After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War World

After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-Cold War World

by James M. Scott

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In the political landscape emerging from the end of the Cold War, making U.S. foreign policy has become more difficult, due in part to less clarity and consensus about threats and interests. In After the End James M. Scott brings together a group of scholars to explore the changing international situation since 1991 and to examine the characteristics and


In the political landscape emerging from the end of the Cold War, making U.S. foreign policy has become more difficult, due in part to less clarity and consensus about threats and interests. In After the End James M. Scott brings together a group of scholars to explore the changing international situation since 1991 and to examine the characteristics and patterns of policy making that are emerging in response to a post–Cold War world.
These essays examine the recent efforts of U.S. policymakers to recast the roles, interests, and purposes of the United States both at home and abroad in a political environment where policy making has become increasingly decentralized and democratized. The contributors suggest that foreign policy leadership has shifted from White House and executive branch dominance to an expanded group of actors that includes the president, Congress, the foreign policy bureaucracy, interest groups, the media, and the public. The volume includes case studies that focus on China, Russia, Bosnia, Somalia, democracy promotion, foreign aid, and NAFTA. Together, these chapters describe how policy making after 1991 compares to that of other periods and suggest how foreign policy will develop in the future.
This collection provides a broad, balanced evaluation of U.S. foreign policy making in the post–Cold War setting for scholars, teachers, and students of U.S. foreign policy, political science, history, and international studies.

Contributors. Ralph G. Carter, Richard Clark, A. Lane Crothers, I. M. Destler, Ole R. Holsti, Steven W. Hook, Christopher M. Jones, James M. McCormick, Jerel Rosati, Jeremy Rosner, John T. Rourke, Renee G. Scherlen, Peter J. Schraeder, James M. Scott, Jennifer Sterling-Folker, Rick Travis, Stephen Twing

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“Highly recommended for scholars, specialists, and advanced students—an informed synthesis of recent theory and research on the formulation of American foreign policy.”—Charles W. Kegley, Pearce Professor of International Relations at the University of South Carolina

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After The End

Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Postâ"Cold War World

By James M. Scott

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-8215-7


Out of the Cold: The Post–Cold War Context of U.S. Foreign Policy

James M. Scott and A. Lane Crothers

"Gosh, I miss the Cold War." These words, uttered by President Bill Clinton in late 1993, are characteristic of a growing disillusionment regarding American foreign policy in the post–cold war world. At first glance, this regret seems misplaced. After all, during the cold war, two superpowers approached the brink of nuclear war, played dangerous games of "chicken" with their military forces, sought to subvert each other by overt and covert measures, and routinely referred to each other as "evil." What could possibly drive the nostalgia for such a setting?

The president's musing reflects a growing suspicion that the cold war was, in a sense, a simpler time in which to set a foreign policy course, in spite of the high stakes and costly "imperatives" imposed by the contest between the Soviet Union and the United States. The U.S.-Russian relationship has evolved from confrontation to cooperation, making the post–cold war world a more benign environment for foreign policy choices. For example, Americans helped Russian president Boris Yeltsin win reelection, the United States and the international community have provided substantial assistance to the Russian government, Russian troops serve under the tactical command of U.S. officers as Bosnian peacekeepers, and Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov successfully brokered the reentry of U.S. weapons inspectors into Iraq to deal with that country's attempts to build an arsenal of destructive weaponry. Nevertheless, the emerging environment may also prove to be substantially more difficult to address.

The end of the cold war eliminated a number of reliable and well-recognized reference points from the landscape and established new, as yet ambiguous ones. Liberated from an overriding concern with the threat that the Soviet Union was understood to represent, policy makers are now required to think seriously about the roles, interests, and purposes of the United States in the twenty-first century. Since foreign policy may be conceptualized, at least in part, as adaptive behavior, it seems clear that the changing international context of the post–cold war environment requires adaptation to face the new issues and problems it raises. Just how well have U.S. foreign policy makers adapted to this altered setting? As the remainder of this volume will indicate, the U.S. response has involved both attempts to grapple with the new issues and challenges of the post–cold war world and alterations in the process through which policy makers shape foreign policy. However, the process adjustments have complicated the policy adjustments. To return to President Clinton's reflection, it is in the context of these substantive changes and the procedural permutations they help to create that the former era seems a simpler world that U.S. policy makers could address through a simpler process.

This volume examines the characteristics and patterns of policy making that are emerging in response to the shift from cold war to post–cold war. By considering the actors and institutions and probing their behavior in a set of foreign policy cases, the authors shed light on the changes and adaptations that have (and have not) occurred. This chapter sets the stage for the analyses that follow by introducing the context of U.S. foreign policy making and discussing the changes associated with the end of the cold war. It concludes by raising a few considerations that will be explored more thoroughly in the volume's chapters and revisited in the conclusion.

