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Article

Gregg A. Brazinsky

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, America’s relationship with China ran the gamut from friendship and alliance to enmity and competition. Americans have long believed in China’s potential to become an important global actor, primarily in ways that would benefit the United States. The Chinese have at times embraced, at times rejected, and at times adapted to the US agenda. While there have been some consistent themes in this relationship, Sino-American interactions unquestionably increased their breadth in the 20th century. Trade with China grew from its modest beginnings in the 19th and early 20th centuries into a critical part of the global economy by the 21st century. While Americans have often perceived China as a country that offered significant opportunities for mutual benefit, China has also been seen as a threat and rival. During the Cold War, the two competed vigorously for influence in Asia and Africa. Today we see echoes of this same competition as China continues to grow economically while expanding its influence abroad. The history of Sino-American relations illustrates a complex dichotomy of cooperation and competition; this defines the relationship today and has widespread ramifications for global politics.

Article

America’s Civil War became part of a much larger international crisis as European powers, happy to see the experiment in self-government fail in America’s “Great Republic,” took advantage of the situation to reclaim former colonies in the Caribbean and establish a European monarchy in Mexico. Overseas, in addition to their formal diplomatic appeals to European governments, both sides also experimented with public diplomacy campaigns to influence public opinion. Confederate foreign policy sought to win recognition and aid from Europe by offering free trade in cotton and aligning their cause with that of the aristocratic anti-democratic governing classes of Europe. The Union, instead, appealed to liberal, republican sentiment abroad by depicting the war as a trial of democratic government and embracing emancipation of the slaves. The Union victory led to the withdrawal of European empires from the New World: Spain from Santo Domingo, France from Mexico, Russia from Alaska, and Britain from Canada, and the destruction of slavery in the United States hastened its end in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Brazil.

Article

Lise Namikas

At the dawn of the 20th century, the region that would become the Democratic Republic of Congo fell to the brutal colonialism of Belgium’s King Leopold. Except for a brief moment when anti-imperialists decried the crimes of plantation slavery, the United States paid little attention to Congo before 1960. But after winning its independence from Belgium in June 1960, Congo suddenly became engulfed in a crisis of decolonization and the Cold War, a time when the United States and the Soviet Union competed for resources and influence. The confrontation in Congo was kept limited by a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force, which ended the secession of the province of Katanga in 1964. At the same time, the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) intervened to help create a pro-Western government and eliminate the Congo’s first prime minister, Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, the result would be a growing reliance on the dictatorship of Joseph Mobutu throughout the 1980s. In 1997 a rebellion succeeded in toppling Mobutu from power. Since 2001 President Joseph Kabila has ruled Congo. The United States has supported long-term social and economic growth but has kept its distance while watching Kabila fight internal opponents and insurgents in the east. A UN peacekeeping force returned to Congo and helped limit unrest. Despite serving out two full terms that ended in 2016, Kabila was slow to call elections amid rising turmoil.

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Foreign relations under the US Constitution starts with the paradox, also seen in domestic matters, of relatively scant text providing guidance for the exercise of vast power. Founding understandings, structural inference, and ongoing constitutional custom and precedent have filled in much, though hardly all, of the framework over the course of two hundred years. As a result, two basic questions frame the relationship between the Constitution and US foreign policy: (1) which parts of the US government, alone or in combination, properly exercise authority in the making of foreign policy; and (2) once made, what is the status of the nation’s international legal obligations in the US domestic legal system. The making of American foreign policy is framed by the Constitution’s commitment to separation of powers. Congress, the president, and the courts are all allocated discrete yet significant foreign affairs authority. Determining the exact borders and overlaps in areas such as the use of military force, emergency measures, and treaty termination continues to generate controversy. The status of international law in the US legal system in the first instance turns on whether resulting obligations derive from agreements or custom. The United States enters into international agreements in three ways: treaties, congressional-executive agreements, and sole executive agreements. Complex doctrine deals with the domestic applicability of treaties in particular. US courts primarily apply customary international law in two basic ways. They can exercise a version of their common lawmaking authority to fashion rules of decision based on international custom. They also apply customary international law when incorporated into domestic law by statute.

