The Role of Foreign Policy in a Country’s Politics with Case Studies

The textbook definition of Foreign Policy is “a state’s objectives and activities in relation to its interactions with other states, unions, and other political entities, whether bilaterally or through multilateral platforms.” In simple words, it can be defined as the set of guidelines which dictates how a country deals with other countries collectively, a particular country individually or any international area of concern.

The politics of a country are indeed governed by foreign policy, although the extent of this governance differs from country to country. Differences between political parties with regards to foreign policy can alter the result of an election, and on the other hand the political party in power can alter the working of a nation’s foreign policy.

Political parties differ on various ideological fronts-they may have differing opinions on level of trade and diplomacy, national defence priorities, economic policy etc. They have different ways to improve public perception and generate a voter base.

As previously noted, foreign policy affects politics in various countries to differing interests. For example, in the United States, it has an argument for being the primary factor in deciding elections, while in India it plays a less significant role. The next section explores these two countries as case studies.

United States

The United States was founded on the July 4, 1776. This case study is going to focus on its politics-foreign policy link from 1945, since this is around the time India (the other case study) got its independence.

In 1945, after World War 2, Europe’s domination over the world was coming to an end. Europe had been struck severely by the two wars. These wars had weakened its international position. The United States, which had largely been isolationist before the First World War, was now already an economic and military superpower. America had overtaken Britain in terms of GDP in 1916, but most historians agree that its reign really began after WW2 in 1945.

The 20th century saw two new superpowers, the U.S. and the erstwhile Soviet Union. These two superpowers had major ideological differences, the U.S. supported liberal-capitalism while the USSR socialism-communism. The two nations fought for their ideology’s influence over Europe and the rest of the world.

     President Harry S Truman, after whom the Truman Doctrine is named.

The U.S., under the Marshall plan provided large-scale economic aid to Europe for war reparations, perhaps in a bid to win their support. The Truman doctrine also highlighted that the U.S. would work to establish democracies and root out authoritarianism.

At this time, foreign policy did not affect domestic politics much-the Republican and Democrat parties were bound by common animosity towards the Soviets.

For the first 25 years after WW2, the Democrat party emphasised anti-communism and supported corresponding sides in wars in Korea and Vietnam. The party then split as many advocates of war started supporting the Republican Party, also referred to as the GOP. The Republican party was divided between isolationists under Robert Taft and internationalists under Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower beat out Taft for the nomination in 1952 based on foreign policy grounds. Since then, Republicans have laid stress on American nationalism, support for Israel and anti-Communism.

After the Cold War, foreign policy has played a pertinent role in domestic American politics. The U.S. became the sole world superpower. It saw a foreign policy shift after the 9/11 attacks. It would end up invading Afghanistan and Iraq for nation-building and anti-terrorism.

             President Trump with G7 leaders.

After American involvement was lessened, Iraq saw militant movements such as the rise of the Islamic State. The U.S. would counter this through military intervention in Iraq and Syria. A similar situation has arisen in Afghanistan after the end of U.S. involvement with the rise of the Taliban.

Under President Trump, this had become apparent. Before Trump, Presidents focused on maintaining the U.S. as the number one power in the world. However, Trump undertook a different approach. His reign saw heightened tensions with Iran, a trade war, and reduced U.S. involvement in foreign politics. The latter was hailed as a victory by some, and as a disappointment by others.

Extended U.S. involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East fractured the unity in domestic politics generated by 9/11. The Presidents post 2001 saw constant pressure either for humanitarian and human rights causes of victims in these countries, or for increased isolation and reduced US involvement in foreign affairs.


India gained its independence on August 15, 1947, after being a colony for two centuries.

At the time of independence, Indian politics was marked by a strong nationalist feeling and sentiments of common struggle against colonisation. There was not much genuine political competition in the country in the first three decades. The Congress party won each national election by considerable margins.

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India was a socialist. He also served as the country’s first foreign minister. During the Cold War, he came up with the idea of Non-Alignment as a genuine alternative to the two military blocs. However, as a socialist, he was naturally drawn to the Soviet model of planning and socialist development. Therefore, Indian development tended to be more on socialist lines, even if Nehru preached non-alignment publicly.

PM Nehru with other leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement.

This was further compounded during the reign of Indira Gandhi, the daughter of Nehru, as PM. Her reign saw a Leftward shift to government policy-the government became more “pro-poor” and “socialist.”

Indira Gandhi had signed a 20 Year Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR in 1971. This was the first treaty that India had signed with one of the US and USSR.

Soon thereafter, the Congress lost national elections. The Janata Party which came to power in 1977 pledged to correct the bias in India’s foreign policy towards the Soviets and follow “true non-alignment.”

PM Modi with PM Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

In 1991, the USSR officially dissolved and the US emerged as the sole superpower. This was also the year in which India officially liberalised its economic policies in accordance with World Bank and IMF stipulations, for taking a huge loan. It had now moved closer to the economic system of the US after having followed socialism for 40 years.

Now, international interests came to be guided more by economic interests rather than military interests. This was because a century of war was coming to an end and a century of trade was coming.

Domestically, Indian leaders and political parties have generally recorded little to zero variance with regard to foreign policy. Antagonistic views towards Pakistan and China are shared.

PM Modi with BRICS leaders.

One significant difference has been that the NDA-BJP led governments have tended to be a lot more pro-U.S. and especially more pro-Israel. Under Prime Minister Modi, Israel has become India’s number two military partner. Indian governments have also maintained strong ties with Russia, despite favorable U.S. ties.

PM Modi has increased focus on trade and specifically in the Asian region, with his Act East policy. He has also brought about changes to India’s nuclear policy, making it less docile on this front. He has increased focus on international affairs.

Overall, it can be seen that generally, there has been coherence between political parties with respect to foreign policy in India. This is largely due to shared experiences and struggles, such as the colonial period, several wars with Pakistan, Chinese aggressions etc. These events have brought the Indian polity closer in this regard.

Note: I have taken the photographs/illustrations from internet. They belong to the author/photographer/designer of the original article/s.

3 thoughts on “The Role of Foreign Policy in a Country’s Politics with Case Studies

  1. Shivam! You have analyzed the US policy as it developed over a period of time from WW-II
    I remember how John Foster Dulles had dubbed NAM as immoral but Nehru and his group stuck to their line.
    The present dispensation of India is firm upon following a policy which has “India First and Indians first” and the foreign policy is totally keeping this doctrine as its cornerstone..US has also recognized the superpower potential of India.. and knows how a partnership with it will bolster US ECONOMY and to its stature in the World as World number 1.. Russia has also been a great friend of India…
    China will be the biggest threat to India in future..

Leave a Reply