Do We Need 195 Theories of Foreign Policy?

  • Benjamin Herborth
Part of the Palgrave Studies in International Relations Series book series (PSIR)


In one of the few genuinely theoretical contributions to the study of foreign policy, James Rosenau (1987) has called for its country-specific theorization. If foreign policy is to differ from international theory at all, it must do so by refusing to gloss over the particularities of the foreign policies of individual states. Where international theory can afford to focus on ‘broader systemic patterns’, foreign policy theory collects the windfall. It gains its distinctive character by shedding light on the complex enmeshment of foreign policy processes in historical, cultural and institutional factors, which are in no small part peculiar to the specific state under scrutiny. Against this background, Rosenau’s injunction seems almost self-evident. Yet, even if we were in possession of a number of foreign policy theories approximating the number of sovereign states this would leave us in a state of dissatisfaction, if these individual theories remained unconnected. Theorizing the foreign policy of individual states seems to be at the same time necessary and insufficient, for any account of a state’s foreign policy involves at least an implicit conception of its (global) environment. How exactly the global environment is understood, however, crucially shapes the possibilities of foreign policy theory. Foreign policy understood to take place in an international system of states equipped with asymmetric material capabilities will look vastly different from a foreign policy understood to take place in a post-national constellation characterized by the struggle for supranational forms of constitutionalization, or a functionally differentiated world society where the autopoietic closure of function systems operating on a global level makes a state-centric focus appear atavistic.


Foreign Policy International Relation World Society International Relation International Theory 
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  • Benjamin Herborth

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