Determinants of Foreign Policy



Determinants of foreign policy of the country is influenced by so many factors that it is not possible to enumerate all of them here. Some of the important factors that influence the foreign policy of the country or constitute the inputs of the foreign policy are given hereunder. Broadly speaking these factors fall into categories viz, internal and external.

Internal factors:

  1. Size:

In the first place the size of the state’s territory as well as its population greatly influences its foreign policy. Generally the States with small territories and populations do not expect their country to carry great weight in international affairs. On the other hand the leaders and people of large countries are ready to assume special responsibilities. However, sometimes even small states which have little resources may actually have a deep impact on world politics. For example Britain, a small country, played a leading role in world politics in the 19th and early 20th century. Similarly, Mongolia despite its vast terrain of land has little or no say in the international affairs.

  1. Geography:

The geography of the country, including its fertility, climate, location in relation to other land masses, and waterways etc also influence the country’s foreign policy. Generally landlocked countries, nations in the tropics and those bordering a superpower are less self-sufficient in comparison to the countries which have access to warm water ports or are located in the temperate zones and far removed from superpowers. Though the importance of geographic factors is acknowledged almost at all hands, its importance has considerably declined due to technological and scientific developments. For example, due to improvement in the means of transport and communication the world has greatly shrunk and the perception of large bodies of water as natural barriers to military attack has greatly diminished. But still geographical location of the country has deep impact on the determination of its foreign policy. Pakistan opted to join American defence pacts because of its geographical location i.e., threats emanating from its eastern border.

  1. Culture and history:

The cultural and historical traditions of the country also deeply influenced the foreign policy. Generally people possessing a unified common culture and historical experience can pursue an effective foreign policy because of the support of all sections of society who share the same values and memories. On the other hand a country which is culturally and historically fragmented cannot pursue an equally effective foreign policy.

  1. Economic development:

The stage of economic development which a country has attained also has its impact on its foreign policy. Generally the industrially advanced countries feel more deeply involved in relations with other countries because they have to import different kinds of raw materials and commodities from other countries. They are also on the lookout of the latest knowledge and technical know-how. Therefore they maintain intimate trade relations with their trading partners. It is a matter of common knowledge that in our times the industrially developed countries (popularly known as G7) are playing an effective role in international politics as compared to the other developed or undeveloped countries.

  1. Technology:

Advancement in technology, which affects the military and economic capabilities of a state, also exercises profound influence on the foreign policy. However, this factor influences the foreign policy only in an indirect manner i.e., by influencing other sources of foreign policy. It has been observed that countries which possess advanced technology are able to provide technical know-how to less developed countries and thus exert necessary influence on their foreign policies.

  1. National capacity:

The national capacity of a state also exercises profound influence on the foreign policy of the state. National capacity for state depends on its military preparedness, technological advancement and economic development. United States which continue to pursue a policy of isolation till the beginning of the 20th century got deeply involved in the international arena in the last century mainly due to tremendous increase in national capacity owing to rapid economic development. Similarly, the foreign policy of Britain underwent great transformation in the post-World War II period, mainly due to decline in national capacity.

  1. Social structure:

The social structure of society also exercises profound influence on its foreign policy. A society which is sharply divided on the basis of wealth, religion, regional imbalances, etc cannot pursue effective foreign policy on account of the region and lack of cooperation among various groups. On the other hand a homogeneous society possessing strong sense of national unity can pursue a more effective foreign policy. Britain was able to repel the German aggression because of national unity.

  1. Leadership:

The leadership also plays a vital role in the shaping of the country’s foreign policy. According to Rosenau: leaders believe about the nature of international arena and the goals that ought to be pursued therein, his personal peculiar intellectual strength and weakness for analysis transformation and making decisions, is our past background and the extent of its relevance to the requirements of the role, his or her emotional need and most of the other personality traits-these are but a few of the idiosyncratic factors that can influence the planning and execution of foreign policy.

External factors:

In addition to the internal factors which influence a country’s foreign policy discussed above, a number of external factors also exercise considerable influence on the foreign policy of the country. In our times the world has become so interlinked that incidents in one country have their immediate impact on other countries. Thus coup d’etat in a neighbouring country or nationalisation of oil companies in Middle East or release of a proposed arms control agreement are events which influence the actions of leaders in other countries.

  • Power structure:

The great power structure prevailing in the world politics also greatly influences the policy of the country. In this regard three possibilities can be envisaged. First, a number of powers may enjoy great power status and their relations may be based on balance of power system. Secondly, there may be only two powers which dominate the world scene and the other states are compelled to side with one or the other. Thirdly one single state retains the status of superpower and dominates world politics. The nature of power structure prevailing in the world has a substantial impact on the foreign policy of the country.

  • International organisation:

The contemporary international organisation also greatly influences the foreign policy of the country. While formulating its foreign policy the country has to take note of international law, treaties and contract. No country can ignore these factors without jeopardising its own interest. Apart from the structure at the global level, the structure at the regional and regional levels also greatly influences the foreign policy of the country.

  • Reaction of other states

While formulating its foreign policy country has to take note of the reaction of other states to its various action. No country can afford to pursue interest which are fundamentally against the interest of other states because any policy based on narrow national interest is likely to provoke strong reaction from the concerned state and produced disastrous consequences. Iranian desire to enrich Uranium has evoked a strong western reaction which considered it as threat to the security of Saudi Arabia and Israel.

  • Alliances

Alliances concluded by various states also greatly influenced the foreign policy. The state parties to alliance have to respond to the request and demands of their allies and refrain from making policies or taking actions which are offensive to them. It is true that generally the alliances have great amount of independence with regard to the plans and actions, yet they operate implicitly and explicitly as important elements in the process through which foreign policy is formulated and implemented.

  • World public opinion:

The world public opinion also exercises profound influence on the foreign policy of the country. It is true that world public opinion influences the foreign policy of the country only occasionally and is not a big factor. Further, it is able to exercise influence on the foreign policy of the state only if it is supported by the domestic public opinion. It is well known that US government was made to effect changes in its Vietnam policy largely due to hostile world opinion.


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