Article

American history is replete with instances of counterinsurgency. An unsurprising reality considering the United States has always participated in empire building, thus the need to pacify resistance to expansion. For much of its existence, the U.S. has relied on its Army to pacify insurgents. While the U.S. Army used traditional military formations and use of technology to battle peer enemies, the same strategy did not succeed against opponents who relied on speed and surprise. Indeed, in several instances, insurgents sought to fight the U.S. Army on terms that rendered superior manpower and technology irrelevant. By introducing counterinsurgency as a strategy, the U.S. Army attempted to identify and neutralize insurgents and the infrastructure that supported them. Discussions of counterinsurgency include complex terms, thus readers are provided with simplified, yet accurate definitions and explanations. Moreover, understanding the relevant terms provided continuity between conflicts. While certain counterinsurgency measures worked during the American Civil War, the Indian Wars, and in the Philippines, the concept failed during the Vietnam War. The complexities of counterinsurgency require readers to familiarize themselves with its history, relevant scholarship, and terminology—in particular, counterinsurgency, pacification, and infrastructure.

Article

Michael J. Bustamante

The Cuban Revolution transformed the largest island nation of the Caribbean into a flashpoint of the Cold War. After overthrowing US-backed ruler Fulgencio Batista in early 1959, Fidel Castro established a socialist, anti-imperialist government that defied the island’s history as a dependent and dependable ally of the United States. But the Cuban Revolution is not only significant for its challenge to US interests and foreign policy prerogatives. For Cubans, it fundamentally reordered their lives, inspiring multitudes yet also driving thousands of others to migrate to Miami and other points north. Sixty years later, Fidel Castro may be dead and the Soviet Union may be long gone. Cuban socialism has become more hybrid in economic structure, and in 2014 the Cuban and US governments moved to restore diplomatic ties. But Cuba’s leaders continue to insist that “the Revolution,” far from a terminal political event, is still alive. Today, as the founding generation of Cuban leaders passes from the scene, “the Revolution” faces another important crossroads of uncertainty and reform.

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The decolonization of the European overseas empires had its intellectual roots early in the modern era, but its culmination occurred during the Cold War that loomed large in post-1945 international history. This culmination thus coincided with the American rise to superpower status and presented the United States with a dilemma. While philosophically sympathetic to the aspirations of anticolonial nationalist movements abroad, the United States’ vastly greater postwar global security burdens made it averse to the instability that decolonization might bring and that communists might exploit. This fear, and the need to share those burdens with European allies who were themselves still colonial landlords, led Washington to proceed cautiously. The three “waves” of the decolonization process—medium-sized in the late 1940s, large in the half-decade around 1960, and small in the mid-1970s—prompted the American use of a variety of tools and techniques to influence how it unfolded. Prior to independence, this influence was usually channeled through the metropolitan authority then winding down. After independence, Washington continued and often expanded the use of these tools, in most cases on a bilateral basis. In some theaters, such as Korea, Vietnam, and the Congo, through the use of certain of these tools, notably covert espionage or overt military operations, Cold War dynamics enveloped, intensified, and repossessed local decolonization struggles. In most theaters, other tools, such as traditional or public diplomacy or economic or technical development aid, affixed the Cold War into the background as a local transition unfolded. In all cases, the overriding American imperative was to minimize instability and neutralize actors on the ground who could invite communist gains.

