Understanding the Global Community

Understanding the Global Community

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Since the end of the Cold War,interaction among communities across the globe has increased exponentially. Globalization has changed how we live, how we communicate, what we eat, and how we travel around the world. What do such social, political, and economic changes mean in a twenty-first-century context?

Understanding the Global Community explores these and other key questions, offering a concise overview of contemporary topics in international relations. Edited by Zach P. Messitte and Suzette R. Grillot, with contributions from prominent scholars across various disciplines, this accessible survey is perfectly suited for undergraduate courses in international and area studies as well as for anyone seeking a clearer understanding of today’s major global concerns.

Unique in its approach, Understanding the Global Community examines both international issues and regional perspectives. The first half of the book explores overarching global themes, including American foreign policy, international security, humanitarian intervention, and the global economy. The second half addresses nationalism and its challenge to the development of a global community, with region-specific chapters focusing on historic and contemporary issues in China, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. A glossary at the end of the book provides useful definitions of key terms and concepts.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780806143385
Publisher: University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date: 01/10/2013
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 296
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Zach P. Messitte is President of Ripon College in Wisconsin and is coeditor (with Suzette R. Grillot) of Understanding the Global Community.

Suzette R. Grillot is Dean of the College of International Studies, Vice Provost for International Programs, and William J. Crowe Jr. Chair in Geopolitics at the University of Oklahoma.

Read an Excerpt

Understanding the Global Community

By Zach P. Messitte, Suzette R. Grillot


Copyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-8936-9


American Foreign Policy


Much ink has been spilled in recent years about whether or not the United States will remain the world's sole superpower. The rise of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), American imperial overstretch in the Middle East, and economic and political problems at home have led many observers to question whether or not America's "unipolar moment" that began with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 is now coming to an end. This chapter examines the broad trends in American foreign policy and looks at the challenges facing President Barack Obama and his team of foreign policy advisers. Beginning with an overview of the theoretical currents that underpin American foreign policy, the chapter proceeds to a short history of presidential leadership in shaping America's role in the world. It concludes with a review of the Obama administration's foreign policy and poses some questions about the global challenges facing the United States in the next decade.


There is a general misperception that the United States had little in the way of foreign policy design before the end of the nineteenth century. Many introductory classes spend very little time examining the country's relations with the world prior to the Spanish-American War of 1898. Branding the Republic isolationist, or focusing instead on manifest destiny and the rush to populate the continent from coast to coast, simplifies an analysis of the first 125 years of America's relations with the rest of the world. George Washington's famous farewell address that warned his countrymen to stay away from the intrigue of European politics and "avoid entangling alliances" is part of a trinity of pre–Civil War pronouncements that guide most students of the discipline. The big questions Washington asked are as relevant today as they were when he was leaving the presidency in 1796. "Why forego the advantages of so peculiar a situation? Why quit our own to stand upon foreign ground? Why, by interweaving our destiny with that of any part of Europe, entangle our peace and prosperity in the toils of European ambition, rivalship, interest, humor or caprice?" (Washington 1796). When Washington's admonitions are matched up with John Quincy Adams's statement in 1821 that America "goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy" and the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that warned Europeans from messing around with the Americas, a very real perception emerges that the new nation had bigger issues than foreign policy (i.e., slavery, states' rights, immigration, and industrial expansion) to deal with during the 1800s. There is some truth in this straightforward analysis of American foreign policy; the pre-1945 global reach of America pales by comparison to the past sixty-five years. The American foreign policy tradition, however, and the basic theory that provides its foundations, stretches back much further than the World War II era.

Idealism and realism were at the core of the emerging discipline of international relations that came out of the political failure to stop World War I. The two schools of thought have a long tradition in the conduct of American foreign policy that predates the twentieth century and colors the nation's thinking about the world from the beginning of U.S. history (Mead 2002). Idealism and realism helped shape the three great eras that marked American foreign policy prior to the Second World War: expansionism, imperialism, and isolationism. They also guided the two major periods that followed 1945: containment and the still undefined post–Cold War decades of the 1990s and 2000s. For most of the nineteenth century, however, American foreign policy focused on expansionism (the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the Mexican Cession of 1848, and the purchase of Alaska following the Civil War). By the later stages of the 1800s, and into the twentieth century, American imperial adventures dominated foreign policy in places as diverse as Cuba, China, and Honduras and on the battlefields of Belgium and France during World War I. I. Following the Treaty of Versailles, the United States, while still professing a more idealist response to world problems, ultimately cocooned itself from Europe's growing political and economic woes. The U.S. Senate never ratified the League of Nations and later made the Great Depression even worse by enacting the protectionist Smoot-Hawley tariff that led to a severe reduction of U.S. exports and imports and largely ignored the rise of Nazi Germany.

