In its practical aspects the formulation of foreign policy is the process of reaching decisions as to the way forces and situations abroad are to be influenced. As such, it lies essentially in the determination of this to be done, of actions to be pursued, of statements, of influences to be set in motion in order to affect persons, things and situations beyond the legal and jurisdictional limits of the policy-making country. In formulating foreign policy, countries must take into consideration the facts, conditions, and situation in world affairs, and then figure out the way or ways in which the nation can reach its goals. Into the process go all the elements that influence a state’s conduct – among them reports from
agents at home and abroad, the situation of the country in the world, developments abroad, conferences, commitments, and investigations, to mention a few. This is what we will examine more critically in this unit. They involve the methods and techniques used in the pursuit of foreign policy by nation-states.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1.  Discuss what policy formulation means
  2. Discuss the methods and techniques of foreign policy
  3.  Explain the role of a strong domestic economy for foreign policy
  4. Analyse the importance of making foreign policy choices


3.1 Policy Formulation

Policy formulation, obviously, may result in good, bad and indifferent courses of action, their quality depending upon the decisions taken. It is a dynamic function, for it must deal with the changing times. To be effective, it calls for knowledge of the facts and situations. To be sound, it must also be based on an awareness of the state’s power and influence both at home and abroad, and importance must also be given to the moral, ideology, and public opinion of a country. In short, foreign policies cannot be evolved in a vacuum. As they are unfolding a state must have the reactions and interest of other states in mind, for no country, however strong, can safety adopt policies without taking the actions, programmes, hopes, and aspirations of other countries into consideration. To be sure, guesses may sometimes produce good results but guesses are not substitutes for rationally formed policies.

Foreign policy is more than a bundle of official papers or series of pronouncements by high officials. Foreign policy is the way nations choose to deal with its external environment. C.B. Marshall, in the “Limits of Foreign Policy” describes the formulation of foreign policy as the “forming of intentions” as distinguished from our ends – regarding the world external to our jurisdiction.  To find the basis for the foreign policy of a country, therefore, it is necessary to ascertain why relevant decisions were actually made. This means looking at the thinking of the people who make the decisions, their image of the world and of their own polity, of finding which facts were factors to them; and how they took them into account.

One or two examples may help to show what is involved. At independence in 1960, one of the first pre-occupation of Nigeria was to define its position in the world, and the first official pronouncement of the Federal Government’s policy on foreign affairs was made by the Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa in the Federal House of Representatives on 20 August, 1960. Nigeria declared that the Prime Minister, would follow an independent policy which would be “founded on Nigeria’s interest” and would be “consistent with the moral and democratic principles on which our constitution is based”. The policy on each occasion would be “selected with proper independent objectivity”, Sir Abukakar continued, while full attention would be paid “to the opinions expressed by our representatives”. He was careful to point out that “while benefiting greatly from the free inter-change of ideas and consultation between the members of the Commonwealth and from their experience within the framework of the United Nations” his government

would nevertheless, have “a free hand to select those policies which it considered to be most advantageous for Nigeria”. Nigeria he emphasized, would consider herself in no way subordinate to any member of the Commonwealth, she would also be firmly opposed to “all forms of aggression” and would strive always to maintain the observance everywhere of those human rights which all parties in Nigeria have agreed upon as fundamental; in particular, freedom from racial discrimination”.

3.2 The Domestic Constraints on Foreign Policy

Unfortunately, the real world of foreign policy-making exists within an environment that includes a host of pressures from the domestic and international political systems. The domestic environment includes political pressures that may emanate from within or without the government, and organizational influences stemming from the manner in which governmental agencies perform their functions. The complexities of the international environment stem from a variety of factors. Prominent among these are (1) the various levels (from face to face meetings of national leaders to routine implementation of action programme) at which nations interact; (2) the inability of nations-states; and (3) the uncertainties that result from these conditions and from the inability of one nation to foresee changes in the international environment or to judge that environment from the same perspective as other nations. Foreign and domestic policy issues are related products of the same political system and are designed to define and implement overall national purposes. Foreign and domestic policy must be mutually

supporting of national policy aspirations and are to be achieved in an atmosphere of political stability. Philosopher Clausewitz put it succinctly when he said that foreign policy “is an execution or
reflection of the internal body politic of a nation”. If the domestic structures are based on commensurable notions of what is just, a consensus about permissible aims and methods of foreign policy develops. If domestic structures are reasonably stable, temptations to use an adventurous foreign policy to achieve domestic cohesion are at a minimum. The domestic structure is taken as given; foreign policy begins where domestic policy ends. When the domestic structures are
based on fundamentally different conceptions of what is just, the conduct of international affairs grows more complex. Then it becomes difficult even to define the nature of disagreement because what seems most obvious to one side appears most problematic to the other. A policy dilemma arises because the “pros” and “cons” of a given course seem evenly balanced.

