The end of the cold war marked the emergence of the United States of America as the only world’s superpower. Mutual suspicion and hostility between the United States and its geopolitical allies on one side and USSR and its allies on the other side characterized the cold war era. The two powerhouses competed to control the world’s economic and socio-political ideology. America’s leadership directed its foreign policy towards the containment of USSR influence to other parts of the world through multilateral and bilateral alliances. Through military and economic alliances, aids, and social support, America aimed to curtail the spread of communism ideals that the USSR was championing. Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, for instance, aimed to curtail the spread of communism in Asia through economic and military support to nations showing an inclination to America’s ideologies. The declaration by Truman that America will help nations resisting subjugation by other nations also led to America’s intervention in European and Asian conflicts. During this period, the international system was linear and flexible, gravitating towards or against the US and USSR (Feffer, 2010).
As the only superpower, the United States faces a myriad of international responsibilities and challenges that have elicited divided discourse on the most appropriate foreign policy. The responsibilities range from supporting democracy in failed states, giving aids to deserving population, and protecting vulnerable populations, among others. The challenges are complex and multidimensional, often infused with the open hostility of varying intensity. The threat of terrorism, for instance, rekindled the debate on the extent to which America should engage with other nations. Some feel that the levels of engagement should be limited to America’s vital interest. Others feel that as the only superpower, America is morally bound to intervene in other nations’ affairs even if it has no direct vital interest. Fukuyama (2006) contributed to this discourse by averring that, “the logic of American foreign policy since September 11 is driving it toward a situation in which it either takes on responsibility for the governance of weak states or else it throws the problem in the lap of the international community” (45).
America has since its independence prided itself as a democratic nation that espouses values of liberty, free choice, the pursuit of happiness, and opportunity for all (Feffer, 2010). Even as the nation has struggled to confer these rights and their enjoyment to all citizens, America’s principles of democracy have won admiration all over the world. Many nations aspire to develop strong institutions and clear separation of powers as they are in America. Many kids aspire to study in United States colleges and universities. The US military is unrivaled in technology, intelligence, and training. The economy is superior, and the Gross Domestic Product surpasses any other in the world. Because of these unique advantages, America cannot afford to take a back seat when another nation is in need, even where there are no vital interests. Neo-isolationists have argued that America should direct its immense resources only where its vital interests are at play. Effectively, therefore, the US should shun struggling nations that are not of strategic interest, insecurity, and resources, and instead focus on those nations whose well-being will benefit America, directly or indirectly. As the leader of the community of democratic states, the wealthiest in resources, intelligence, and technology, America is morally bound to intervene and help nations even when it does not stand to benefit. It is irredeemably and regrettably selfish and greedy to support only nations where America has a vital interest. This essay will take the internationalist position to engage the supposition critically by Fukuyama highlighted above.
America has always favored the isolationist approach for various reasons. The first reason stems from US uniqueness. Democratic ideals, respect for human rights, clear separation of powers, and strong institutions make it different from other European democracies where power intrigues are common. America’s geographical position is exceptional. This makes it less susceptible to attacks. Border surveillance through satellite and other technologies give America a sense of security that other countries like Britain and Germany cannot afford. As unique as it may appear, America’s principles and position provide a false sense of security. A case in point is the September 11 attack. Terrorists were able to hijack two planes and crush them on World Trade Centre and pentagon. Recently, terrorists killed several people during the 2013 Boston marathon. If America sits back and wallows in the fallacy that the geographical location makes it easy to secure, terrorists may strike again with wanton abandon. This is because terrorists have discovered that it is easier to hide in America than elsewhere in the world. Federal laws protect individuals and civil liberty, and it is hence difficult to monitor bank accounts or search suspect houses (Bolton, 2008). The reason why America is secure is not its position but the global leadership it exercises all over the world.
Internationalism realizes that by maintaining international order, the world in general, and America in particular benefits. The US should, therefore, indirectly and, directly, support any nation that is working towards establishing democratic ideals. More than establishing international order mandatory for development, America will build future allies that will bring a mutual advantage. Support for democracy will establish a world order characterized by openness, fair trade policies, reduced environmental degradation, and respect for human rights. If America truly believes in human rights ideals, it should prick its collective conscience when other people are not enjoying such rights. As Bolton (2008) argues, America will not enjoy peace if some parts of the world are turbulent. Peace and stability are a cause far greater than the benefits that accrue where America has a vital interest.
In areas where America cannot intervene directly, it is morally bound to use international institutions. Democracy has a pacifying effect (Bolton, 2008). When nations get support to be democratic, free trade thrives. Trade negates the need for war. Through international organizations such as United Nations, nations engage in trade, dissipating tensions, and conflicts. A case in point is the trade between China and the United States. The volume of goods traded between the two countries has increased over the years. The tension between the two countries dating back to World War 2 and the cold war era has diminished. Through efforts of institutions such as the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), the world can work together to combat environmental degradation.
The United States has tried internationalism before, and it has yielded positive results. Through institutions and direct intervention, America has secured its interest and world order without force. President Clinton was the most successful in using this approach. Foreign policy pundits credit Clinton for promoting democracy. Through the National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, he ensured that America engaged with nations in a way that did not elicit contempt towards America (Kremer, 2010). He did not propose radical changes to countries but gradual reforms into the existing order. Through institutions, he ensured that nations that embraced democracy benefitted from more incentives. The fact that internationalism failed under Bush is not an indictment to the ideology. Internationalism requires a benign character, not the force applied by Bush. Such an approach that ignores multilateral institutions and advocates for radical reforms breeds disdain. Democracy is not enforceable through war.
Failed nations, especially those in Africa and the Middle East that can barely feed their population, deserve more aid from America. As observed earlier, it is immoral when America swims in material wealth while other people die of hunger and malnutrition. Even when America lacks vital interest in those nations, love for human life should surpass the pursuit of resources. Through economic assistance, America stands to benefit by obtaining leverage in those nations. However, the US should cease from military aid that exacerbates volatility in war-torn nations. In recent years, the federal government has come under a scathing attack for supporting the removal of democratically elected leaders (Kremer, 2010).
America has established itself as the only superpower in the world. It would thus be irresponsible if America adopts a neo-isolationist foreign policy towards nations where it lacks vital interest. America has been involved in international affairs since World War 1. If it pulls out now, emerging powers like China will fill the vacuum. This will drastically reduce America’s influence in world affairs. In Africa, for instance, China has overtaken the United States in the volume of trade. China is positioning itself to benefit from the immense resources in the continent. As the world stands today, America should not be contemplating any other foreign policy. Internationalism has worked before, and it remains indispensable.
Bolton, M. K. (2008). U.S. national security and foreign policymaking after 9/11: Present at the re-creation. Lanham [u.a.: Rowman & Littlefield.
Feffer, J. (2010). Power Trip: Unilateralism and Global Strategy after September 11. New York: Seven Stories Press.
Fukuyama, F. (2006). America at the crossroads: Democracy, power, and the neoconservative legacy. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Kremer, J.-F. (2010). The Neo-Realist Perspective: U.S. Foreign Policy after 9-11. München: GRIN Verlag.