Describe the tools used to carry out United States foreign policy.

Foreign Policy Logo, 2017
Foreign Policy Logo, 2017

Topics on the Page

Foreign Policy Overview

United States Foreign Policy Making Structure


Economic Aid

Military Aid

Humanitarian Aid


  • Chemical and Biological Weapons Treaties and Agreements


Military Intervention

Focus Question: How does the United States carry out is foreign policy?

Foreign Policy Overview

Signing of Treaty of Ghent (1812)
Signing of Treaty of Ghent (1812)
rotating gif.gifFor more on foreign policy, see United States Government 4.5.

map_icon.jpegInteractive Map: Foreign Aid Analysis Made Easy from

external image 200px-Dollar_Sign.svg.pngDefense Breakdown Economic Impact Reports lists 2012 Pentagon contracts and their dollar amounts in every Congressional district in the country.

America's Foreign Policy: A Brief History, Constitutional Rights Foundation

Important Ideas and Events in American Foreign Policy

Multimedia.pngCrash Course: Foreign Policy Overview

See here for a video outlining the foreign policy powers of the President and Congress

United States Foreign Policy Making Structure

American Foreign Policy Making Structure, Image on Wikimedia Commons by Tomwsulcer
American Foreign Policy Making Structure, Image on Wikimedia Commons by Tomwsulcer

The Department of State was established in 1789 and is one of the oldest of the cabinet departments.

Similar to a foreign ministry or office of foreign affairs in other governments, the State Department handles diplomatic relations between the United States and foreign nations.

The Secretary of State and his or her staff travel around the world building alliances and coalitions, protecting human rights, promoting democracy, and mediating conflicts.

The department also works to unite various nations over global issues including terrorism, international crime, and many other important issues (Shaffrey 75).

The Department is headed by the Secretary of State, a position appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

In addition to dealing with diplomatic relations, the State Department controls the Great Seal of the United States of America (Shaffrey 75).

Colin Powell
Colin Powell
Rotating_globe-small.gifColin Powell served as Secretary of State from 2001-2005 under President George W. Bush. He was the first African American to hold this position.
  • Click here to read a conversation with Colin Powell from the Atlantic.

Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright
Female_Rose.pngMadeleine Albright was the first female to hold the position of Secretary of State. She was Colin Powell's predecessor.

Another woman to occupy this position was Hillary Rodham Clinton.
-Watch: Protecting the Secretary of State, Secrets of Diplomatic Security
  • Click here to read more abut Madeleine Albright.

John Kerry, former Democratic presidential nominee and U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, was Secretary of State under President Obama.


US Embassies 2007
US Embassies 2007

The official site of US embassies, where US are located and current news about them.

Map Key
Green--United States
Royal Blue--U.S. Embassy
Light Blue--U.S. Interests Section in Swiss Embassy
Sky Blue--American Institute in Taiwan
Gray--No diplomatic mission

American Ambassadors Around the World

The United States Foreign Service currently employs 13,000 people1.

Economic Aid

Marshall Plan Poster
Marshall Plan Poster

Click here to read an article from Foreign Policy about the extent of America's economic aid.

Click here to read an article from Foreign Affairs from 1961 about the US's foreign aid.

From the Washington Post in 2013, the US Gives Egypt $1.5 Billion in Foreign Aid. Here's What it Does.

From 2012, from the Huffington Post, click here to see who the US gives foreign aid to.

History of the US's Foreign Aid to Israel.

Read about the Marshall Plan, perhaps the most important economic aid that the US has given. Implemented in Europe to contain the spread of communism.

See here for a Wall Street Journal Video breaking down how much the United States spends on Foreign Aid

Military Aid

There are three main programs for military funding:
  1. Foreign Military Financing (FMF): this types provides grants that enable US allies to attain US military equipment, services, and training.
  2. Peacekeeping Operations (PKO): this types provides voluntary support for international peacekeeping situations. This usually falls within the interests of the United Nations.
  3. The International Military Education and Training program (IMET): this type a grant basis military training to foreign (usually US allies) military officers.

From the State Department, Foreign Military Financing Account Summary

From Forbes 2015, As U.S. Resumes Military Aid to Egypt, Reports Show How Little Is Being Used.

Click here to read about the role of the US in UN peace keeping missions.

An article from Bloomberg Business, US Counts on Training Foreign Forces Despite Years of Failure.

Humanitarian Aid

An American solider provides water to a Pakistani girl, October 2005
An American solider provides water to a Pakistani girl, October 2005

The Global Humanitarian Assistance provides key figures of US humanitarian aid.

From the Air Force website, American Humanitarian Aid

Click here to read about US humanitarian aid for the Syrian Civil War, the White House.
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a video and read text about how humanitarian aid in Iraq will cost the taxpayer.
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch a video and read text about the US giving money in humanitarian aid to Ukraine.


Skippet, Treaty with Mexico*
Skippet, Treaty with Mexico*

From the State Department, Treaty Affairs

Click here to view US treaties and international agreements.

Click here to see the 7 treaties that the US has never ratified.

