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16.1 Background of American Foreign Policy

The U.S. was insulated from the mainstream of international politics for almost a century and a half. In his famous ’Farewell Address’ George Washington has established neutrality with regard to European wars, by saying, "Europe has a set of primary interests, which to us have none or a very remote relation. Hence it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves, by artificial ties, in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations or collisions of her friendships or enmities."

For most of the 19th century the isolationist policy worked well since Britannia ruled the waves, Europe was stable, and the American oceans shielded the U.S. from attack. However, all presidents did not strictly follow a policy of neutrality. In 1812, under President Madison, the U.S. engaged in a war with Britain. When Napoleon’s armies overran Spain and Portugal in 1807, it led to a revolt in the American colonies of these satellite nations. There was a fear that European powers would attempt to gain possession of the territory of the former Spanish colonies. Hence President Monroe, in his message to Congress in December 1823, made the famous declaration that the American continents were not to be considered as "future subjects for colonization by any European powers" and that any interference with the liberty of the Spanish colonies which had declared themselves independent would be regarded as the "manifestation of unfriendly disposition towards the United States". Thus by the Monroe Doctrine, all European intervention in American affairs was opposed.

16.1a The Spanish - American War and its Aftermath

During the 1890s, the U.S. became an imperialist power with a desire to develop an overseas empire. This desire for expansion resembled that of the period of Manifest Destiny in the 1840s. The most dramatic illustration of the new American imperialism occurred in 1898, when the U.S. was in a battle with Spain, over Cuba. The Spanish - American War was an easy triumph and ended in the Treaty of Paris 1898, by which Spain acknowledged the independence of Cuba. Spain also handed over to the U.S. Puerto Rico, Guam in the Ladrones, and the Philippines. The government of the U.S. also annexed Hawaii.

In 1905, Theodore Roosevelt forced Santo Domingo to accept American control of her finances. The Monroe Doctrine was used here as an excuse for interference by the U.S. in the affairs of her neighbors. The ’Roosevelt Corollary’ to the Monroe Doctrine, gave the U.S. a claim to interfere in the affairs of the Caribbean Republics.

A notable illustration of Roosevelt’s methods was the case of Panama, in which the U.S. had been interested for a long time. Before 1903, Panama was part of the republic of Colombia. In November 1903, a revolution took place in Panama, through which it proclaimed itself independent of Colombia. The U.S. Navy helped to suppress the revolution by stopping Colombian troops from landing in Panama. The new Republic of Panama soon signed a treaty with the U.S., giving it a lease, forever, of a strip of land, ten miles wide across the isthmus (except the towns of Colon and Panama). The U.S. secured the right to fortify this strip, and if necessary, to police Colon and Panama.

In 1894, Japan attacked China, and won a series of easy victories. Four years later Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain and Italy proceeded to take various Chinese bases for themselves. Thus, John Hay, the American Secretary of State, put forward the Open Door policy, demanding equal opportunities for all nations to trade in China.

16.1b World War I and World War II

The U.S. played a considerable part in the World War. It not only loaned large sums of money to the Allies, but also contributed manpower. The U.S. navy joined the British in the campaign against sub marines in April 1917. President Woodrow Wilson believed that the U.S. had entered the War to "Make the world safe for democracy." Thus he drew up the Fourteen Points in January 1918, emphasizing self-determination and offering the hope of a new world free from the threat of war. However the Treaty of Versailles of 1919, which provided for the establishment of the League of Nations was rejected by the Senate and the country reverted to the American tradition of isolation from Europe.

