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The foreign policy of the United States is officially conducted by the President and the Secretary of State. Less formal foreign policy is conducted through exchanges of citizens and other government officials, through commerce and trade, or through third party states or organizations. United States Foreign Policy is marked by the country's large economy, well-funded military, and notable political influence. According to the CIA World Factbook, the United States has the world's largest economy, the world's most well-funded military, and a large amount of political influence.
The officially stated goals of the foreign policy of the United States repeatedly mentioned and emphasized by government officials, are:
The United States has frequently been criticized for not living up to these noble goals, as national self-interest, unilateral decisions, and projection of power frequently contradict stated goals in the pursuit of immediate and short-term objectives. Thus, while many people throughout the world admire the principles for which it stands, they do not trust the actual policies of the United States. This problem is derived from the lack of any checks and balances on the use of power in foreign affairs by the president. When the United States was a young and relatively powerless nation, this was not an issue. However, as its power in the world has grown, the use of that power unilaterally has become a problem similar to any other unchecked use of power that worried the United States founders.
The President negotiates treaties with foreign nations. The President is also Commander in Chief of the military, and as such has broad authority over the armed forces once they are deployed. The Secretary of State is the foreign minister of the United States and is the primary conductor of state-to-state diplomacy.
The Congress has the power to declare war, but the President has the ability to commit military troops to an area for 60 days without Congressional approval, though in all cases it has been granted afterward. The Senate (one of the two houses of Congress) also holds the exclusive right to approve treaties made by the President. Congress is likewise responsible for passing bills that determine the general character and policies of United States foreign policy.
The third arm of government is the Supreme Court, which has traditionally played a minimal role in foreign policy.
During the American Revolution, the United States established relations with several European powers, convincing France, Spain, and the Netherlands to intervene in the war against Britain, a mutual enemy. After the Constitution provided for foreign policy to be conducted by the executive branch, President George Washington established the basis for U.S. foreign policy that was to last for nearly 100 years. In his farewell address he gave guidelines for foreign policy that included to act in "good faith and justice towards all nations," and to pursue a neutral stance, "steer[ing] clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the world."
After the Spanish colonies in Latin America declared independence, the U.S. established the Monroe Doctrine, a policy of keeping European powers out of the Americas. U.S. expansionism led to war with Mexico and to diplomatic conflict with Britain over the Oregon Territory and with Spain over Florida and later Cuba. During the American Civil War, the U.S. accused Britain and France of supporting the Confederate States and trying to control Mexico, but after that, the U.S. was unchallenged in its home territory, except by Native Americans. While, the U.S. strove to be the dominant influence in the Americas, it did not pursue the idea of becoming a world power until the 1890s.
The federal government was initially supported almost entirely through tariffs on foreign goods. Tariffs had the effect of protecting fledgling U.S. industries by giving them a competitive advantage in the United States, but as industrial and economic power grew in the second half of the nineteenth century, companies began to expand their markets to other countries. It was thought that a navy not unlike Britain's was required to protect the shipment of U.S. goods overseas.
The U.S. used its naval power to secure ports around the world. It occupied territories in the Pacific, such as Hawaii and the Philippines, demanded the opening of Japan to trade, and competed with other powers for influence in China. While the Republican Party supported tariffs at home, free markets overseas were more desirable for the sale of U.S. products and therefore became a foreign policy objective that eventually led to the the idea of elimination of tariffs at home with the substitution of an income tax for domestic revenue.
The United States, and President Theodore Roosevelt, were strong supporters of the Hague Peace Palace and the International Court formed in 1899. Roosevelt was given a Nobel Prize in 1905 for helping to negotiate a dispute between Japan and Russia. However, the U.S. was unwilling to submit to the jurisdiction of the Court when a case was brought against the U.S. annexation of Hawaii.
As a growing military and economic power, the United States eventually joined the Allies in World War I, in part to protect huge economic loans by U.S. Banks to England and France. With many Americans feeling they had been duped by Washington after a huge number of causalities were incurred, the United States returned to more isolationist policies through the 1920s and 1930s.
The United States entered World War II in 1941, again on the Allied side, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent declaration of war against the U.S. by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. After the war, the United Stated emerged as the leading world power. It was a major player in the establishment of the United Nations and became one of five permanent members of the Security Council. The Marshall Plan was a foreign policy strategy of nation building for defeated nations which had results unparalleled in history.
