The centre study and analysis of foreign policy in international relation is focused into two, namely, what the matter is will be explained and what will provide explanation in foreign policy analysis. Those matters encircle between human decision maker and decision. They will then explicate the motivation, interest, personalities on their perceptions, beliefs and values as the factors that explain foreign policy decisions (Breuning, 2007: 11). Decisions can be shaped from its evidence left in newspapers and chronologies, this is the term of “events” and data produced by accumulating them are so called “events data”. Thus human decision maker and decision develop into what to be explained and understood in order to analyze foreign policy. What will provide explanation in foreign policy analysis covers factors that influence foreign policy decision making and foreign policy decision makers. Even sometimes several intervening features may be concluded within hallmarks of FPA, those are multifactorial, multilevel, multiinterdisciplinary, integrative theoretical enterprice, agent oriented, and actor specificity (Hudson, 2007: 6). Above mentioned comes to conclusion that in order to build perceptives of foreign policy analysis it is beneficial to use more than one level of analysis. These level of analysis may be vary and thus complicated because it may differ from one writer analysis to another. However, as the first effort to complete our perceptives by using distinct approaches, we will overview the evolution following tradition of foreign policy analysis from its paradigmatic works in certain years between 1950s and early 1960s, study the classic FPA scholars (1954-1993), foreign policy from 1993 till present following the conclusion at the end.

FPA and the possible combinations in IR

It is important to highlight the study of FPA to IR by identifying point of determinations, that the actual actor within foreign policy analysis is not the state, but human decision makers (Hudson, 2007: 7). Yet it’s quite concerning while different writer may not use this approaches to really analyze foreign policy (Breuning, 2007: 11) because it seems inadequate to acquire this fundamental thoughts by only relying on one simple aspect. Foreign policy, it is a complex phenomenon. However, it doesn’t pronounce that FPA is impossible and hardly valuable to IR. To attain a firm foundation for analyzing, it’s rational to put our main concern mainly on the study of decision makers. As Hudson states, that adding human decision makers as the key theoretical intersection confers some advantages generally lacking in IR theory. In the study of FPA, it allows the conduct of two-level game saying that state must follow simultaneously concern on domestic politics and interest as equal as its foreign politic. It simply suggests that state must satisfy domestic policy and foreign policy altogether (Putnam, 1988). A complete and complex comprehension of FPA possibly be attained through various approaches, that implies multifactorial, considering various factors viewed by some levels of analysis (multilevel) which forms set of combinations of several disciplinaries (multiinterdisciplinaries) range from micro discipline up to the very macro disciplines. Those are integrated within a compressed variety of information of human knowledge. According to Hudson, the core agent of FPA is not state, but mainly human beings, thus entails human being (with its position as decision maker) as a true agent and so that clarifies why there is no theory about state-oriented within foreign policy frameworks. It is not actually fresh idea, this term has been previously suggested by Alexander George in 1993. For example it was not a state which had been engaging to war in Iraq, but Saddam Hussein who had decided to invade Kuwait. This proposes that it would have been different outcomes, if the president of Iraq at that time were somebody else. The outcome, would be less slightly different, but the history would have been totally unidentical. This finally lead to the final features in FPA studying is the presence of specific actor. That a state may possibly be interchangeable factor, but motivation, character personality, beliefs, and values shaping decision maker perceptions can’t be culturally altered.

Paradigmatic Works in 1950-1960

The early approaches of Foreign Policy analysis has been set up in the late 1950s and beginning 1960s. those approaches framed within three paradigmatic works are:

  1. Decision Making as an Approach to the Study of International Politics by Richard Snyder, Henry Bruck, and Burton Sapin (1954).  In this work, Snyder and his colleagues inspired researchers to look below the nation-state level to the actual players involved.
  2. 2. ‘Pre-theories and Theories of Foreign Policy’ by James Rosenau, in R. B. Farrell (ed.) Approaches in Comparative and International Politics (1966).  Rosenau encouraged the development of actor-specific theory, by underscoring the need to integrate information at several levels of analysis, from individual leaders to the international system, in order to understand foreign policy. It focuses on individual state level analysis.
  3. Man-Milieu Relationship Hypotheses in the Context of International Politics by Margaret and Harold Sprout (1956).  The Sprouts argued that one needed to look at the ‘psycho-milieu’ of the individuals and groups making the foreign policy decision.  That is, the international and operational environment or context as it is perceived and interpreted by decision-makers. It focuses on the context of international politics where power matters, therefore it proposes system level analysis.

