Foreign policy of the United States


The officially stated goals of the foreign policy of the United States of America, including all the Bureaus and Offices in the United States Department of State,[1] as mentioned in the Foreign Policy Agenda of the Department of State, are "to build and sustain a more democratic, secure, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community".[2] The United States House Committee on Foreign Affairs states as some of its jurisdictional goals: "export controls, including nonproliferation of nuclear technology and nuclear hardware; measures to foster commercial interaction with foreign nations and to safeguard American business abroad; international commodity agreements; international education; and protection of American citizens abroad and expulsion".[3] U.S. foreign policy and foreign aid have been the subject of much debate, praise, and criticism, both domestically and abroad.

Presidential powerEdit

The President of the United States sets the tone for all foreign policy. The State Department and all members design and implement all details of his policy.[citation needed]

The Treaty Clause in Article Two of the United States Constitution dictates that the president negotiates treaties with other countries or political entities, and signs them. Signed treaties enter into force only if ratified by at least two-thirds (67 members) of the United States Senate. Technically, the Senate itself does not ratify treaties, it only approves or rejects resolutions of ratification submitted by the Committee on Foreign Relations. If approved, the United States exchanges the instruments of ratification with the foreign state(s).[4] Between 1789 and 1990, the Senate approved more than 1,500 treaties, rejected 21 and withdrew 85 without further action. As of December 2014, 36 treaties signed by the president await action by the Senate.[5]

Congress approves the president's picks for ambassadors and as a secondary function, can declare war. The president is commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces. He appoints a secretary of state and ambassadors with the advice and consent of the Senate. The secretary acts similarly to a foreign minister, the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy.[citation needed]

Historical overviewEdit

The main trend regarding the history of U.S. foreign policy since the American Revolution is the shift from non-interventionism before and after World War I, to its growth as a world power and global hegemony during and since World War II and the end of the Cold War in the 20th century.[6] Since the 19th century, U.S. foreign policy also has been characterized by a shift from the realist school to the idealistic or Wilsonian school of international relations.[7]

The Jay Treaty of 1795 aligned the U.S. more with Britain and less with France, leading to political polarization at home

Foreign policy themes were expressed considerably in George Washington's farewell address; these included, among other things, observing good faith and justice towards all nations and cultivating peace and harmony with all, excluding both "inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others", "steer[ing] clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world", and advocating trade with all nations. These policies became the basis of the Federalist Party in the 1790s, but the rival Jeffersonians feared Britain and favored France in the 1790s, declaring the War of 1812 on Britain. After the 1778 alliance with France, the U.S. did not sign another permanent treaty until the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949. Over time, other themes, key goals, attitudes, or stances have been variously expressed by Presidential 'doctrines', named for them. Initially these were uncommon events, but since WWII, these have been made by most presidents.[citation needed]

Jeffersonians vigorously opposed a large standing army and any navy until attacks against American shipping by Barbary corsairs spurred the country into developing a naval force projection capability, resulting in the First Barbary War in 1801.[8]

Despite two wars with European Powers—the War of 1812 and the Spanish–American War in 1898—American foreign policy was mostly peaceful and marked by steady expansion of its foreign trade during the 19th century. The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 doubled the nation's geographical area; Spain ceded the territory of Florida in 1819; annexation brought in the independent Texas Republic in 1845; a war with Mexico added California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and New Mexico in 1848. The U.S. bought Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867, and it annexed the independent Republic of Hawaii in 1898. Victory over Spain in 1898 brought the Philippines and Puerto Rico, as well as oversight of Cuba. The short experiment in imperialism ended by 1908, as the U.S. turned its attention to the Panama Canal and the stabilization of regions to its south, including Mexico.[citation needed]

20th centuryEdit

World War IEdit

The 20th century was marked by two world wars in which Allied powers, along with the United States, defeated their enemies, and through this participation the United States increased its international reputation. Entry into the First World War was a hotly debated issue in the 1916 presidential election.[9]

President Wilson's Fourteen Points was developed from his idealistic Wilsonianism program of spreading democracy and fighting militarism to prevent future wars. It became the basis of the German Armistice (which amounted to a military surrender) and the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The resulting Treaty of Versailles, due to European allies' punitive and territorial designs, showed insufficient conformity with these points, and the U.S. signed separate treaties with each of its adversaries; due to Senate objections also, the U.S. never joined the League of Nations, which was established as a result of Wilson's initiative. In the 1920s, the United States followed an independent course, and succeeded in a program of naval disarmament, and refunding the German economy. Operating outside the League it became a dominant player in diplomatic affairs. New York became the financial capital of the world,[10] but the Wall Street Crash of 1929 hurled the Western industrialized world into the Great Depression. American trade policy relied on high tariffs under the Republicans, and reciprocal trade agreements under the Democrats, but in any case exports were at very low levels in the 1930s.[citation needed]

World War IIEdit

The United States adopted a non-interventionist foreign policy from 1932 to 1938, but then President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved toward strong support of the Allies in their wars against Germany and Japan. As a result of intense internal debate, the national policy was one of becoming the Arsenal of Democracy, that is financing and equipping the Allied armies without sending American combat soldiers. Roosevelt mentioned four fundamental freedoms, which ought to be enjoyed by people "everywhere in the world"; these included the freedom of speech and religion, as well as freedom from want and fear. Roosevelt helped establish terms for a post-war world among potential allies at the Atlantic Conference; specific points were included to correct earlier failures, which became a step toward the United Nations. American policy was to threaten Japan, to force it out of China, and to prevent its attacking the Soviet Union. Japan reacted with an attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and the United States was at war with Japan, Germany, and Italy. Instead of the loans given to allies in World War I, the United States provided Lend-Lease grants of $50,000,000,000. Working closely with Winston Churchill of Britain, and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, Roosevelt sent his forces into the Pacific against Japan, then into North Africa against Italy and Germany, and finally into Europe starting with France and Italy in 1944 against the Germans. The American economy roared forward, doubling industrial production, and building vast quantities of airplanes, ships, tanks, munitions, and, finally, the atomic bomb. Much of the American war effort went to strategic bombers, which flattened the cities of Japan and Germany.[citation needed]

Cold WarEdit

President Richard Nixon went to China to open friendly relations and meet Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong in 1972.

