What Strategic Ideas That Have Shaped American Foreign Policy


Foreign policy highlights the rules of engagement between different nations around the world and is guaranteed to change periodically based on a wide range of factors including, political and economic powers, common problems shared between nations, and even more familiar troubles such as state-to-state relations (Henriksen, 2017). In the 20th century alliances and war including the two World Wars and the Cold War were the major determinants of foreign policy and described the strategies adopted towards the development of foreign policy and alignment of allied states. However, the lack of major state wars in the 21st century significantly nullifies war strategies as the major determinants of the country’s current foreign policy. Minkoff (2019) points out that the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite putting an end to the Era of international wars, opened up the stage for a wide range of global problems including globalization, environmental degradation, climate change, humanitarian disasters, sustainable economic development, ethnic civil wars, and non-state terrorism as well as rekindling of state-to state problems and wars. Strategic ideas to combat these problems combined with the countries emergent superiority in terms of economic and political development in the world stage after the cold war include the major factors that have shaped the United States foreign policy in the current century. This essay aims to point out how the country’s economic and political position in the world stage has impacted and shaped its foreign policy in the backdrop of combating the highlighted problems.


Combating Global Problems

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked a new and altered stage in U.S. foreign relations (Henriksen, 2017). The country was exposed to and now confronted a broad spectrum of problems including: Environmental degradation, globalization, climate change, Humanitarian disasters, sustainable economic development, ethnic civil wars, and non-state terrorism, War on Drugs as well as development and establishment of international laws in global affairs among others (Henriksen, 2017). In order to effectively enable the strategic solution of these problems which impact global community, the country develops foreign policies to cooperate with other nations. While no specific body has been developed in relation to the combating of these problems, each of these problems are managed under the ministry level which provides teams to collaborate with other teams from other states and nations in an effort to develop solutions.

Mathew (1996); Sussman (2004); Perreira (2015) and Barkdull (2017) all allude to environmental issues primarily among them environmental degradation and pollution as well as the climate change as major factors in the development of the US 21st century foreign policy. The environment according to Mathews (1996) impacts the US profoundly, due to its element of transcending borders and oceans; it threatens the health prosperity and lives of Americans. In addition, Perreira (2015) points out that addressing natural resource issues is frequently critical to achieving political and economic stability thereby laying out political and environmental circumstances for cooperation and greatly impacting the country’s foreign policy.

Barkdull (2017) points out that international agreements on environmental issues are a result of the coordination of state’s foreign policies and understanding the international politics of the environment requires attention to the institutional, social, economic, and cognitive factors that determine foreign policies. While almost all policies developed have sustainability and environmental concerns, the US foreign policies influenced by strategic decisions to combat environmental problems are more focused on the policies that states adopt centered on humanity’s relationship to the natural world and ecology. While globalization positively impacts the world enabling easier sharing and accessing of information online leading to increased development all across the globe, Daalder and Lindsay (2003) highlights that Globalization is not just an economic phenomenon, but a political, cultural, military and environmental phenomenon and as such significantly impacts the relations between different states and nations all across the world. The aspect of globalization and the internet also presents vulnerability in the international space and impact the need for development of foreign policies around it with a bid to control it.

These problems experienced post-cold war and at the beginning of the 21st century highlights major points that impact strategy across different nations around the world and as such impact the development of the their foreign policies including the United States 21st century foreign policies. Mathews (1996) highlights that just like the lives of Americans depended on the outcomes of the wars in the 21st century and thus impacted the bulk of their 20th century foreign policies, in the 21st century the lives, freedom and prosperity of not only Americans, but everyone across the globe is dependent on how well the world comes together to solve these problems. The need for different countries to join forces and resources including research and information in the mitigation of these global problems highlights the development of the foreign policies in the 21st century, and the US being at the helm, the country’s foreign policy is entirely focused and shaped on being the leaders in the solution of these problems.

