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Cold War US Foreign Policy

Key Perspectives

Steven Hurst


This book provides the first comprehensive description and critique of the six most important historical interpretations of US Cold War foreign policy: Traditionalism, Revisionism, Post-Revisionism, Corporatism, World Systems Theory, and Post-Structuralism. The author uses the 'levels of analysis' approach to demonstrate how each of these perspectives can be understood as an explanatory framework combining different types of factors located at different levels of the international system. This original way of explaining the work of the historians discussed helps the reader to see past the narrative and empirical elements of their writings and to grasp more clearly the underlying theoretical assumptions.

In each chapter a description of the perspective's underlying theoretical framework and how it explains US foreign policy is followed by a critique of that theory and explanation. A central theme, developed throughout the book, is the difficulty of managing the constant tension between the explanatory power of theory and the historian's desire to encompass the complex totality of historical events.

This critical companion can be read alongside the works of the historians themselves, showing how they have sought to explain US Cold War foreign policy and the key differences between their perspectives.

Key Features

  • 1st complete discussion of the 6 schools of thought in one volume
  • Discusses current issues such as corporatism, world systems theory and post-structuralim in an accessible manner
  • original use of the 'levels of analysis' framework in studying this subject
  • demonstrates in practical terms how each theory explains US Cold War foreign policy


1. Traditionalism
2. Revisionism
3. Post-Revisionism
4. Corporatism
5. World Systems Theory
6. Post-Structuralism and Culture

About the Author

Steven Hurst is Reader in Politics at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is the author of The United States and the Iranian Nuclear Programme: A Critical History (Edinburgh University Press, 2018) and The United States and Iraq Since 1979: Hegemony, Oil and War (Edinburgh University Press, 2009) as well as three other books on US foreign policy.


Hurst's book is a valuable summary of all the main strands of theoretical explorations into the Cold War policy of the United States. The relative shortness of the book make it ideal as an advanced undergraduate or postgraduate reader.
- Political Studies Review
Hurst has written a challenging book that crosses the sometimes treacherous boundaries of history and political science. It is a fine look at Cold War historiography.
- Professor Lloyd Gardner, Rutgers University
A good historiographical summary / critique of six persepectives on American Cold War foreign policy.
- Choice
Steven Hurst provides a clear and sophisticated discussion of various approaches to the historical understanding of the Cold War. I recommend this book very strongly to everyone who is interested in Cold War history and historiography.
- John Dumbrell, Professor of Politics, Leicester University