After the war, the U.S. rose to become the dominant economic power with broad influence in much of the world, with the key policies of the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. Almost immediately, two broad camps formed during the Cold War; one side was led by the U.S. and the other by the Soviet Union, but this situation also led to the establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement. This period lasted until almost the end of the 20th century and is thought to be both an ideological and power struggle between the two superpowers. Policies of linkage and containment were adopted to limit Soviet expansion, and a series of proxy wars were fought with mixed results. In 1991, the Soviet Union dissolved into separate nations, and the Cold War formally ended as the United States gave separate diplomatic recognition to the Russian Federation and other former Soviet states.[citation needed]

In domestic politics, foreign policy is not usually a central issue. In 1945–1970 the Democratic Party took a strong anti-Communist line and supported wars in Korea and Vietnam. Then the party split with a strong, "dovish", pacifist element (typified by 1972 presidential candidate George McGovern). Many "hawks", advocates for war, joined the neoconservative movement and started supporting the Republicans—especially Reagan—based on foreign policy.[11] Meanwhile, down to 1952 the Republican Party was split between an isolationist wing, based in the Midwest and led by Senator Robert A. Taft, and an internationalist wing based in the East and led by Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower defeated Taft for the 1952 nomination largely on foreign policy grounds. Since then the Republicans have been characterized by a hawkish and intense American nationalism, strong opposition to Communism, and strong support for Israel.[12]

21st centuryEdit

In the 21st century, U.S. influence remains strong but, in relative terms, is declining in terms of economic output compared to rising nations such as China, India, Russia, and the newly consolidated European Union. Substantial problems remain, such as climate change, nuclear proliferation, and the specter of nuclear terrorism. Foreign policy analysts Hachigian and Sutphen in their book The Next American Century suggest all five powers have similar vested interests in stability and terrorism prevention and trade; if they can find common ground, then the next decades may be marked by peaceful growth and prosperity.[13]

President Donald Trump and his Western allies from G7 and NATO.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad meets with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in 2018

In 2017 diplomats from other countries developed new tactics to engage with President Donald Trump's brand of American nationalism. The New York Times reported on the eve of his first foreign trip as president:

For foreign leaders trying to figure out the best way to approach an American president unlike any they have known, it is a time of experimentation. Embassies in Washington trade tips and ambassadors send cables to presidents and ministers back home suggesting how to handle a mercurial, strong-willed leader with no real experience on the world stage, a preference for personal diplomacy and a taste for glitz...certain rules have emerged: Keep it short — no 30-minute monologue for a 30-second attention span. Do not assume he knows the history of the country or its major points of contention. Compliment him on his Electoral College victory. Contrast him favorably with President Barack Obama. Do not get hung up on whatever was said during the campaign. Stay in regular touch. Do not go in with a shopping list but bring some sort of deal he can call a victory.[14]

Trump had numerous aides giving advice on foreign policy. The chief diplomat was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. His major foreign policy positions were often at odds with Trump, including:

urging the United States to stay in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord, taking a hard line on Russia, advocating negotiations and dialogue to defuse the mounting crisis with North Korea, advocating for continued U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear deal, taking a neutral position in the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and reassuring jittery allies, from South Korea and Japan to our NATO partners, that America still has their back.[15]

Before the Trump presidency, foreign policy in the U.S. was the result of bipartisan consensus on an agenda of strengthening its position as the number one power. That consensus has since fractured, with Republican and Democratic politicians increasingly calling for a more restrained approach.[16]


In the United States, there are three types of treaty-related law:

  • Treaties are formal written agreements specified by the Treaty Clause of the Constitution. The President makes a treaty with foreign powers, but then the proposed treaty must be ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. For example, President Wilson proposed the Treaty of Versailles after World War I after consulting with allied powers, but this treaty was rejected by the Senate; as a result, the U.S. subsequently made separate agreements with different nations. While most international law has a broader interpretation of the term treaty, the U.S. sense of the term is more restricted. In Missouri v. Holland, the Supreme Court ruled that the power to make treaties under the U.S. Constitution is a power separate from the other enumerated powers of the federal government, and hence the federal government can use treaties to legislate in areas which would otherwise fall within the exclusive authority of the states.
  • Executive agreements are made by the President—in the exercise of his Constitutional executive powers—alone.
  • Congressional-executive agreements are made by the President and Congress. A majority of both houses makes it binding much like regular legislation after it is signed by the president. The Constitution does not expressly state that these agreements are allowed, and constitutional scholars such as Laurence Tribe think they are unconstitutional.[17]

