United States Foreign Policy

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The foreign policy of the United States of America traditionally oscillates between two opposing strategies, isolationism and internationalism , although the former has not been pursued since the end of the Second World War .

The USA is largely responsible for the establishment and continued existence of various intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations , NATO , the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund . In addition, a large number of global civil society actors operate from the territory of the United States.

Both the principles and the practice of foreign policy in the United States as the only remaining superpower with global interests since the collapse of the Soviet Union are the subject of controversial domestic and global discussions.

Initial geopolitical situation

US foreign policy is closely related to geopolitical paradigms , both historically and practically . These see a restriction and channeling of political action by geographical and topographical properties of the globe as a given and try to explain this. Geopolitical patterns of legitimation and interpretation are a constant of the foreign policy discourse in the USA, but they are not widely recognized and, above all, are controversial in idealistic theories of foreign policy. The American discourse reflects the international one, in which state-supporting and practically usable geopolitical knowledge predominate, but critical approaches are gaining in importance.

Geopolitical considerations found their way into foreign policy discussions from the 19th century and were initially fed by military circles. In this context, the publication The Influence of Sea Power upon History by the naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan , which he published in 1890, became known to a wider public . Using the example of the British Empire , Mahan suggested the orientation of the United States towards naval power . His work influenced the thinking of the later President Franklin D. Roosevelt significantly.

An increasingly civil geopolitical discourse began in the 20th century. At the time the United States entered the Second World War in response to the attack on Pearl Harbor , political scientist Nicholas J. Spykman was completing his America's Strategy in World Politics , the lack of an effective United States presence at sea and in countries across the Atlantic and of the Pacific, with the exception of the Philippines, postulated the vulnerability of the territory of the United States. Spykman himself used the ideas of the British geographer Halford Mackinder .

The discussion and deepening of geopolitical theories continued through the Cold War and will continue. So published Zbigniew Brzezinski , former national security adviser Jimmy Carter, in 1997, an influential overall design geopolitical instructions in his book The Grand Chessboard (German: "The Grand Chessboard") in which he Spykmans call for a "Far Eastern anchor" (Far Eastern Anchor) affirmed. Other important contemporary geopolitical theorists include Henry Kissinger and Colin Gray .


The rough guidelines for future US foreign policy emerged in the early stages of the United States. After independence from the British crown and failed attempts at conquering future Canadian territories in the British-American War of 1812, the USA sought reconciliation with the former colonial rulers. This succeeded in part, so that the USA wavered between rapprochement with Great Britain or with France , with which it had friendly relations and which the USA had supported against Great Britain. In general, US policy at the time stayed away from European trouble spots and focused on continental expansion and integration.

After several Spanish ex-colonies had declared independence, the United States proclaimed the Monroe Doctrine , which urged the European powers not to interfere on the two American continents. The continental expansion of the USA led to wars with Mexico , tensions with Great Britain over Oregon and with Spain over Florida and later also Cuba . During the civil war , the US accused Britain and France of supporting the Confederation . In addition, France was accused of improper influence in Mexico. On May 8, 1871, the United States and France signed the most far-reaching treaty to date between the two states, which resolved issues that arose during and after the war. Meanwhile, the American government's expectations of a decline in French influence in Mexico were crowned with success. The government of Napoleon III. came under increasing financial distress due to the occupation of Mexico. By 1867, 40,000 French soldiers had been withdrawn, and Maximilian , Napoleon III's governor. in Mexico, was executed by the US Secretary of State despite efforts to the contrary . Since Great Britain had refrained from military reconquest of American territories in 1815, the military dominance of the US armed forces on the continent had only been contested by the Indians .

From the beginning of the 20th century, the interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine changed decisively with the additions of President Theodore Roosevelt : From now on, the United States openly claimed hegemony in the western hemisphere . They tried to break the still existing European influence, especially in Latin America . When they saw fit, they intervened in South and Central America, often installing puppet governments . The construction of the Panama Canal and the leasing of the canal zone was one of the decisive prerequisites for Washington’s further expansion efforts in the Atlantic and Pacific regions.

The increasing development and rapidly advancing industrialization of the United States turned the government into foreign policy influence, which it directed primarily towards the establishment of trade agreements. They mainly occupied territories in the Pacific Ocean such as Hawaii and the Philippines and (together with European powers) forced the increasing opening of Japan and China .

