Economic Policy and Theory

Merging in numerous ways, economic theory has often been linked to U.S. foreign policy.


A theory of wide-ranging importance in historical and political thought, elitism as applied to foreign policy seeks to explain how that policy is made—by whom, in whose interest, in what manner, for what purpose, and with what results, including possible benefits for the policymakers themselves. A causal relationship generally is posited, or at least implied, between the composition of the policymaking group and the content and consequences of the policy it makes.

Embargoes and Sanctions

For most of America's history, the word "embargo" was used to refer specifically to a prohibition on the departure of ships or exports from a nation's own ports, whereas the words "boycott" and "nonimportation" were used to describe prohibitions of imports or ship entries, and "nonintercourse" was used to describe a total prohibition of trade with a nation. But the word "embargo" also was used generically to refer to all stoppages of trade.

Environmental Diplomacy

Environmental diplomacy can be broken into two general categories: conventions regulating the use of natural resources, and conventions regulating pollution. In each case, the central problem is that political boundaries rarely reflect biological boundaries, so that as national economies consume resources and produce pollution, they spread environmental problems far beyond their national boundaries.


"American exceptionalism" is a term used to describe the belief that the United States is an extraordinary nation with a special role to play in human history; a nation that is not only unique but also superior. Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to use the term "exceptional" to describe the United States and the American people in his classic work Democracy in America (1835–1840), but the idea of America as an exceptional entity can be traced back to the earliest colonial times.


A vital function of American diplomacy is the protection of persons, property, and trade interests of U.S. citizens, both native-born and naturalized, in foreign countries.

Foreign Aid

The United States government first recognized the usefulness of foreign aid as a tool of diplomacy in World War II. Such a program, policymakers believed, would fulfill three goals: it would furnish humanitarian assistance to needy peoples, it would promote liberal capitalist models of development in other countries, and it would enhance national security.

Freedom of the Seas

Freedom of the seas is one of the original and most important principles in the history of American foreign policy. American statesmen have, in essence, defined it as the right of all peoples to travel unmolested in international waters in both war and peace.


Although historians have been studying gender for several decades, the study of gender in American foreign policy is a relatively new phenomenon. Indeed, the proliferation of scholarship on this topic in the 1990s suggests that gender has become a permanent and theoretically significant category of analysis for the historian of American foreign relations.


Globalization became a buzzword following the end of the Cold War, but the phenomenon has long been a factor in the foreign relations of the United States and has deep roots in history. To the extent that it meant the expansion of trade and investments, it can be defined as economic expansion, as in the transition from territorial expansion in the nineteenth century to the increasing internationalization of markets in the twentieth century.

Humanitarian Intervention and Relief

The phrase "humanitarian intervention and relief" reflects recent usage. Yet the types of activities that it incorporates have a long history.

Human Rights

Since its inception as an independent nation, the United States has claimed a special relationship with the issue of human rights. When Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, he captured—as well as spoke to—the yearnings of the colonists along the eastern seaboard of North America to break free from tyrannical rule across the Atlantic Ocean.


In the last few decades of the twentieth century diplomatic historians increasingly turned their attention to the study of ideology. Previously scholars had largely ignored ideology, choosing instead to focus upon economic or political interests in their explanations.


Immigration and immigration policy have been an integral part of the American polity since the early years of the American Republic. Until late in the nineteenth century it had been the aim of American policy, and thus its diplomacy, to facilitate the entrance of free immigrants.


Imperialism, in its most precise traditional usage, means the forcible extension of governmental control over foreign areas not designated for incorporation as integral parts of the nation. The term is commonly used to mean any significant degree of national influence, public or private, over other societies; but to some it refers principally to foreign economic exploitation with or without other actions.

Intelligence and Counterintelligence

Observers over the years have provided many definitions for the term "intelligence." Many of these definitions are burdensome, or technical, or drawn directly from the term of art. Intelligence is simply information, gathered however necessary and arranged in such fashion as to be of use to those who require it.


Internationalism in American foreign policy has had different meanings for nearly every generation of citizens and diplomats. It has been associated with all forms of external contact with the world, the relationships becoming more extensive and political with the passage of time.

International Law

International law is the body of customs, principles, and rules recognized as effectively binding legal obligations by sovereign states and other international actors. International law stems from three main sources: treaties and international conventions, customs and customary usage, and the generally accepted principles of law and equity.

International Monetary Fund and World Bank

If the success of institutions were judged by the breadth and passion of their critics, then both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) would count among the most effective multilateral organizations in the world. Beginning in the late 1990s it became an annual ritual for tens of thousands of anti-globalization protesters to descend upon Washington, D.C., in late September to disrupt their annual meetings.

International Organization

International organizations (IOs) serve as crucial forces of coordination and cooperation on many political, economic, social, military and cultural issues. Aside from the traditional domination of international politics by established or recently codified nation-states, IOs are important participants of the international system.

Intervention and Nonintervention

Analysis of the intervention and nonintervention theories and practices of the United States requires examination of four distinct facets of the issue. They are the theory underlying the use of intervention in international relations, the policy doctrines proclaimed by the United States regarding intervention, the international law regarding the legality of intervention, and the actual practice of intervention adopted by the United States.


