NationalPakistan Affairs

External Foreign Policy Determinants of Pakistan

Foreign Policy refers to the general objectives of a particular nation that tend to guide that nation’s behavior towards other states of the world. Its development is affected by a number of factors including domestic considerations, the role of external state and organizations, or national plans to increase the advancement of geopolitical objectives. In the case of Pakistan, the foreign policy has been closely linked with security concerns and the role of a nuclear umbrella.[1]

The foreign policy of any country is devised by a number of external as well as internal determinants. These factors influence the overall decision-making process in a country. Some of these factors can be considered as a dynamic with consistent fluctuations, while some are static and appear to be of an unchanging nature[2].

External Determinants of Foreign Policy Formulation

a) Power Structure

Ever since the treaty of Westphalia in 1648 took place, the world has been divided into the modern state system. This state system is based on a number of trends which include the power-sharing among various states which are considered to be international players. All of these states in the world have their own foreign policies, and the major aim of these policies is to ensure their security and political independence[3].

NATO vs. Warsaw Pact (labels are backward, and Finland ...
Revelation World – Cold War Politics

In a multi-polar setup, states found it a lot more convenient to switch their loyalties and earn maximum gains. For instance, Italy had utilized this art to switch loyalties right at the zenith of World War I in order to get a hefty share in the post-war colonial organization. However, in a bipolar setup, this tactic is difficult to implement as the overall ideological faultiness is elucidated quite clearly. This did not enable the states to easily switch their loyalties with the powerful states in the world[4]. Therefore, in the cold war period, it was difficult for the countries to change their ideological loyalties. This directly impacted their foreign policy, and all the East European states under the Warsaw pact were considered to be under the auspices of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed by the United States, Canada, and other Western European allies. Now in such circumstances, both the superpowers were checking the foreign policy alignments of their respective allies with an eagle’s eye[5].

SEATO if it had been as successful as NATO : imaginarymaps

In the case of Pakistan, this power structure has played a massive role from the very begging. Starting off with the CEATO and SENTO alliances, the overall foreign policy was always influenced by the external power structure. In the Afghan Jihad, and its Aftermath was something that Pakistan was forced to handle. Once the Bush administration started its Global War on Terror, Pakistan was given told by the United States that it was ‘either with us or against us’. This declaration coerced Pakistan into coming forward and play a major role in this global war against terror. Therefore, we can say that every power structure has its own dynamics and it serves as an important determinant in the foreign policy decision-making process.

b) International Organizations

Another external determinant that plays a massive role in the foreign policy formulation process is the presence of international organizations such as the United Nations (UN) and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) etc. These organizations play an economic, political, military, and humanitarian role and their contribution in the international structure cannot be underestimated. To varying degrees, these international organizations can serve as an influencer of the different behaviors of states in different circumstances.

OIC-UN seek to promote cooperation in political, economic ...
Organization or Islamic Countries – Revelationworld

There is considerable evidence that such international organizations have a massive impact on a state’s overall foreign policy goals, and no state can sustain a threat to another state without the sanctioning of these international organizations. For instance, the United Nations has helped multiple countries under threat and it has come to the rescue of many states which are aggressed upon. For instance, in the gulf war when Iraq had attacked Kuwait, the United Nations sent it forces to free Kuwait from the aggression of Saddam Hussain[6].

In Pakistan, the overall foreign policy is devised while keeping in mind the broader goals outline by the United Nations[7]. These include peace, cooperation, and consistent development. In the case of Kashmir, Pakistan has always sought the help of the United Nations and advocated the implementation of United Nations resolution of Kashmir. This has become a part and parcel of Pakistan’s foreign policy on Kashmir.

3) Response of other states

As the world has been increasingly integrated, the actions of one state have impacts on the other regions as well as extra-regional states as well. This means that unilateral policymaking is out of the question and all states must be willing to consider the perspective of all the stakeholder countries in the world. States in the contemporary world must take into account all the interests of the other stakeholders as well.

