Layers of Foreign Policy Analysis

Gvantsa Kakauridze
6 min readMar 16, 2019


Foreign policy is a set of activities that guide relationships of one state in its interactions with other states and its position on the international level. Despite its clear–cut nature, which focuses only on the external features, domestic factors also play key role in the decision-making process. Therefore, it is often hard to predict any state’s foreign policy without deep understanding of the country’s internal policy features. Thus, analysis of foreign policy requires multi-layer study and entails not only political science disciplines, but also psychological, geographical, economical and even anthropological field of studies.

Apparently, it is quite difficult to anticipate any state’s foreign policy steps in advance, however, defining certain trends of countries’ foreign policy making process and features can allow the analyst to make at least slight predictions for up-coming events. For simplifying this process, analysts have straightened out several approaches. In the presented article, combination of such methods and other additional layers will be performed and defined. Such kind of framework will enable the experts to structure the events respectively and create more clear picture of the usual traits of certain country’s foreign policy.

Type of International Relations’ System

For the beginning it would be reasonable to explore the characteristics of an international relation system. To be successful, countries usually must make policy choices within the context of the realities of the international system. Therefore, system-level analysis is significant. Namely, structural characteristics (anarchic) , power relationships (number of poles), economic realities (interdependence), and norms of behavior should be defined.

Categorization of the States (Small, Middle, Great Powers)

After defining the feature of the international relations’ system, examination the scope of the state and its place in the international relations’s system would be reasonable. Usually, states are defined according to to their material, political, military capabilities and ambitions. Informally, states around the world are divided into three categories, great, middle and small powers. In the late 16th century, Italian political thinker Giovanni Botero divided the world into three types of states — grandissime (empires), mezano (middle powers) and piccioli (small powers). Moreover, formalization of the division between small and great powers came about with the signing of the Treaty of Chaumont in 1814. Despite the fact that universal method how to categorize the states does not exist, experts still classificate the countries according to the size of their territories, population, economical strength, political activeness, ambitions etc.

Based on the power of the country and place in the IR system, foreign policy of the state is also different. For instance, small powers are usually more vulnerable towards the changes in international system since they are mostly focused on survival. Thus the foreign policy of small states are more influenced by IR rather than their domestic politics, meanwhile it is opposite for great powers. Small powers are the primary beneficiaries of international institutions and are lovers of the law.

A middle power is a sovereign state that is not a superpower nor a great power, but still has large or moderate influence and international recognition. Due to its complication, middle power are often distinguished from great powers with their foreign policy behaviors as they have narrow, particular types of interests. They mostly use diplomatic skills in the service of international peace and stability. However, also exists emerging middle powers, which are more semi-peripheral that demonstrate regional influence.

A great power is a sovereign country that that is recognized as having an ability and expertise to exert its influence on a global scale. They usually possess military and economic strength, as well as diplomatic and soft power influence. According to some scholars, great powers are distinguished by the power, spatial and status dimensions.

Nations such as the United States, China, France, Russia and the United Kingdom are generally considered to be great powers due to their economic, military or strategic importance, their status as recognized nuclear powers and their permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council. Some academics also believe that Germany and Japan are great powers, but due to their large advanced economies and global influence as opposed to military and strategic capabilities.

Types of National Interests

Analysis of foreign policy also entails the clarification of states’ national interests. Therefore, it is significant to be aware of National Interests of certain countries for envisaging the prospects of their foreign policy decisions.

“National Interest” is a key concept in international relations. All nations attempt to secure National Interests or fulfill them. A state always tries to justify its activities on the basis of its National Interests. Official definition of national interest is carious, however, more relevant explanation might be the following one: National interest means objectives, values, desires, demands interests that a state seek to achieve, protect, complete, defend and secure in relations with other states.

National interests consist of two components:

  1. Necessary or vital, and
  2. Variable or non-vital.

According to Hans Morgenthau, the vital components of the national interests that a foreign policy seeks to secure are survival or identity. This later divides into Physical (includes territorial identity), Political( means politico- economic system) and Cultural identity (stands for historical values). The non-vital components are those parts of national interest which are determined either by circumstances or by the necessity of securing the vital components.

According to Thomas W. Robinson six fold classification of interests exist that nations try to secure: The Primary Interests, Secondary Interests, Permanent Interests, Variable Interests, General Interests, Specific Interests.

As the relevant information is accumulated and defined all above mentioned types of interests, overall view of the aspirations of the state can be found.

Methods of Foreign Policy to Secure National Interests

Since the national interests are defined and framed, states strive to complete or secure them. Five the most popular methods or instruments exist which are usually employed by a nation for securing her national interests in international relations: Diplomacy, Propaganda, Economic Means, Alliances and Treaties, and Coercive Means.

Forms of Government and Political System

Type of government, political system, ideology should be also defined for deep and reasonable analysis of the foreign policy. Being it form of democracy, Republic, Monarchy, Communism, Dictatorship, Authoritarianism or other types of government can influence immensely the process and character of foreign policy decision.

Power Distribution Characteristics and Political Environment of the State

This layer of the analysis dedicate to the definition and examination the interaction among the political actors, which institution is the key in foreign policy decision making process, what is the political culture in the country, ideology of key political parties, long-held beliefs of nation, etc.

Features of the Key Actors in Foreign Policy(State Leader)

After defining the key actor in the Foreign Policy decision making process, deep and multi-dimensional study of the certain individuals is also crucial for relevant analysis. Namely, leader’s personality, physical and mental health, ego and ambitions, understanding of history, interest in foreign policy, techniques of decision-making, personal experiences, and perceptions are all the factors that should be taken into account.


By the utilization of the presented layers, analyst can explore the features of foreign policy of certain state and define main trends of decision making process. After creation the overall view of each country’s foreign policy characteristics, researcher can make accent on the variables that can change time to time towards different cases and cause also changes in the forms and methods of Foreign Policy. In this regard I would prefer to use the agents suggested by Margaret G. Hermann. He classified foreign policy changes according to their magnitude and divided them into adjustment changes, program changes, problem/goal changes, and international orientation changes. Moreover, Hermann identified four ‘change agents’ or sources of change; that is, the causes behind a government’s decision to redirect its foreign policy. Change agents are: predominant leader, bureaucratic advocacy, domestic restructuring, and external shocks.