Understanding US Foreign Policy: Power, Tradition and Transformation - POLI6340

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Module delivery information

This module is not currently running in 2021 to 2022.


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.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 128
Total study hours: 150

Method of assessment

Essay 1, 3000 words, 50%
Exam 50%

Reassessment Instrument: 100% coursework

Indicative reading

Cox, Michael and Doug Stokes, editors. US Foreign Policy, third edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018)
Ambrose, S. E. and D. G. Brinkley. Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy since 1938, various.
Barnett, M. and R. Duvall, editors. Power in Global Governance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Brooks, S. and W. Wohlforth. America Abroad: The United States' Global Role in the 21st Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Hunt, M. Ideology and US Foreign Policy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987/2009).
Jentleson, B. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (London: W.W. Norton & Company), multiple editions.
Layne, C. The Peace of Illusions: American Grand Strategy from 1940 to the Present (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006).
Mabee, B. Understanding American Power: The Changing World of US Foreign Policy (New York: Palgrave, 2013).
Parmar, I., L. B. Miller, and M. Ledwidge, editors, New Directions in US Foreign Policy (London: Routledge), multiple versions (2009/2014).
Smith, S., A. Hadfield and T. Dunne, editors, Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases (Oxford: Oxford University Press), multiple editions.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will be able to:

1. Demonstrate knowledge of the different theoretical explanations of US foreign policy.

2. Display knowledge of some of the contemporary and historical dimensions of US foreign policy and world order.

3. Understand the role of the American state in the construction of the liberal international order

4. Reflect on the role that different forms of power have played in the social constitution of the international order and in forging American foreign policy

5. Be familiar with the key institutions for the making of American foreign policy.

6. Understand the role that long held traditions, identities and principles play in the formation of American foreign policy and grand strategy.


  1. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  2. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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