During the First World War , the United States joined the Entente , but did not ally itself with its members because they did not identify with their ambitions for a victory peace . Rather, they saw in this conflict a "war that should end warfare" ( The war to end all wars ). The 14-point program of President Woodrow Wilson was also inspired by this idea , which envisaged the creation of a tension-free order in Europe with emphasis on the right of peoples to self-determination and free trade.

After the war, the United States became increasingly and consciously isolated from European affairs. Accordingly, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was only able to convince the population of their country's entry into World War II after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor , which then ultimately led to the victory of the Allies . As a result of the hitherto unknown horrors of this global conflict (especially the atomic bomb ), the United Nations was founded; the US became one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council . The idea for this organization was based on the Atlantic Charter , which was similar to Wilson's 14-point program. From the time of World War II, the "special relationship" (derived special relationship ) that maintain the US to the UK.

In the Cold War, which was already becoming apparent towards the end of World War II, the United States aimed at containment policy to contain the Soviet power and ultimately to dissolve it. This led to the Korean War , the Vietnam War and the opening of the People's Republic of China . By concentrating on the “ balance of horror ” caused by nuclear power , the USA had to solicit support for its side and offered other countries cooperation within the framework of various multinational organizations. The NATO guaranteed Western and Central Europe security, GATT , later, from the World Trade Organization emerged, offered the partners trade advantages.

With the Cuban Missile Crisis, a nuclear war with the direct involvement of the two great powers became more likely than at any other time in the East-West conflict. Soviet nuclear weapons threatened US territory for the first time from Cuba, which had only recently been dominated by communists. President John F. Kennedy succeeded in averting this danger by mutually dismantling nuclear missiles.

Due to domino theory , the US feared the transition of the countries of Southeast Asia to the Eastern Bloc . This led to the country's gradual involvement in the Vietnam War. Because the USA was unable to convert its military superiority into political success, it was ultimately defeated, so that the loss of the war turned into a military and domestic political turning point. A foreign policy constant of the United States is its broad moral, military ( e.g. in the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment 1997), political and economic support for the State of Israel since its foundation in 1948 and in particular since the Six Day War in 1967.

Despite strong anti-communist convictions, US President Richard Nixon largely pursued a policy of détente . This included v. a. the sometimes sensational revival of diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, which had cooled significantly due to their support for North Korea in the Korean War. Nixon also sought disarmament and supported German Ostpolitik .

Jimmy Carter's term of office was marked by the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union and the collapse of the American presence in Persia as a result of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which resulted in a hostage-taking in the American embassy in Tehran. The attempt at liberation failed and contributed greatly to Carter's election.

With the 1981 being occurred when President Ronald Reagan, the United States went back on a collision course with the Soviet Union, this as the " evil empire (" empire Evil hereinafter). His successful economic policy made it possible for him to expand the defense budget unprecedented. Above all, Reagan's space defense and “ Navy of 600 Ships ” programs sought a definitive military advantage over the Red Army . Due to internal inadequacies, but also because of the impossibility of continuing the arms race with the USA, the Soviet Union collapsed in the early 1990s. American interests, which in the meantime manifested themselves worldwide and broke the ground, seemed for the first time removed from any serious competition.

The invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops in 1990 led to the Second Gulf War and subsequently to the containment of the power of Iraq, which was still dictatorially ruled by Saddam Hussein , by an international coalition led by the USA ( We haven't finished the job ). President George Bush proclaimed a “ new world order ” against the background of the (supposed) US victory and the collapse of the Eastern bloc .

Bill Clinton , who replaced Bush as President in 1992, set different accents in foreign policy and dedicated himself to the implementation of international agreements. However, he was unable to evade the responsibility that came with the unrivaled abundance of power of the “only remaining superpower ”, so that numerous military interventions took place under his leadership. The first major nation-building experiment in Somalia failed, and Clinton had Sudan and Iraq bombed.

The USA intervened to end the war in Yugoslavia and the genocide (“ ethnic cleansing ”) associated with it in the Balkans .

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 were immediately seen as a turning point in US foreign policy: Washington heralded the " war on terror ", in whose name the Taliban in Afghanistan was overthrown that same year. On January 29, 2002, he added the term " axis of evil " to the political discourse. With this term Bush declared the states of Iraq, Iran and North Korea to be the states that had to be fought as a matter of priority because they developed weapons of mass destruction. The National Security Strategy announced in September 2002 succinctly sums up the grand design of US foreign policy. The possibility of intervening preemptively is at the center of criticism of the Bush doctrine . The right to intervene unilaterally and preemptively to protect one's interests is one of the fundamental principles of American foreign policy.