Article

Will Rogers understood the confounding nature of the Democratic Party. In noting that “Democrats never agree on anything, that’s why they’re Democrats,” the Oklahoma humorist highlighted a consistent theme in the party’s more than 200-year history: division. The political party of the underdog and ethnic, racial, and social minorities has always lacked the cultural cohesion that the Federalists, Whigs, and Republicans possessed. As a result, the main currents of Democratic Party foreign policy elude simple categorization. Muddying any efforts at classification are the dramatically disparate eras in which Democrats conducted foreign policy over two centuries. Like other major American political parties, the Democrats’ foreign policy was animated by a messianic theme balanced against the national and constituent interests. Thinking themselves a “chosen people,” the Revolutionary generation thought their experiment foreshadowed a new global order with universal appeal. As representatives of God’s new Israel, the Founders made their new nation’s messianic relationship to the international system essential to its identity. Shunning established foreign policy practices, they founded a style of American diplomacy that combined idealism with pragmatism. Democrats, along with most every other major political party, have followed the Founders’ example but in a manner particular to the party’s history, constituents, and circumstance. The foreign policy connective tissue of the Democratic Party has been its particular expression of the Founders’ messianic mission interpreted through its ever-evolving cast of disparate constituent groups. In pursuit of this, 19th-century Democratic foreign policy favored territorial and commercial expansion to safeguard their republican experiment. In the 20th and 21st century Democrats globalized these sentiments and sought a world conducive to democracy’s survival. But consistency is scarcely the hallmark of Democratic foreign policy. Driven by its disparate constituent groups and domestic politics, the party has bandied diverse foreign policy strategies through an array of historical circumstances. The sum total of Democratic foreign policy is, at times, a contradictory amalgam of diverse constituencies responding to the issues of the moment in a combination of self-interest and democratic idealism.

Article

Probably no American president was more thoroughly versed in matters of national security and foreign policy before entering office than Dwight David Eisenhower. As a young military officer, Eisenhower served stateside in World War I and then in Panama and the Philippines in the interwar years. On assignments in Washington and Manila, he worked on war plans, gaining an understanding that national security entailed economic and psychological factors in addition to manpower and materiel. In World War II, he commanded Allied forces in the European Theatre of Operations and honed his skills in coalition building and diplomacy. After the war, he oversaw the German occupation and then became Army Chief of Staff as the nation hastily demobilized. At the onset of the Cold War, Eisenhower embraced President Harry S. Truman’s containment doctrine and participated in the discussions leading to the 1947 National Security Act establishing the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, and the Department of Defense. After briefly retiring from the military, Eisenhower twice returned to public service at the behest of President Truman to assume the temporary chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then, following the outbreak of the Korean War, to become the first Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, charged with transforming the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into a viable military force. These experiences colored Eisenhower’s foreign policy views, which in turn led him to seek the presidency. He viewed the Cold War as a long-term proposition and worried that Truman’s military buildup would overtax finite American resources. He sought a coherent strategic concept that would be sustainable over the long haul without adversely affecting the free enterprise system and American democratic institutions. He also worried that Republican Party leaders were dangerously insular. As president, his New Look policy pursued a cost-effective strategy of containment by means of increased reliance on nuclear forces over more expensive conventional ones, sustained existing regional alliances and developed new ones, sought an orderly process of decolonization under Western guidance, resorted to covert operations to safeguard vital interests, and employed psychological warfare in the battle with communism for world opinion, particularly in the so-called Third World. His foreign policy laid the basis for what would become the overall American strategy for the duration of the Cold War. The legacy of that policy, however, was decidedly mixed. Eisenhower avoided the disaster of global war, but technological innovations did not produce the fiscal savings that he had envisioned. The NATO alliance expanded and mostly stood firm, but other alliances were more problematic. Decolonization rarely proceeded as smoothly as envisioned and caused conflict with European allies. Covert operations had long-term negative consequences. In Southeast Asia and Cuba, the Eisenhower administration’s policies bequeathed a poisoned chalice for succeeding administrations.

Article

From 1775 to 1815, empire served as the most pressing foreign relationship problem for the United States. Would the new nation successfully break free from the British Empire? What would an American empire look like? How would it be treated by other empires? And could Americans hold their own against European superpowers? These questions dominated the United States’ first few decades of existence and shaped its interactions with American Indian, Haitian, Spanish, British, and French peoples. The US government—first the Continental Congress, then the Confederation Congress, and finally the federal administration under the new Constitution—grappled with five key issues. First, they sought international recognition of their independence and negotiated trade deals during the Revolutionary War to support the war effort. Second, they obtained access to the Mississippi River and Port of New Orleans from Spain and France to facilitate trade and western settlement. Third, they grappled with ongoing conflict with Indian nations over white settlement on Indian lands and demands from white communities for border security. Fourth, they defined and protected American neutrality, negotiated a trade policy that required European recognition of American independence, and denied recognition to Haiti. Lastly, they fought a quasi-war with France and real war with Great Britain in 1812.

Article

Gregory F. Domber

American policy makers have rarely elevated Eastern Europe to the pinnacle of American grand strategy. The United States’ and Eastern Europe’s histories, however, are intertwined through the exchange of people and shared experiences. In the Age of Revolution, Eastern Europeans traveled to the United States to fight for the same causes they championed at home: to break from imperial control and expand the rights of man. At the end of the 19th century, “New Immigrants” from Eastern Europe streamed into America’s expanding cities. When countries in the region have moved to the forefront of American concerns during specific crises, Eastern European interests were regularly deemed secondary to larger American geopolitical interests. This holds true for the settlement of World War I, the conclusion of World War II, and the entirety of the Cold War. Overall, including Eastern Europeans and Eastern Europe in the history of the United States provides essential nuance and texture to broader patterns in American relations and more often than not provides evidence of the limitations of American power as it is altered by competing powers and local conditions.

Article

The Federalist Era (1788–1800) witnessed the birth of the new American Constitution and ushered in a period of a strong Federal government headed by a president and a bicameral Congress. The new American government sought to protect American interests in a turbulent time. From threats from Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean Sea to the turmoil in Revolutionary France and to the slave revolt in Haiti, the young republic had to navigate difficult political waters in order to protect itself. Furthermore, it also had to deal with the British and Spanish, who remained in American territory, without starting another war. Additionally, the United States had to engage with various Native American tribes in the interior of the continent to end the threat of war on the American frontier. Later in the time period, tensions between the United States and the new French Republic became strained, which led to the diplomatic embarrassment of the XYZ Affair and an undeclared naval war between the United States and France. American foreign policy during the Federalist Era was a matter of trial and error because there had been no standard protocol for dealing with international incidents under the old government. George Washington, the first president under the new Constitution, shouldered the burden of creating the new American foreign policy. Washington, along with cabinet members such as Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, helped shape US foreign policy in the Federalist Era. Washington was succeeded by his vice president, John Adams, who guided America through tense times, which included conflict with France. With the creation of the American Constitution, Washington and other Federalist leaders had the difficult task of creating a new nation, which included forging a foreign policy. The goal of the fledgling American republic’s foreign policy was to protect American sovereignty in an era of perpetual threats.

Article

Jeffrey F. Taffet

In the first half of the 20th century, and more actively in the post–World War II period, the United States government used economic aid programs to advance its foreign policy interests. US policymakers generally believed that support for economic development in poorer countries would help create global stability, which would limit military threats and strengthen the global capitalist system. Aid was offered on a country-by-country basis to guide political development; its implementation reflected views about how humanity had advanced in richer countries and how it could and should similarly advance in poorer regions. Humanitarianism did play a role in driving US aid spending, but it was consistently secondary to political considerations. Overall, while funding varied over time, amounts spent were always substantial. Between 1946 and 2015, the United States offered almost $757 billion in economic assistance to countries around the world—$1.6 trillion in inflation-adjusted 2015 dollars. Assessing the impact of this spending is difficult; there has long been disagreement among scholars and politicians about how much economic growth, if any, resulted from aid spending and similar disputes about its utility in advancing US interests. Nevertheless, for most political leaders, even without solid evidence of successes, aid often seemed to be the best option for constructively engaging poorer countries and trying to create the kind of world in which the United States could be secure and prosperous.

Article

Daniel Sargent

Foreign economic policy involves the mediation and management of economic flows across borders. Over two and a half centuries, the context for U.S. foreign economic policy has transformed. Once a fledgling republic on the periphery of the world economy, the United States has become the world’s largest economy, the arbiter of international economic order, and a predominant influence on the global economy. Throughout this transformation, the making of foreign economic policy has entailed delicate tradeoffs between diverse interests—political and material, foreign and domestic, sectional and sectoral, and so on. Ideas and beliefs have also shaped U.S. foreign economic policy—from Enlightenment-era convictions about the pacifying effects of international commerce to late 20th-century convictions about the efficacy of free markets.