The development of national economics requires the assembling of resources from other states and the expansion of market across international borders. The ability of a nation to exert military strength in the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives in turn depends upon a diversified and sound domestic industrial structure or help from allies that possess such resources. Both set of policies, foreign and domestic, are conditioned by the ideologies, popular attitudes and balance of political power that exist within the national system at any given time. Public policy programmes, both foreign and domestic, require the allocation of a nation’s limited resources among conflicting claims and interests. For this reason all policy decisions that require the use of resources are interrelated. But the political conflict over the use of limited resources is not the only reason that foreign and domestic policies are interrelated. Foreign policy decisions often involve a whole range of choices that reflect the moral, religious, social, and economic interests of different groups and regions within a country.

While foreign policy choices affect domestic interests, domestic politics may also affect a nation’s relations with other countries. Domestic issues may have a beneficial or dysfunctional effect on a nation’s foreign policy position. For example, South Africa’s apartheid policy with respect to her own population resulted in economic and political sanctions being imposed on her by the international community. Soviet emigration policy has been severely criticized by other nations as being discriminatory, since Jews were not allowed to emigrate this affected their policies towards the Soviet Union.

The inter-dependence of foreign and domestic policies could also be illustrated through Nigeria’s foreign policy postures during the era of Tafawa Balewa (1960 – 1966) in Nigeria.  Throughout Balewa’s term of office, there were two dimensions to Nigeria’s external policy: the foreign political policy and the foreign economic policy. The first was based on the assumption of non- alignment as a weapon against colonialism, neo-colonialism, and racism, as a mechanism for projecting and asserting Nigeria’s interest in international affairs, while the second was based on the assumption of non-alignment as an instrument of diversifying both the direction of trade and sources of aid.

Nigeria’s foreign economic policy was highly programmatic and introspective since it was meant to respond to the exigencies of Nigeria’s economic development process. Its chief concern was the provision of resources to fill the gap between domestic saving and the needs of planned development. The foreign political policy, on the other hand, was primarily concerned with an anti-colonial and anti-apartheid campaign and with the promotion of international peace and security. Unlike the foreign economic policy, it was not essentially concerned with domestic issues.

Nigeria’s economic alignment with the West, detracted from her political non-alignment and in this connection, the Balewa’s government failure to diversify both the direction of trade and the sources of foreign economic assistance and thus disengage Nigeria from the West economically was perhaps the most conspicuous defect of the post independence Nigerian foreign economic policy. Mahmud Tukur had made a correct assessment of the situation when he wrote “Nigeria’s foreign policy leadership never seemed to have attempted a national ordering of priorities. Decisions were based on prejudice rather than calculation. Moreover, since economic under-development was the main cause given during the Balewa era to the problems of economic development and foreign economic assistance, too little emphasis was laid to policies which could consolidate political independence, unite the people and inspire national pride. It is hardly surprising, then, that the Balewa’s government despite its pragmatic considerations of promoting accelerated economic growth, found it increasingly difficult either to relate Nigeria’s economic needs and domestic interest to the international economic scene or to use foreign economic policy as a mechanism to satisfy the psychological needs and the new expectations of a recently emancipated people.

Of course, the domestic structure is not irrelevant in any historical period. Granted that Nigeria’s domestic political process and foreign policy are largely conditioned by the post-colonial situation, and granted that the domestic political structures not only “determine the amount of
the social effort which can be devoted to foreign policy” but also set limits to the possibilities of foreign policy a few valid criticisms can still be laid squarely at the door of the Balewa’s government.

In actual practice national interests and international objectives are interwoven, external and internal factors being inter-related in the achievement of national objectives. Thus for example, when domestic markets clearly could no longer absorb the total output of the American productive machine, the United States embarked upon a policy of reciprocal trade agreements with her allies that in effect, reduced tariff barriers and permitted greater trade abroad.

Self Assessment Exercise

Discuss the domestic constraints to foreign policy formulation and implementation using Nigeria as an Example.


Ideally, in democracies the will of the people should rule the government and, in the final analysis, determines what the foreign policies of the state should be. In so far as that will pertain to matters at home, it is expressed through elections, laws, court decisions and administrative orders. In so far as it concerns affairs abroad, it manifests itself in agreements, pronouncements of governmental representatives, official notes, and governmental communications. Both domestic and foreign policies and acts of a given government proceed from a common source, whether it be a dictator, a ruling group, or the people themselves; and all policies are an expression of a common authority. That authority cannot with reason or safety make any compartmentalized distinction between foreign and domestic policies.


In this unit, we discussed the various methods and techniques of formulating foreign policy. The pivotal role of the domestic environment should never be underplayed, as without a strong domestic base, it is extremely difficult to back up your foreign policy positions. Again, the strength of the domestic economy should determine the foreign policy choices a state is able to make.


Discuss the methods and constraints to foreign policy formulation?