module specification

GI7047 - American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century (2023/24)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2023/24
Module title American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences and Professions
Total study hours 200
36 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
164 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 30%   1,500 word Area Study
Coursework 70%   3,000 word essay
Running in 2023/24

(Please note that module timeslots are subject to change)
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester North Tuesday Afternoon

Module summary

This module is designed to acquaint students with the constitutional, institutional, political and theoretical frameworks within which contemporary foreign policies of the United States are formulated and executed. The module will enable students to critically examine the American foreign policy process by studying role of the U.S. in several international issue areas. It will analyse the role that global issues play in contemporary American foreign policy, in so doing illustrating the complexities and difficulties faced by U.S. decision makers as they formulate and implement foreign policy.

The aim is to develop a grounding in the fundamentals of U.S. foreign policy making in the context of contemporary International Relations and Security Studies. In so doing, you will:

1. Analyse the policy making institutions and historical precedents underlying U.S. foreign policy, and to grasp the way those precedents affect America’s approach to global events since the end of the Cold War and the attacks of 9/11.

2. Assess the processes and limitations of U.S. foreign policy making, contemporary challenges facing the world and the American role in dealing with them, and expectations of U.S. influence in the world in the 21st Century.

3. Place U.S. foreign policy within the larger theoretical frameworks and approaches of International Relations and Security Studies.

4. Examine the arguments centred on the alleged decline of the U.S. in global affairs this century and the challenges it faces from global shifts in power.

Prior learning requirements

No pre- or co- requisites.
Available for Study Abroad? YES


The module begins with a survey of the American foreign policy process. Topics that we will examine include international political forces, the Constitution, the Presidency and Congress, democracy, bureaucracy, national security, interest groups, public opinion and the media. (LO 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Subsequent sections of the module examine: the role of power and force in today’s world; the challenges to American economic and military power; human rights, democracy and the role of moral principles in American foreign policy; the debate surrounding multilateral and unilateral foreign policies; the impact of 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ and changing security concerns; and, finally, the future of American foreign policy in the 21st century and the rise of ‘declinism’. (LO 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

Balance of independent study and scheduled teaching activity

Teaching consists of a weekly two hour lecture interactive lecture followed by a one hour seminar. Blended Learning will be a key component of the module and will present a ‘resource’ of information relative to content and current issues as well as a tool for formative assignments and feedback.

Lectures will be recorded and posted online on the Webelarn site. These will be supported by additional materials which will enable students to fully engage with the module, including online tasks, PowerPoint slides, lecture notes, discussion tools, full reading lists, audio-visual /documentary material, and links to first-hand documents and websites. 

The themes are developed to ensure direct relevance to the future employment aspirations of the students; practical application of ‘real world’ situations will give students the opportunity to work in a team and collate and manipulate information; their oral and writing skills will be geared towards ‘diagnostic’ work, reports and analysis as well as critical writing.

Reflective learning will be encouraged throughout in online activities, discussions, lectures, and through assessments. Students will be expected to work together as partners, in co-created spaces, learning from each other and building on their studies.

Questions for discussion and assessment tasks will be available from the beginning of the module via the Weblearn site, which will include a list of resources students can use to answer the questions and study the subject in greater depth.

Throughout students will be encouraged to reflect on their learning, and skills training, e.g. how to write a Regional Report, is embedded in the module.

Learning outcomes

Upon successful completion of this module you will be better equipped to:

1. Understand the aims and processes of American foreign policy making.

2. Understand the nature and limitations of U.S. international influence.

3. Analyse and understand the changing foreign policy concerns of the U.S.

4. Develop and demonstrate critical abilities to analyse presidential statements, foreign policy establishment writings and government documents as primary and secondary resources for foreign policy study.

5. Enhance the capacity to work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management, as well as co-operating with student partners  to achieve common goals.

Assessment strategy

A formative piece of work in the form of a group role play on a contemporary issue facing American foreign policy makers, which will be peer reviewed in class, will take place mid-module to enable students to reflect on their understanding of the subject matter to date in order to put in place learning strategies for the remainder of the module. This will encourage the development of a variety of employability skills including: research involving information retrieval from a variety of primary and secondary resources; analysing and advocating solutions to problems; developing a reasoned argument; exercising critical judgement; communicating effectively; and collaborating with others towards a common goal.  In addition, the group role play will invite students to think and act as a practitioner.

There will be two summative assessments.

The first summative assessment will be a written exercise of 1,500 words in the form of an Area Study, i.e. examining the foreign policy of the U.S. in relation to a particular country or region of the world.

A second summative essay of 3,000 words will provide students with the opportunity to submit a major piece of work of their choosing on a key element of the module.

Both assessments are designed to encourage the development of a variety of employability skills including: research involving information retrieval from a variety of resources; analysing and advocating solutions to problems; developing a reasoned argument; and exercising critical judgement.  In addition to writing, students will be encouraged to reflect on what they have learnt and to make use of constructive feedback.