Readings on American Foreign Policy

Below you will find a reading list on issues related American Foreign Policy. This list will be updated on a periodic basis.

American Grand Strategy.

Grand strategy is the “purposeful employment of all instruments of power available to a security community.” The aim of grand strategy is the long term security of the state and it consists of the collection of economic, military, and diplomatic policies that work towards this end.

The United States has had three grand strategies which included offshore balancing (pre Cold War), contain and deter (Cold War), and liberal hegemony (post-Cold War).

The best piece for understanding American grand strategy before the Cold War is chapter 7 of John Mearshimer’s The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

To understand America’s grand strategy during the Cold War read The Sources of Soviet Conduct by Kennan and Gaddis’s Strategies of Containment.

To understand post Cold War grand strategy, first read the following for context.

Competing Visions for U.S. Grand Strategy by Barry R. Posen and Andrew L. Ross. This is an article length discussion about the different grand strategies available to the United States after 1989.

The post-Cold War grand strategy eventually adopted is referred to as liberal hegemony which seeks long term security from a combination of military primacy and spreading liberal institutions. Liberal institutions include democracy, individual rights, and free markets.

The best book length treatment of Liberal Hegemony is Ikenberry’s Liberal Leviathan

Other articles of interests are below.

Don’t Come Home, America- The Case Against Retrenchment by Stephen G. Brooks , G. John Ikenberry and William C. Wohlforth.

The Unipolar Moment by Charles Krauthamer.

The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama.

Lean Forward by Stephen G. Brooks , G. John Ikenberry and William C. Wohlforth.

The Case for Deep Engagement by Joseph Nye.

Foreign Policy as Social Work by Michael Mandalbaum.

America Abroad: Why the Sole Superpower Should Not Pull Back from the World by Stephen G. Brooks and William C. Wohlforth.

The Stability of a Unipolar World by William C. Wohlforth.

The Myth of Entangling Alliances by Michael Beckley.

The main alternative to liberal hegemony is usually referred to as restraint which is a grand strategy of non-engagement and non-entanglement.

The best book length treatment is Barry Posen’s Restraint. 

He has also written an article length discussion of the main points published in the American Interest titled The Case for Restraint.

But the best  article length piece is Come Home America by Eugene Gholz, Daryl G. Press, and Harvey M. Sapolsky.

Other articles of interests are below.

The Delusion of Impartial Intervention by Richard Betts.

The Clash of Civilization? by Samuel Huntington.

The West: Unique, Not Universal. by Samuel Huntington.

Pull Back. by Barry Posen

Morality and Foreign Policy by George Kennan.

The Case for Offshore Balancing by John Mearshimer and Stephen Walt.


History of American foreign policy.

For a good introduction to a time line of American statecraft I recommend two books.

A great place to start is Ambrose’s Rise to Globalism: American Foreign Policy Since 1938 . This book offers a clear and highly readable narrative of the course of American foreign policy from the start of WWII until the Clinton Administration. 

The more ambitious reading, however, is Herring’s The American Century and Beyond: U.S. Foreign Relations, 1983 to 2014. It is not exhaustive, but I consider this to be the  single best piece on the history of American foreign policy ever written.

 Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World by Walter Russell Mead. This book gives treatment to 4 themes found in American foreign policy since the country’s founding. Themes are presented through  historical figures include Wilsonians, Hamiltonians, Jacksonians, and Jeffersonians. Wilsonians are moral missionaries, making the world safe for democracy by creating international watchdogs like the U.N. Hamiltonians likewise support international engagement, but their goal is to open foreign markets and expand the economy. Populist Jacksonians support a strong military, one that should be used rarely, but if used with overwhelming force. Jeffersonians, concerned primarily with liberty at home, are suspicious of both big military and large-scale international projects.

Promised Land, Crusader State: The American Encounter with the World Since 1776 by Walter McDougall. A historian who discusses 8 doctrines of American statecraft which  include the pre twentieth century themes of  of Liberty (or Exceptionalism), Unilateralism,  the American System (or the Monroe Doctrine), and Expansion (or Manifest Destiny). Post twentieth century doctrines include Progressive Imperialism, Wilsonianism (or Liberal Internationalism), Containment, and  Global Meliorism which is the socioeconomic and cultural answer to how to make the world a better place by promoting economic growth, human rights, social reform, and democracy. The core belief is that the root causes of revolutions and militarism are poverty, ignorance, oppression, and despair.

America and the rise of China.

The Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia by Aaron Friedburg.

Is Unipolarity Stable?

A Unique Dilemma. Interest versus Ideals. 

No country has made an attempt to balance it’s ideals with security as America. There are two general ways international stability has been achieved. One is through balance. This method has mostly been employed in Europe. The other is hegemony. This

Does Primacy Matter?

Why unipolarity doesn’t matter (much) by Charles Glaser.

American primacy- Its prospects and pitfalls by Stephen Walt.

Why International Primacy Matters by Samuel Huntington.

Is American an Empire?

What’s at Stake in the American Empire Debate by Daniel Nexon and Thomas Wright.

The Emperor Wore Cowboy Boots by Jennifer Sterling-Folker.

Empire by Niall Ferguson.

America and Terrorism.

What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East by Bernard Lewis.

Imperial Hubris by Michael Scheuer.

America and the World Economy.

America and Democracy Promotion.

First read either of these two works by Fareed Zakaria. Either his 1997 Foreign Affairs work The Rise of Illiberal Democracy or his book of the same topic, The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.

Kant or Cant- The Myth of the Democratic Peace by Christopher Layne.

An Institutional Explanation of the Democratic Peace by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, James Morrow, Randolph Siverson, and Alastair Smith.

Other books you should read.  

The Best and the Brightest by Davide Halberstam.

Credibility and the Use of Force. 

Calculating Credibility: How Leaders Assess Military Threats by Daryl Press.