghanistan into account, it is obvious how military power changed target actor‟s behaviour.

After compelling Mullah Omar to extradite Bin Laden by threatening military intervention, Omar still insisted to negotiate conditions for Bin Laden‟s extradition. However, President George W. Bush refused to bargain on this issue. Therefore, coercive diplomacy failed. Inducing sticks did not lead to compliance of the target actor. Finally, the strong military capabilities of the U.S. achieved the breakdown of the Taliban Regime. The U.S. removed one obstacle to find Bin Laden by military efforts. Furthermore, it can be argued that this intervention led to the destruction of one source of global threat by terror networks. Moreover, up to this point, the U.S. was supported by its traditional western allies of the European Union (EU).7

In contrast, the Iraq War was fought by a small coalition despite a failed approval of the UN Security Council and a deepening split between America and Europe. Claiming to prevent terrorism and harm for the western world, the U.S. could achieve a quick and impressive outcome by military power.8 It needs to be considered that also normative convictions of the Bush administration took their part in legitimising unilateral action. The protection of human life was conceived as divine obligation which forced Bush to act on god‟s behalf.9 This aspect needs to be kept in mind when assessing legitimation of unilateral action.

As a result, the U.S. could shape target actors and start a democratic transformation process by military intervention.10


1 Singh 2008: p. 571; Cox 2007b: p. 643.

2 Jentleson 2007: p. 181.

3 Lynch 2008 et al: p. 230-232; Skidmore 2005: p. 208-209; Cox 2004: p. 233.

4 Skidmore 2005: p. 210; Nye 2004: p. 258; Cox 2007a: p. 9.

5 Johnson et al 2003: p. 8; Lynch 2010: p. 221.

6 Hurrel 2004: p. 255; Nye 2003b: p. 8-9; Singh 2008: 584-586. 3

7 Crenshaw 2003: 339-342; Cox 2003: p. 474.

8 Zunes 2009: p. 579-580; De Mesquita 2006: p. 627; Hurrell 2004: p. 62; Hastings Dunn 2009: p. 174-175.

9 Zunes 2009: p. 579.

10 Singh 2008: p. 579.

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Where does the most significant power lie in US foreign policy making?
University of Warwick  (Department of Politics and International Studies)
Politics of the USA
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
593 KB
USA, Internationale Politik, internationaler Terrorismus, Irak, Afghanistan, neo-konservative Außenpolitik, hard power, soft power, EU, Israel
Arbeit zitieren
Julian Ostendorf (Autor:in), 2011, Where does the most significant power lie in US foreign policy making? , München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/174421


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