In contrast to most other nations, the United States considers the three types of agreements as distinct. Further, the United States incorporates treaty law into the body of U.S. federal law. As a result, Congress can modify or repeal treaties afterward. It can overrule an agreed-upon treaty obligation even if that is seen as a violation of the treaty under international law. Several U.S. court rulings confirmed this understanding, including Supreme Court decisions in Paquete Habana v. the United States (1900), and Reid v. Covert (1957), as well as a lower court ruling in Garcia-Mir v. Meese (1986).[citation needed]

The State Department has taken the position that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties represents established law. Generally, when the U.S. signs a treaty, it is binding. As a result of the Reid v. Covert decision, the U.S. adds a reservation to the text of every treaty that says in effect that the U.S. intends to abide by the treaty but that if the treaty is found to be in violation of the Constitution, the U.S. legally is then unable to abide by the treaty since the U.S. signature would be ultra vires.[citation needed]

International agreementsEdit

The United States has ratified and participates in many other multilateral treaties, including arms control treaties (especially with the Soviet Union), human rights treaties, environmental protocols, and free trade agreements.[citation needed]

Economic and general governmentEdit

The United States is a founding member of the United Nations and most of its specialized agencies, notably the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund. The U.S. has at times withheld payment of dues, owing to disagreements with the UN.[citation needed]

The United States is also member of:[citation needed]

Freely Associated StatesEdit

After it captured the islands from Japan during World War II, the United States administered the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands from 1947 to 1986 (1994 for Palau). The Northern Mariana Islands became a U.S. territory (part of the United States), while Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau became independent countries. Each has signed a Compact of Free Association that gives the United States exclusive military access in return for U.S. defense protection and conduct of military foreign affairs (except the declaration of war) and a few billion dollars of aid. These agreements also generally allow citizens of these countries to live and work in the United States with their spouses (and vice versa), and provide for largely free trade. The federal government also grants access to services from domestic agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service, the United States Postal Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and U.S. representation to the International Frequency Registration Board of the International Telecommunication Union.[citation needed]

Non-participation in multi-lateral agreementsEdit

The United States notably does not participate in various international agreements adhered to by almost all other industrialized countries, by almost all the countries of the Americas, or by almost all other countries in the world. With a large population and economy, on a practical level this can undermine the effect of certain agreements,[18][19] or give other countries a precedent to cite for non-participation in various agreements.[20]

In some cases the arguments against participation include that the United States should maximize its sovereignty and freedom of action, or that ratification would create a basis for lawsuits that would treat American citizens unfairly.[21] In other cases, the debate became involved in domestic political issues, such as gun control, climate change, and the death penalty.[citation needed]

Examples include:

Hub and spoke vs multilateralEdit

While America's relationships with Europe have tended to be in terms of multilateral frameworks, such as NATO, America's relations with Asia have tended to be based on a "hub and spoke" model using a series of bilateral relationships where states coordinate with the United States and do not collaborate with each other.[22] On May 30, 2009, at the Shangri-La Dialogue Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged the nations of Asia to build on this hub and spoke model as they established and grew multilateral institutions such as ASEAN, APEC and the ad hoc arrangements in the area.[23] In 2011, Gates said the United States must serve as the "indispensable nation," for building multilateral cooperation.[24]


Persian GulfEdit

A U.S. soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in the Rumaila oil field, Iraq, April 2003

As of 2014, the U.S. currently produces about 66% of the oil that it consumed. By 2020, total U.S. annual petroleum production was greater than total petroleum consumption and exports.[25] While its imports have exceeded domestic production since the early 1990s, new hydraulic fracturing techniques and discovery of shale oil deposits in Canada and the American Dakotas offer the potential for increased energy independence from oil exporting countries such as OPEC.[26] Former U.S. President George W. Bush identified dependence on imported oil as an urgent "national security concern".[27]

Two-thirds of the world's proven oil reserves are estimated to be found in the Persian Gulf.[28][29] Despite its distance, the Persian Gulf region was first proclaimed to be of national interest to the United States during World War II. Petroleum is of central importance to modern armies, and the United States—as the world's leading oil producer at that time—supplied most of the oil for the Allied armies. Many U.S. strategists were concerned that the war would dangerously reduce the U.S. oil supply, and so they sought to establish good relations with Saudi Arabia, a kingdom with large oil reserves.[30]

The Persian Gulf region continued to be regarded as an area of vital importance to the United States during the Cold War. Three Cold War United States Presidential doctrines—the Truman Doctrine, the Eisenhower Doctrine, and the Nixon Doctrine—played roles in the formulation of the Carter Doctrine, which stated that the United States would use military force if necessary to defend its "national interests" in the Persian Gulf region.[31] Carter's successor, President Ronald Reagan, extended the policy in October 1981 with what is sometimes called the "Reagan Corollary to the Carter Doctrine", which proclaimed that the United States would intervene to protect Saudi Arabia, whose security was threatened after the outbreak of the Iran–Iraq War.[32] Some analysts have argued that the implementation of the Carter Doctrine and the Reagan Corollary also played a role in the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq War.[33][34][35][36]


Almost all of Canada's energy exports go to the United States, making it the largest foreign source of U.S. energy imports: Canada is consistently among the top sources for U.S. oil imports, and it is the largest source of U.S. natural gas and electricity imports.[37]


In 2007 the U.S. was Sub-Saharan Africa's largest single export market accounting for 28% of exports (second in total to the EU at 31%). 81% of U.S. imports from this region were petroleum products.[38]

Foreign aidEdit

Foreign assistance is a core component of the State Department's international affairs budget, which is $49 billion in all for 2014.[39] Aid is considered an essential instrument of U.S. foreign policy. There are four major categories of non-military foreign assistance: bilateral development aid, economic assistance supporting U.S. political and security goals, humanitarian aid, and multilateral economic contributions (for example, contributions to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund).[40]