Article

Economic nationalism tended to dominate U.S. foreign trade policy throughout the long 19th century, from the end of the American Revolution to the beginning of World War I, owing to a pervasive American sense of economic and geopolitical insecurity and American fear of hostile powers, especially the British but also the French and Spanish and even the Barbary States. Following the U.S. Civil War, leading U.S. protectionist politicians sought to curtail European trade policies and to create a U.S.-dominated customs union in the Western Hemisphere. American proponents of trade liberalization increasingly found themselves outnumbered in the halls of Congress, as the “American System” of economic nationalism grew in popularity alongside the perceived need for foreign markets. Protectionist advocates in the United States viewed the American System as a panacea that not only promised to provide the federal government with revenue but also to artificially insulate American infant industries from undue foreign-market competition through high protective tariffs and subsidies, and to retaliate against real and perceived threats to U.S. trade. Throughout this period, the United States itself underwent a great struggle over foreign trade policy. By the late 19th century, the era’s boom-and-bust global economic system led to a growing perception that the United States needed more access to foreign markets as an outlet for the country’s surplus goods and capital. But whether the United States would obtain foreign market access through free trade or through protectionism led to a great debate over the proper course of U.S. foreign trade policy. By the time that the United States acquired a colonial empire from the Spanish in 1898, this same debate over U.S. foreign trade policy had effectively merged into debates over the course of U.S. imperial expansion. The country’s more expansionist-minded economic nationalists came out on top. The overwhelming 1896 victory of William McKinley—the Republican party’s “Napoleon of Protection”—marked the beginning of substantial expansion of U.S. foreign trade through a mixture of protectionism and imperialism in the years leading up to World War I.

Article

Kathryn C. Statler

U.S.-French relations are long-standing, complex, and primarily cooperative in nature. Various crises have punctuated long periods of stability in the alliance, but after each conflict the Franco-American friendship emerged stronger than ever. Official U.S.-French relations began during the early stages of the American Revolution, when Louis XVI’s regime came to America’s aid by providing money, arms, and military advisers. French assistance, best symbolized by the Marquis de Lafayette, was essential in the revolution’s success. The subsequent French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte’s rise to power also benefitted the United States when Napoleon’s woes in Europe and the Caribbean forced him to sell the entire Louisiana territory to the United States, in 1803. Franco-American economic and cultural contacts increased throughout the 19th century, as trade between the two countries prospered and as Americans flocked to France to study art, architecture, music, and medicine. The French gift of the Statue of Liberty in the late 19th century solidified Franco-American bonds, which became even more secure during World War I. Indeed, during the war, the United States provided France with trade, loans, military assistance, and millions of soldiers, viewing such aid as repayment for French help during the American Revolution. World War II once again saw the United States fighting in France to liberate the country from Nazi control. The Cold War complicated the Franco-American relationship in new ways as American power waxed and French power waned. Washington and Paris clashed over military conflict in Vietnam, the Suez Crisis, and European security (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization or NATO, in particular) during the 1950s and 1960s. Ultimately, after French President Charles de Gaulle’s retirement, the Franco-American alliance stabilized by the mid-1970s and has flourished ever since, despite brief moments of crisis, such as the 2003 Second Gulf War in Iraq.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt was US president in extraordinarily challenging times. The impact of both the Great Depression and World War II make discussion of his approach to foreign relations by historians highly contested and controversial. He was one of the most experienced people to hold office, having served in the Wilson administration as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, completed two terms as Governor of New York, and held a raft of political offices. At heart, he was an internationalist who believed in an engaged and active role for the United States in world. During his first two terms as president, Roosevelt had to temper his international engagement in response to public opinion and politicians wanting to focus on domestic problems and wary of the risks of involvement in conflict. As the world crisis deepened in the 1930s, his engagement revived. He adopted a gradualist approach to educating the American people in the dangers facing their country and led them to eventual participation in war and a greater role in world affairs. There were clearly mistakes in his diplomacy along the way and his leadership often appeared flawed, with an ambiguous legacy founded on political expediency, expanded executive power, vague idealism, and a chronic lack of clarity to prepare Americans for postwar challenges. Nevertheless, his policies to prepare the United States for the coming war saw his country emerge from years of depression to become an economic superpower. Likewise, his mobilization of his country’s enormous resources, support of key allies, and the holding together of a “Grand Alliance” in World War II not only brought victory but saw the United States become a dominant force in the world. Ultimately, Roosevelt’s idealistic vision, tempered with a sound appreciation of national power, would transform the global position of the United States and inaugurate what Henry Luce described as “the American Century.”

