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Congress and Foreign Policy  

Bryan W. Marshall

The U.S. Congress has broad constitutional powers to shape foreign policy. However, Congress rarely shapes foreign policy as an equal partner with the president. Politics has the potential to enhance or lessen Congress’s role. What explains changes over time in congressional power in foreign policy? Why does Congress assert itself on some issues but less so on others in U.S. foreign policy? What strategies or tools does Congress employ to shape the nation’s foreign policy? The lens of New Institutionalism, two presidencies, and presidential unilateralism connect in useful ways to help explain these kinds of key questions in foreign policy. They offer scholars a future framework to continue to enhance theories explaining variation in congressional assertiveness in foreign policy.

Article

Corporate Lobbying in Foreign Policy  

Amy Skonieczny

More Americans than ever before believe that money in politics weakens our democracy. Public opinion polls show that the number of people who believe that the country is run by a few big interests looking after themselves rose to nearly 80% over the past 20 years. The belief that corporate interests drive public policy is not all that surprising when you consider the growth of lobbying in the United States. According to the Center for Responsive Government, from 1998 to 2016, the amount of money spent on lobbying the U.S. government grew from $1.45 billion to $3.12 billion with well over 10,000 lobbyists in Washington. With this all this money attempting to influence policy outcomes in Washington, it is no wonder that Americans are skeptical of the intentions of government officials. However, political scientists have found a more mixed result when it comes to the actual influence of money on politics. One study asked if the amount of money spent on any given issue really influences policy outcomes. Other studies have shown some benefit to the private parties that lobby. Thus despite significant research on the topic, there is little agreement among political scientists on just how lobbying influences political actors or if lobbying directly impacts policy results. When it comes to foreign policy, corporate lobbies are an ever-present influence in the crafting of government policies. Whether in the European Union or the United States or other countries around the world, corporate lobbies view representing their interests in a truly global fashion. While corporate interests are investing in shaping foreign policy in a variety of issues areas such as defense spending, arms sales, contractors on humanitarian missions, one area is particularly vulnerable to corporate influence—trade and finance. Research shows that U.S. trade politics is heavily influenced by the lobbying of business organizations and trade associations. In fact, the U.S. administration often relies on interested corporate parties to provide it with both the expertise that shapes the agreement itself and the political case for trade liberalization that shapes the public pro-trade campaign. In turn, corporate lobbying for trade agreements is a costly and involved process. For example, during the eight years of negotiations over the TransPacific Partnership Agreement, a regional trade agreement between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries, corporations paid $2.6 billion dollars to lobbyists to influence the content of the agreement and to promote it to Congress and the American public. An overview of the literature on corporate lobbying and an examination of the case of U.S. trade shows a particular example of how corporate lobbying works to influence foreign policy.

Article

The Political Economy of Hegemony: The (Surprising) Persistence of American Hegemony  

Thomas Oatley

First-generation research in International Political Economy focused considerable attention on the relationship between hegemony and global economic stability. This focus was the result of a confluence of scholarly and policy concerns about the impact that the apparent decline of U.S. hegemony would have on international trade and investment regimes. Interest in this hegemonic stability hypothesis waned, however, as deeper explorations of the theoretical logic indicated that hegemony was not a necessary condition for international economic openness, and as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the consequent “unipolar moment” suggested that American hegemony was hardly in decline. Interest in hegemony resurfaced in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. The crisis triggered many scholars to proclaim the end of the era of American global hegemony. Scholars argued that the U.S. government’s attachment to a large budget and trade deficits and the resulting growth of foreign debt were likely to weaken foreign confidence in the dollar and encourage the shift to an alternative reserve currency such as the Euro. At the same time, China’s rapid industrialization and emergence as a large creditor nation was creating a new pole in the international economy that constituted a meaningful alternative to a global economy organized around the United States’ economy. Thus, a shift toward a Beijing hegemony was all but inevitable. The predicted decline of American hegemony has yet to materialize. The U.S. economy remains the world’s largest, and the U.S. government continues to play the leading role in system making—creating new rules to govern international economic cooperation—and in privilege taking—manipulating these rules in ways that advantage U.S. public and private sector actors. Moreover, the U.S. government plays this role in all three economic subsystems: finance, knowledge, and production. Empirical scholarship conducted over the last decade encourages one to conclude by paraphrasing Mark Twain: Recent reports of the death of American hegemony are premature.