In absolute dollar terms, the United States government is the largest international aid donor ($23 billion in 2014).[39] The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) manages the bulk of bilateral economic assistance. The Treasury Department handles most multilateral aid.[citation needed]

Foreign aid is a highly partisan issue in the United States, with liberals, on average, supporting foreign aid much more than conservatives do.[41]


As of 2016, the United States is actively conducting military operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Al-Qaeda under the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001, including in areas of fighting in the Syrian Civil War and Yemeni Civil War. The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base holds what the federal government considers unlawful combatants from these ongoing activities, and has been a controversial issue in foreign relations, domestic politics, and Cuba–United States relations. Other major U.S. military concerns include stability in Afghanistan and Iraq after the recent U.S.–led invasions of those countries, Russian military activity in Ukraine and Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. President Joe Biden has announced the end of military operations in Afghanistan by September 2021. Debate is ongoing regarding other reductions in peacekeeping roles.[42]

Mutual defense agreementsEdit

A map of allies of the United States
  NATO member states, including their colonies and overseas possessions
  Signatories of Partnership for Peace with NATO

The United States is a founding member of NATO, an alliance of 29 North American and European nations formed to defend Western Europe against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Under the NATO charter, the United States is compelled to defend any NATO state that is attacked by a foreign power. The United States itself was the first country to invoke the mutual defense provisions of the alliance, in response to the September 11 attacks.[citation needed]

The United States also has mutual military defense treaties with:[43]

The United States has responsibility for the defense of the three Compact of Free Association states: Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau.

Other allies and multilateral organizationsEdit

Countries with U.S. military bases (excluding the U.S. Coast Guard).

In 1989, the United States also granted five nations the major non-NATO ally status (MNNA), and additions by later presidents have brought the list to 30 nations. Each such state has a unique relationship with the United States, involving various military and economic partnerships and alliances.[citation needed]

U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Commandos training with Jordanian special operations forces

and lesser agreements with:

The U.S. participates in various military-related multi-lateral organizations, including:

The U.S. also operates hundreds of military bases around the world.[citation needed]

Unilateral vs. multilateral military actionsEdit

A protest sign opposing American invasion to Iraq.

The United States has undertaken unilateral and multilateral military operations throughout its history (see Timeline of United States military operations). In the post-World War II era, the country has had permanent membership and veto power in the United Nations Security Council, allowing it to undertake any military action without formal Security Council opposition. With vast military expenditures, the United States is known as the sole remaining superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The U.S. contributes a relatively small number of personnel for United Nations peacekeeping operations. It sometimes acts through NATO, as with the NATO intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina, NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, and ISAF in Afghanistan, but often acts unilaterally or in ad hoc coalitions as with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[citation needed]

The United Nations Charter requires that military operations be either for self-defense or affirmatively approved by the Security Council. Though many of their operations have followed these rules, the United States and NATO have been accused of committing crimes against peace in international law, for example in the 1999 Yugoslavia and 2003 Iraq operations.[citation needed]


U.S. Soldiers unload humanitarian aid for distribution to the town of Rajan Kala, Afghanistan, December 2009

The U.S. provides military aid through many channels. Counting the items that appear in the budget as 'Foreign Military Financing' and 'Plan Colombia', the U.S. spent approximately $4.5 billion in military aid in 2001, of which $2 billion went to Israel, $1.3 billion went to Egypt, and $1 billion went to Colombia.[44] Since 9/11, Pakistan has received approximately $11.5 billion in direct military aid.[45]

As of 2004, according to Fox News, the U.S. had more than 700 military bases in 130 countries.[46]

Estimated U.S. foreign military financing and aid by recipient for 2010:

Recipient Military aid 2010 (USD Billions)
  Iraq 6.50
  Afghanistan 5.60[47]
  Israel 2.75[48]
  Egypt 1.75[49]
  Pakistan 1.60[50]
  Colombia .834[51]
  Jordan .300[52]
  Palestinian Authority .100[49]
  Yemen .070

According to a 2016 report by the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. topped the market in global weapon sales for 2015, with $40 billion sold. The largest buyers were Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Pakistan, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq.[53]

Missile defenseEdit

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) was a proposal by U.S. President Ronald Reagan on March 23, 1983[54] to use ground and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles,[55] later dubbed "Star Wars".[56] The initiative focused on strategic defense rather than the prior strategic offense doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD). Though it was never fully developed or deployed, the research and technologies of SDI paved the way for some anti-ballistic missile systems of today.[57]

In February 2007, the U.S. started formal negotiations with Poland and Czech Republic concerning construction of missile shield installations in those countries for a Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system[58] (in April 2007, 57% of Poles opposed the plan).[59] According to press reports, the government of the Czech Republic agreed (while 67% Czechs disagree)[60] to host a missile defense radar on its territory while a base of missile interceptors is supposed to be built in Poland.[61][62]

Russia threatened to place short-range nuclear missiles on the Russia's border with NATO if the United States refuses to abandon plans to deploy 10 interceptor missiles and a radar in Poland and the Czech Republic.[63][64] In April 2007, Putin warned of a new Cold War if the Americans deployed the shield in Central Europe.[65] Putin also said that Russia is prepared to abandon its obligations under an Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987 with the United States.[66]

On August 14, 2008, the United States and Poland announced a deal to implement the missile defense system in Polish territory, with a tracking system placed in the Czech Republic.[67] "The fact that this was signed in a period of very difficult crisis in the relations between Russia and the United States over the situation in Georgia shows that, of course, the missile defense system will be deployed not against Iran but against the strategic potential of Russia", Dmitry Rogozin, Russia's NATO envoy, said.[58][68]