The U.S. Foreign Policy Context

Within the United States, the domestic context of U.S. foreign policy derives from societal forces and the institutional arrangements and structures established by the U.S. Constitution. This context makes societal forces—political culture, public opinion, and group interests and activity—a critical part of the U.S. foreign policy arena, and it establishes a complex set of fluctuating arrangements among the people and institutions of the government. Hence, understanding how U.S. foreign policy makers adapt to the issues and problems of the international environment first requires a grasp of the societal and institutional settings within which they act.

The American Societal Context

The institutions and actors that shape U.S. foreign policy do so in the context of multifaceted and complex societal setting. For definitional purposes, this context may be understood as, first, the broad attitudes and orientations of the people of the United States and, second, some of the societal actors that affect policy making. The broad societal context, or political culture, is a set of shared ideas, ideals, concepts, stories, and myths that orient citizens within their political systems. Its relevance rests in large measure on several strands of influence. It influences "the manner in which members of society, including the state elite, define themselves and their place in the larger global setting." It also gives shape to the arena of possible actions (i.e., the kinds of policies and programs that the American people are likely to support) and helps to shape the perceptual maps of the policy makers themselves.

The heart of the societal context within which U.S. foreign policy is made consists of a set of core dimensions or a "creed" through which Americans define themselves and politics. Foremost among these dimensions is democratic liberalism. The U.S. society is liberal in that, politically, it emphasizes the individual and the rights and freedoms to which he or she is entitled, with a particular commitment "to individual liberty and the protection of private property; to limited government, the rule of law, natural rights, the perfectibility of human institutions, and the possibility of human progress." Economically, liberalism means capitalism, an economic system based on markets, free enterprise, and private ownership. The U.S. is democratic in the sense of a commitment to (1) the principle that specific procedures must be followed for filling government positions (elections) and for making government decisions; (2) popular sovereignty, or the view that the citizens of the country are the source of government authority, and thus the government must be accountable to them; and (3) limited majority rule, or the idea that the majority of a nation's citizens ought to set the general direction for society so long as the majority respects and protects the rights of the minority. Democratic liberalism therefore calls for limited, accountable government that should be responsive to and formed with the participation of the citizens of the country.

Other elements of the societal context concern relations among individuals and groups in society, and between them and the government. For example, the United States is egalitarian, in the sense that there is broad agreement that citizens ought to have equal political standing and generally equal opportunities in society. While much of U.S. history has involved a struggle to define and apply these principles of equality (especially as regards racial, ethnic, and gender differences), in the main, the commitment has militated against various forms of social and class distinctions, preferences, and discrimination that have been more common and pronounced elsewhere. Additionally, the United States is pluralist, accepting decisions that result in the victory of one group over another, as long as individuals are free to associate with groups of their choice and there are no systematic barriers blocking the right of any group or individual to advocate for their preferences. Moreover, the United States is legalist This means that it is a "law-oriented society": there is a societal preference for lawmaking to resolve conflict, and a broad belief that "ideas embodied in legal precepts are entitled to respect and obedience."

Finally, a general universalism/exceptionalism underlies these preceding features, a sense that "the American way" is a model that all others would do well to emulate. Americans widely believe that values such as those outlined above are universal public goods to be maximized in other nations. Hence, universalism essentially means that commitments to democratic liberalism, constitutional government, and the like are superior preferences, suitable and desirable for all people and countries.

One way to simplify the complex connection between these aspects of culture and foreign affairs is to identify the societal impulses and foreign policy orientations the culture generates in the individuals of the society. These may be considered in terms of two continua. The societal impulse continuum ranges between moralism/idealism at one end and pragmatism/realism at the other. Moralism/idealism describes the impulse to promote certain values in foreign policy, rather than to defend various interests. Moralists/idealists argue that the United States should involve itself in international affairs "only for sufficient ethical reasons" (i.e., that foreign policy "should be motivated by moral principles").6 Further, moralists/idealists tend to believe that a peaceful and prosperous world can be created according to universal (i.e., U.S.) moral principles, so that adherence to these (U.S.-defined) principles of right and wrong are as important as some conception of interests. At its extreme, moralism/idealism may become "messianism," or the "missionary urge to remake the world in the American image" in order to "save" it. This type of moralism/idealism implies a sense of duty and destiny best defined as the "U.S. mission" to serve as "the custodian of the future of humanity."

