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Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Malta-Bradford Diary

C olumn on Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, Foreign Ministries and Embassies abroad, The Vienna Convention, International Relations/Politics, Development Cooperation, Globalisation & International Trade, International History, The Cold War, International Security Challenges, Migration, Terrorism, Energy Security, Conflict Studies & Analysis, Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Negotiation and Mediation, Peacekeeping, Humanitarian Intervention, the Media, Public International Law, the State, the International System, the United Nations and Regional Organisations – roles, functions and challenges etc.


This column will be discussing and sharing perspectives relating to international issues on past and contemporary international affairs.



Foreign policy: What is involved

 in its making?

Foreign Policy is a comprehensive and proactive foreign policy. It is a plan of action adopted by a state with regard to its diplomatic dealings with other countries. It could also be defined as the policy of a Sovereign State in its dealing in international relations with other actors in the international system in pursuit of its national interests. Foreign policy is determined by the concept of national interests based upon the national strengths and goals.  General or specific, short or long ranging, foreign policy objectives take into account the location, population, natural resources, trade, political system both national and international involvement and historical relationships 


Determinants of foreign policy making 

and decisions

This part discusses the main factors at the state level (internal factors) that influence foreign policy choices and decisions which are mainly the military powers, economic capabilities, the type of internal political system and Global Influences.


Military capabilities

The level of military capabilities, advancement and ability to “project” makes a significant importance in the process of foreign policy making in any country. In other words, “What states believe about their own military capabilities and other states, guide their decision about war and peace. The more military capability and ability to project a country has, the more likely it can achieve its goals internationally, thus the more it can become involved in international or world affairs. The involvement of the major power such as the US in the Middle East and other parts of the world, China in the Asia region and beyond, Russia in Eastern Ukraine and in the former Soviet republics, France in Mali, CAR and the Sahel  region and UK in Afghanistan can all be understood in this regard. All these countries have the ability to project their power and global reach in pursuit of their foreign policy objectives.

On the other hand, the less military capability a country has, the less capability of active international participation it has, and the more it is prone to international pressure from other international players, either countries or trans-national organisations especially if it is a small & weak country.


Economic conditions

Economic & industrial capabilities are another important factor in foreign policy making. Generally, the level of economic and industrial development can give any country more foreign policy choices and freedom, and provide it with the possibility of a more active role in global relations and affairs. Qatar is a case in point, although a relatively small country, it is able to influence, shape and attract attention internationally on its regional and international affairs due to its economic and financial standing and prowess. Also, usually the stronger economy and industry a state has, the more the state tries to be militarily powerful, in order to have more freedom of choices, and to protect the level of advancement it has already achieved, and to pave the way for more.

Sometimes however, rich states tend to preserve the “states quo” to keep their own interests (stay away of risks), as they have so much to lose, especially if their military capabilities are not significantly more powerful than their enemies, (i.e. they could be subjected to substantive loses in a probable conflict).

Needless to say that the less economic advanced a state is the more it is prone to economic and political pressure by other states and actors.


Public opinion

Foreign policy making is affected by public opinion and interest groups these fluid factors has very important effects on the decision maker, leading to a very powerful role in foreign policy making. The opinion consists of very important aspect of foreign policy decision. Usually in discussing democracies and foreign policy making academicians and foreign policy experts would refer to and lean on the Democratic Peace theory of Immanuel Kant. According to Kant’s theory although democratic states sometimes wage wars against non-democratic states, they don’t fight one another because it is more difficult just to take a war decision, and also ordinary citizens bear the human and financial costs of war policies, so they would constrain leaders from initiating wars especially against other democracies. In addition, such countries usually have common values, making it more difficult to engage in direct military conflicts against each other, and prefer the use of other non-military ways of resolving conflicts and disputes.


Global influences

Global environment also influences the process of foreign policy making. External factors include all activities occurring beyond a state’s borders that may affect the choices a state makes for example military alliances and level of interdependence of trade and economics, etc. 

That said, worth noting are two important aspects of the international environment that might affect the process of foreign policy making. They are global distribution of power and geopolitics:


Global distribution of power

The type of polarity of the international system affects the choices and decisions that a state makes in its foreign policy, whether it is a unipolar, bipolar or multipolar system makes a difference. A state may have more flexibility in its foreign policy when there is more than one super power, non-unipolar system, also the shape and degree of polarisation of the international system have an important effect too.


Geopolitical factors

Geopolitics deeply affect the foreign policy making of a state, the relation between politics, economy, power, international relations and geography have a major role in the choices and decisions of foreign policy makers in any certain state. 

The state location, territory size, natural resources, physical environment, demography and topography are very important factors.  Leaders’ perceptions of available foreign policy options are influenced by the geopolitical circumstances that define their states’ place on the world stage.


 The foregoing has attempted to show what diplomacy is and what foreign policy is. Diplomacy is an essential political activity which states use to secure and achieve the objectives of foreign policy without resort to force. Diplomacy and diplomats use communications, negotiation and persuasion to promote respective foreign policy agendas. These are essentials of diplomacy. 

Foreign policy on the other hand is supposed to be a comprehensive and proactive plan of action adopted by a state with regards to its, diplomatic dealings with other countries targeting areas of critical interest to the country. These could include the promotion of good relations with other states, preservation of sovereignty, the promotion of peace and security, pursuing trade and investment benefits, amongst other foreign policy priorities and objectives. However, in determining its foreign policy priorities and to project itself (power projection), a state’s choice of action will be influenced to a great extent, by it military, economic, political standing as well as its geopolitical location and the prevailing condition and circumstances in international affairs. Diplomacy will be the most important means by which states will pursue their foreign policies through their foreign ministries, embassies and envoys abroad. It is now clear as was said in the beginning of this writing that diplomacy is not foreign policy, rather diplomacy is the political activities carried out to promote and achieve a country’s plan of action, in other words, its foreign policy objectives to achieve its national interest abroad.



Mr Sowe a holds double masters in International Affairs: An MA in International Politics and Security Studies from the Department of Peace Studies, Bradford University and a Master in Diplomacy pursued at the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, University of Malta. He also holds a first degree in International Development Studies, from the University Extension Programme, The Gambia.  Has strong research and writing interest in international (UN), continental (Africa & European Unions) and regional organisations (Ecowas), Mediterranean, Africa & international security and political affairs, conflict prevention, management and resolution having written two thesis on conflict prevention and management on Africa from the OUA to the AU’s attempts in last decade. His work experience covers work in Government, the United Nations, the NGOs, education and the banking sector. He is currently a permanent secretary in the service of The Gambia Government.


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