The preparations for the Iraq war can be seen as a turning point in international relations. In 2002/03, the unilateral US foreign policy caused the Iraq crisis in Europe in 2003 .

The era of George W. Bush was shaped by extensive hegemonic claims even into space ( National Space Policy ), justified a. a. as "benevolent imperialism" ( benevolent imperialism ), by partially open unilateralism , by contempt of obsolete criticized international law and its institutions , especially the United Nations, as well as an associated global footprint (also and especially in countries of the former Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia ; see  NATO eastward expansion ), which - especially with regard to the military component - often resulted in fears that the empire would be overstretched ( imperial overstretch ). The confrontational foreign policy found its supporters especially in the area of neoconservatism in the USA.

On June 21, 2019, President Donald Trump reportedly ordered an attack on Iran, which he reportedly withdrew ten minutes before the order was carried out. It was only at this point that it appeared to him to be "disproportionate" to kill 150 people in retaliation for Iran shooting down a US drone. In an article in "Zeit" in September 2019 , Erich Follath , Georg Mascolo and Holger Stark rate the conflict with Iran as the "most dangerous conflict [...] of the present", as there is hardly a more explosive process than the uncontrolled proliferation of nuclear weapons , and in a region in which the very existence of the State of Israel is at stake.

Sources and Influences


The United States pursues a foreign policy with multifaceted goals that are not consistently compatible with one another. The background to this contradiction is the large number of both state and civil society actors at home and abroad who shape the formulation of goals and the implementation of foreign policy directly or indirectly influence this design. Robert Jervis describes this complexity as “ pluralism with a vengeance” .

Idealistic formulation of goals

The objectives of American diplomacy are shaped by strong convictions that stem from its constitutional phase. Origin of these principles are the one hand, Protestant and also enlightening motivated convictions of the Pilgrim Fathers ( Pilgrim fathers ) and the founding fathers ( founding fathers ), which in the relatively homogeneous settler colony before the outbreak of the American Revolution were widespread and contributed as an ideological basis for his outburst. Out of the respective context, realpolitical interests are added to these idealistic interests, which often lead to tensions between the demands and the reality of American foreign policy.

The determining concept of value is that of unconditional sovereignty, the tradition of which is fed by the economic exploitation and political tutelage of the colonies by the British crown.

The product of this development is the striving for the worldwide realization of human rights without ethical relativization . Concretely, this leads to the establishment and stabilization of functioning constitutional orders that are supposed to guarantee the freedom of all people, v. a. the expression and freedom of belief . The right to property is seen as just as important, which is why the US is striving to achieve global free trade and a worldwide market economy . These values ​​are preceded by the unconditional preservation of the republican form of government , an effect of utilitarianism, which is influential in the Anglo-Saxon culture .

Thomas Jefferson was e.g. B. believe that the United States was created to be a "kingdom of freedom" ( Empire of liberty to build). Due to the relative isolation of the USA from the European trouble spots, these ideas were able to gain a foothold and were not subjected to a turning point due to the absence of military conflicts on American territory, such as the development of postmodern values ​​in post-war Europe .

The current internal American debate revolves around the question of whether the United States should strive for a Pax Americana , and whether this can be achieved at all. It is also questionable whether the USA's lead in power on a broad spectrum is of greater long-term advantage and can or should be maintained in the long term.


United States Security Policy Organization Chart

The establishment of the USA as a presidential republic means that the president is the fundamental foreign policy institution. In addition, he is the commander in chief of the armed forces. As such, he has the authority to dispatch troops for up to 60 days without the approval of Congress . However, only he can officially recognize the state of war and declare it formally. In addition, every foreign policy agreement must be ratified by the Senate.

Legislative control over foreign policy, e.g. As on the financing of intelligence programs, the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs ( Senate Committee on Foreign Relations ) or the Committee of the House of International Relations ( Committee on International Relations ) held. The general defense budget requires the approval of the Senate.

Unlike z. For example, in the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany , neither foreign ministers nor defense ministers are anchored in the constitution , all ministerial offices bear the title of “ secretary ”. However, due to various laws and edicts, they are fixed institutions in everyday political life in the USA.

The main foreign policy actor is the Foreign Secretary, currently Mike Pompeo . The president will consult in foreign policy official of a domestic body, the National Security Council ( National Security Council ), which also includes the defense minister (currently James Mattis ).