Keir A. Lieber and Daryl G. Press, argue in Foreign Affairs that U.S. missile defenses are designed to secure Washington's nuclear primacy and are chiefly directed at potential rivals, such as Russia and China. The authors note that Washington continues to eschew nuclear first strike and contend that deploying missile defenses "would be valuable primarily in an offensive context, not a defensive one; as an adjunct to a US First Strike capability, not as a stand-alone shield":

If the United States launched a nuclear attack against Russia (or China), the targeted country would be left with only a tiny surviving arsenal, if any at all. At that point, even a relatively modest or inefficient missile defense system might well be enough to protect against any retaliatory strikes.[69]

This analysis is corroborated by the Pentagon's 1992 Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), prepared by then Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney and his deputies. The DPG declares that the United States should use its power to "prevent the reemergence of a new rival" either on former Soviet territory or elsewhere. The authors of the Guidance determined that the United States had to "Field a missile defense system as a shield against accidental missile launches or limited missile strikes by 'international outlaws'" and also must "Find ways to integrate the 'new democracies' of the former Soviet bloc into the U.S.-led system". The National Archive notes that Document 10 of the DPG includes wording about "disarming capabilities to destroy" which is followed by several blacked out words. "This suggests that some of the heavily excised pages in the still-classified DPG drafts may include some discussion of preventive action against threatening nuclear and other WMD programs."[70]

Robert David English, writing in Foreign Affairs, observes that the DPG's second recommendation has also been proceeding on course. "Washington has pursued policies that have ignored Russian interests (and sometimes international law as well) in order to encircle Moscow with military alliances and trade blocs conducive to U.S. interests."[71]

Exporting democracyEdit

Indonesian President Suharto with U.S. President Gerald Ford in Jakarta on 6 December 1975, one day before the Indonesian invasion of East Timor.

Studies have been devoted to the historical success rate of the U.S. in exporting democracy abroad. Some studies of American intervention have been pessimistic about the overall effectiveness of U.S. efforts to encourage democracy in foreign nations.[72] Until recently, scholars have generally agreed with international relations professor Abraham Lowenthal that U.S. attempts to export democracy have been "negligible, often counterproductive, and only occasionally positive".[73][74] Other studies find U.S. intervention has had mixed results,[72] and another by Hermann and Kegley has found that military interventions have improved democracy in other countries.[75]

Global opinionEdit

International opinion about the US has often changed with different executive administrations. For example, in 2009, the French public favored the United States when President Barack Obama (75% favorable) replaced President George W. Bush (42%). After President Donald Trump took the helm in 2017, French public opinion about the US fell from 63% to 46%. These trends were also seen in other European countries.[76]

Covert actionsEdit

United States foreign policy also includes covert actions to topple foreign governments that have been opposed to the United States. According to J. Dana Stuster, writing in Foreign Policy, there are seven "confirmed cases" where the U.S.—acting principally through the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), but sometimes with the support of other parts of the U.S. government, including the Navy and State Department—covertly assisted in the overthrow of a foreign government: Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1960, the Dominican Republic in 1961, South Vietnam in 1963, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973. Stuster states that this list excludes "U.S.-supported insurgencies and failed assassination attempts" such as those directed against Cuba's Fidel Castro, as well as instances where U.S. involvement has been alleged but not proven (such as Syria in 1949).[77]

In 1953 the CIA, working with the British government, initiated Operation Ajax against the Prime Minister of Iran Mohammad Mossadegh who had attempted to nationalize Iran's oil, threatening the interests of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. This had the effect of restoring and strengthening the authoritarian monarchical reign of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.[78] In 1957, the CIA and Israeli Mossad aided the Iranian government in establishing its intelligence service, SAVAK, later blamed for the torture and execution of the regime's opponents.[79][80]

A year later, in Operation PBSuccess, the CIA assisted the local military in toppling the democratically elected left-wing government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala and installing the military dictator Carlos Castillo Armas. The United Fruit Company lobbied for Árbenz overthrow as his land reforms jeopardized their land holdings in Guatemala, and painted these reforms as a communist threat. The coup triggered a decades long civil war which claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people (42,275 individual cases have been documented), mostly through 626 massacres against the Maya population perpetrated by the U.S.-backed Guatemalan military.[81][82][83][84] An independent Historical Clarification Commission found that U.S. corporations and government officials "exercised pressure to maintain the country's archaic and unjust socio-economic structure,"[82] and that U.S. military assistance had a "significant bearing on human rights violations during the armed confrontation".[85]

During the massacre of at least 500,000 alleged communists in 1960s Indonesia, U.S. government officials encouraged and applauded the mass killings while providing covert assistance to the Indonesian military which helped facilitate them.[86][87][88][89][90] This included the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta supplying Indonesian forces with lists of up to 5,000 names of suspected members of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI), who were subsequently killed in the massacres.[91][92][93][94] In 2001, the CIA attempted to prevent the publication of the State Department volume Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, which documents the U.S. role in providing covert assistance to the Indonesian military for the express purpose of the extirpation of the PKI.[90][95][96] In July 2016, an international panel of judges ruled the killings constitute crimes against humanity, and that the US, along with other Western governments, were complicit in these crimes.[97]