The term "isolationism" has been used—most often in derogation—to designate the attitudes and policies of those Americans who have urged the continued adherence in the twentieth century to what they conceived to have been the key element of American foreign policy in the nineteenth century, that is, the avoidance of political and military commitments to or alliances with foreign powers, particularly those of Europe. It was most nearly applicable to American policy between the two world wars, especially after 1935, when the U.S.

Judiciary Power and Practice

The words "foreign policy" and "foreign affairs" do not appear in the U.S. Constitution, and there is nothing in the document to suggest that the three branches of government should treat this policy area any differently than others.

Loans and Debt Resolution

Problems arising from unpaid debts owed by foreign governments to private bankers and, later, to international agencies, troubled American policymakers during the twentieth century. Initial concerns arose regarding the political motives of European governments who sought to employ their military forces to enforce repayment of financial debts incurred by South American and Central American countries.

Mandates and Trusteeships

Mandates and trusteeships have played an important role in the evolution of U.S. diplomacy and perceptions of the foreign policy process.


Near the turn of the twentieth century, Secretary of War Elihu Root told a Chicago audience: "We are a peaceful, not a military people, but we are made of fighting fiber and whenever fighting is by hard necessity the business of the hour we always do it as becomes the children of great, warlike races." Theodore Roosevelt's admonition, "Speak softly and carry a big stick," says it more succinctly, and the great seal of the United States with an eagle clutching both an olive branch and thirteen arrows expresses the idea symbolically. The history of the United States offers many examples of the nation at peace and war, speaking softly while carrying a big stick.

The Military-Industrial Complex

Probably no presidential farewell address since that of George Washington in 1796 has had a greater impact or more lasting quality than that of Dwight Eisenhower in 1961. Washington's is remembered mainly for his warnings against political factions and foreign alliances.

Most-Favored-Nation Principle

From its inception, the United States has incorporated the most-favored-nation (MFN) principle into its trade policy. Until 1923 it adhered to its conditional form and thereafter to unconditional MFN treatment.

Multinational Corporations

The influence of multinational corporations on U.S. foreign policy is complex, but, generally speaking, they have not played a major role in the formulation and execution of foreign policy.

The Munich Analogy

At the Munich Conference of 1938, France and England followed a policy of appeasement toward Adolf Hitler, choosing not to challenge him on his takeover of Czechoslovakia in the hope that German aggression toward neighboring states would stop there and that war in Europe could be averted. The failure of this appeasement approach in preventing the outbreak of World War II subsequently made the Munich agreement a metaphor for weakness in foreign policy, and the "lesson" of the Munich Conference has permeated the American political world ever since.

Narcotics Policy

Efforts to control the production of and traffic in illicit drugs, commonly referred to as "the war on drugs," seem like a relatively recent phenomenon. The visibility of struggles since the late 1970s against drug organizations, or "cartels," based in the prosperous Colombian cities of Cali and Medellín did much to shape that perception.

The National Interest

No concept in the history of American foreign policy has been more contentious than the "national interest." Both words in the phrase are troublesome. "National" implies something the entire nation can rally around; hence, the phrase often serves as a summons to patriotism.


Nationalism suffers from confusion both over the meaning of the term and over its role in the modern world. Its antecedents may be found in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, with the rise of the nation-state under dynastic rule, but its ideology and vitality are no older than the late eighteenth century, the period of the American and French revolutions.

National Security Council

The National Security Council (NSC) has been a ubiquitous presence in the world of foreign policy since its creation in 1947. In light of the tension between the Soviet Union and the United States, policymakers felt that the diplomacy of the State Department was no longer adequate to contain the USSR.


Nativism is a construct scholars employ to explain hostility and intense opposition to an internal minority on the grounds of its imputed foreign connections. Appearing in three basic forms in American history, nativism was first characterized by antagonism toward Catholics during colonial and early national eras.

Naval Diplomacy

The history of American naval diplomacy may be divided into three periods that correspond to technical developments in naval warfare and with the changing situation of the United States in world affairs. During the first century of the nation's history, when the United States enjoyed considerable security provided by the oceans separating it from Europe and Asia, its naval forces were largely directed toward protecting American merchants, missionaries, and government officials in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.


The term "neutralism" is not new to the lexicon of international relations, but in the Cold War world, divided into two competing blocs, this word assumed new meaning. For its first century and a half as a nation, the United States, under the guise of isolationism, practiced its own form of neutralism, shunning political and military involvement with the European powers and invoking its neutrality according to international law in wartime.


The term "neutrality" is generally used to designate the legal status under international law of a sovereign state that seeks to avoid involvement in an armed conflict between belligerent states, protect its rights, and exercise its responsibilities as a neutral. Consequently, a neutral state under international law or practice asserts that it has the right to remain at peace and prohibit sovereign acts by belligerents within its jurisdiction, and also a responsibility to treat belligerents impartially.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was founded on 4 April 1949 in Washington, D.C. On behalf of the United States, the North Atlantic Treaty was signed by Dean Acheson, secretary of state throughout President Harry S.

Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy

On 6 August 1945 a single atomic bomb (A-bomb) dropped from an American B-29 bomber, named Enola Gay after the pilot's mother, leveled the Japanese city of Hiroshima and killed well over 80,000 residents. Three days later a second bomb smashed Nagasaki, exterminating 60,000 inhabitants.