On the other hand the constellation of societal values in the United States also supports a sense of pragmatism/realism, or ad hoc problem solving that eschews broad moral, ideological, or doctrinal purposes in favor of a concern with concrete interests and a results-based standard of evaluation. Values like democracy, which promotes open public debate, and pluralism, which encourages multiple groups and individuals to come together to come to mutually acceptable—and inevitably compromising—solutions to their problems, tend to support pragmatic approaches to problem solving, even in foreign policy. Within the broad parameters of U.S. values, the impulse toward pragmatism means a concern with interests and necessity, "case-by-case-ism," reactive approaches, and a focus on the short term rather than the long term.

A foreign policy orientation continuum—based on broad attitudes toward U.S. policy—ranges between isolationism, on the one hand, and internationalism, on the other. Isolationism may be simply defined as the desire to keep the United States out of substantial political and military involvement with the world (especially Europe). It is, in short, a preference for a passive response to the world whereby the United States serves chiefly as an example, without assuming responsibility for the world, acting as agent to reform the world, or intervening in the affairs of others in the world. It is in this sense that John Winthrop's frequently repeated "city upon a hill" metaphor is most apt. An oft-cited example is found in an 1821 speech by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams: "Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America's] heart, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator of her own. She will recommend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and by the benignant sympathy of her example."

In contrast, internationalism suggests that the United States should be actively involved in the world's political affairs in order to protect U.S. interests and provide necessary American leadership. According to this view the United States has interests and responsibilities that must be served through participation and leadership. In practice, internationalism includes the willingness to exercise power, to intervene—politically, militarily, and economically—in affairs around the world, to exercise leadership in world affairs, and even to transplant American values and institutions. Statements illustrative of this view include those of President Harry Truman, who once argued that "the free peoples of the world look to us for support in maintaining their freedoms.... If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world—and we shall certainly endanger the welfare of our own nation."

The seemingly uneasy coexistence of these apparently opposite orientations is misleading, for they spring from the same political culture. Not only do both orientations exist simultaneously (helping to generate a fundamental ambivalence among Americans toward world affairs), but the orientations themselves are bound together by a common element: the sense of an American mission to lead the world into a better form of political, social, and economic relationships. In effect, the orientations divide over the proper method to achieve that mission: isolationists tend to argue that the United States should order its own affairs and lead the world only by example, while internationalists suggest that the United States cannot transform the world without being actively involved in the affairs of the world. Both depend on a unique sense of American duty and destiny; at issue is simply the best means to "spread" the values.

Political culture, in the end, is a factor in shaping the mode of international interactions the United States undertakes. It tends to limit policy flexibility by constraining the range of choices available to policy makers. However, it also provides concepts, ideas, ideals, and values through which foreign policies can be legitimated in a democratic polity. Additionally, the broad political culture is doubly important because the political system of the United States is constructed as it is—a pluralist democracy. As such, the actors and institutions of the government who make policy choices do so in the context of a circle of nongovernmental actors whose preferences, attitudes, and values constrain and influence their choices. The circle includes such elements as public opinion, which may act as a constraint, if not a guide, for government policy (see chapter 8, by Ole Holsti). The media may also affect policy by acting as a gatekeeper or framer of issues, a source of information, a watchdog, and an agenda setter, while interest groups of varying types may affect policy as well (see chapter 9, by James M. McCormick). Trade, ethnic, ideological, corporate, transnational, and foreign groups (government, business, or otherwise) may lobby, pressure, persuade, publicize, and endorse or oppose candidates for office in order to influence policy in their particular areas of interest. Moreover, a network of think tanks and research institutions affect foreign policy through actions such as policy studies, endorsements, and the provision of personnel for government positions. Finally, some private citizens may affect policy on the strength of their experiences, status, prestige, or relationships. Their views, advice, and ideas may be solicited or heeded by policy makers.

The Institutional Context

The institutional context of U.S. foreign policy derives from the U.S. Constitution. Without delving deeply into the constitutional distribution of powers and responsibilities over various aspects of foreign affairs, several points should be noted. The Constitution provides for accountability and access on the part of the public, making U.S. foreign policy the legitimate target of public interest and pressure, and causing U.S. foreign policy makers to be rightfully concerned with public acceptance. Institutionally, the Constitution establishes the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances by which policy-making power is divided, distributed, and balanced among three branches. Furthermore, the Constitution does not assign to any branch "the foreign policy power"; indeed, neither the term nor its synonyms appears in the text. Instead, the Constitution breaks foreign policy power into pieces and assigns various portions to the Congress and to the executive, generally forcing a sharing of responsibility. Yet, the Constitution does not specify which branch is to lead in foreign policy, providing an "invitation to struggle" to the political branches. In short, the provisions and ambiguities of the U.S. Constitution establish an institutional context that is messy and complex.


Excerpted from After The End by James M. Scott. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
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Meet the Author

James M. Scott is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and author of Deciding to Intervene: The Reagan Doctrine and American Foreign Policy, also published by Duke University Press.

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