However, while United States citizens took a leading role in the creation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights under the chairmanship of Eleanor Roosevelt, and promoted the United Nations through the creation of citizen support groups, the U.S. Senate never ratified any U.N. covenants which could be viewed as compromising U.S. sovereignty. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in 1952, warned of a growing military-industrial complex that exerted influence on U.S. foreign policy.
During the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy sought to limit the influence of the Soviet Union around the world (called "containment"), leading to the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Alliances were sought with any regime that opposed the Soviet Union, regardless of whether it was democratic or maintained respect for human rights. The U.S. also sought to overthrow regimes friendly to the Soviet Union, regardless of whether they were democratically elected. In the West, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was established with the United States in a leadership role and the Eastern bloc responded with a collective security arrangement known as the Warsaw Pact. This created a bipolar world, and a nuclear arms race between the two blocs based on a doctrine of defense known as Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).
Philosophically, the overarching military and security concerns of post-World War II led to a foreign policy of the United States heavily influenced by the doctrines of "national self-interest," "power politics," "strategic thinking," and "containment" of the Soviet Union. While U.S. citizens, churches, and other NGOs engaged in efforts to help the poor and disenfranchised throughout the world, and the U.S. government sponsored the Peace Corps initiated by President John F. Kennedy and United States Aid for International Development (USAID), these programs designed to help other nations were often preempted by strategic and security concerns.
In the early 1970s, President Richard Nixon opened relations with the communist Peoples Republic of China in a effort to contain Soviet influence, and develop what became known as "The Strategic Triangle."
In the 1980s the United States sought to fill the power vacuums left by the decline of Britain, by leading international economic organizations such as the WTO and GATT. The U.S. provided covert support to the Taliban in Afghanistan to drive out the Soviet Union, and it supported the Contras in Nicaragua to topple the government of Daniel Ortega which was friendly with Russia and Cuba. In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States invaded Panama, officially because Noriega (the then president) was involved in drug trafficking, but in reality because the U.S. did not want to relinquish the Panama canal on Panama's terms. By the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the U.S. had military and economic interests in every region of the globe.
In 1991, the United States emerged as the world's sole superpower. It organized and led the Gulf War against Iraq in response to its invasion of Kuwait. After the September 11, 2001 attack, the country declared the "War on Terror," under which it has led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The invasion of Afghanistan to capture the perpetrators of 9/11 was consider legitimate by most of the world. However, the unilateral decision of the administration of George W. Bush to preemptively invade Iraq without proof of weapons of mass destruction was generally viewed as greatly undermining the legitimacy of United States policy, as a move toward an empire of world domination rather than a republic among a community of nations. The war also eventually became widely discredited in the United States as was evidenced by the defeat of Republicans who supported the Bush war strategy in the congressional elections of 2006.
The United States has one of the largest diplomatic forces of any nation. Almost every country in the world has both a U.S. embassy and an embassy of its own in Washington, D.C. Only a few nations do not have formal diplomatic relations with the United States. They are:
In practical terms however, this lack of formal relations do not impede the U.S.'s communication with these nations. In the cases where no U.S. diplomatic post exists, American relations are usually conducted via the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland, or another friendly third-party. In the case of the Republic of China, de facto relations are conducted through the American Institute in Taiwan. The U.S. also operates an "Interests Section in Havana". While this does not create a formal diplomatic relationship, it fulfills most other typical embassy functions.
The U.S. maintains a Normal Trade Relations list and several countries are excluded from it, which means that their exports to the United States are subject to significantly higher tariffs.
Except for the alliance with France which existed after the Revolution, the United States did not enter into any peace-time alliances until April 1949, when it became a founding member of NATO, the world's largest military alliance. The 26 nation alliance consists of Canada and much of Europe. Under the NATO charter, the United States is compelled to defend any NATO state that is attacked by a foreign power. This is restricted to within the North American and European areas, for this reason the U.S. was not compelled to participate in the Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom.
Originally, designed to protect the West against an invasion by the Eastern bloc during the Cold War, NATO opened the possibility for Eastern European nations to join after the collapse of the Soviet Union. New nations must meet standards of civil and economic liberty and be invited to join by existing members. Because NATO is a voluntary alliance of free nations, it has been considered by some to be a better foundation for future global organization than the United Nations and easier for the United States to serve a world leadership role.
The United States has also given major non-NATO ally-status to fourteen nations. Each such state has a unique relationship with the United States, involving various military and economic partnerships and alliances.
