What are the 4 Types of Foreign Policy and How Are They Pursued?

Author: Notre Dame International Security Center

There are many goals and objectives states must pursue to maintain and improve their status within the global community, and different countries have different approaches toward these goals. These approaches are their foreign policies. To this end, there is a selection of foreign policy types for states to consider. What are the 4 types of foreign policy? That’s the question we’ll answer in this article. 

Broadly speaking, while there may be 4 foreign policy types, each brings with it deep complexities. Foreign policy specialists must also understand the tools available to them. Entire books have been written about foreign policies, so let's briefly explore the types of foreign policy and what each policy entails. 


1. Imperialism: the practice or advocacy of extending power through either territorial annexation or through gaining political and economic control of other areas. 

The Post-Columbian 15th century through to the mid-18th century marked a sustained period of imperial Europe, characterized by the colonialization of the North and South American continents by western European powers. In the late 19th century, though, imperialism in central and eastern Europe contributed to World War I. 

Imperialism has been widely deemed reprehensible and contrary to the rules-based international order; however, imperialist states often use propaganda to discredit adversaries and their foreign policies. 


2. Diplomacy: the practice of peacefully negotiating with other nations. 

While the broad definition of diplomacy applies to political, commercial, and cultural relationships, modern use of the term has become synonymous with any official acts of foreign ministries other than war. This can take the form of negotiating treaties, making official declarations, and presenting the government’s views on an issue. 

Though war is often viewed as the result of diplomatic failure, diplomats are still crucial for deescalating the conflict. In fact, there is a crossover between great military minds and diplomats: Generals George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower are examples of leaders who have held both roles. 


3. Isolationism/Neutrality: Avoiding wars and conflicts between other nations. 

Though isolationism advocates for neutrality, these are distinct models. Isolationism opposes any commitments to other countries including treaties and trade agreements—believing it can, instead, be wholly self-reliant. 

In a global economy, many states have left the concept of isolationism in the past. Taking its place is the concept of neutrality: which is the state’s intent to remain neutral in the event of an armed conflict, while reserving the right to become belligerent if attacked. 

Through the Hague Convention of 1907, neutrality is a narrowly defined status and specific constraints are applied. Famously, Switzerland holds itself to permanent neutrality.  


4. Collective Security: groups of countries work together as allies to preserve mutual peace and/or security. 

Often thought of as a promising approach for peace and power management, collective security was first put into practice following the Napoleonic Wars. The underlying principle of collective security is “an attack on one is an attack on all.” 

Both the League of Nations and the United Nations outlined aspirations of collective security in their Covenant and Chater, respectively, but neither have been able to reliably prevent conflict.  

The organization that’s become synonymous with collective security is, of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). To quote the organization itself, "the principle of collective defense is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty.” The methods through which this is accomplished are outlined in the treaty itself, but Article 5 has become shorthand for collective security. 


Study Foreign Policy at the Notre Dame International Security Center 

While we have briefly explained what the 4 types of foreign policy are, there is a wealth of information still to learn and much more knowledge anyone interested in international relations should pursue. For the highest quality of education aspiring diplomats, intelligence analysts, and international correspondents need, you should pursue an elite international security education. The Notre Dame International Security Center and our experienced faculty offers education and mentorship to the up-and-coming members of these communities, and we’re excited to be part of your journey. 

Originally published by Notre Dame International Security Center at ndisc.nd.edu on March 16, 2023.