In 1970, the CIA worked with coup-plotters in Chile in the attempted kidnapping of General René Schneider, who was targeted for refusing to participate in a military coup upon the election of Salvador Allende. Schneider was shot in the botched attempt and died three days later. The CIA later paid the group $35,000 for the failed kidnapping.[98][99]

Foreign election interventionEdit

According to one peer-reviewed study, the U.S. intervened in 81 foreign elections between 1946 and 2000.[100][101]

Human rightsEdit

Zairean dictator Mobutu Sese Seko and Richard Nixon in Washington, D.C., October 1973

Since the 1970s, issues of human rights have become increasingly important in American foreign policy.[102] Congress took the lead in the 1970s.[103] Following the Vietnam War, the feeling that U.S. foreign policy had grown apart from traditional American values was seized upon by Representative Donald M. Fraser (D, MN), leading the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Movements, in criticizing Republican Foreign Policy under the Nixon administration. In the early 1970s, Congress concluded the Vietnam War and passed the War Powers Act. As "part of a growing assertiveness by Congress about many aspects of Foreign Policy,"[104] Human Rights concerns became a battleground between the Legislative and the Executive branches in the formulation of foreign policy. David Forsythe points to three specific, early examples of Congress interjecting its own thoughts on foreign policy:

  1. Subsection (a) of the International Financial Assistance Act of 1977: ensured assistance through international financial institutions would be limited to countries "other than those whose governments engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights".[104]
  2. Section 116 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended in 1984: reads in part, "No assistance may be provided under this part to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."[104]
  3. Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, as amended in 1978: "No security assistance may be provided to any country the government of which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."[104]
Barack Obama with King Salman of Saudi Arabia, January 2015. According to Amnesty International, "For too long, the USA has shied away from publicly confronting Saudi Arabia over its human rights record, largely turning a blind eye to a mounting catalogue of abuses."[105]

These measures were repeatedly used by Congress, with varying success, to affect U.S. foreign policy towards the inclusion of Human Rights concerns. Specific examples include El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala and South Africa. The Executive (from Nixon to Reagan) argued that the Cold War required placing regional security in favor of U.S. interests over any behavioral concerns of national allies. Congress argued the opposite, in favor of distancing the United States from oppressive regimes.[103] Nevertheless, according to historian Daniel Goldhagen, during the last two decades of the Cold War, the number of American client states practicing mass murder outnumbered those of the Soviet Union.[106] John Henry Coatsworth, a historian of Latin America and the provost of Columbia University, suggests the number of repression victims in Latin America alone far surpassed that of the USSR and its East European satellites during the period 1960 to 1990.[107] W. John Green contends that the United States was an "essential enabler" of "Latin America's political murder habit, bringing out and allowing to flourish some of the region's worst tendencies".[108]

On December 6, 2011, Obama instructed agencies to consider LGBT rights when issuing financial aid to foreign countries.[109] He also criticized Russia's law discriminating against gays,[110] joining other western leaders in the boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.[111]

In June 2014, a Chilean court ruled that the United States played a key role in the murders of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, both American citizens, shortly after the 1973 Chilean coup d'état.[112]

War on DrugsEdit

United States foreign policy is influenced by the efforts of the U.S. government to control imports of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and cannabis. This is especially true in Latin America, a focus for the U.S. War on Drugs. Those efforts date back to at least 1880, when the U.S. and China completed an agreement that prohibited the shipment of opium between the two countries.[citation needed]

Over a century later, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act requires the President to identify the major drug transit or major illicit drug-producing countries. In September 2005,[113] the following countries were identified: Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Burma, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Jamaica, Laos, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru and Venezuela. Two of these, Burma and Venezuela are countries that the U.S. considers to have failed to adhere to their obligations under international counternarcotics agreements during the previous 12 months. Notably absent from the 2005 list were Afghanistan, the People's Republic of China and Vietnam; Canada was also omitted in spite of evidence that criminal groups there are increasingly involved in the production of MDMA destined for the United States and that large-scale cross-border trafficking of Canadian-grown cannabis continues. The U.S. believes that the Netherlands are successfully countering the production and flow of MDMA to the U.S.[citation needed]


Demonstration at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin against the NSA surveillance program PRISM, June 2013

Critics from the left cite episodes that undercut leftist governments or showed support for Israel. Others cite human rights abuses and violations of international law. Critics have charged that the U.S. presidents have used democracy to justify military intervention abroad.[114][115] Critics also point to declassified records which indicate that the CIA under Allen Dulles and the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover aggressively recruited more than 1,000 Nazis, including those responsible for war crimes, to use as spies and informants against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.[116][117]

The U.S. has faced criticism for backing right-wing dictators that systematically violated human rights, such as Augusto Pinochet of Chile,[118] Alfredo Stroessner of Paraguay,[119] Efraín Ríos Montt of Guatemala,[120] Jorge Rafael Videla of Argentina,[121] Hissène Habré of Chad[122][123] Yahya Khan of Pakistan[124] and Suharto of Indonesia.[89][93] Critics have also accused the United States of facilitating and supporting state terrorism in the Global South during the Cold War, such as Operation Condor, an international campaign of political assassination and state terror organized by right-wing military dictatorships in the Southern Cone of South America.[125][126][119][127]

Journalists and human rights organizations have been critical of US-led airstrikes and targeted killings by drones which have in some cases resulted in collateral damage of civilian populations.[128][129][130] In early 2017, the U.S. faced criticism from some scholars, activists and media outlets for dropping 26,171 bombs on seven countries throughout 2016: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.[131][132][133] The U.S. has been accused of complicity in war crimes for backing the Saudi Arabian-led intervention into the Yemeni Civil War, which has triggered a humanitarian catastrophe, including a cholera outbreak and millions facing starvation.[134][135][136]

