Understanding US Foreign Policy: Power, Tradition and Transformation - PO634

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
(version 2)
View Timetable
6 15 (7.5) DR R Biegon




Stage 3 only. Preference may be given to Politics and International Relations students (single and joint honours).



This module offers a comprehensive study of US foreign policy since 1945. Ranging from ‘containment’, ‘democratic enlargement’, and ‘the war on terror’ the module introduces students to the concept of ‘grand strategy’ and the need to understand the broader intellectual platform and foundations of the way in which the United States engages with the world. A number of case studies are used to explore this such as the work of George Kennan, the Vietnam War, and the move towards ‘smart power’ under presidents Bush and Obama. In addition to this the course also explores questions on the social construction of state identity in the American national consciousness and how both the media and political elites help to shape public opinion and attitudes that relate to America’s ‘friends’, ‘allies’, and ‘enemies’. The course also explores the concept of ‘soft power’ as a method of extending American influence and power in the world and questions the idea of American decline.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

150 hours including 22 hours lecture/seminar; 128 study hours

Method of assessment

Assessment is 50% coursework (1 Essay of 3,000 words) 50% Exam

Indicative reading

Michael Cox & Doug Stokes (eds.) US Foreign Policy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012) 2nd Edition.
Inderjeet Parmar, Linda B. Miller and Mark Ledwidge (eds.) New Directions in U.S. Foreign Policy (London: Routledge, 2013).
William Wohlforth and Stephen G. Brooks, World Out of Balance: International Relations Theory and the Challenge of American Hegemony (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008)
Christopher Layne, The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006)
G. John Ikenberry, Liberal Leviathan: The Origins, Crisis, and Transformation of the American World Order (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011).
Andrew Bacevich, Washington Rules (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010).

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, students will be able to:
- Demonstrate knowledge of the different theoretical explanations of US foreign policy.
- Display knowledge of some of the contemporary historical dimensions of US foreign policy and world order.
- Understand the role of the American state in the construction of the liberal international system.
- Reflect on the role that war has played in the social constitution of the international system.
- Understand the role that western intervention in the third world has played in state formation.
- Be familiar with the key institutions of the American state and the role they play in the formation of American foreign policy.
- Understand the role that both structures and agents play in the formation of American foreign policy.
- Understand various methodological problems involved in the study of American foreign policy.

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.