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A tenuous and ambiguous relationship exists between a policy and its implementation. Rather than a one-way casual chain, there exists a reciprocal relationship in which implementation may affect policy as well as the obverse. In this unit, we will examine the issue of foreign policy execution or implementation.


At the end of this unit, you should be able to: 

  1.  Explain the process of foreign policy execution; 
  2. Describe the actors that are usually involved; 
  3. Explain the instruments of foreign policy execution; 
  4. Discuss the linkage between foreign policy execution and foreign policy formulation


3.1 Foreign Policy Statements

Foreign policy statements merely signal the proffered interests and intentions of a nation. Without specific actions designed to implement those intentions, even explicitly stated policies may soon become ineffective. It is not sufficient for the Federal Republic of Nigeria to say, “We shall continue to do everything in our power to eliminate apartheid from our continent and to defend the dignity of man everywhere”. If the means to implement that policy are not available, and a willingness to use those is not demonstrated, in the absence of the demonstrated means and will to carry out the stated intentions, a potential aggressor may treat the statement as pure rhetoric or bluff and not be deterred from aggression.

Every nation has machineries for the execution of foreign policy. Foreign policies are executed through the Ministry of Foreign or External Affairs as well as by the Embassies, Commissions, or Charge d’Affairs abroad. The intention of the state is usually to ensure that the policies formulated and the decisions taken on the foreign policy issues that are of interest to that particular country do not suffer for lack of implementation; also, that when they get to the implementation stage they are executed in such a way as to achieve the intended goal.

The administration of foreign policy, especially at the higher levels, is only partially separable from its formulation. Nevertheless, the two processes are sufficiently distinct in important ways to justify separate consideration. Foreign policy administration begins, of course, with the executive who everywhere possesses the authority to direct the conduct of foreign relations and their related activities. The role of the former leader in such matters is normally limited to ceremonial and social occasions. The functions of the head of government however, as a political executive, are considerable. He has certain regular responsibilities of appointing diplomatic envoys, receiving those from other states, ordering negotiations with representations of foreign governments, declaring war, signing treaties, and ensuring peace. Governments have one ministry or department principally responsible for the administration of foreign policy. Its head is designated by such titles as Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Great Britain, Secretary of State in the United States, Minister of Foreign Affairs in France, Secretary of State for External Affairs in Canada, Minister of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria.

For the measurement of her foreign relations and the making and implementation of foreign policy decisions, Nigeria since independence, has established a network of overseas mission and developed a large and complex administrative machinery which is directly concerned with foreign affairs – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, formerly known as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commonwealth Relations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is wholly concerned with the day-to-day conduct of Nigeria foreign relations. In addition to formulating and carrying out specific policies designed to achieve Nigeria’s national objectives, the ministry and its principal functionaries are charged with the responsibility for the following matters – “establishment and administration of Nigeria’s diplomatic and consular posts; conduct of government business in the legislature relating to foreign and Commonwealth affairs; relations with the diplomatic corps in Nigeria; issuance of passports and travel certificates, consular matters affecting Nigerians outside Nigeria, etc. The political head of the ministry is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in organized partly on a geographical and partly on a functional basis. In this respect, the titles of the various divisions suggest their respective areas of activities and responsibilities. The principal functionaries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are not simply agents carrying out Nigeria’s international policies, but they are part of the policy making process. To

say that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the official machinery for handling foreign policy matters is not to say that external affairs are the exclusive concern of the ministry. In fact, there are few foreign policy issues, which do not cut across the traditional lines of demarcation, which separate the fields of responsibility assigned to various ministries and agencies. The never-ending problem of overlapping jurisdictions and conflicting sets of responsibilities in foreign affairs reflect the practical difficulties in the way of ensuring inter-ministerial coordination and reconciliation.

In the process of initiating, formulating and executing a particular policy, there are a number of forces involved apart from the officially designated people, such as people in government and in the foreign ministries; there are two other categories of people involved. One, there is external participants such as the agents of foreign governments or corporations, religious organizations, the civil society etc. who are interested in whatever policies a particular state pursues. As a result of this, they tend to deploy any means to influence the decisions taken. The second category of those who influence foreign policy are persons within the particular country. These include pressure groups, social or other organizations, and student bodies. They may, of course, be members of the foreign policy elite. As mentioned, a policy is made effective by the steps that are taken to make it meaningful. Politics is not self-effecting. It must be supported by action programmes that generally operate in the external environment of a state, but domestic programmes also support foreign policy. Immigration, tariff, and agricultural surplus programmes and domestic policies with external relevant.

The programmes and actions taken to execute foreign policy are the instruments of policy. These instruments comprise power politics, diplomacy; international communication, including public information and the use of ideology, propaganda, and manipulation of opinion: economic actions; and use of military resources. Harold Lasswell of Yale University once described action programmes as covering “force, deals, goods and ideals”. The instruments of policy are the principal components of national strength and constitute national power when given purpose and direction. This power determines the degree of success or failure of national policy. The instruments of policy are the mechanisms that translate policy and programmes into day-to-day operations and, overtime, result in the outlines of policy for all interest observers to see. Policy formulation as we have seen is a most complex process. Implementing policy on a daily basis along the lines originally intended is one of the most different tasks confronting government’s decision- makers. Changing the course of programmes once started involves changing the minds and everyday routines of individuals and large organizations. Programme changes take time and inherently carry costs in terms of people, money, materials and processes. Rarely is any instrument used alone. Diplomacy is often directly supported by economic and military means. A state’s diplomacy may be strengthened also by prestige gained from its economic, scientific, and military programmes. Inept diplomacy can weaken a state’s policies. There are patterns of foreign policies integrating a variety of individual policies and employing a variety of foreign policies, while utilizing a variety of instruments to further a particular goal or set of related goals.

Self Assessment Exercise

What are the various instruments for foreign policy execution?


Foreign policy execution as an aspect of the pursuit of a country’s interests cannot easily be separated from foreign policy formulation per se. The two are inter-related and are complementary to one another. However, without giving life to the policies formulated, a state may never be able to protect nor promote its national interests. A variety of actors are usually involved in the execution of foreign policy – the executive of the various countries being the key actors. However, the foreign policy elite, the academia, civil society, economic interest groups, and other pressure groups also contribute directly and indirectly to foreign policy formulation.


In this unit, we have discussed foreign policy, foreign policy execution and the link to the formulation. We also identified the various foreign policy actors involved in the execution and the instruments that are usually resorted to.


Describe the process of Foreign Policy execution in Nigeria. Who are the key actors?


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