Studies have been devoted to the historical success rate of the U.S. in exporting democracy abroad. Some studies of American intervention have been pessimistic about the overall effectiveness of U.S. efforts to encourage democracy in foreign nations.[72] Some scholars have generally agreed with international relations professor Abraham Lowenthal that U.S. attempts to export democracy have been "negligible, often counterproductive, and only occasionally positive".[73][74] Other studies find U.S. intervention has had mixed results,[72] and another by Hermann and Kegley has found that military interventions have improved democracy in other countries.[75] A 2013 global poll in 68 countries with 66,000 respondents by Win/Gallup found that the U.S. is perceived as the biggest threat to world peace.[137][138]

America's history of non-intervention has been criticized as well. In his World Policy Journal review of Bill Kauffman's 1995 book America First! Its History, Culture, and Politics, Benjamin Schwartz described America's history of isolationism as a "tragedy" and being rooted in Puritan thinking.[139]


President George W. Bush and Slovakia's Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda are greeted by a crowd of thousands gathered in Bratislava's Hviezdoslavovo Square (February 2005).

Regarding support for certain anti-Communist dictatorships during the Cold War, a response is that they were seen as a necessary evil, with the alternatives even worse Communist or fundamentalist dictatorships. David Schmitz says this policy did not serve U.S. interests. Friendly tyrants resisted necessary reforms and destroyed the political center (though not in South Korea), while the 'realist' policy of coddling dictators brought a backlash among foreign populations with long memories.[140][141]

Many democracies have voluntary military ties with the United States. See NATO, ANZUS, Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, Mutual Defense Treaty with South Korea, and Major non-NATO ally. Those nations with military alliances with the U.S. can spend less on the military since they can count on U.S. protection. This may give a false impression that the U.S. is less peaceful than those nations.[142][143]

Research on the democratic peace theory has generally found that democracies, including the United States, have not made war on one another. There have been U.S. support for coups against some democracies, but for example Spencer R. Weart argues that part of the explanation was the perception, correct or not, that these states were turning into Communist dictatorships. Also important was the role of rarely transparent United States government agencies, who sometimes mislead or did not fully implement the decisions of elected civilian leaders.[144]

Empirical studies (see democide) have found that democracies, including the United States, have killed much fewer civilians than dictatorships.[145][146] Media may be biased against the U.S. regarding reporting human rights violations. Studies have found that The New York Times coverage of worldwide human rights violations predominantly focuses on the human rights violations in nations where there is clear U.S. involvement, while having relatively little coverage of the human rights violations in other nations.[147][148] For example, the bloodiest war in recent time, involving eight nations and killing millions of civilians, was the Second Congo War, which was almost completely ignored by the media.[citation needed]

Niall Ferguson argues that the U.S. is incorrectly blamed for all the human rights violations in nations they have supported. He writes that it is generally agreed that Guatemala was the worst of the US-backed regimes during the Cold War, but he U.S. cannot credibly be blamed for all the 200,000 deaths during the long Guatemalan Civil War.[141] The U.S. Intelligence Oversight Board writes that military aid was cut for long periods because of such violations, that the U.S. helped stop a coup in 1993, and that efforts were made to improve the conduct of the security services.[149]

Bahraini pro-democracy protesters killed by the U.S.-allied regime, February 2011

Today the U.S. states that democratic nations best support U.S. national interests. According to the U.S. State Department, "Democracy is the one national interest that helps to secure all the others. Democratically governed nations are more likely to secure the peace, deter aggression, expand open markets, promote economic development, protect American citizens, combat international terrorism and crime, uphold human and worker rights, avoid humanitarian crises and refugee flows, improve the global environment, and protect human health."[150] According to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, "Ultimately, the best strategy to ensure our security and to build a durable peace is to support the advance of democracy elsewhere. Democracies don't attack each other."[151] In one view mentioned by the U.S. State Department, democracy is also good for business. Countries that embrace political reforms are also more likely to pursue economic reforms that improve the productivity of businesses. Accordingly, since the mid-1980s, under President Ronald Reagan, there has been an increase in levels of foreign direct investment going to emerging market democracies relative to countries that have not undertaken political reforms.[152] Leaked cables in 2010 suggested that the "dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States' relations with the world".[153]

The United States officially maintains that it supports democracy and human rights through several tools [154] Examples of these tools are as follows:

  • A published yearly report by the State Department entitled "Advancing Freedom and Democracy",[155] issued in compliance with ADVANCE Democracy Act of 2007 (earlier the report was known as "Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The U.S. Record" and was issued in compliance with a 2002 law).[156]
  • A yearly published "Country Reports on Human Rights Practices".[157]
  • In 2006 (under President George W. Bush), the United States created a "Human Rights Defenders Fund" and "Freedom Awards".[158]
  • The "Human Rights and Democracy Achievement Award" recognizes the exceptional achievement of officers of foreign affairs agencies posted abroad.[159]
  • The "Ambassadorial Roundtable Series", created in 2006, are informal discussions between newly confirmed U.S. Ambassadors and human rights and democracy non-governmental organizations.[160]
  • The National Endowment for Democracy, a private non-profit created by Congress in 1983 (and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan), which is mostly funded by the U.S. Government and gives cash grants to strengthen democratic institutions around the world.[161]