In 1935, the Neutrality Act was passed, in order to prevent the U.S. from becoming involved in a second war as in the war of 1914 - 18. This Neutrality Act was revised in 1937, and put into force in the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Congress passed a new Neutrality Act permitting countries at war to buy arms and munitions in the U.S., on a "cash and carry" basis. Though this Act aimed at keeping the U.S. out of the war, it was a step away from strict neutrality. President Roosevelt, on being re-elected, spoke of the U.S. as "the great arsenal of democracy" and the ’Lease-Lend’ proposals passed in 1941, empowered the president to ", lease, lend, or otherwise dispose of" defense materials to the government of any country "whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the U.S." However the surprise attack from the Japanese, on the American naval forces in Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, brought a united America openly into the war, as a member of a world-wide alliance including countries like Great Britain, Soviet Russia and China. In the course of the war, important decisions were taken at conferences held at Casablanca in January 1943, Tehran in November 1943, Yalta in February 1945 and Potsdam in July-August 1945, at which an ultimatum was issued calling for complete surrender by Japan. In the famous words of Churchill (from a speech he delivered) at Futon in Missouri, in March 1946, "an iron curtain" had descended across Europe, with the Russians in control of most of Eastern Europe.

16.1c The Cold War and Vietnam

Towards the end of 1946, the world was involved in a "Cold War" in which the Soviet Union and the U.S. were the main protagonists. In March 1947, President Truman put forward the policy of containment of Russian activities in a clear statement. At this time a lot of communist activity was taking place in Greece. Further, the independence of Turkey was being threatened by Russia. Thus Truman recommended that Congress should grant $400 million economic and military aid to Greece and Turkey as a safeguard against a communist take over of these countries. He expressed his Truman Doctrine in these words: "I believe that it must be the policy of the U.S. to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

Another American initiative was the Marshall Plan. It had far wider implications than the Truman Doctrine but the same underlying motive. In June 1947, the American Secretary of State, George C. Marshall called upon the nations of Europe to draw up a plan for economic recovery and submit it to the U.S., which would respond by extending large scale financial aid. Eventually sixteen nations responded to and benefited from the Marshall plan.

A notable step in American foreign policy was the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 1949. It added military guarantees to the economic help provided under the Marshall plan.

An example of the containment policy was the Korean War (1950 - 1953). When an attack was made on the Republic of Korea by the communist controlled forces of North Korea (in June 1950) President Truman gave prompt support to the United Nations in resisting this aggression.

Considerable influence was exerted on American foreign policy by the domino theory, which feared that if one country in a region fell under communist control, other nations in the area would follow suit. Thus efforts to aid South Vietnam in resisting a communist take-over, brought the U.S. into sharp conflict with North Vietnam and communist China. The war not only resulted in a loss of over 50,000 lives, many billions of dollars and a divided country.

The U.S. secretary of State Dulles’ reply to the events in Vietnam, was the formation of the South - East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) in September 1954. It was a military alliance including the U.S., Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand, together with Thailand, the Philippines and Pakistan, on the lines of NATO.

Exhibit 16.1
Meeting with Soviet Union Leader

During the cold war period, there were meetings between Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson, and the leaders of the Soviet Union, in an attempt at summit diplomacy. Attempts were made through these summits at arriving at peaceful compromise.

In August 1963, the U.S., Russia and Britain signed, a ’test-ban’ treaty, (Nuclear Test Ban Treaty) in which they agreed not to test nuclear weapons above ground. see )

16.1d Détente and the End of the Cold War

There was period of Détente under President Nixon, when tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union eased out, leading to an increase in trade and cultural exchanges, as well as to the 1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I). His was an important agreement to limit nuclear weapons. Nixon also attempted to normalize relations with the People’s Republic of China.

However there was continued rivalry among the superpowers. After the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Anti-Communist forces in Nicaragua and El Salvador, were actively supported by President Reagan, who brought about a considerable increase in American defense spending. In order to solve economic problems in the Soviet Union, new policies called glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring) were introduced by Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader. The Cold War ended in the early 1990s when the independence of the Baltic States, Ukraine, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and the Central Asian republics brought the Soviet Union to an end.

Exhibit 16.2
Mikhail Gorbachev

16.1e The New World Order

Though the threat of nuclear war was reduced, global conflicts continue to exist. Thus an international coalition was put together through the UN, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This led to the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Further attempts were made by the UN and NATO, to resolve the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. However, neither of these were successful in controlling the extremes of civil war.

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16.0 - Introduction
16.1 - Background Of American Foreign Policy
16.2 - Making Foreign Policy
16.3 - The Institutions Of Foreign Policy
16.4 - Issues In Foreign Policy

Chapter 1

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