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Foreign policy analysis IR2214

The study of foreign policy is referred to as foreign policy analysis, and its focus is the intentions and actions of (primarily) states aimed at the external world and the response of other actors (again, primarily states) to these actions.

The code for this course was previously IR2137. The course content has been updated.

This course is not designed to give students detailed exposure to the changing foreign policies of any particular country, though of course students will have many opportunities to learn about the foreign policies of major, middle and small powers through the reading material. It is aimed at giving students the tools to analyse, interpret and, ultimately, understand the dynamics of foreign policy generally so that they might apply these to their study of the role of states in international affairs.


Prerequisite: A course that you must have ordinarily attempted all elements of before you are permitted to register for another particular course.

If taken as part of a BSc degree, the following course must be attempted before this course may be taken:

  • IR1011 Introduction to international relations

Topics covered

This course examines the key concepts and schools of thought in foreign policy analysis, concentrating particularly on the process of decision making, the internal and external factors which influence foreign policy decisions, the instruments available to foreign policy decision makers and the effect of changes in the international system on foreign policy. The course combines a discussion of these theories with their application to selected countries in the North, the South, international organisations and transnational actors.

The principal themes to be addressed by the course are:

  • The role and relevance of foreign policy in the era of globalisation
  • How different theoretical approaches to FPA shape our understanding of foreign policy
  • The role of leadership, the bureaucracy and interest groups in setting the state’s foreign policy agenda     
  • What challenges democratising states face in constructing a new foreign policy
  • The scope for affecting change in the international system by non-state actors.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Identify and critically assess the processes involved in foreign policy decision making
  • Discuss the contexts, pressures and constraints with which foreign policy makers have to deal
  • Contrast and compare the strength of theoretical approaches used in foreign policy analysis.


Unseen written exam (3 hrs).

Essential reading

  • Alden, C. and A. Aran. Foreign Policy Analysis – New Approaches. London: Routledge 2017. 2nd edition.
  • Smith, S., A. Hadfield and T. Dunne. Foreign Policy: Theories, Actors, Cases. Oxford: OUP 2012). 2nd edition.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.