See alsoEdit

Constitutional and international lawEdit


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Further readingEdit

  • Bailey, Thomas. A Diplomatic History of the American People (10th ed. Prentice Hall, 1980)
  • Bevins, Vincent (2020). The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1541742406.
  • Bokat-Lindell, Spencer. "Is the United States Done Being the World’s Cop? The New York Times July 20, 2021
  • Borgwardt, Elizabeth. "A New Deal for the World" (Harvard UP, 2005)
  • Chomsky, Noam. Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (Metropolitan Books, 2003)
  • Cohen, Warren I. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: Volume 4, America in the Age of Soviet Power, 1945–1991 (Cambridge UP, 1995)
  • Congressional Research Service. Canada-U.S. Relations (Congressional Research Service, 2021) 2021 Report, by an agency of the U.S. government; not copyright; Updated February 10, 2021.
  • Crothers, Lane. "The cultural roots of isolationism and internationalism in American foreign policy." Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9.1 (2011): 21–34. online
  • Dueck, Colin. Hard Line: The Republican Party and U.S. Foreign Policy since World War II (2010).
  • Fawcett, Louise, ed. International Relations of the Middle East (3rd ed. Oxford U.P. 2013)
  • Foot, Rosemary, and Amy King. "Assessing the deterioration in China–US relations: US governmental perspectives on the economic-security nexus." China International Strategy Review 1.1 (2019): 39-50 online
  • Freedman, Lawrence. A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (PublicAffairs, 2009)
  • Gries, Peter Hays. The Politics of American Foreign Policy: How Ideology Divides Liberals and Conservatives over Foreign Affairs (Stanford University Press, 2014)
  • Hastedt, Glenn P. Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy (2004) online free to borrow
  • Hastedt, Glenn P. American foreign policy (4th ed. 2000) online free to borrow
  • Hermann, Margaret G.; Kegley, Charles (1998). "The U.S. Use of Military Intervention to Promote Democracy: Evaluating the Record". International Interactions. 24 (2): 91–114. doi:10.1080/03050629808434922.
  • Herring, George C. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776 (Oxford History of the United States) (2008)
  • Hixson, Walter L. The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy. Yale University Press, 2009. ISBN 0300151314
  • Hook, Steven W. and John Spanier. American Foreign Policy Since WWII (19th ed. 2012)
  • Ikenberry, G. John, ed. American Foreign Policy: Theoretical Essays (6th ed. Wadsworth, 2010), 640pp; essays by scholars
  • Iriye, Akira. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: Volume 3, The Globalizing of America, 1913–1945 (Cambridge UP, 1995)
  • Jentleson, Bruce W. American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century (4th ed. W. W. Norton, 2010)
  • Jentleson, Bruce W. and Thomas G. Paterson, eds. Encyclopedia of U.S. Foreign Relations (4 vol 1997), long historical articles by scholars
  • LaFeber, Walter. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: The American Search for Opportunity, 1865–1913, vol. 2 (Cambridge UP, 1995)
  • Lowenthal, Abraham F. (March 1, 1991). Exporting Democracy : The United States and Latin America. The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-4132-1.
  • McCormick, James M. et al. The Domestic Sources of American Foreign Policy: Insights and Evidence (2012)
  • McDougall, Walter. "Promised Land, Crusader State" (2004)
  • Mead, Walter Russell, and Richard C. Leone. Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World (2002)
  • Meernik, James (1996). "United States Military Intervention and the Promotion of Democracy". Journal of Peace Research. 33 (4): 391–402. doi:10.1177/0022343396033004002. JSTOR 424565. S2CID 51897214.
  • Moyn, Samuel (2021). Humane: How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0374173708.
  • Nichols, Christopher McKnight. "Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age" (2011)
  • Paterson, Thomas G. and others. American Foreign Relations (6th ed. 2 vol, Wadsworth, 2004), a detailed history
  • Perkins, Bradford. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: Volume 1, The Creation of a Republican Empire, 1776–1865 (Cambridge UP, 1995)
  • Power, Samantha. "A Problem from Hell": America and the Age of Genocide (2002) covers Bosnia, Kosovo, Srebenica, and Rwanda; Pulitzer free to borrow
  • Sergent, Daniel J. A Superpower Transformed: The Remaking of American Foreign Relations in the 1970s (2015)
  • Schulzinger, Robert. U.S. Diplomacy Since 1900 (6th ed. 2008)
  • Schulzinger, Robert. A Companion to American Foreign Relations (Wiley Blackwell Companions to American History) (2006). 26 essays by scholars; emphasis on historiography
  • Smith, Tony; Richard C. Leone (1995). America's Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy in the Twentieth Century. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04466-X.
  • Watry, David M. Diplomacy at the Brink: Eisenhower, Churchill, and Eden in the Cold War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2014.
  • Wittkopf, Eugene R. et al. American Foreign Policy: Pattern and Process (2007)

Primary sourcesEdit

  • Engel, Jeffrey A. et al. eds. America in the World: A History in Documents from the War with Spain to the War on Terror (2014)
  •—official departmental website and current policy

External linksEdit

  • History of the United States' relations with the countries of the world
  • Milestones of U.S. diplomatic history
  • Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS): Official Documentary History of U.S. Foreign Relations
  • Foreign Relations and International Aid from UCB Libraries G
  • U.S. Political Parties and Foreign Policy, a background Q&A by Council on Foreign Relations
  • U.S. Role in the World: Background and Issues for Congress Congressional Research Service
  • Foreign Relations of the United States 1861–1960 (full text from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries)
  • Confidence in U.S. Foreign Policy Index Tracking survey of American public attitudes on foreign policy, conducted by Public Agenda with Foreign Affairs magazine.