As a result of the strong association system in the country, an intellectual elite focused specifically on foreign policy has developed, especially in the American capital Washington, in which, however, many veterans of the armed forces also participate. An almost unmanageable network of political science foundations, think tanks , university faculties and representatives of defense-related industries advertises in politics and business for relationships, donations and tax exemptions and, in exchange, offers elaborated options and maxims in the field of international relations. Government employees, public sector contractors and ambassadors are often recruited from this network . Associations that strive for transparency in politics criticize this as a military-industrial complex , since the shaping of foreign policy is wrested from politics and thus eludes the legitimation of the voters. They also fear that this will shift the interests of American foreign policy from the common good to the benefit of the political elites and the arms industry. As the outgoing president, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the risks of such a military-industrial complex in 1961 .

A constant of American foreign policy is the comparatively strong involvement of the armed forces in diplomatic functions, which is known as military diplomacy . This is carried out primarily by high-ranking officers and staff members of the Unified Combatant Commands . For a long time, however, experts like Kori Schake have criticized the simultaneous underprivileging of civil diplomacy and development cooperation , to which the Congress responded in the period from 2003 to 2011 with budget increases totaling 155 percent and a staffing increase of 50 percent for the Foreign Ministry and the development cooperation agency responded.

Domestic political influences

The United States Constitution never provided for an actual State Department ; the State Department always had domestic political responsibilities. Compared to the vice-president, who sometimes came from a different party than the president, the secretaries of state were often filled by potential or actual later successors from within their own camp. Former Secretaries of State were the later Presidents Thomas Jefferson, James Madison , James Monroe , John Quincy Adams , Martin Van Buren and James Buchanan , the former Foreign Ministers Henry Clay , Daniel Webster , John C. Calhoun , ran unsuccessfully for the office of President Lewis Cass , William H. Seward , James G. Blaine , Walter Q. Gresham , John Sherman , Elihu Root , William Jennings Bryan , Charles Evans Hughes , Cordell Hull , Edmund Muskie, and Alexander Haig . In the presidential election in 2016 aims Hillary Clinton to the presidency.

Economic aspects have an important influence on foreign policy in individual states, so conservative senators from the agrarian Corn Belt were also leading in the policy of détente. In addition, naturalized Americans with an Irish, Italian, Armenian, Latin American and Cuban background are important for individual aspects of foreign policy because of their political activities. Confessional backgrounds and minorities played a role for John F. Kennedy as the only hitherto Catholic president, for example through Christian rights and the various Jewish minorities in relations with Israel. The founding of states like Liberia and Panama can be traced back directly to American domestic political disputes and economic interests.

With Madeleine Albright as a native of Eastern Europe and first wife, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as the first Afro-Americans, and Hillary Clinton as the current president's main competitor, the domestic affairs of the highest offices in American foreign policy are still central, even for younger occupations. When filling the embassy posts, too, domestic or party political merits are particularly important, which has been and is repeatedly criticized on the basis of official patronage .

The State Department is occasionally behind the Department of Defense due to the central role of the American military and the diverse military-style security relationships. A consistently planned and coordinated uniform American foreign policy is occasionally suspected, also in the context of conspiracy theories. In view of the intense lack of competence and very divergent interests, this is not the case. Since the beginning of American democracy, the American public and press have played a central role in foreign policy measures, which have sometimes led to short-term and hasty foreign policy measures, but also - for example, with the withdrawal from Vietnam or the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland - has an important control and balancing function .

Security policy

Origin of current security policy

The security policy of the United States in the nuclear age is since the beginning of the Cold War from both materially and psychologically dominated paradigm of national security (national security) dominates. Sarkesian et al. a. define this term, with reference to the US, as the "ability of national institutions to discourage or subordinate belief in the use of force to the detriment [of the United States] or its interests". This term also includes primarily civil political goods of the state, such as industrial or agricultural capacities, provided that they are subject to a latent threat risk. Because of this tendency, English-language political science also describes the USA as the national security state (German, roughly: "State of national security").

The classification of the United States as a national security state is undisputed, but the meaning and proportionality of such a security concept are primarily subject to academic controversy. Already during the Cold War, US constitutional lawyers like Marcus G. Raskin in particular accused the country's security policy elites of inappropriately strengthening the executive power of the state at the expense of the legislature with their focus on national security, and thus ultimately undermining democracy .

Both with regard to constitutional concerns and the overall strategic planning and implementation of US security policy, both elites and observers note parallels with the Roman Empire . Linked to this are, for example, debates about any imperial features of American foreign policy. The most important sub-debate about the concept of national security is the controversy about the defense-political-industrial base, which critics call a military-industrial complex .

