module specification

GI7047 - American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century (2017/18)

Module specification Module approved to run in 2017/18
Module title American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century
Module level Masters (07)
Credit rating for module 20
School School of Social Sciences
Total study hours 200
45 hours Scheduled learning & teaching activities
155 hours Guided independent study
Assessment components
Type Weighting Qualifying mark Description
Coursework 50%   3,000 word essay
Unseen Examination 50%   Two hour unseen exam
Running in 2017/18
Period Campus Day Time Module Leader
Spring semester North Wednesday Afternoon

Module summary

This module will examine the changing, contemporary foreign policy of the United States of America in the 21st Century.

It will explore the constitutional, institutional, and political frameworks within which contemporary foreign policy in the U.S. is formulated and executed, illustrating the complexities and difficulties faced by U.S. decision makers.  In particular, attention will be paid to the changing nature of power, and whether America remains a unipolar power, as argued by Charles Krauthammer, or if it is now having to adjust to a multipolar world, and what that might mean for the U.S. in the future. This will include considering how power may be shifting in the 21st Century from the U.S., and the West, to the East, or the so-called “Rest”. 

The module begins with a survey of the American foreign policy process. Topics that we will examine include international political forces, the Presidency and Congress, the executive bureaucracy, interest groups, public opinion and the media. Subsequent sections of the module examine the nature and role of power and force in today’s world; the challenges to American power; human rights and the role of moral principles in American foreign policy; the debate surrounding multilateral and unilateral foreign policies; the response to 9/11 and new security threats; and the future of American foreign policy in the 21st century.

Module aims

The broad aim of this module 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 particular to:

  • Analyse fundamental 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.
  • 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 coming years.
  • Place American foreign policy within the larger theoretical frameworks and approaches of International Relations and Security Studies.


The syllabus will include: Themes in American Foreign Policy; The nature of American Power; The Institutions of U.S. Foreign Policy; Interest Groups, the Media and Public Opinion; National Security Policy; Changing threat perceptions since 9/11; Trade, Investment and Globalisation; Ethics and Human Rights; ‘Declinism’ and American Foreign Policy in the 21st Century.

Learning and teaching

Teaching consists of a weekly one hour lecture followed by a two hour seminar. Lectures will involve a combination of taught lectures, videos and the use of first hand documents and websites. During the module seminars will combine a variety of methods including discussion based on pre-set questions and role plays. Blended Learning will be a key component of the module. Lecture notes and first hand documents for use in class will be posted on line, as will web links for academic and governmental websites, as well as video links. 

Materials for use in class will be posted at least one week in advance on line to allow students to reflect on the subject and prepare. Questions for class discussion will be available from the beginning of the module via the Module Booklet available on weblearn, which will include a list of resources students can use to answer the questions and study the subject in greater depth.

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this module students will be better equipped to:

  • Understand the aims and processes of American foreign policy making.
  • Understand the nature and limitations of U.S. international influence.
  • Analyse and understand the changing foreign policy concerns of the US
  • Develop critical abilities to analyse presidential statements, foreign policy establishment writings and government documents as primary resources for foreign policy study.
  • Communicate effectively in speech and writing (for example, writing an essay using commonly accepted standards of definition, analysis, grammatical prose, and documentation);
  • Use research skills, including the ability to synthesise and analyse arguments and exercise critical judgement from a variety of resources;
  • Enhance the capacity to work independently, demonstrating initiative, self-organisation and time-management, as well as co-operating with other students 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.

One 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. This will 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.  This will be in addition to writing, reflecting on what they have learnt and making use of constructive feedback.

A second summative piece of work will be in the form of a two-hour exam at the end of the module. This will test subject awareness and key employability skills, including the ability to work under pressure, knowledge retrieval, understanding of the module content, and presentation.


Colby, E. & Lettow, P., (2014) ‘Have We Hit Peak America?: The sources of U.S. power and the path to renaissance’, Foreign Policy, July/August .
Cox, M., and Stokes, D., eds., (2012) US Foreign Policy, 2nd ed., Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Dueck, C. (2015), The Obama Doctrine: American Grand Strategy Today, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Haass, R. (2017) ‘World Order 2.0’, Foreign Affairs , January/February.
Ikenberry, G. John (2014), ‘The Enduring Power of the Liberal Order’, Foreign Affairs, May/June.
Jentleson, B. (2014), American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century,
5th ed., New York: Norton.
Joffe, Josef, (2009), ‘The Default Power’, Foreign Affairs, September/October.
Kupchan, C., (2012), No One’s World: The West, the Rest, and the Coming Global Turn, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Mearsheimer, J. & Walt, S., (2016) ‘The Case for Offshore Balancing: A Superior U.S. Grand Strategy’, Foreign Affairs, July/August.
Moran, A. (2015), ‘The United States: Finding a Role in the Post- Cold War and Post-9/11 World’, in Malik, S. et al, International Security Studies, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Moran, A. (2017) ‘Barack Obama and the Return of “Declinism”: Rebalancing American Foreign
Policy in an Era of Multipolarity’, in Ashbee, E. and Dumbrell, J., The Obama Presidency and the
Politics of Change, London: Palgrave.
The USA’s National Security Strategy 2015 available at
Nye, Joseph, (2015), Is the American Century Over?, Cambridge: Polity.
Nye, Joseph, (2017), ‘Will the Liberal Order Survive?’, Foreign Affairs, January/February.
Rachman, Gideon, Zero-Sum World: Politics, Power and Prosperity After the Crash, Atlantic Books, 2010.
Zakaria, Fareed, (2008), The Post American World, New York: Norton.

On-line resources include key American foreign policy journals such as: Foreign Policy at www.; Foreign Affairs at; and The Washington Quarterly at There are also media sites such as The International Herald Tribune at, The Washington Post at and The New York Times at Many now have apps for smart phones/tablets, some of which are free. A growing number of e-books are also available.

Other indicative websites include:
The White House at
The National Security Council at
The U.S. Department of Defense at
The US Department of State at .
The Central Intelligence Agency at
The United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations at
The United States House of Representatives Committee on International Relations at