Historically the American foreign policy realists were fundamentally concerned with the power of the United States and how best to advance the security and economic well-being of the country. Leaders such as Alexander Hamilton and Theodore Roosevelt fall into this category. Financial stability, credit-worthiness, and the health of defense-related industry preoccupied Hamilton from the birth of the Republic (Harper 2004). Teddy Roosevelt's muscular foreign policy ushered in a twentieth century of occasionally brilliant diplomacy, frequent American military involvement, and protection of business interests abroad. The (Theodore) Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine called for American intervention in any Latin American country that had economic troubles in order to preempt European meddling. Theodore Roosevelt also supported the creation of the great white fleet, making the U.S. Navy one of the largest and most mobile in the world.

The idealists, on the other hand, emphasized the legal and moral aspects of the world order. They also made an impact on the scope of American foreign policy prior to World War II by calling on the United States "to help make the world safe for democracy" and, by proxy, to buttress free trade and capitalism. Most famously embodied by Woodrow Wilson, the idealists saw the lessons of World War I as a way to "vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power" (Wilson 1917). The idealists initially took the lead after World War I with the creation of the League of Nations and put forth impossibly utopian ideas like the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war and the Washington Conference on Disarmament in the 1920s. These lofty goals testified to an idyllic vision of American foreign policy that had its roots in the nation's missionary spirit to conquer and civilize North America (Turner 1920). By the 1930s, however, the League of Nations had failed, unable to slow global economic depression and the rise of fascist excesses. The idea that pure aspiration could be the basis of American foreign policy was untenable. It gave rise to realism in the way the nation conducted itself abroad. The idea that power was at the center of the international political order was ascendant (Carr 1939).

Following the Allied victory in World War II and the onset of the Cold War, the idealists and realists continued to battle each other for supremacy in the push and pull of the second part of the twentieth century. American foreign policy makers faced the conundrum of having to face down the Soviets by containing them, militarily, economically, and culturally, by using both hard power (military and economic supremacy) and soft power (cultural and ideological influence) (Nye 2004). American foreign policy during the Cold War became ideologically centered. Soviet and Chinese communism were viewed as threatening and expansionist, intent on converting the world to its beliefs. American political leaders preached that foreign policy was part of a fight for the survival of the United States, democracy, and the American way of life (Commager 1983; Almond 1960).

Since the collapse of the bipolar world in the early 1990s and the rise of stateless terrorism, the realists and idealists in American foreign policy have redrawn the battle lines about how best to ensure the rise of a stable new world order (Lake 2000; Krauthammer 1990–1991). Four presidents (George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) have grappled with a world in which the ideological threat of the Soviet Union is no longer the North Star of American foreign policy. Realists and idealists, and their neoconservative ("neo-cons") and neo-Wilsonian offspring, have each laid claim to theoretical supremacy by varying claims to democracy promotion, the preservation of the liberal economic order, and the use of the U.S. military to ensure national security by deploying troops to Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

The neo-cons who directed the foreign policy of the Bush administration in the post-9/11 world believed that universal ideals such as human rights and democracy were worthwhile but only if they helped spread American power (Beinart 2010). Following 9/11, the logic of the neo-cons helped to theoretically justify the Iraq War. The Bush-era neo-cons, however, perverted the original intent of the "new" conservatives in foreign policy. While the movement had been building during the 1950s and 60s, neoconservatism gained strength as a reaction to the Vietnam War by emphasizing the need for renewed toughness in American foreign policy. The neo-cons looked at President Jimmy Carter's desire to put human rights at the center of American foreign policy in the 1970s as hopelessly naïve. Jeane Kirkpatrick, one of the godmothers of the neo-con movement, wrote in her famous article "Dictatorships and Double Standards" that it was better to collaborate with repressive autocrats like the shah of Iran and Nicaragua's Anastasio Somoza because they were "friendly to American interests." In other words, better to have the shah and Somoza than to have an Islamic Iran or a Nicaragua ruled by the Soviet-leaning Sandinistas. Kirkpatrick, however, also believed that "democratic governments come into being slowly, after extended prior experience with more limited forms of participation during which leaders have reluctantly grown accustomed to tolerating dissent and opposition" (Kirkpatrick 1979). In the hindsight of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars of the past decade, Kirkpatrick's caveat shows that the original neo-cons weren't so quick to have America in the nation-building game.

