17.40 | Fall 2017 | Undergraduate

American Foreign Policy: Past, Present, and Future


First Paper Assignment

Select an episode in American foreign policy and write a short paper that identifies what you believe is the single best explanation for American policies. Please also identify one or two competing explanations and explain why you find them less compelling. Finally, feel free to identify policy prescriptions that follow from your analysis, if any do. Use historical evidence to support your argument. You may want to draw on theories discussed in this course to construct your explanation but can also rely on other theories. 

Following is a list of suitable episodes for your paper. (This list is not exclusive; other episodes are also allowed).

  1. United States policy before U.S. entry into World War I, and /or U.S. entry into World War I, and / or U.S. conduct of World War I.
  2. U.S. policy before U.S. entry into World War II, and / or U.S. entry into World War II, and / or U.S. conduct of World War II.
  3. The U.S. decision to wage the Cold War.
  4. U.S. strategies and tactics in the Cold War.
  5. U.S. entry into and / or conduct of the Korean War.
  6. U.S. conduct of the War on Terror, 2001–present.
  7. U.S. decisions toward the Soviet installation of missiles in Cuba, October 1962 (the Cuban Missile Crisis). E.g., the U.S. decision to insist on the missiles’s removal; or to pursue a blockade instead of bombing and invading.
  8. U.S. intervention decisions, e.g., the U.S. decisions not to intervene in Rwanda in 1994; to intervene in Libya in 2011; to intervene in Iraq 2003; to intervene in Vietnam 1965.

If the facts you need to fully assess your explanations are not found in the available course readings, describe what additional facts you would need to provide a more thorough assessment, and explain why these additional facts would shed light on the questions you address.

If you want to pursue a paper on another topic-for example, a paper that uses a case to test a theory of US foreign policy, or a paper that evaluates a US foreign policy-we are open to it. Consult your TA.

Your paper should be roughly eight typed double-spaced pages, with normal 1’’ margins and normal-size typeface.

Start your paper with a short summary introduction that states your guestion(s) and distills your answer(s). And offer a conclusion.

Your paper is due at the beginning of Session 17.

Your TA will give you feedback on a draft of your paper if you submit a draft a week before you submit your final paper. You must do this for one of your two papers. You are wise to do it for both papers.

Course Info

As Taught In
Fall 2017
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Lecture Notes