The Platform


Foreign policy is influenced by multiple actors, each with a distinct identity, collectively shaping what defines a nation’s international stance.

Who truly shapes and commands foreign policy? Is it the diplomats, typically regarded as the architects of international strategy? Secretaries—state employees who work under ministers—create and implement foreign policy after considering a range of factors. But is this the full picture? Historically, state elites have been paramount in driving these decisions, orchestrating responses to various international dilemmas. Their lasting influence is unquestionable, manifesting in their continued role as heads of state and government. Together with foreign ministers, they articulate their nations’ foreign policies.

State elites indeed wield significant influence. However, as the world evolves, the landscape of foreign policy grows more complex. The global economy’s transformation has expanded the traditional boundaries of foreign policy. Large corporations increasingly influence international relations, sometimes even creating their own foreign policy, either in alignment or at odds with state elites. Multinationals and transnational corporations, given their expansive reach, may even undermine state-dictated foreign policy.

Moreover, the role of non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations, adds another layer of complexity. Conducting cross-border operations, these groups act as intermediaries or, in some cases, as extensions of a state’s will. Organizations like ISIS challenge the notion that foreign policy is a domain solely governed by states.

State elites still exert primary control, steering and directing the overall course of foreign policy, but they are joined by corporations, non-state aggressors, cultural entities, and social groups. Even immigrants can significantly influence a nation’s foreign policy, as seen in countries like the Philippines, where millions of foreign workers’ interests must be considered.

The conventional methodology, focusing only on top politicians or diplomats, no longer suffices. Foreign policy is influenced by multiple actors, each with a distinct identity, collectively shaping what defines a nation’s international stance.

Pakistan’s foreign policy illustrates this intricate web. The nation has sought to forge connections across the Middle East while sustaining strong relationships with neighbors like China and Iran. Its diplomatic endeavors in Asia reflect shared cultural and religious heritage with East and Southeast Asia. But despite these connections, elite control continues to underpin the state’s apparatus, leading to policies that may not always serve the broader populace. Wealth, prestige, and power have historically insulated these elite individuals and families, but the urgency to protect these advantages is diminishing from a governmental standpoint.

It may be challenging to completely dismantle elite influence in foreign policy due to intricate power dynamics. However, strides can be made towards a more inclusive and accountable framework—one that benefits the country and its population—by embracing media freedom, education, and awareness. By acknowledging the multifaceted nature of foreign policy, nations can work to create a balanced and responsive approach that reflects not only the desires of the elite but also the diverse and changing needs of their people.

Mohsin Fareed Shah is an undergrad studying Government and Public Policy at National Defence University, Islamabad.