’17s Debate U.S. Foreign Policy Trends

On Thursday the 21st, after a semester of discussing policy and current events as they pertain to foreign nations, the ’17s participated in an interesting discussion on the foreign policy of the United States, with a series of four prompts guiding the discussion. The prompts and respective consensuses were as follows:

  • The U.S. maintains a very “20th-century-esque” outlook when developing policy (i.e. “you’re either with us or against us”, etc)

The consensus: As the Cold War receded in the rearview mirror and nations become increasingly interdependent (see discussion point #3 for more on this topic), the concept of a political enemy, with the exception of terrorist organizations, morphed into the concept of competitors, usually economic. During the Cold War, the global struggles were very much a zero-sum game, whereas present tensions between major world players, namely U.S. and China, are of economic competition, and due to balances of trade both nations would suffer if one or the other were to lose influence.

Additionally, recent developments in the oil market have allowed the United States to become more independent, opening a new realm of policy moves that were not viable when the availability of fossil fuels was in question.

 2) Alliances between nations can have different levels of obligation on the part of one or both/all parties and still be successful (i.e. purely economic or purely political relationships– not necessarily an “all-in” agreement). To further clarify this idea we asked if strong nations were obligated to protect vital interests of their allies, esp. weaker allies? Does this apply if vital interests in question are not necessarily shared interests?

The consensus: Vital interests of the United States should always be prioritized over the interests of other nations; especially interests directly concerned with the safety of the U.S. are also in question. Additionally, this point also sparked an interesting discussion of what exactly are the vital interests of the U.S., and whether they’re subject to negotiation. However, vital interests are inherently non-negotiable, therefore the debate turned to the subject of whether or not current highly contested vital interests were actually vital interests at all, or more just pressing matters and obligations that do not directly pose a threat to the safety of the United States.

3) Isolationism is an outdated mode of foreign policy. By extension, is an isolationist nation a weak nation (on the global scale)?

 The consensus: Outsourcing, offshoring, and the rapid rise of social media have all created a global culture in which it is no longer viable for nations to be completely disconnected from the rest of the international community. Major players have become increasingly more invested in the success of their counterparts as economic interests overlap, the United States and China being the most obvious example. Additionally, as the United States is often the nation who sets the precedent for the rest of the world to follow, the U.S. finds itself holding a unique sort of power that would be disadvantageous, if not dangerous, to forgo.

4) The objective of fostering democracy in developing/struggling nations is necessary, and largely beneficial facet of U.S. foreign policy

 The consensus: This prompt led to by far the most lively debate among the ’17s. The agreement reached was that democratic revolutions, to be successful, must be popular revolutions, and popular among a large majority of citizens of a nation. Unwanted third-party intervention in order to foster democracy in less-than-ideal situations often proves to be a band-aid solution (often ultimately leading to long-term instability) to larger issues rooted in not only the political system, but also the economy and social landscape of a nation.


Hallie Griffiths –

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