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American Foreign Policy – changes over 20 years

by on November 30, 2013

Since the Cold War ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, bipolar world is no longer in action. The Americans declared themselves winners of the Cold War that was characterizing the international politics throughout the 20th century. Many view it today as a key turning point of American and global international politics, as for many years the US have remained the only superpower in the world. But has the American foreign policy changed much since the end of the Cold War era?


Some analysts, including historians and journalists argue that the Cold War was not only about an ideological struggle between 2 systems, and despite being a very significant factor that added seasoning to this conflict, it was merely a fight for power and dominance, dictated by survival and self-preservation. This ultimately meant that American foreign agenda was aimed at using the ideological differences as a noble mask for fighting and pushing back the “commies” for the sake of spreading dominance and “freedom” to the rest of the world. Nowadays of course, Russia, a full internationally accepted successor of the USSR does not seem to possess as much threat as it used to 20 years ago, nevertheless, the US does not tend to minismise its military budget or become any less important player on the international arena.

The facts tell us that the USA is very far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of political, economic and technological advancements. A single figure of military budget already looks very significant, as America is estimated to have a military budget of around 600 billion dollars according to SIPRI, which means that the Americans are ahead of next 14 states’ military budgets. 1357651529194.gif.CROP.rectangle3-large

Relying on their impressive achievements in economics and Hi-Tech, the US government is argued to be having aims to make their state a new architect of a new world order. As a result of one of the superpowers’ collapse, the US has been seen as a dominant force in world politics by a majority of humankind. After the Cold War had ended, Soviet sphere of influence was now filled with a political vacuum; this included mainly Eastern European states that used to be members of the Warsaw Pact. In 1990’s and early 2000’s most of those states, including Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Baltic states became both, members of the EU and NATO, showing that North Atlantic Treaty Organization was expanding towards East, taking over states that previously used to be considered as enemy’s allies. For the USA Europe has always been and is still considered as a prioritized area in geopolitical spectrum. The existence of NATO allows America to express their will and put necessary political and military pressure on states in Europe, so consequently any other expansion of NATO leads to America’s positions in Eurasia being enforced. For example if we take the Yugoslavian crisis, of course we can see that the Americans and Western European states were trying to tackle the issue of genocides that was going on in collapsing Yugoslavia. However, if studying deeper, we can find out that there were several realist reasons for supporting the collapse of the united Yugoslavia. The first reason was that the Germans were highly interested in splitting Yugoslavia into pieces that would be easily controlled as Germans required Mediterranean ports and secondly because they were willing to get into control of a strategic resource of aluminum. Perhaps this was the actual reason for an intervention from NATO states.

Some might argue that a significant turning point came up in the beginning of 21 century, an event that ultimately changed the whole nation’s mood and attitude. This event was 9/11, an event that opened American public’s eyes onto a new type of enemy, without a territory or a flag


The new enemy emerged was terrorism under the name of Islamic fundamentalism. 9/11 played a massive role in determining both, people’s attitudes towards international politics and the US foreign policy orientations. Soon after president George W. Bush made a speech where he declared war on all terrorist groups around the globe. The public saw it as an adequate reaction towards the terrorist attack, as for American public and their perception of the world ideals of liberty, justice and freedom are keystones and have been such since the Independence War. State officials clearly understood it and thus, by making this speech, Bush had killed 2 birds with one stone, on one hand promising to spread and preserve freedom and basic democratic principles and on the other hand finding excuses for intervening into “black list” states. Soon after, a contingent of American and NATO troops in Afghanistan had increased up to 56.000 people as Afghanistan was believed to one of the first sources of this terrorist plague across the world. But the most famous example is of course the Iraq invasion in March 2003.

A change that seemed to be so drastic for American diplomacy turned out to be just another excuse for the use of force against other sovereign states, the invasion of Iraq is still heavily criticised in mass media and within global community, as the reasons for an American intervention back then turned out to be fascified and exaggerated. The media started creating a vision of Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), showing the photos of “those” taken by an American spy plane. At the same time media was trying to accuse Saddam of links with various terrorist organisations, therefore linking him with the ones responsible for 9/11 which was arguably aimed at creation of a symbolic meaning of this campaign, as well as playing on emotional part of people conscience in order to gain support.

A seeming change came in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president of the US.


His election campaign was highlighted by a moderate foreign policy that would promise the use and reliance on soft power rather than direct pressure, pragmatism, globalization and democratization. Surely this did not imply that Obama was not going to abandon all Bush’s policies, but they were to an extent changed and yet some of them remained similar, like fighting terrorism, tackling national threats coming mainly from Middle East, Iraq and Afghanistan particularly. Also, it is worth mentioning that it takes a lot of financial resources to be a realist minded state, and even if Obama was willing to be more realist than he was, he would be too much limited because of the world economic crisis started in 2008. According to Obama himself, a starting point of American foreign policy should be global cooperation on basis of shared interests and mutual respect. He argued that the US government will always be attempting to use diplomacy and dialogues with potential opponents for the sake of American national interests as well as global interests of the world community, which is relying on the US as a leader in issues regarding security. This also included dialogues with Islamic societies across the world, which was a massive step forward after Bush’s administration. 

This in theory was a promising start for a revival of the US diplomacy’s image, moreover, some states were extremely delighted after a Democrat Obama got elected instead of a Republican Romney, who was seen to be a supporter of the continuation of Bush’s international politics.

Now it’s Obama’s 6th year in charge of the biggest economy in the World and we can therefore make some judgements, whether his promises and plans for international relations played out or not. Events of Arab Spring and most recent in Syria tell us that the US government is still trying to impose their democratic principles and ideas via the use of soft power, but are always ready to pursue a direct military intervention if needed.

[1] (a website with several Obama’s foreign policy speeches)

[2] Jentleson, Bruce, “American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century” 2010

[3] Eugene R. Wittkopf & Chares Kegley “American Foreign Policy” 2007

[4] (an article about Obama’s election campaign, written in Russian)


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  1. alip2013 permalink

    Not really sure about some of the German bits in here but on the whole a good blog. Agree that the US will use soft power first and foremost but we’ve seen it won’t shirk from using it’s massive, indeed still hegemonic, hard power when it feels it needs to.

  2. As the first commentator has noted, there are some strong claims and unsubstantiated assertions in this post, which require supporting references. There are also some inaccuracies (e.g., the Cold War dominated only the second-half of the 20th century, not the whole period).

    But more seriously, the post doesn’t directly address the main themes of the module. This is not a module about US foreign policy, but about public diplomacy and the changing nature of the global communication system, neither of which is mentioned at all. If you decide to include this post in your portfolio, you will need to do a lot of work to it to make it relevant to the module.

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