Afghan war has so far cost US$ 975 billion - NewsIn.Asia
Revelationworld.com

For instance, the United States and India have to consider the interests of Pakistan in Afghanistan before making any major decisions in the region. The United States is completely aware of the point that without the role of Pakistan, no plan made for Afghanistan can be truly materialized[8]. Although Pakistan was not truly comfortable with the idea of the Global War against Terror, it still had to commit because of the overwhelming interests of the United States in the region[9].

4) World’s Public Opinion

The International Public Opinion is another external determinant that is many times neglected in the process of foreign policy formulation by many developing countries. However, this external determinant plays a massive role in increasing the overall soft power of a country. This international public opinion coupled up with the domestic public opinion can influence the foreign policy of a country in a massive manner.

Pakistan is not ready for a tourist influx – The Express Tribune Blog
Tourism in Pakistan – Revelationworld.com

For instance, the overall public opinion of the world regarding Pakistan in the past decade was negative because of its isolationist policies[10]. Although lobbying was also being done by India on the different platforms around the world, Pakistan was also not taking significant actions to portray a strong soft image. However, in the past few years, the government has focused on this aspect and incorporated it as an essential element in foreign policy outcomes. This has resulted in attracting a large number of tourists to Pakistan, and international opinion has turned positive in Pakistan’s favor[11]

5) Broader and Marginal Alliances

Last but not the least, the overall alliances play a major role in influencing the foreign policy decision-making process. In principle, the states that are party to the alliance have to make sure that they respond to the overall demands and requests of their allies in times of need. This means that a country’s foreign policy would be negative towards a state that is threatening the security of its allies[12].

Pakistan–United States relations - Wikipedia

For instance, Pakistan allied with the United States in the early 1950s, and as a result, it had to support United States in its aim to stop the People’s Republic of China (PRC) from entering into the world forum[13]. Pakistan had to exercise its vote against PRC, and China understood the compulsions of Pakistan, and animosity was avoided on its part.


[1] Kissinger, Henry A. Nuclear weapons and foreign policy. Routledge, 2019.

[2] FH. Hartmann, The Relations of Nations (New York, 1967) Third Ed.p, 6.

[3] Waltz, Kenneth N. “The emerging structure of international politics.” International security 18, no. 2 (1993): 44-79.

[4] Barnett, Michael, and Raymond Duvall. “Power in international politics.” International organization 59, no. 1 (2005): 39-75.

[5] Wohlforth, William C. “Realism and the End of the Cold War.” International Security 19, no. 3 (1994): 91-129.

[6] Mueller, John, and John Paul Mueller. Policy and opinion in the Gulf War. University of Chicago Press, 1994.

[7] Rehman, Javaid, and Stephanie E. Berry. “Is Defamation of Religions Passe-The United Nations, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and Islamic State Practices: Lessons from Pakistan.” Geo. Wash. Int’l L. Rev. 44 (2012): 431.

[8] Abbas, Hassan. The Taliban revival: violence and extremism on the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier. Yale University Press, 2014.

[9] Khan, Ijaz Ahmad. “Understanding Pakistan’s Pro-Taliban Afghan Policy.” Pakistan Horizon 60, no. 2 (2007): 141-157.

[10] Fan, Ying, and Akram Shahani. “Country image of Pakistan: a preliminary study.” International Journal of Tourism Research 18, no. 3 (2016): 220-227.

[11] Rahman, Hadia. “Pakistan’s soft power: prospects and limitations.” Journal of South Asian Studies 2, no. 3 (2014): 257-263.

[12] Wohlforth, William C. “Realism and the End of the Cold War.” International Security 19, no. 3 (1994): 91-129.

[13] Khan, Rais Ahmad. “Fifty Years of Pak-US Relations.” Pakistan Journal of American Studies 16, no. 1 (1998): 1.

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