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Throughout US history, Americans have used ideas about gender to understand power, international relations, military behavior, and the conduct of war. Since Joan Wallach Scott called on scholars in 1986 to consider gender a “useful category of analysis,” historians have looked beyond traditional diplomatic and military sources and approaches to examine cultural sources, the media, and other evidence to try to understand the ideas that Americans have relied on to make sense of US involvement in the world. From casting weak nations as female to assuming that all soldiers are heterosexual males, Americans have deployed mainstream assumptions about men’s and women’s proper behavior to justify US diplomatic and military interventions in the world. State Department pamphlets describing newly independent countries in the 1950s and 1960s featured gendered imagery like the picture of a young Vietnamese woman on a bicycle that was meant to symbolize South Vietnam, a young nation in need of American guidance. Language in news reports and government cables, as well as film representations of international affairs and war, expressed gendered dichotomies such as protector and protected, home front and battlefront, strong and weak leadership, and stable and rogue states. These and other episodes illustrate how thoroughly gender shaped important dimensions about the character and the making of US foreign policy and historians’ examinations of diplomatic and military history.

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Not many bilateral relationships in modern world history have as many twists and turns as the one shared by the United States and Germany. Their relationship has waxed and waned like few others: from mild indifference to faint and uncomplicated appreciation in the 18th and 19th centuries, to growing awareness, rivalry, and then outright hostility in the early 20th century, to codependent enabling and then horrific existential conflict in the mid-20th century, and finally to occupation, reconstruction, and mutually supportive and global-stabilizing friendship after 1945. With early trajectories that informed and mirrored each other, the paths of the United States and Germany eventually collided in the First World War, a conflict born of issues that were only half-resolved in its immediate aftermath. The outbreak of the Second World War laid bare the incompleteness of the Versailles settlement, leading to the complete and utter destruction of German civil society and ushering in an era of American supremacy in the Western world. The United States’ ambitious effort to reconstruct German society along American lines defined the relationship during the postwar period, but a turn toward nationalism in both countries in the early 21st century resurrected old questions and fears.

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American cities have been transnational in nature since the first urban spaces emerged during the colonial period. Yet the specific shape of the relationship between American cities and the rest of the world has changed dramatically in the intervening years. In the mid-20th century, the increasing integration of the global economy within the American economy began to reshape US cities. In the Northeast and Midwest, the once robust manufacturing centers and factories that had sustained their residents—and their tax bases—left, first for the South and West, and then for cities and towns outside the United States, as capital grew more mobile and businesses sought lower wages and tax incentives elsewhere. That same global capital, combined with federal subsidies, created boomtowns in the once-rural South and West. Nationwide, city boosters began to pursue alternatives to heavy industry, once understood to be the undisputed guarantor of a healthy urban economy. Increasingly, US cities organized themselves around the service economy, both in high-end, white-collar sectors like finance, consulting, and education, and in low-end pink-collar and no-collar sectors like food service, hospitality, and health care. A new legal infrastructure related to immigration made US cities more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse than ever before. At the same time, some US cities were agents of economic globalization themselves. Dubbed “global cities” by celebrants and critics of the new economy alike, these cities achieved power and prestige in the late 20th century not only because they had survived the ruptures of globalization but because they helped to determine its shape. By the end of the 20th century, cities that are not routinely listed among the “global city” elite jockeyed to claim “world-class” status, investing in high-end art, entertainment, technology, education, and health care amenities to attract and retain the high-income white-collar workers understood to be the last hope for cities hollowed out by deindustrialization and global competition. Today, the extreme differences between “global cities” and the rest of US cities, and the extreme socioeconomic stratification seen in cities of all stripes, is a key concern of urbanists.