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15. Global Politics: U.S.A. and the World, Topic Overview
Topic Overview Using the Video Readings Critical Thinking Activity Web-Based Resources




Topic Overview Unit 15

Global Politics: USA and the World

Learning Objectives

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • Describe some alternative versions of America's role in the world.

  • Outline some of the new challenges that globalization has brought.

  • Identify and illustrate the principal tools of international diplomacy.

  • Describe the rise of non-governmental organizations as actors on the world stage.

Unit 15 discusses the ever-changing subject of the United States and its place in the larger world. As the unit demonstrates, the rapid pace of globalization, the easy flow across national borders of capital and even enterprises, and the rise of sometimes powerful world actors know as non-governmental organizations, have created a new and rapidly changing political environment.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the United States became the sole superpower among the world's nations. Superpower status confers on the U.S. opportunities to shape world events in ways that promote our interests and the interests of our allies, but it also obligates us to act responsibly. As such, the U.S. cannot simply withdraw from the world stage.

Like all nations, the U.S. has long used its diplomatic relations with other nations and international organizations to formulate and implement foreign policy. As binding agreements among nations, treaties remain a central tool among representatives of the world's nations to uphold shared interests and obligations. Specific treaties, including those that created international organizations like the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), continue to be a mainstay of foreign policy.

Another tool available to the U.S. foreign policy establishment, particularly the president and his Secretary of State, is diplomatic recognition. By recognizing and receiving their ambassadors, the U.S. confers on other countries a degree of legitimacy and support. The cost of such recognition includes those countries' minimum adherence to the precepts of international law and the normal relations among recognized nation-states.

A third tool of foreign policy is foreign aid, in which the U.S. supports other countries monetarily through gifts, grants, and loans, and through technical and human resource assistance. Polls show that a majority of the American public overestimates the total amount of foreign aid provided by the U.S. to other countries. The actual total is less than one percent of the whole U.S. yearly budget. Many who think we give too much in foreign aid question what the U.S. gets in return for its investment.

Military force, or the threat of military force, is a fourth tool of foreign policy. During the Cold War, the U.S. relied heavily on a policy of containment, which used military and economic pressure to hold Soviet power in check. On several occasions, including Korea in the 1950s and Vietnam in the 1960s through middle 1970s, the U.S. resorted to massive military force to check communist insurrections backed by the Soviet Union and China. The Cold War's end brought new challenges and uses for U.S. military power, and on several occasions the military was committed to peacekeeping and nation-building activities.

An increasingly important tool of foreign policy is international trade, in which nations participate in a market system of imports and exports with other nations. For most of our history, nations erected high tariffs, or taxes, to lessen the effects of foreign products on domestic economies. However, the world economy has become far more interdependent and the health of the U.S. economy depends increasingly on the health of its trading partners. Trade policy remains critical as the U.S. seeks ways to reduce trade barriers through regional and international agreements such as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Still, substantial barriers remain in the form of tariffs, quotas, and production subsidies, as nations seek to protect their own domestic economies from the effects of lower-cost production of goods in other nations.

In the post Cold War era, U.S. foreign policy has accommodated and responded to the growth of internationally based non-governmental organizations (NGOs), many of which deal with human rights or environmental issues. Sometimes these NGOs work with governments to pursue common objectives, and sometimes they oppose the policies of nation-states.


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