The country's closest ally is the United Kingdom, itself a major military and economic power. Other allies include South Korea, Israel, Canada, Australia, and Japan. The government of the Republic of China (Taiwan), does not have official diplomatic relations recognized and is no longer officially recognized by the State Department of the United States, but it is considered by some an ally of the United States.
In 2005, U.S. President George Bush and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed a landmark agreement between the two countries on civilian nuclear energy cooperation. The deal is significant because India is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and detonated a nuclear device in 1974. The deal greatly increases strategic and economic cooperation between the world's two largest democracies.
U.S. foreign policy has been increasingly criticized by both foreign and domestic media. Critics of U.S. foreign policy tend to state that the principles promoted in foreign policy rhetoric contradict many foreign policy actions:
There are a variety of responses to these criticisms. Some argue that the U.S. is obligated to use its power to create a more peaceful world. Some argue that the increased American military involvement around the world is an outgrowth of the inherent instability of the world state system as it existed in the late nineteenth Century. The inherent failings of this system of Great Powers led to the outbreak of World War I and World War II. The United States has assumed a prominent peacekeeping role, due to the easily demonstrable inter-state insecurity that existed before 1945.
Further, some experts have stated that since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was not a war to defend against an imminent threat, it was a war of aggression, and therefore under the Nuremberg Principles it constitutes the supreme international crime from which all other war crimes follow. For example, Benjamin Ferencz, a chief prosecutor of Nazi war crimes at Nuremberg said George W. Bush should be tried for war crimes along with Saddam Hussein for starting "aggressive" wars—Saddam for his 1990 attack on Kuwait and Bush for his 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Similarly, under the U.N. Charter, ratified by the U.S. and therefore binding on it, all U.N. member states including the U.S. are prohibited from using force against fellow member states (Iraq is a member of the U.N.) except to defend against an imminent attack or pursuant to explicit U.N. Security Council authorization (UN Charter; international law). "There was no authorization from the U.N. Security Council … and that made it a crime against the peace," said Francis Boyle, professor of international law, who also said the U.S. Army's field manual required such authorization for an offensive war.
Other realist critics, such as the late George F. Kennan, have noted that the responsibility of the United States is only to protect the rights of its own citizens, and that therefore Washington should deal with other governments as just that. Heavy emphasis on democratization or nation-building abroad, realists charge, was one of the major tenets of President Woodrow Wilson's diplomatic philosophy. According to realists, the failure of the League of Nations to enforce the will of the international community in the cases of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in the 1930s, as well as the inherent weakness of the new states created at the Paris Peace Conference, demonstrated the folly of Wilson's idealism.
There is also criticism of alleged human rights abuse, the most important recent examples of which are the multiple reports of alleged prisoner abuse and torture at U.S.-run detention camps in Guantánamo Bay (at "Camp X-ray") (in Cuba), Abu Ghraib (Iraq), secret CIA prisons (eastern Europe), and other places, voiced by the Council of Europe and Amnesty International. Amnesty International in its Amnesty International Report 2005 says that: "the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay has become the gulag of our times." This Amnesty report also claimed that there was a use of double standards in the U.S. government: The U.S. president "has repeatedly asserted that the United States was founded upon and is dedicated to the cause of human dignity." (Theme of his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2004). But some memorandums emerged after the Abu Ghraib scandal "suggested that the administration was discussing ways in which its agents could avoid the international ban on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."  Government responses to these criticisms include that Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay, and the network of secret CIA jails in Eastern Europe and the Middle East were largely isolated incidents and not reflective of general U.S. conduct, and at the same time maintain that coerced interrogation in Guantánamo and Europe is necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks.
U.S. generosity is not demonstrated in the relatively low spendings on foreign developmental aid (measured as percentage of GDP) when compared to other western countries. However as far as measured by goods and monetary amounts the U.S is the most generous. The average U.S. citizen donates relatively more of his or her private, personal time and income to charity than any other nation's citizens. Religious tithes, emergency donations to relief organizations, and donations to medical research, for example, are common and frequent. The United States tax code structure is designed to provide incentives to private individuals and corporations for charitable donations.
The United States is involved with several territorial disputes, including maritime disputes over the Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, Northwest Passage, and areas around Machias Seal Island and North Rock with Canada.  These disputes have become dormant recently, and are largely considered not to affect the strong relations between the two nations.
Other disputes include:
United States foreign policy is influenced by the efforts of the U.S. government to halt imports of illicit drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and marijuana. 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 which prohibited the shipment of opium between the two countries.
