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Public Opinion: The Neglected Instrument of U.S. Foreign Policy

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Strategy research rept.

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In a democracy such as ours one may assume that foreign policy and national interests are determined from the bottom -up, by the people-but are they Congress, not the presidency, is after all the subject of Article 1 of the Constitution of the United States. The question implicit in this theme is whether the great issues of foreign policy and the decision to employ military force can be safely entrusted to the influence of popular opinion. This question applies to the United States today as it applied to Athens in the middle of the fifth century B.C. Since the end of the Cold War the United States military has deployed with increasing frequency as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Estimates indicate that U.S. forces have been used for unexpected contingencies about once every nine weeks and have deployed 34 times in less than eight years. During the entire 40 year period of the Cold War, the military was committed to comparable deployments just 10 times. These missions have ranged from traditional military operations in Korea, Kuwait and Taiwan, to humanitarian relief operations in Central America and peacekeeping functions in Somalia, Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia and Kosovo. The purpose of this study is to examine the nature of public opinion in the context of American democracy and its influence, if any, on the formulation of U.S. foreign policy. This paper traces the historical underpinnings of two contending schools of thought, their influence on the organization of American government and the formation of American political thought regarding the role of public opinion in U.S. foreign policy-making.

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  • Government and Political Science

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