Article

The United States and the European Union  

Roberto Dominguez and Joshua Weissman LaFrance

The history of the European Union (EU) is closely associated with the development of the United States. As the process of European integration has produced institutions and gained a collective international presence, the United States has been a close observer, partner, and often critic of the policies and actions of the EU and its member states. A steady progression of events delineates this path: the Marshall Plan, origins of European integration, the Cold War, the post–Cold War, 9/11 and its effects on the international system, the Great Recession, and the deterioration of global democracy. All throughout, the EU and the United States have both cooperated and collided with one another, in line with the combination of three main factors: (a) the evolution of the EU as an independent, international actor; (b) American strategies for engagement with Europe and then with the EU; and (c) the adaptive capacity and cohesion of the overall transatlantic relationship. The EU–U.S. relationship is significant not only for the influential role of the EU in world affairs but also because, as opposed to China or Russia, the transatlantic area hosts one of the most solid relationships around the world. Crises surely have been, and will be, a frequent aspect of the intense interdependences on both sides of the Atlantic; however, the level of contestation and conflict is relatively low, particularly as compared with other areas that smoothly allow the flow of goods, services, people, and ideas. Taken altogether, then, the transatlantic relationship possesses a strong foundation: it is integral, resilient, and enduring over a history of diplomatic disagreements and conflicts. The primary question remains just how this steady stream and confluence of shared challenges ultimately will fare in face of evolving crises and systemic disruptors. In any case, the answer is determined by the enduring nature, and foreign policy choices, of the primary actors on each side of the Atlantic.

Article

Democracy Promotion and US Foreign Policy  

David Ryan and Liam O'Brien

Democracy promotion has been a key aspect of U.S. identity and foreign policy, though Washington also has a long history of supporting non-democratic forms of governance; it has both consolidated democratic regimes and intervened to overthrow democratically elected governments. Democracy promotion is a broad term encompassing different activities, undertaken as part of a nation’s foreign policy, which intend to initiate and foster democratic governance abroad. Democracy promotion efforts may include, among other strategies, “traditional” diplomacy, targeted foreign aid and assistance, and both covert and overt military intervention. While democracy promotion has now become an accepted foreign policy norm among many nations, numerous issues and debates continue to surround its deployment, ranging from granular questions concerning how to best distribute foreign aid up to larger, more fundamental disputes centered on the effectiveness and legitimacy of democracy promotion. Such issues have a particular relevance to the history of U.S. foreign policy: the meta-narrative of U.S. foreign policy and its grand strategy is axiomatically associated with democracy and with democracy promotion. Indeed, given its self-characterization as a shining “city on a hill,” charges of inconsistency and double-standards frequently attend U.S. efforts at democracy promotion. Certainly, despite the rhetorical positions of many presidents, democracy promotion has never been the driving factor behind U.S. foreign policy but rather one component of a wider picture. The United States has frequently supported authoritarian regimes, undermined democracy, or supported a form of “low-intensity” or limited veneer of democratic practice. That said, the institutionalization of U.S. democracy promotion has not only set it more firmly on the agenda but also made it a more visible feature of U.S. policy. The democracy promotion efforts that served the Reagan administration’s goals in Latin America—mainly funding quasi-governmental groups that sought to foster opposition to unfriendly governments and strengthen civic society in target countries more generally—have provided a model for the basis of a large democracy promotion industry, providing a genuine substance to U.S. democracy promotion rhetoric in the process. The “industrialization” of democracy promotion, however, has created its own issues; namely an uncritical environment in which the promotion of a relatively shallow form of U.S.–style democracy has been presumed to be best, no matter the individual circumstances and nuances of target countries. The problems formed by such biases, along with a host of other challenges, will likely ensure that U.S. democracy promotion remains a contentious issue for some time to come.