Why Is Foreign Policy So Hard?

Harvard International Review, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Why Is Foreign Policy So Hard?


Difficulties of Diplomacy and Policymaking

Despite the rhetoric of political leaders, foreign-policy making seems to be defined less by compromise than by the abrogation of failure. We shake our heads in frustration as despite our best efforts, peace processes stagnate, dangerous weapons proliferate, and powerful governments intervene in episodes of ethnic violence according to a seemingly arbitrary calculus. On a broader level, newspaper headlines seem to present the world with more foreign-policy frustrations than successes. Though political theorists have long attempted to reduce international relations to consistent conceptual models, the process of translating theory into desirable outcomes in the international realm-- for any political actor--is fraught with complexity and rarely works as planned. Such failure has historically been among the most potent catalysts for the rise and fall of domestic political leaders and irrevocably shapes the destiny of every nation-state. Yet centuries of political experience in international affairs have failed to make foreign-policy making any less convoluted and idiosyncratic. Our symposium is inspired by these realities, and asks a largely unanswered question: why is foreign-policy making so difficult?

David Lake opens the symposium by considering unique difficulties facing superpowers and the role of alliances.

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