Classic FPA Scholarships 1954-1993

This period was a time of great intellectual effort and excitement, marked by path-breaking work in conceptualization, development of actor-specific theory at various levels of analysis, and methodological explanation.

A. Classic Foreign Policy Analysis Scholarship

a. Group Decision Making
The process and structure of groups making foreign policy decisions is analyzed.  The groups that were studied ranged in size from very small groups to large organizations and bureaucracies.

b. Small Group Dynamics

Social psychologists explored the unique dynamics of decision-making in small groups.  This research was carried into foreign policy analysis: it was discovered that the motivation to maintain group consensus and personal acceptance by the group could deteriorate decision-making quality.

c. Organizational Process and Bureaucratic Politics

Researchers began to study the influence of organization process and bureaucratic politics on foreign policy decision-making.  Organizations and bureaucracies put their own survival at the top of their list of priorities; the organization will jealously guard and seek to increase its turf (relative influence) and strength.  It was found that the ulterior objectives of foreign policy decision ‘players’ influenced their decision-making.

B. Comparative Foreign Policy

The sub-field of Comparative Foreign Policy developed as a response to James Rosenau’s challenge to build a cross-national and multi-level theory of foreign policy.  Foreign policy behavior, as disparate as a war, a treaty, or a state visit, could now be compared and aggregated.  Data was collected on a variety of possible explanatory factors to determine patterns by which these independent variables were correlated.  Researchers hoped to emerge with a grand unified theory of foreign policy behavior applicable to all nations and time periods.

a. Events Data
The collection of ‘events data’ was used to set up early warning systems that would alert policy makers to crises in the making around the world.  Computerized decision aids and analysis packages began to appear.

b. Integrated Explanations
Research aimed at integrated multilevel explanations.  Independent variables at several levels of analysis were linked by theoretical propositions to types of foreign policy behavior.

C. The Psychological and Societal Milieu of Foreign Policy Decision Making

Increasing attention was directed to the mind of the foreign policy decision-maker.  The societal context in which the decision-maker operates is shaped by several factors such as culture, history, geography, economics, political institutions, ideology, and demographics.  Within this societal context, the individual mind is unique in its own personal beliefs, attitudes, values, experiences, emotions, traits, style, memory, national, and self-conceptions.  To better understand foreign policy, researchers directed their attention to the socio-psychological context of the decision-maker.

a. Individual Characteristics

Political psychology was employed to understand the personal characteristics of the decision-maker.  Under certain stressful conditions these individual characteristics would become crucial in understanding foreign policy decisions.  Efforts were made to categorize decision-makers according to their foreign policy dispositions.

In addition, the role of perceptions and images in foreign policy was also an important research agenda during this time.  Misperception in foreign policy situations could have grave consequences, and was furnished by the rampant use of stereotypical images with reference to the ‘enemy’. Research was conducted on ‘cognitive constraints’, including cognitive bias, heuristic error, the motivation of leaders, cognitive maps, scripts, and schemas, cognitive style, and the life experience of decision makers.

b. National and Societal Characteristics

The decision-maker’s perception of its nation’s ‘role’ in the international arena began to be studied.  Once a ‘national role conception’ was perceived, decision-makers could make their decisions to fit according to the conceptual mould.

In addition, the study of culture as an independent variable affecting foreign policy came to the forefront; analysts considered that the very process of policymaking might be stamped by one’s cultural heritage and socialization

Foreign Policy Analysis 1993-present

The end of the Cold War brought with it a renewed interest in actor-specific theory.  An intuitive understanding of this event involves delving into the individual actors themselves: the personalities of the leaders, the activities of various actors, the struggle between domestic players, and so on. From the late 1980s to the present, foreign policy researchers have focused on developing the following themes outlined below.

