Understanding foreign policy decision making

Kundan Kumar Jha


Foreign policy decision making represents a decision making approach to foreign policy analysis. The process focuses on decision process, dynamics, and outcome, highlighting the role of psychological factors in foreign policy decision making.

Foreign policy is often referred to as behaviour of states towards other states in international system. It plays a crucial role in defining status of the nation. Decision making is always related with government mechanism. The process of decision making is most important in implementation of such policies. Government plays a dominant role in defining such decision.

Everything that happens between nation and across nations is determined by human decision makers acting as a single unit or as a group. Factors from micro to macro level are considered while making such decisions. However in some cases even individuals decisions determine the foreign policy of the state. Decision making is always intended towards national benefits and interests.

A much disputed term, the national interest nonetheless remains a central preoccupation of foreign policy decision-makers and a reference point for interpreting state action. This process is often determined by recognition of problems and efforts to overcome such situations. Decision makers often analyse different dimensions from different level of analysis before decision formulating foreign policy.

Decision making is considered only after wide range of feasibility studies. It is not an overnight process that leads into decision making dynamics. Research and study of different components are considered while making foreign policy of a nation. Every nation has different strategy and policy plans for their foreign affairs.

Relations among nations in international studies are guided by different factors. Nations are guided by the principle of mutual benefit while considering relations with different states. For instance, Nepal has different foreign policy and decision making approach for the US and India. It is mainly because Nepal shares different history with both the countries.

Geographical location also contributes to such relations. A broad knowledge of geography is essential in any attempt to gain an understanding, if only in part, of the numerous problems confronting people throughout the world.  Every nation has its own foreign policy with different nations around the world and similarly different decision making mechanisms and institutions.

The dynamics of foreign policy has changed drastically in the 21st century. After the devastating series of wars in 20th century independent sovereign states became more serious about their relations in international community. Foreign policy and decision making process was now a global agenda and a means to globalisation and sustainable development. It included different aspects of development process.

Economic development, political stability, and security were basic need of implementing foreign policy. The most important goal of such policy is to create accountability and agility in the policy process by putting right officials in charge to maintain transparency and inclusiveness. It bridges gaps between adjacent disciplines, the policymaking community, and more importantly the decision making principles.

The broader dimension of foreign policy analysis aims at global governance through the process of globalisation. One of the most disappointing features of contemporary foreign policy analysis is the relative dearth of comparative studies. This suggests the essence of understanding history, culture, diversity, and more importantly political structure to implement such policies.

Understanding benefits and profits holds key to decision making in foreign policy of 21st century. Today foreign policy mechanism is in general connected with geographical location and mostly security issues. However, political wisdom suggests that in any state policy formulation there is an irreducible core—vital national interest—for any state at any time. It is basically aimed at national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Nepal being a landlocked country, its foreign policy is highly dependent of India and China. The geostrategic location of Nepal between two rising economies in the world is highly responsible for decision making process of Nepal’s foreign policy. Nepal shares different history with both the neighbours.



Foreign policy is executed by Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nepal. Decision making of such policies is executed by the foreign minister who is responsible for making decisions and executing it. Though Nepal has twenty nine embassies in different nations around the world, Nepal’s foreign policy is pivoted to India and China.

As late Prof. Yadu Nath Khanal wrote long ago, “Our foreign policy will break down at the point where either India or China loses faith in us and concludes that her vital national interests and sensitivities do not receive proper recognition in our conduct of relations.” This clearly suggests the dependency of Nepal’s foreign policy with India and China.

This dependency, however, has not resulted into any major development in Nepal economy. Nepal can highly benefit from two neighbouring giants but it depends upon how we build our policies such that it can lead to sustainable development. Post-1990 Nepali politics could neither forge consensus on national interest nor strengthen institutions and empower individuals of calibre in foreign policy with whom our  international  partners,  particularly  two  neighbours,  felt  they  could  talk  in confidence.

The adjustment must be made in a way such that Nepal’s national interest can be achieved from both the rising economies in the world. The recent political development promises stability across the state reflecting signs of improvement in foreign policy dynamics and prompt approach in decision making.

The writer is a student of international relations.

Published on March 2, 2018