The Vietnam War also jolted the neo-Wilsonians, but instead of putting toughness at the center of their thinking they looked toward the concept of interdependence as a new guiding force in American foreign policy. No one exemplified this new Wilsonian ideal better than President Jimmy Carter. In his speech at Notre Dame University in 1977, he said that the United States "can no longer separate the traditional issues of war and peace from the new global questions of justice, equity, and human rights." President Carter argued instead for "constructive global involvement" based on human rights, bonds among democracies, arms control, and peace through diplomacy in the Middle East (Carter 1977). Events in Iran, Nicaragua, and Afghanistan in the second part of Carter's presidential term conspired to make his foreign policy ideas look weak and hopelessly idealistic, but the post–Cold War political world order of the 1990s brought back the "new great debate" between the school of thought that advocated exercising caution overseas—which traced its roots back to George Washington—and the globalism school of thought that had been promoted by Woodrow Wilson (Muravchik 1996).

With the fall of the Soviet Union, a small but vocal group of American political leaders called on the United States to return to its pre–World War II posture, draw down U.S. soldiers serving overseas, and return a peace dividend to the American taxpayers as payback for the trillions of dollars it had cost to contain the Soviets for four decades. By the middle part of the 1990s the isolationist argument had retreated to the fringes, with globalization and the great leap forward in communications helping to knit the world together. President Clinton's national security adviser Anthony Lake announced in 1993 that "The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement—enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies." He defined America's role in the post–Cold War era as one that must be guided by strengthening current market democracies, bolstering fledgling ones, countering states opposed to market democracy, and supporting humanitarian concerns (Lake 1993).

Putting American foreign policy into a theoretical box can sometimes be difficult and contradictory. The Democratic and Republican parties are not necessarily the best guideposts to figure out foreign policy philosophies. Isolationists and realists may both trace their roots to Washington's farewell address, but they don't always see eye to eye. Similarly, neoconservatives may share much in common with Wilsonians, but there are some fundamental differences, particularly about the use of military force to achieve aims. The broad sweep of American foreign policy has veered between the poles of idealism and realism.

According to Fareed Zakaria, President Barack Obama falls into a middle ground as a "practical idealist" heavily influenced by his personal experience.

[Obama's] fundamental view of the world was rooted as much in the struggle for development and economic growth as it was in missiles and the Cold War. I think this came first from his mother and Indonesia. His memory of a foreign policy event was not of Vietnam or of the Soviet Union but of life on the ground in Jakarta [Indonesia]. The struggle for survival and development—that's the prism through which he sees the world. (Remnick 2010, 430)

As we will examine later in this chapter, some of Obama's rhetoric and action has put him in the realist camp (his Nobel Prize speech and his response to the Green Revolution in Iran and the Arab Spring). On the other side of the coin, the U.S.-backed NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) intervention that resulted in the toppling and death of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi might qualify him more as a pragmatic liberal. Complicating matters of how to classify Obama further on the realism/idealism continuum, his administration presided over the extra-territorial killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, wound down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but stepped up remote drone attacks on Taliban leaders.

The ability of the American president to shape world affairs remains unparalleled. While the reach of a global presidency may have dimmed since its zenith in the post–World War II 1940s, no other single leader has the ability to exert as much influence worldwide. For many people around the world, the president embodies the very image of the United States. Upon election the president automatically achieves a political global superstardom reserved for a select few individuals. Taxicab drivers in faraway capitals may know little about the current leaders of China or India, but they do have an opinion about the job performance of the American president—and perhaps his predecessor's performance as well. Since World War II U.S. presidents have become global leaders whose decisions impact distant corners of the world. As one Greek citizen told the New York Times during President Bill Clinton's visit to Athens in November 1999, "He is the planatarchis [ruler of the planet] so of course he should visit Greece. It is a province of his empire" (Stanley 1999).


Excerpted from Understanding the Global Community by Zach P. Messitte, Suzette R. Grillot. Copyright © 2013 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents


Preface Zach P. Messitte and Suzette R. Grillot,
Introduction: Why We Should Understand the Global Community Zach P. Messitte and Suzette R. Grillot,
1. American Foreign Policy Zach P. Messitte,
2. International Security Suzette R. Grillot,
3. Humanitarian Intervention Eric A. Heinze,
4. The Global Economy Mark W. Frazier,
5. China Peter Hays Gries,
6. The European Union Mitchell P. Smith and Robert Henry Cox,
7. Latin America Alan McPherson,
8. The Middle East Yaron Ayalon,
Conclusion Zach P. Messitte,
List of Contributors,

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