IR317      Half Unit
American Grand Strategy

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Peter Trubowitz CLM 4.05


This course is available on the BSc in International Relations, BSc in International Relations and History and BSc in Politics and International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.



Course content

This course explores American foreign policy at the broadest level of analysis – the level known as grand strategy. The course showcases the main theoretical perspectives that inform the study of grand strategy and applies them to historical and contemporary cases of American statecraft. In this connection, we will assess the relevance of the U.S. experience for theorizing about power politics and the implications of alternative theories for thinking critically about American international behavior. Emphasis is placed on the debates and controversies that animate the study of grand strategy, as well as of the unique challenges posed by making foreign policy in the American political, economic, and cultural context.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of classes in the LT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Students will write one short (1,200) words formative essay based on questions from previous exam papers. The essay will be due in Week 7 of the LT.  Students will be able to use the essay to explore ideas that they might wish to develop in their assessed essay.

Students will provide a 1-2 page outline of their assessed essay by the end of Week 9 LT.  This will be returned with comments and feedback by the end of the LT.


Indicative reading

  • G. John Ikenberry and Peter L. Trubowitz, American Foreign Policy: Theoretical Essays (Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment, revised edition (Oxford University Press, 2005)
  • Colin Dueck, The Obama Doctrine (Oxford University Press, 2015). 
  • Adam Garfinkle, Broken: American Political Dysfunction and What to Do About It (American Interest, 2013)


Essay (100%, 2500 words) in the ST.

Students will write a 2,500 word assessed essay selecting from a list of topics and questions provided by the course coordinator.

The essay will be due at the end of Week 1 of the ST.

Student performance results

(2014/15 - 2016/17 combined)

Classification % of students
First 22.5
2:1 52.5
2:2 23.8
Third 1.2
Fail 0

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2016/17: 28

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: Yes (30)

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Communication