The Foreign Policy of the United States

Discipline: Politics and International Relations
Instructor: Fowler
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 08:00
End: 09:15
Field Work: Day 1 - Buenos Aires - Tuesday, 12 November | Argentina
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus

As Semester at Sea students and faculty explore foreign countries and interact with foreign peoples, the question frequently arises: “so, how have we been affecting them?” This course examines one slice of that very large issue by examining the historical development of U.S. foreign relations, focusing especially on the interplay of moral, legal, and power-driven motives and themes and their effects on other countries. While reflecting on the way in which the principal doctrines and institutions of American foreign policy have become established, this course will analyze the varying strategies and objectives, errors and accomplishments, of particular policymakers within changing domestic and international contexts. U.S. relations with many of the places we are scheduled to visit will factor right into the course narrative, including Great Britain, Russia, Germany, France, and Spain, but also countries such as Belgium, Morocco, South Africa, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Dominica.

Along with attention to the way that powers relevant to foreign policy have evolved within the presidency, the Congress, and the courts, and such subsets of the Executive Branch as the State Department, National Security Council, and Central Intelligence Agency, the course will focus especially on ethical issues that have arisen in different eras. Why have American foreign policy makers often sharply distinguished between what might constitute moral behavior at home and abroad? What particular dilemmas have been posed by different sets of international circumstances, and how have these affected policy decisions? To what extent have legal considerations entered foreign policy making, and under what circumstances has the guidance of international law contributed to ethical behavior in foreign policy? When have American national interests been conceived sufficiently broadly as to encompass contributing to a just and orderly world as well as to the advance of national power, whether military and economic? Working from the premise that ethical behavior in foreign policy depends to a large extent on circumstances and options, we will examine a host of specific issues. For instance, students will consider why U.S. foreign policy makers have, on occasion, disregarded treaty commitments, stretched the Founders’ constitutional vision, negotiated for hostages, molded public opinion to gain support for war, practiced diplomatic brinkmanship, policed neighboring states, allied with dictatorships, undertaken covert operations, intervened in civil wars, and employed or threatened to use nuclear weapons. What was the rationale for these and other foreign policy decisions? Ought U.S. foreign policy to have been conducted as it was, or might other approaches have been preferable? What were the advantages and disadvantages of proceeding with this or that foreign policy? Students will be pressed to create their own views of how leaders ought to conduct foreign policy when confronted with a range of different issues.

Field Work

Country: Argentina
Day: 1 - Buenos Aires - Tuesday, 12 November

Our Field Lab will take place during the Buenos Aires port stop when we will visit the University of Buenos Aires where our Semester-at-Sea students will join Argentine counterparts to undertake a simulation, produced by the Harvard Program on Negotiation, entitled “The Guatemala Role Play: Workable Peace: Indigenous Rights and the Environment in Latin America.” Students will split into groups of six, and they will be given general instructions and confidential instructions for their particular roles, serving as representatives of Guatemala’s government, military, rebel groups, and indigenous people, as well as a U.S. Embassy representative. They would then attempt to negotiate issues still unresolved years after the 1996 declaration of the Guatemalan peace accords, including the resolution of indigenous land claims, future human rights protection, and recognition of indigenous cultural and political rights. This simulation should be of particular interest in Argentina, which struggled during the Cold War years with certain of the same issues as Guatemalans -- authoritarian rule, a Cold War alliance with the United States, an internal ‘dirty war’ with disappearances of students, labor organizers, and other left-wing individuals, all followed by a democratic transition and an effort via a truth commission to sort out what happened in the past and how it should be dealt with. After the negotiation simulation I will debrief the students, with the assistance of a University of Buenos Aires counterpart, raising questions about how the negotiations at the different tables proceeded, while drawing out from the students’ comments points about international relations, foreign policy, and the theory and practice of negotiation. Academic Objectives: 1. Gain a better understanding of Cold War politics in Latin America. 2. Gain a better understanding of the history of countries that experienced authoritarian rule, a Cold War alliance with the United States, an internal ‘dirty war’ with disappearances of certain students, labor organizers, and other left-wing individuals, all followed by a democratic transition, outcry over past human rights abuses, and an effort via a truth commission to sort out what happened in the past and how it should now be dealt with.

3. Meet up with Argentine student counterparts, carry out a negotiation simulation of several hours in duration, and compare and contrast the experiences of Guatemala (the subject of the simulation) with Argentina.