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,  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 twelve months. Notably absent from the 2005 list (and another sign of the contradiction of U.S. foreign policy rhetoric and action) 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 marijuana continues. The U.S. believes that The Netherlands are successfully countering the production and flow of MDMA to the U.S.
In the history of the United States, presidents have often used democracy as a justification for military intervention abroad. A number of studies have been devoted to the historical success rate of the U.S. in exporting democracy abroad. Most studies of American intervention have been pessimistic about the history of the United States exporting democracy. 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."
But some studies, such as a study by Tures find U.S. intervention has had mixed results, and another by Hermann and Kegley have found that military interventions have increased democracy in other countries.
Professor Paul W. Drake explains that the United States' first attempted to export democracy was in Latin America through intervention from 1912 to 1932. Drake argues that this was contradictory because international law defines intervention as "dictorial interference in the affairs of another state for the purpose of altering the condition of things." Democracy failed because democracy needs to develop out of internal conditions, and American leaders usually defined democracy as elections only. Further, the United States Department of State disapproved of rebellion of any kind, which were often incorrectly labeled "revolutions," even against dictatorships. As historian Walter LaFeber states, "The world's leading revolutionary nation (the U.S.) in the eighteenth century became the leading protector of the status quo in the twentieth century."
Mesquita and Downs evaluate the period between 1945 to 2004. They state that the U.S. has intervened in 35 countries, and only in one case, Colombia, did a "full fledged, stable democracy" develop within 10 years. Factors included (1) limits on executive power, (2) clear rules for the transition of power, (3) universal adult suffrage, and (4) competitive elections. Samia Amin Pei argues that nation building in developed countries usually begins to unravel four to six years after American intervention ends. Most countries where the U.S. intervenes never become a democracy or become even more authoritarian after 10 years.
Professor Joshua Muravchik argues that while U.S. occupation was critical for Axis power democratization after World War II, America's failure to build democracy in the third world "proves...that U.S. military occupation is not a sufficient condition to make a country democratic." The success of democracy in former Axis countries may be due to these countries' per-capita income. Steven Krasner of the CDDRL states that a high per capita income may help build a democracy, because no democratic country with a per-capita income which is above $6,000 has ever become an autocracy.
Hermann and Kegley find that American military interventions which are designed to protect or promote democracy increase freedom in those countries. Penceny argues that the democracies created after military intervention are still closer to an autocracy than a democracy, quoting Przeworski "while some democracies are more democratic than others, unless offices are contested, no regime should be considered democratic." Therefore, Penceny concludes, it is difficult to know from the Hermann and Kegley study whether U.S. intervention has only produced less repressive autocratic governments or genuine democracies.
Penceny states that the United States has attempted to export democracy in 33 of its 93 twentieth-century military interventions. Penceny argues that pro-liberal policies after military intervention have a positive impact on democracy.
Tures examines 228 cases of American intervention from 1973 to 2005, using Freedom House data. A plurality of interventions, 96, caused no change in the country's democracy. In 69 instances the country became less democratic after the intervention. In the remaining 63 cases, a country became more democratic. Democracy requires people capable of self-direction and accepting of pluralism. Too often it is thought that elections, a free press, and other democratic political machinery will be sufficient for democratization. Many studies have shown that exporting democracy is not that easy.
Because the United States Constitution stipulates that U.S. Foreign Policy is conducted by the executive branch of the government, there is no political-structural method in place to ensure that foreign policy actions reflect American ideals. George Washington set U.S. foreign policy in motion as a gentleman acting according to aristocratic codes of his day. However, as U.S. businesses grew, they advocated a navy that could help make a world safe for commerce. As the Soviet Union became a global power after World War II, partnerships with enemies of communism were sought. Accomplishing these goals was often easier, in the short term, by working with non-democratic regimes that would protect U.S. strategic and economic interests as client states. Other nations experience frequent U.S. foreign policy shifts every few years when new presidents are elected with different foreign policy priorities and goals. This makes it difficult for anyone to believe that the United States will use its power reliably.
Yet, many people subscribe to U.S. foreign policy ideals and would like to see them become reality and not just rhetoric. Developing consistency in foreign policy and asserting leadership without double standards in international affairs, and in organizations like the United Nations and NATO, will be necessary to help legitimize U.S. foreign policy in the eyes of the world.
These studies warn that liberal states are likely to wield "illiberal methods" in promoting democracy in other countries.
All links retrieved January 8, 2016.
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