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American Foreign Policy and National Security By Paul R. Viotti

Chapter 1:  Explaining American Foreign Policy
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American Foreign Policy and National Security

Chapter 1

Explaining American Foreign Policy

When we try to explain foreign policy, identifying and relating the factors that influence its making and implementation, we are drawn to the decisionmakers themselves.1 We look both internally and externally to ideas grounded in understandings decisionmakers have about interests that drive their choices as well as their understandings of material capabilities or power that facilitate or constrain these decisions. As depicted in figure 1, foreign policy refers to the decisions and actions the agents of a state take in relation to other state and non-state actors—the latter referring to inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations, other groups, and individuals.

States are commonly referred to as actors or agents in international politics, but these state units are abstract human constructions, not physical (much less human) beings. As a practical matter, we understand the existence of states, international and non-governmental organizations only in terms of the human beings who construct them or act in their name.