State to State Problems

These problems however are not only limited to natural problems like environmental degradation and climate change, another factor that inspired strategic ideas that shaped the American 21st century Foreign affairs policies include the state to state problems and shift in economic and political power as a result of the rise of other countries including China, India as well as the consolidation and independence of the European Union. This shift in power significantly impact the position of the United States as the leaders within the development of treaties and agreements, to being just other member state who have to abide by all rules and policies like every other country thereby significantly impacting their foreign policy in the current century (Daalder and Lindsey, 2003).

During the 20th century and particularly during the Second World war America significantly advanced economically and politically due to the development of weapons, Airplanes, industries and even the nuclear bomb thereby giving them superiority and enabling them to dominate the world leading to the development of the two factions of the Cold War in the US and Soviet Union. Henricksen (2017) points out that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked a new and altered stage in U.S. foreign relations giving them an upper hand in uniting the world in a common non-war Era focused only on global development.

However more familiar troubles such as state-to-state relations resurfaced in new turns including threats from rogue nations and the return of great power rivalries with a rising China, a resurgent Russia, and a self-reliant European Union (Henriksen, 2017). The shift of power means that the US is not at the helm anymore and as such has to shift their policies towards accommodating much more powerful states. These circumstances in the change of status and power have significantly impacted strategic ideas made by the United States and have shaped up their 21st century foreign policy.

Chesbrough (2019) highlights that China has been consistent in its economic growth for the past 40 years pulling its GDP from $150 billion in constant US dollars to over $13 trillion a rate of growth of over 10% a year. China has also significantly invested in the international economy through providing foreign aid to a wide range of developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia building up its social, economic and political reputation thereby significantly challenging the United States Authority as the Global leaders. Ikenberry (2008) and Early (2019) are all in agreement that the rise of China alongside other states in the 21st century after the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War has significantly impacted international relations on the global scale impacting development of strategies including Trade wars which have significantly impacted and shaped up the United States foreign affairs policies in the 21stcentury.

Trade wars, for instance the conflict in South China, coupled with China’s use of Salami tactics as well as the limited impact that the US has, politically in the conflict, further serves to undermine the country’s supremacy over China. Lundy (2016) points out that the US is in a tough position given lack of influence to any of the involved countries including Vietnam and the Philippines and as such the incremental nature of China’s Salami tactics could amount to China exercising effective control over the region thereby impacting a change in the US foreign policies with the countries involved. Such problems such as the trade wars and small territorial conflicts serve to progressively undermine the existing policies and as such accumulate into shaping the US 21st century foreign policy

Humanitarian Aid

The collapse of the Soviet Union and consequent end of the Cold war in1991 paved way for a post war era of collaboration and economic development punctuated by multiple trade agreements and political relations. Given the position of economical superiority* and power the country leveraged Humanitarian aid for political support and influence of foreign policies. The practical need by most developing countries for this aid impacted strategic decisions for delivering Humanitarian Aid significantly impacting the country’s Foreign Policies in the 21st century.

The US is by far the world’s largest humanitarian donor. According to USAID (2018) the country allocated $49.87 Billion of its budget to foreign aid in terms of economic and security assistance in 2017, this indicates an increase from the $42.4Billion in 2016. Margesson (2015) points out that currently, the majority of humanitarian emergencies worldwide stem from natural disasters, economical support and security assistance inspiring a consistent Congress support through provision of humanitarian aid as a means of saving lives, promoting stability, and furthering U.S. foreign policy objectives. FP (2010), further add that the United States has indulged into providing humanitarian aid to disease ravaged areas due to outbreaks, providing aid and assistance to citizens in countries ravaged by political or civil wars and generally ensuring the peace, providing financial support to the poor countries to boost economic growth, and generally providing support to developing countries to further impact the development of a safer, more prosperous, more democratic and more equitable world. These ideas include strategies that are deeply ingrained within the country’s foreign policies and govern its contacts and relations with all the countries with which it interacts with.