A. Theory Development in Decision Making

a. Construction of Meaning and Framing of Situations by Human Agents in International Relations

Human agents interpret situations and problems differently, due to the various personal backgrounds, which influence reasoning.  Researchers have articulated a two-step decision process: in the first step, options that would translate into serious political loss are weeded out; in the second step, alternatives are analyzed against one another.

b. Persuasion and Diffusion Undertaken by Framing/Meaning Entrepreneurs within IR; Analysis of Interaction between Competing Entrepreneurs

Representations formed by human agents in foreign policy must first be diffused to others before collective action can follow.  The process by which individual representations are ‘diffused’ onto others has been under study.  Technology has been useful here, by providing simulation exercises to study how persuasion occurs.

c. Change and Learning by Human Agents in International Relations

Using cognitive mapping techniques, researchers have been able to detect new knowledge structures within the minds of decision-makers; this ‘social learning’ may enhance understanding between different actors and even facilitate successful negotiations between antagonists.

d. The Study of Human Agents as They Interact in Groups in International Relations

Decision-making in small and large groups remains the subject of ongoing research. Recent works on bureaucratic and organizational influences apply agent-orientated perspectives to explain institutional innovation or variations in foreign policy decisions.

B. Theory Development Regarding Leader Characteristics

a. Leader Assessment Frameworks

A more systematic tool has been constructed for assessing a leader’s foreign policy orientation.  Technology has allowed for a resurgence of operational code analysis: no longer an extremely laborious or time-consuming task, automated content analysis has enabled researchers to perform speedy and accurate analyses of leader characteristics.

b. New Frontiers: Neuroscience, Emotion, and Embodiment

Research in the field of neuroscience is slowly filtering into foreign policy analysis.  Neuroscience, with its discoveries on the workings of the human mind, is poised to contribute largely to our understanding of human decision-making.  The effect of emotions, pain, illness, the genetically determined ‘happiness set-point’ and other factors of the human body all have implications on decision-making, and therefore also for foreign policy analysis.

C. Theory Development Concerning Culture, Identity, and Social Groups

a. Construction of National Role Conception Identity by Human Agents within the Nation

Questions of national identity formation are still largely furnished by research on national role conception.  More recently, eclectic methods such as discourse analysis, process-tracing and computational modeling have helped to trace the origin and evolution of identities in conflict.

b. Horizon/Template Analysis

Distinctive patterns of horizon visualization have been discerned in different cultures, which suggests that an understanding of ‘who we are’ plays into the understanding of ‘what it is we do’.

c. The Influence of Societal Groups

The effect of various social groups on foreign policy behavior is under study.  Also explored has been the effect of media, and the manner in which media influences the domestic political context of foreign policy decision-making (eg. the so-called ‘CNN-effect’).


The centre of FPA is mainly about who decisions makers are. Foreign policy analysis remains complex instrument to define most worthy reason about state and decision makers behavior. It’s beneficial features that enable us to unlock more doors to close assessment, yet they remain vague and open to question. Separate IR thinkers argue in many diverse level of analysis. The problem of arranging available options to make a good assessment is never quite simple if we rely upon one single analysis. Therefore, broad and open analysis is needed. However, we cannot neglect considering several factors although they are partially important. The micro study contributes a huge meaning creating foreign policy options, behavior, and outcome, as well. We must remember, a simply distinctive factor altered may lead to either beneficial or disastrous outcome.


Breuning, Marijke. 2007. Foreign Policy Analysis: A Comparative Study. London: Palgrave Macmillan

Christopher Hill. 2003. Foreign Policy. The Oxford Companion to the Politics of the World, 2e. Joel Krieger, ed. Oxford University Press Inc. 2001. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.

Hudson, Valerie. 2007. Overview and Evolution of Foreign Policy Analysis. Rowman and Littlefiled. pp. 3-33.


About Renny Candradewi Puspitarini

Lecturer at Panca Marga University Faculty of Social Science and Political Science Department of Public Administration

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