Foreign policy

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The concept of foreign policy (in Switzerland 's foreign policy written) the sum of all actions, intentions and declarations includes a state whose destiny is the relationship of the state to other states, confederations , inter- or supranational organizations to influence and regulate. Foreign policy can extend to different areas such as security policy , foreign trade policy or international cultural relations .

Foreign policy from a political science perspective

"From a theoretical perspective, foreign policy is understood as a process of interaction in which a state tries to realize fundamental goals and values ​​in competition with other states."

"Foreign policy in the usual sense describes the actions of a state that are aimed at addressees in other states or in international organizations."

In practice, this action of a state (or a confederation of states ) takes place primarily through its political representatives, e.g. B. by its executive (represented, inter alia, by the Foreign Minister ). The daily political and administrative representation of the foreign policy of one country in another is usually an ambassador .

It does not go far enough to equate the goals of foreign policy action with the interests of the respective states, since this action is also determined by value judgments and domestic political benefit calculations of the actors as well as by rules and institutions of the international system. A “state interest” does not define itself, but is determined by the relevant actors (cf. discussion between realism and constructivism ). Foreign policy is therefore mostly caught in a field of tension between ideal and material interests.

In political science , the sub-area of international relations deals with the foreign policy of different states and the system of interaction that is shaped by it.

Influences on foreign policy

A state's foreign policy is influenced by numerous factors. According to older thought patterns (realism), in particular the geographical location, the availability of raw materials; the size of the population; technical, military and economic strength and the level of education of the population are decisive.

More recent approaches (e.g. constructivism ) assume that foreign policy is fundamentally shaped by the people and constellations involved. The interests and scope of action of these people is 1. individually very different and 2. domestically shaped. Since, to put it simply, a foreign politician as part of the government (in a democracy) has the elementary interest in “re-election”, he will not commit himself to foreign policy goals that would obviously jeopardize his re-election, even if he was personally close to these goals. In addition, such a commitment would not only run the risk of personal disadvantages, it would also hardly be ratified, so it would have no effect. (see Robert Putnam's Two-Level-Games). Accordingly, the stability of foreign policy that often exists, even across different governments, results from the more slowly changing overall orientation and mood in a state.

Since the beginning of industrialization, energy policy has had a decisive influence on foreign policy. Energy sources are of crucial importance for the development of states. Poverty is also often caused by a lack of access to energy. Because of this crucial importance of the energy issue, energy policy has a major impact on foreign policy. Since fossil energy resources are unevenly distributed around the world, securing the influence on the transport routes and the deposits of fossil raw materials is an important goal of energy and foreign policy.

Character of foreign policy

The foreign policy of most states is characterized by a certain long-term continuity (foreign policy interests). The reasons for this are diverse:

  1. Constant key objectives such as stability, continuity and predictability remain as well as the systems in which politics operate (alliances: pacta sunt servanda !)
  2. Basic problems that influence the world situation and thus foreign policy activities often remain explosive over long periods of time (e.g. Middle East conflict)
  3. Objective domestic factors (e.g. a democratic system of government ) remain, even changeable domestic factors do not change "abruptly"
  4. Due to the high degree of international interdependence, revolutionary foreign policy concepts cannot or can hardly be implemented. War between states as a last resort is also increasingly ruled out.

For these reasons, even when there is a change of government - at least when there is a succession of democratically legitimized governments - foreign policy usually only changes in nuances at first, at most shifts of emphasis are possible. (Precisely because the foreign policy of states is often characterized by longer-term continuity and a relatively low degree of political controversy, earlier authors of this article described it as “a tough, drawn-out matter”.) As a rule, there are few foreign policy objectives in Election programs. However, this is also due to the fact that these mostly pointed positions are formulated on topics that are controversially discussed in the domestic public. These are often economic, social or, in a broader sense, socio-political, but rarely foreign policy issues. An interesting exception to this rule - which applies to a large number of countries - is the German stance in the worsening conflict between the USA and Iraq in the summer of 2002, which played a decisive role in the federal election campaign and probably also in the narrow outcome of the election .

In addition, European policy is largely excluded from the rule “Foreign policy does not win elections!”. In many European countries, for example, protest parties were able to achieve electoral success with anti-European campaigns. However, the question arises as to whether European policy (i.e. the shaping of policy in the EU) is still covered by the term “foreign policy” in view of its thematic breadth and its direct impact on the legal, economic, etc. conditions in the member states.


“The great nations are not made from within, but outwardly; only a skilful foreign policy, a policy of important companies, enables a fruitful domestic policy, which in the end is always less profound. "

- José Ortega y Gasset : Construction and Disintegration of Spain, 1921

"There is no friendship between states, only interests."



  • Stephan Bierling : History of American Foreign Policy. From 1917 to the present (= Beck's series 1509). 3rd, revised and expanded edition. Beck, Munich 2007, ISBN 978-3-406-49428-4 .
  • Frank Bösch , Peter Hoeres : Foreign Policy in the Media Age. From the late 19th century to the present (= history of the present. Volume 8). Wallstein, Göttingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-8353-1352-1 .
  • Gunther Hellmann : German foreign policy. An introduction (= basic knowledge of politics. Vol. 39). VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2006, ISBN 3-531-14906-7 .
  • Kay Möller: The Foreign Policy of the People's Republic of China from 1949-2004. An introduction. VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2005, ISBN 3-531-14120-1 .
  • Paul Widmer: Swiss Foreign Policy and Diplomacy. From Pictet de Rochemont to Edouard Brunner. Ammann, Zurich 2003, ISBN 3-250-10432-9 .
  • Andreas Wilhelm: Foreign Policy. Basics, structures and processes. Oldenbourg, Munich et al. 2006, ISBN 3-486-58073-6 .
  • Wichard Woyke : The foreign policy of France. An introduction. VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2010, ISBN 978-3-531-13885-5 .


  • Siegmar Schmidt, Gunther Hellmann, Reinhard Wolf (ed.): Handbook on German foreign policy. VS - Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, Wiesbaden 2007, ISBN 978-3-531-13652-3 .


Web links

Wiktionary: Foreign policy  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. See Manfred G. Schmidt , foreign policy. In: ders .: Dictionary on Politics (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 404). 2nd, completely revised and expanded edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-40402-8 , pp. 60f.
  2. Haftendorn, 2001, p. 13.
  3. Jürgen Hartmann : International Relations (= UTB for Science 2222 Political Science ). Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2001, ISBN 3-8252-2222-5 , p. 9, quoted from: Reimund Seidelmann: Außenpolitik. In: Dieter Nohlen (Ed.): Lexicon of Politics. Volume 6: Andreas Boeckh (Ed.): International Relations. Beck, Munich 1994, ISBN 3-406-36910-3 , p. 42.