As a result of the Humanitarian Aid decision the country has specific foreign policies assigned for the management of foreign Aid. According to USAID (2019) the policy for humanitarian action spells out the actions the country are to take in supporting different countries in need including those ravaged by Natural disasters, or political disasters. These have been significant in the first two decades of the 21st century when the US maintained economic and political superiority and have significantly impacted the shaping up of the country’s current century foreign policy. However given the rise of other nations to economic and political superiority such as China and the EU, humanitarian Aid has significantly been limited in the country’s foreign Policy development in the second decade.

The Presidency and Legal Strategies

Despite the superiority of the United States in the first two decades of the 21st century and as such, dominance of the globe being at the peak of the country’s foreign policies, the development and growth of the countries legal system has increased executive as well as congressional powers thereby impacting their influence in foreign policies. When it comes to the process of policy development, the presidency and the legal body in the congress present potential strategic factors and ideas that impact the United States 21st century foreign Policy.

Pavgi (2011) highlights that the President of the United States negotiates the treaties with foreign Nations which are only passed upon approval by two thirds of the senate, this gives him significant power in impacting the shape and structure of the country’s foreign policy during the period of presidency making foreign policy among the key metrics for which all the Presidents in the United States are weighted upon (Walt, 2017). Pavgi (2011) and Walt (2017) both point out that while President Obama offered a working Foreign Policy which enabled the country to minimize terrorism and improve their economy after the 2008 recession, a wide variety of critics feel that his foreign policies led the country to a deeper ditch rather than improving the country.

The Obama Doctrine is a phrase used to describe the Obama administration’s foreign policies, including the need to stop state to state war and impact increased peace and democracy all over the world. Walt, (2017) points out activities involved with this doctrine to include: ending the war in Iraq and Afghanistan that started in the Bush era and minimizing terrorism significantly including increasing drone attacks to stabilize countries experiencing political crisis especially in the Middle East and Asian regions. The doctrine also included the development and agreement of trade agreements with Columbia, Panama and South Korea all of which significantly shaped the countries 21st century foreign policies.

Donald Trump’s personal qualities and approach of other national leaders during treaty and policy formulation processes has been described to provide an impediment in the advancement of the country’s foreign policy in a positive direction (Cohen, 2019). However Blackwell (2019) highlights that the president’s policy are not given much attention or credit compared to his personality and that behind all the chaos and personal qualities of the president the foreign policies that he suggest and proposes are actually better than they seem. This highlights that the presidency not only influence foreign policy development in legal aspects but also on the personal and personality aspects of the presidency. This is also quite evident and relevant given that a comparison of the two presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump’s personalities and personal beliefs, highlight a significant impact on the shaping and development of the foreign policies during their presidency.

While the power of the president and the congress is not autocratic and they cannot as such institute any policies, the two government wings are critically influential in the foreign Policy development processes towards solving the identified problems. As such, this highlights a significant impact of the presidency and the legal structure in the development of political policies including foreign policies and as such confirming that the presidency has significantly shaped American foreign policy in the 21stcentury.

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Foreign policies are significantly impacted by a wide range of factors all of which provide strategic decision making points and impact their formulation from time to time. Significant among all of them however is power and superiority in terms of the economy and democracy of a country. The US foreign policy in the 21st century is hugely impacted by the fact that the country emerged as the strongest and most powerful country in the 21st century just after the end of the cold war and has as such taken it upon itself to ensure a safer, more peaceful and more democratic world. This through developing international treaties and trade agreements to enable international relations, providing Humanitarian aid and assistance to countries in need and facing various disasters as developing relations with developing countries through providing economic assistance. Howeverthe rise of other countries dominance including China and Russia has also significantly shaped the countries current foreign policy with a bid to keep up and maintain effective relations. Further with the end of the War Era in the 20th century the world has seen a development of a wide range of problems that span the global scale including climate change, environmental degradation and pollution as well as globalization all of which require the collaboration of different countries to impact solutions. As such being the most superior country in the early 21st century US significantly collaborates with different individual countries to enable the brainstorm and development of solutions for these problems leading to a significant impact on its 21st century foreign Policies.


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