What is Foreign Policy?

One comes across variety of definitions of foreign policy offered by different scholars. Scholars differ on definition of foreign policy; however, they are certain that it is concerned with behavior of a state towards other states. According to George Modelski, “Foreign policy is the system of activities evolved by communities for changing the behavior of other states and for adjusting their own activities to the international environment….. Foreign Policy must throw light on the ways in which states attempt to change, and succeed in changing, the behavior of other states.” (George Modelski, A Theory of Foreign Policy, (London, 1962) pp.6-7) Behaviour of each state affects behavior of every other state in one form or the other, directly or indirectly, with greater or lesser intensity, favaourably or adversely. Function of foreign policy is to try to minimize the adverse effects and maximize the favorable effects of actions of other states. The objective of foreign policy is not only to change but also to regulate behavior of other states by ensuring continuity of their favourable actions. For example, Great Britain’s stand on Kashmir was vague during cold war period. Here, Indian foreign policy attempted to change Great Britain’s position in India’s favour. On the other hand, the erstwhile USSR supported India on the Kashmir question for many years. In this case, Indian foreign policy’s objective was to ensure continuity of USSR’s favourable position.

Foreign policy is a complex and dynamic political interaction that a state gets involved in pursuing relations with other states and entities outside the purview of its own jurisdiction. As Joseph Frankel puts it, “Foreign Policy consists of decisions and actions, which involves to some appreciable extent relations between one state and others.” (Joseph Frankel, The Making of Foreign Policy, p.1) It implies that foreign policy involves set of actions by the forces working within state’s borders and intended towards forces existing outside the country’s borders. It is a set of tools employed by the state to influence exercise of law making power by other states as well as actions of non-state actors outside the purview of its jurisdiction. It comprises of formulation and implementation of a set of ideas that govern the behavior of state actors while interacting with other states to defend and enhance its interests.

Huge Gibson says, “Foreign policy is a well-rounded comprehensive plan based on knowledge and experience for conducting the business of government with rest of the world. It is aimed at promoting and protecting the interests of the nations. This calls for a clear understanding of what those interests are and how far we hope to go with the means at our disposal. Anything less than this falls short of being a foreign policy.”

A doctrine of foreign policy can be simple and succinct; or it may be complicated and vague. One thing is sure that foreign policy is much more than meetings of diplomats, formal statements proclaimed by statesmen, and public statements of state leaders. On the other hand, foreign policy definitely includes current nature of state’s objectives and interests and principles of self-perceived right conduct in dealing with other states. Padelford and Lincoln defines it as, “A State’s Foreign Policy is totality of its dealings with the external environment…..Foreign Policy is the overall result of the process by which a state translates its broadly conceived goals and interests into specific courses of action in order to achieve its objective and preserve its interest.” (Norman J Padelford and George A Lincoln, The Dynamics of International Politics, p.195)In view of such variety of definitions, we can conclude that core of foreign policy consists of achieving the national objectives through the available national means by interacting with other states.

Foreign policy can not exist in a vacuum. Foreign policy of a particular state evolves from historical events responsible for creation/strengthening of the statehood, principles and ideological foundations of nation-building, and purpose and interests of the State. Foreign policy can be comprehended only in the greater milieu of form of the government, economic situation, political conditions, geographical situation and general culture of the country. All the foreign policy decisions aim at achieving either co-operation/co-existence or conflict or neutrality towards a particular state or group of states or rest of the world.

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