Domestic Foundations of American Foreign Policy

Domestic Foundations of American Foreign Policy


As the Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy considers the components and viability of a foreign policy strategy, one critical area of inquiry must be the domestic issues that might enable or constrain such a strategy. For this essay series, we asked the members of the working group to consider to what extent the president’s ability to implement a robust and coherent foreign policy is constrained by recent domestic political and economic challenges. This prompt elicited a surprising range of views about constraints, or lack thereof.

The rough consensus that emerges from these essays, however, is that political dysfunction and economic difficulties pose few near-term limitations but that longer-term trends — especially those involving internal and external drivers of the defense budget and political dysfunction that hinders progress on budgetary challenges— could degrade American power over an extended period of time.


A Framework for Thinking About Domestic Foundations
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry provides a framework for understanding the domestic foundations of American power and its relevance to foreign policy. Strategy, he says, is the art of applying means to desired ends and a successful strategy must therefore involve a clear assessment of the domestic sources of those means.

Domestic Law and National Security Strategy
Abraham Sofaer examines domestic legal constraints, finding that US law has consistently allowed the executive "broad authority to plan for and manage the nation’s security, while preserving in Congress the power to approve, disallow, or take no action on executive initiatives."

The Shortsighted Presidency
Amy Zegart argues that, “The mismatch between the time needed for policy success and the speed demanded by politics, the dysfunctional crisis footing of the policymaking establishment, and changes in the nature of military power may not constrain presidents much in the short run, but they could gravely undermine US foreign policy interests in the long run.”

Domestic Politics and Foreign Policy — Better Than It Looks
Stephen Krasner distinguishes between two foreign policy challenges facing the United States. Institutional fragmentation, partisanship, and finite resources will place greater constraints on our policy toward relatively weak, malevolent states than on our policy toward China.

The Domestic Basis of American Power
Francis Fukuyama distinguishes between domestic economic and domestic political constraints. He argues that America will not face short- to medium-term economic constraints but that growing political constraints will limit the country’s ability to translate economic resources into internationally usable power.

Domestic Security and Foreign Policy
Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar argues for a broader formulation of the link between domestic considerations and foreign policy, one that takes into account the effect of international developments on domestic security and the effect of domestic developments on national security.

Domestic Foundations of Foreign Policy vs. Foreign Policy Distractions from Domestic Foundations 
James Fearon agrees that domestic developments pose few near-term constraints on the president but, picking up from Cuéllar, takes issue with the framing of the question itself, arguing that those developments should not be viewed solely through a lens of foreign policy implications.