Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

All Great-Power Politics is Local

| Aug. 24, 2020

When it comes to building international power, there's growing reason to think that foreign policy barely matters.

Those of us who write about foreign policy and international affairs spend most of our time thinking about what states and other global actors are doing with and to each other. We debate what different interests are, criticize the strategies and priorities (or lack of each) that leaders adopt, and offer advice on what goals should be sought and how they could be achieved more effectively.

The implicit assumption behind these efforts (and the rationale for a magazine like Foreign Policy) is that these decisions matter. A lot. People like me are (mostly) convinced that if you get foreign policy right, lots of good things will come your way. Get it wrong and you're likely to find yourself in a heap of trouble.

I'm no exception to this general tendency. If you go back and read all the columns I've written here over the past decade or more, or the various books and articles I've published since I began my career, you will find that they are mostly focused on diagnosing why states are acting toward others in different ways, determining if their policies are working or not, and exploring how they might do better. And with occasional exceptions, this focus is for most people who work in this field.

But recently I had a slightly heretical thought: What if foreign policy isn't as important as foreign-policy mavens like me maintain? What if developments and policies inside the country are far more consequential—at least most of the time—than what its leaders do on the global stage?...

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“All Great-Power Politics is Local.” Foreign Policy, August 24, 2020.

The Author

Stephen Walt