By Jennifer Nicoll Victor, Ph.D., George Mason University
It’s almost like the threats that the U.S faced during World War II were collective, and conversely, so were the responses. Then again, in the post-9/11 world order, the threats are isolated, sometimes non-state-based, and may be coercive more than violent. The U.S consequently saw it more befitting to use multi-lateral, collective security institutions like NATO to its advantage in building coalitions to fight terrorist organizations around the world. This network of committed nations was seen as a strong asset in America’s foreign policy and military pursuits.
The Iraq Invasion
These coalitions were tested when the US sought to invade Iraq in 2003. Many nations did not back that action and withdrew their support. Since that time, the United States’ commitment to international collectives has come under some pressure.
The United States has been increasingly constrained by international organizations and has spent less time promoting their collective benefits in recent years. When it comes down to it, if the partners in a collective fundamentally disagree on where the threats are, and no longer see individual threats as collective threats, then the glue that holds the institutions together becomes weaker.
This is a transcript from the video series Understanding the US Government. Watch it now, on Wondrium.
US foreign policy is about physical and economic security. The domestic infrastructure designed to create and execute US foreign policy is a web of agencies, such as the State Department and Pentagon, and the considerable public presence of the US president.
As far as the Congress is concerned, it’s increasingly difficult for it to play a role in foreign policy. This is because it faces so many collective actions and partisan dilemmas of its own with respect to domestic policy, that there’s not much will to coordinate on foreign policy.
Congress has largely abdicated that power to the presidency and the executive branch. Moreover, the foreign and military policy infrastructure in the US is largely designed for the post-World War II era. It has been slow to adapt to the contemporary global environment in which countries’ fates are collectively linked, but the pressures of globalization have strained domestic politics in individualized countries.
Learn more about institutions such as Congress.
The 2016 Elections
We saw this play out, to some extent, in the 2016 election. During the 2016 election, issues of globalization, America’s position in the international order, and economic prosperity were talked about more often than what we typically see in a presidential campaign.
The major party candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, both talked about reducing America’s role in international trade pacts, as a way to recognize the economic pain they inflict on some American communities and industrial sectors.
Globalization has certainly played a role in economic inequality and localized economic depressions in some American communities that formerly relied on manufacturing as a core part of their economies.
In the decades after the end of the Cold War, American consumers’ demand for imports steadily grew and American manufacturers moved toward increasing their exports and automating their factories. Consequently, advancements in technology and global economics strongly contributed to the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs.
This wasn’t bad news for all Americans, but it was bad news for those employed in those sectors. Dissatisfaction about these conditions put pressure on both of America’s political parties to make corrections and so the 2016 campaign included rhetoric from both parties about doing more to protect Americans from the negative side effects of globalization.
Under President Trump, it is said that America’s global position had become even more isolationist. Perhaps a more appropriate way to put it is that it had become more bilateral. President Trump, with his experience in business and corporate dealing, tended to treat American foreign policy from a businessman’s point of view.
From this perspective, relationships with other countries in the world were viewed on one-on-one terms, where the US goal was to negotiate the best possible trade conditions with respect to each independent nation, rather than with allies in mind.
The US renegotiated trade relationships with its largest trading partners, including Canada, China, and Mexico, with an eye toward improving the conditions for American industries and laborers who had been hardest hit by globalization.
Understandably in the future, based on economic growth and power, new alliances will form, old ones will dissolve, and the global hierarchy will be set by countries that are in the best position to influence the new sets of relationships.
Globalization will only continue to increase, as advances in technology, communications, and transportation make it easier and easier for people and products to move around the world and connect to one another. As domestic political pressures create incentives for politicians to disengage from globalization in a vain attempt at protecting citizens from its downsides, the international order will need to adjust.
Learn more about US system of free market economics.
American Foreign Policy
In the larger scheme of things, some scholars have argued that American foreign policy tends to be played like a strategic game of actions and reactions between a small set of players, like a game of chess. Nonetheless, as the world becomes increasingly connected through technology and linked by common problems such as climate change and migration, it will be important for countries to recognize the connectedness among international actors.
It is evident that global politics is more like a network, where the most connected countries get the most influence in determining outcomes. And the faster US foreign policy infrastructure can adjust to that reality, the better positioned America will be to navigate international power in the 21st century and beyond.
Common Questions about a Paradigm Shift in America’s Foreign Policy
The domestic infrastructure designed to create and execute US foreign policy is a web of agencies, such as the State Department and Pentagon, and the considerable public presence of the US president.
It is difficult for the Congress to play a role in US foreign policy because it faces so many collective actions and partisan dilemmas of its own with respect to domestic policy, that there’s not much will to coordinate on foreign policy.
Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the US renegotiated trade relationships with its largest trading partners, including Canada, China, and Mexico, with an eye toward improving the conditions for American industries and laborers who had been hardest hit by globalization.