Click here for more primary sources of US Treaties and background information, from PBS

*Treaties were typically sealed with pendant seals (wax discs which were impressed with the seal) attached to the treaty document by a cord; skippets were containers to protect the wax disc during transport, and were usually made of silver. This skippet was for a treaty with Mexico about protection for a transitway across the Isthums of Tehuantepec signed by the U.S. on January 25, 1851, but it was never ratified by Mexico so the seal was never sent.

Chemical and Biological Weapons Treaties and Agreements

For background, see Chemical Weapons: How We Built a Taboo, The Boston Globe, September 8, 2013.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.png
See here for a timeline of Chemical Weapons Activity in Syria from 2012-Present

Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells, mustard gas
Pallets of 155 mm artillery shells, mustard gas

primary_sources.PNG Key Sources

For background, see a Brief History of Chemical Weapon Use from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. See also, Chemical Weapons Used Rarely--But with Deadly Effect from NPR (August 27, 2013).

For a video on the history of Chemical Weapons use, see here. From the New York Times


USS William V. Pratt, conducting missions for UN trade sanctions against Iraq after Operation Desert Storm
USS William V. Pratt, conducting missions for UN trade sanctions against Iraq after Operation Desert Storm

The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), part of the United States Department of Treasury administers a number of different sanctions programs.

The sanctions can be either comprehensive or selective, using the blocking of assets and trade restrictions to accomplish foreign policy and national security goals. (US Department of Treasury).

One of the most famous examples of economic sanctions is the fifty-year-old United States embargo against Cuba.

Often the U.S. government will impose economic sanctions as a means of displaying disapproval or condemnation of a foreign nation's policies, without resorting to military force. Recently, the U.S. government has imposed sanctions on Iran for its potential nuclear weapons program, and on Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Click here for more on current U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Click here to read about the US sanction against Ukraine and Russia.

Military Interventions

Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missile
Tomahawk Block IV Cruise Missile

From Wounded Knee to Syria: A Century of U.S. Military Interventions (1890-2014), Evergreen State College

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngInstances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798-1993 from the U. S Congressional Research Service.

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngPhoto Gallery: US Military Intervention Since Vietnam

external image 200px-Hebrew_timeline.svg.pngTimeline on US Foreign Policy and Military Action in the Middle East

United States Military Personnel Developments Around the Globe
  • 1,167,269 (United States and its Territories)
  • 35,125 (Europe, most in Germany, England and Italy)
  • 51,257 (Asia, most in Japan and South Korea)
  • 25,910 (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria)
  • 2,082 (Kuwait)
  • 191 (Oceania, most in Australia)
(from DoD Personnel Report, December 2017)

Countries Intervening in Libya (green) are colored blue, 2011
Countries Intervening in Libya (green) are colored blue, 2011

The United States spends considerably more on its military than any other nation in the world. As of 2014, its estimated $640 billion spent on the military was more than three times that of the next highest nation (China, at $188 billion). List of Countries by Military Expenditure.

See here for a list of primary sources of US Declarations of War, from

See here for a Lesson Plan on the history of the Armed Forces and Military Conscription, or the draft.

Teaching Resources for Teachers and Students

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  • See the Birth of an Empire for excellent lessons on the question of an American empire, the Spanish-American War, the U.S. and the Philippines, and imperialism and the Open Door Policy.
  • See here for a timeline of United States foreign policy relations with China, from 1949 to 2018
Multimedia.png The Foreign Policy Research Institutes' site provides lessons and webcasts to aid students and teachers in the teaching and learning of United States foreign policy.
Multimedia.pngexternal image 200px-Hebrew_timeline2_rus.svg.png America on the Sidelines is an interactive timeline that highlights the major events in Europe and East Asia from 1931 to 1941. It demonstrates the U.S. response to the activities that developed through out Europe and East Asia.

Lesson Plan: Foreign Policy and Department of State
-Learning the components of the Department of State
-Quote Analysis

Iran, the U.S. and a Political Seesaw Timeline

Rotating_globe-small.gifClick here to read about how multiculturalism and ethnicity in the United States effected how people felt about foreign policy especially in the 20th century.


Shaffrey, Mary M., and Melanie Fonder. The Complete Idiot's Guide to American Government. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

U.S. Department of State: Office of the Historian. Retreived 24 April 2011 from the United States Department of State's site:
WWW Virtual Library: International Affairs (2011). Retreived 24 April 2011 from Wayne A. Selcher's site:
Documents Relating to American Foreign Policy 1898-1914 (2010). Retreived from Vincent Ferraro's site:
America on the Sidelines: The United States and World Affairs, 1931-1941. Retreived 24 April 2011 from Interactive Design by CiV's site:
Critical Lectures in American Foreign Policy. Retreived 24 April 2011 from the Earth Institutes's site:
Webcast/Courses (2011). Retreived 24 April 2011 from the Regent's of the University of California's site:
Council on Foreign Relations (2011). Retreived 24 April 2011 from the Council of Foreign Relations's site:
Face-Off: United States Foreign Policy with North Korea (2011). Retreived 24 April 2011 from WGNH Educational Foundation's site:
The Birth of an Empire. Retreived 24 April 2011 from EDSITEment!'s site:
Foreign Policy Research (2011). Retreived 24 April 2011 from Foreign Policy Research Institutes's site: Department of Treasury. Sanctions programs and country information
New images obtained from Wikimedia Commons.
1 Foreign Service Data obtained from