PO3USF-US Foreign and Defence Policy since 1950

Module Provider: School of Politics, Economics and International Relations
Number of credits: 20 [10 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Autumn / Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2020/1

Module Convenor: Dr Graham O'Dwyer

Email: g.m.odwyer@reading.ac.uk

Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module examines US foreign and defence policy from the end of the Second World War to the present, with a focus on understanding US foreign policy processes, institutions, and decision-making. At heart the module seeks to address three broad questions: who makes (and influences) US foreign policy? How has US foreign policy changed since the end of the Second World War? What is the role of US foreign policy in the world today? By exploring historical and contemporary cases, students will analyse how foreign policy decisions are made, who influences them, and how this has evolved overtime. Drawing on primary and secondary sources, students will gain an understanding of crucial events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, the end of the Cold War, and the War on Terror. Finally, the course will explore salient challenges faced by US foreign policymakers today.


• To advance students' knowledge of US foreign and defence policymaking processes and history since the end of the Second World War;

• To enable students to understand, analyse, and assess the domestic and international determinants of US foreign and defence policy making;

• To enable students to arrive at informed and critical assessments of the material and objectives of US foreign and defence policy;

• To facilitate student understanding of change and continuity in US foreign and defence policy;

• To enable students to evaluate the outcomes of US foreign policy;

• To enhance students' critical and analytical skills through engaging with diverse and challenging literature and to demonstrate these in policy simulations, discussions, debates, and written work

Assessable learning outcomes:

  • To provide a solid foundation of the history and practice of US foreign and defence policy, which will be assessed through written work;

  • To demonstrate an understanding of the policymaking process, substantive issues, and forms of policy writing through the drafting of position papers, issue briefings, and policy recommendations.

Additional outcomes:

  • Effective oral presentation and collaboration in a simulated policymaking environment;

  • Effective understanding of finding and analysing primary documents related to the making of US foreign policy;

  • Knowledge of different approaches to understanding and explaining US foreign and defence policy, which can provide a point of departure for further research;

  • Informed and critical approach to using primary and secondary sources through preparation of all coursework;

  • Enhanced confidence in, and effectiveness of, oral and written communication through seminar discussions, presentations and written analysis;

  • Improved time management through meeting deadlines and regular seminar preparation;

  • Independent and team work through individual and group preparation of coursework.

Outline content:

Week One: Business Meeting and Course Overview

Week Two: Traditions, Values, and Strategic Culture in American Foreign Policy

Week Three: Making US Foreign Policy I: Congress and the Presidency

Week Four: Making US Foreign Policy II: Executive Agencies

Week Five: Making US Foreign Policy III: Irrationality and Decision-Making

Week Six: Simulation Part I: National Security Council and US Interro gation Policy

Week Seven: Containment: The Intellectual Foundations of Post-War Foreign Policy

Week Eight: The Liberal War: Vietnam and the Limits of Containment

Week Nine: The Realist Peace: détente, Nixon, and Kissinger

Week Ten: Killing the Cold War: Reagan, Clinton, and the ‘peace dividend’

Week Eleven: The Longest War: 9/11, Neo-Conservativism, and the War on Terror

Week Twelve: Simulation Part II: National Security Council and US Interrogation Policy

Week Thirteen: The World American Made: decline and the waning of the Pax American?

Brief description of teaching and learning methods:

The module is taught via thirteen two-hour seminars requiring preparatory reading and research. Students will be required to participate in a policy simulation and structured group discussions 

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Seminars 16 10
Guided independent study: 84 90
Total hours by term 0
Total hours for module 200

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 50
Report 50

Summative assessment- Examinations:
There is no examination.

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

One 3,000 word essay analysing US foreign policy in a specific historical or contemporary case, employing research in both primary and secondary sources.

One 3,000 word simulation report that explores one particular case study from the perspective of a particular institution – such as the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Department of State.

Coursework components:

-  Essay = 50%

-  Simulation report = 50%

Visiting students who wish to gain full credit will follow the same assessment. Visiting students who are only studying for half credits in Autumn and/or Spring terms will submit half of the work, in consultation with the module convenor.

Formative assessment methods:
Students will actively participate in the class simulation. All students are expected to contribute extensively to class debate.

Penalties for late submission:

The Module Convenor will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.
The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at: http://www.reading.ac.uk/web/FILES/qualitysupport/penaltiesforlatesubmission.pdf
You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

Assessment requirements for a pass:

Reassessment arrangements:

Candidates who fail their final year normally have the right to be re-examined on one further occasion at the next opportunity. These candidates will not normally be eligible for Honours (ie., only a ‘Pass’ classification would be attainable). Students who are eligible for re-assessment have the right to re-assessment in all elements even if they have previously passed one of those elements. It is expected, however, that the majority of students would probably elect not to repeat an element in which they had already passed, in which case the confirmed marks would be carried forward.

Coursework: Failed or missing coursework should be re-submitted by 1st August, emailed directly to politics@reading.ac.uk, AND submitted on Blackboard. 

Additional Costs (specified where applicable):

1) Required text books: Bruce Jentleson, American Foreign Policy: the dynamics of choice in the 21st century (London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013) 5th Edition

2) Specialist equipment or materials:

3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:

4) Printing and binding: There may be optional costs associated with photocopying or printing sources listed on the reading list relating to this module. Please note that the Library charges approximately 5p per photocopy.

5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:

6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence: 

Last updated: 4 April 2020


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