Religion as a Factor in US Foreign Policy

The influence of religion in the interactions of the state is among the great and least implicit security challenges of the 21st century. Additionally, the role of religion in international politics presents an intellectual contest to politics, religion, and international relations scholars. Although religion has developed as an important factor in some assessments of international relations, unexplored and controversial questions remain regarding the religious role in states’ foreign policies. Several empirical types of research have tried to determine the opinions that supporters of various faiths hold regarding foreign policy and to examine if international conflicts have happened along the religious line after the end of the cold war (Warner & Walker, 2011, p.113). This paper evaluates the engagement of religion in the U.S. foreign policy to determine the basic problem of involving religion in foreign policy and the main obstacles in making the religious value of foreign nations the basis for U.S. foreign policy conduct.

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The Basic Problem with Making Religion a Relevant Factor in USFP

One basic problem with making religion a relevant factor in USFP is that religion is a multifaceted phenomenon that plays different roles in the lives of people. Religion is a source of world values and views and a source of legitimacy and identity. Religion is also regarded as a set of communally held spiritual beliefs voiced in a discourse, interpreted and perpetuated by communities, institutions, and related practices (Warner & Walker, 2011,  p.114). The complexity of religion and diversity in religious values, views, and beliefs makes it hard to integrate religion in USFP, especially in a situation where it is not clear on which religious values to uphold, and the impact this may bring to the directed group; with different religious values.

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The USFP normally focuses on the relationship between the U.S. and other foreign countries.  In most cases, the targeted countries have different religious norms compared to the majority in the U.S. Moreover, even the U.S. has minority religions which illustrate a lack of uniformity in the religious beliefs of a country. This makes it hard to promote religious freedom agenda as they are likely to be diverse. According to Casey (2014), there is also a lack of good relations between different religious groups and hence, making it hard to identify a common voice or values in these religions. The religious diversity from one country to another or one religion to another makes it hard to have a common ground or common interest that politicians can work with to engage religious agenda in foreign policy. One religious group finds the beliefs of another group incorrect or intolerable based on their judgment. 

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It is therefore more. For instance Saudi Arabia values Islamic religious values more, while the U.S. values Christian religious values more. It is likely that any religious agenda promoted by the U.S. over Saudi Arabia may interfere with their beliefs, and hence likely to be biased in Saudi Arabian’s face. This creates a possibility of provoking unnecessary resistance, rivalry, or conflict that will make it hard to achieve the policy agenda. Religious agenda is thus likely to be biased when directed to another country since they are not universal. The inability to share religious beliefs makes one group intolerant to the other.   

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The Main Obstacle to Making Religious Value of Foreign Nations the Basis for the Conduct of USFP

The main obstacle in making religious values of foreign nations the basis for the conduct of USFP is that they are not shared, and most of them may be unjust or inhuman to the other group. For instance, Islam practices early marriages where girls are put in an arranged marriage at a young age, some even below ten (Council on Foreign Relations, 2015). This is considered as violence against women and girls, and human rights in the U.S (Council on Foreign Relations, 2015).

It is therefore hard for the U.S. to embrace such practices and respect them as religious values of the countries practicing them while making their foreign policies. (Haynes, 2008, p.144) religions can use soft power to influence foreign policy formation in the U.S. However, they cannot impose their beliefs on another nation, in a quest to ally. The targeted nation may refuse to be compelled to follow religious norms they do not believe in for political benefits. Moreover, a similar approach may be used by others to agree to international treaties that the U.S. tries to woo them into. This can result in negative feelings towards different countries that do not share religious values but wish to share political advantages.

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There is also the aspect of separation between state and religion. The separation of church and state reduced church influence on the state matters. In a situation where the state does not interfere with religious matters, then it had for a long time worked with little consultation from the church or the religion (Nieuwenhuis, 2012, p155). This gives religion little influence on political matters, though the general Christianity values are considered especially in the formation of federal policies, it does not have a powerful influence for internal matters, and hence it would not have a great influence on foreign matters where multicultural issues are regarded while formulating those policies.

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