Post–cold War Policy

Richard A. Melanson

While the precise dates that marked the beginning and the end of the Cold War remain the subjects of scholarly debate, the era's major foreign policy focus was unambiguous: containing the spread of Soviet power and international communism by supporting friendly governments with aid, arms, and, occasionally, troops; deterring nuclear attacks on the United States and its allies; and supporting economic institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund created at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944. Deprived of a global enemy, American foreign policy since the Cold War seemingly became more diffuse, perhaps even incoherent. But, though political elites awaited the arrival of a reincarnated "X" (the pseudonym senior State Department official George F. Kennan used in his famous article on the strategy of containment in 1947) to articulate a crystalline, new strategy, several discernible and related themes and concepts have, nevertheless, characterized post–Cold War American foreign policy.

At least six themes and concepts have steered U.S. foreign policy since the Cold War:

  1. the preservation of American global hegemony
  2. the fostering of globalization through the continued development of liberal international economic institutions
  3. the promotion of an ever-growing "zone of democratic peace"
  4. the repeated employment of military power to ease humanitarian disasters
  5. the isolation and punishment of a handful of "rogue" states that allegedly threatened regional stability and American security;
  6. growing concerns about the vulnerability of the United States to attacks from these regimes as well as from transnational terrorist groups.

Efforts to formulate concrete policies from these themes and concepts have provoked both domestic and international dissent about their appropriateness and feasibility.


Berger, Samuel. "American Power: Hegemony, Isolationism, or Engagement." Remarks delivered at the Council on Foreign Relations, 21 October 1999.

Bowden, Mark. Black Hawk Down: A Study of Modern War. New York, 1999. Graphically describes the fire-fight that erupted in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, between U.S. forces and Somali clans on 3 October 1993.

Brilmayer, Lea. American Hegemony: Political Morality in a One-Superpower World. New Haven, Conn., 1994.

Brinkley, Douglas. "Democratic Enlargement: The Clinton Doctrine." Foreign Policy 106 (spring 1997): 111–127.

Brown, Michael E., Sean M. Lynn-Jones, and Steven E. Miller, eds. Debating the Democratic Peace: An International Security Reader. Cambridge, 1996.

Carothers, Thomas. "Democracy Promotion Under Clinton." Washington Quarterly 18 (summer 1995): 13–25.

Cox, Michael, G. John Ikenberry, and Takashi Inoguchi, eds. American Democracy Promotion: Impulses, Strategies, and Impacts. New York, 2000. An exceptionally valuable volume as an introduction to this issue.

Daalder, Ivo H., and Michael E. O'Hanlon. Winning Ugly: NATO's War to Save Kosovo. Washington, D.C., 2000.

Friedman, Thomas L. The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York, 1999. A spirited defense of globalization that is engagingly written.

Garten, Jeffrey E. The Big Ten: The Big Emerging Markets and How They Will Change Our Lives. New York, 1997.

Goodman, Melvin A. "The Case Against National Missile Defense." Journal of Homeland Defense (20 October 2000).

Hirsch, John L., and Robert B. Oakley. Somalia and Operation Restore Hope: Reflections on Peacemaking and Peacekeeping. Washington, D.C., 1995.

Holbrooke, Richard C. To End a War. New York, 1999. Holbrooke's valuable memoir on his efforts to end the war in Bosnia.

Joseph, Robert. "The Case for National Missile Defense." Journal of Homeland Defense (20 October 2000).

Kaplan, Lawrence F. "Offensive Line: Why the Best Offense Is a Good Missile Defense." New Republic (12 March 2001).

Klare, Michael. Rogue States and Nuclear Outlaws: America's Search for a New Foreign Policy. New York, 1995.

Lake, Anthony. "From Containment to Enlargement." Remarks delivered at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, 21 September 1993.

——. "Confronting Backlash States." Foreign Affairs 73 (March–April 1994): 45–55.

Layne, Christopher. "Rethinking American Grand Strategy: Hegemony or Balance of Power in the Twenty-First Century?" World Policy Journal 15 (summer 1998): 8–28.

Litwak, Robert. Rogue States and U.S. Foreign Policy: Containment After the Cold War. Baltimore, 2000.

Mandelbaum, Michael. "Foreign Policy as Social Work." Foreign Affairs 75 (January–February 1996): 16–32. A highly critical article about the Clinton administration's humanitarian interventions in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia that fully reflects the "realist" critique of these operations.

Melanson, Richard A. American Foreign Policy Since the Vietnam War: The Search for Consensus from Nixon to Clinton. Armonk, N.Y., 2000.

O'Sullivan, Meghan L. "Sanctioning 'Rogue' States: A Strategy in Decline?" Harvard International Review 22 (summer 2000): 56–61.

Rubin, Barry. "U.S. Foreign Policy and Rogue States." Middle East Review of International Affairs 3 (September 1999): 49–57.

Sachs, Jeffrey. "Unlocking the Mysteries of Globalization." Foreign Policy 110 (spring 1998): 97–111.

Stiglitz, Joseph. "The Insider." New Republic (17–24 April 2000). An article by a former senior official at the IMF criticizes that organization for its imperious policies toward developing countries.

Walker, Martin. "The New American Hegemony." World Policy Journal 13 (summer 1996): 13–21.

Waltz, Kenneth N. "Globalization and American Power." The National Interest 59 (spring 2000): 46–56. An article by a leading "realist" scholar that debunks globalization as a wildly exaggerated phenomenon that has done little to alter the ways states conduct their foreign policies.

See also Arms Control and Disarmament ; Cold War Evolution and Interpretations ; Cold War Origins ; Cold War Termination ; Cold Warriors ; Containment ; Environmental Diplomacy ; Globalization ; Humanitarian Intervention and Relief ; Internationalism ; International Monetary Fund and World Bank ; International Organization ; Nuclear Strategy and Diplomacy ; Power Politics ; Science and Technology ; Superpower Diplomacy ; Terrorism and Counterterrorism .

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic: