All foreign policy has a similar aim: to influence other countries in order to protect and advance a government’s interests. However, leaders approach this common goal with different strategies.

In general, three main questions inform a government’s approach to foreign policy.

One debate considers how much foreign policy to have. Should a country actively participate in global affairs (engagement) or instead try to pull up the drawbridge and shield itself from the outside world (isolationism)?

Another debate revolves around how a government sets its foreign policy priorities. Idealists would say that foreign policy should reflect a country’s internal values and that countries should seek to promote those values abroad. Realists, on the other hand, would say that foreign policy should focus less on domestic policy and more on shaping the foreign policy of other countries.

A third debate explores how best to achieve a country’s foreign policy goals—namely, whether to work with others (multilateralism) or go it alone (unilateralism).

All foreign policy combines elements from both sides of those debates. In turn, the real question facing decision-makers is how much to emphasize each approach in order to achieve one’s aims.

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