As the driving force behind the founding of NATO, the USA coordinated its security policy with that of the allies and played a key role in the formulation of various NATO strategies. This applies in particular to the question of what role the option should play in a serious international crisis and after the start of a conflict in which conventional weapons are used, nuclear weapons from the USA (or the United Kingdom and France as co-nuclear powers under NATO -Member States) should play. Art. 5 of the NATO Treaty is of particular importance for the role of NATO members (including the USA). In this all NATO member states undertake to provide assistance to a member attacked on their territory. This provision became effective in practice after September 11, 2001, following the declaration of the "war on terror" by President George W. Bush.


The legal and institutional framework of this security system goes back mainly to the National Security Act of 1947 .

The core of US security policy is the armed forces of the United States , the world's most powerful military. These serve primarily as a deterrent, but also as a crisis response force. The armed forces are theoretically capable of waging war in multiple arenas outside their own country without the involvement of allies. In a three-stage cycle of deployment, crisis preparedness, and maintenance, several aircraft carrier combat groups are on standby to perform this function with their affiliated aircraft squadrons and naval expedition units of the United States Marine Corps . In addition, the US armed forces have a global network of military bases in over 20 and other military facilities in over 130 countries around the world and a dense network of military reconnaissance facilities, from ground to space. In military terms they are superior to any other country on earth.

Territorial military-political division of the globe by the armed forces of the United States. The AFRICOM should be operational by in 2008.

The close interlinking of the country's security and foreign policy can be seen in the geographic command structure of the armed forces. Internally, the military has nine so-called Unified Combatant Commands , which have synergetic, cross-armed forces competencies. Five of them are subordinate to parts of the globe that are oriented towards the spheres of interest of the United States. For example, the United States Southern Command is entrusted with the command of all armed forces in South America . It bears the brunt of the American effort in the war on drugs , the largest buyers of which are the metropolitan areas of the United States . The entire Middle East was also subordinated to a single UCC , the US Central Command . The upgrading of Africa in defense policy through the creation of the US Africa Command is also striking . This corresponds to the growing interest of the United States in this continent. In the course of the expansion of this command structure, the armed forces are tasked with diplomatic processes more than average. This US inclination is known as military diplomacy .

In addition, no fewer than 17 secret services, which are combined in the United States Intelligence Community , are entrusted with the protection of the constitution and the republic. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is particularly exposed and known worldwide . Their history, from which their unsuccessful operations in particular became known, as well as their enormous political influence in places have damaged the image of the authority. The CIA is forbidden to operate domestically; this is reserved for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with which the CIA cooperates.

The National Security Agency is far better equipped, however . However, since it restricts itself to monitoring telecommunications worldwide and does not conduct any operations, it is not as much in the public eye as the CIA. The Drug Enforcement Administration , which also operates in the War on Drugs , is also relevant .

Doctrines and Military Strategies

The objectives of American security policy are now fixed in an institutionalized hierarchy of doctrines. First and foremost is the United States' National Security Strategy . It is followed by the National Defense Strategy and the National Military Strategy . This main axis of foreign and security policy is supplemented by a large number of publications, such as the various presidential doctrines of the last decades.

Its nuclear strategies are of particular importance for the security policy of the USA . After World War II, the United States pursued a policy of massive retaliation . Whichever state should attack the USA had to expect the use of nuclear weapons on the territory of the aggressor. During the Korean War 1950–1953, US military circles seriously considered using atomic bombs on North Korea's territory. At the same time, it became apparent that possession of atomic bombs does not provide sufficient protection against attacks with conventional weapons. The strategy of massive retaliation was replaced by the strategy of flexible response in 1961 . Even after a war with conventional weapons has broken out, it should be possible to limit the fighting and to prevent an escalation to the level of the use of global strategic nuclear weapons. This strategy was decisive for NATO until the end of the Cold War.

Since the USA asserted an interest in the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons until 2016 , its “ nuclear umbrella ” should also protect NATO member states without their own nuclear weapons. In the course of the retrofitting debate from 1979 in Germany, it was doubted whether the USA would actually be ready to have its own territory destroyed by intercontinental strategic nuclear weapons after deploying "Euro-strategic" medium-range missiles by the Soviet Union. The retrofitting debate culminated in the INF Treaty signed by George HW Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, which prescribed the complete destruction of medium and short-range nuclear weapons in Europe.

The contract was terminated by the USA on February 1, 2019 with the planned 6-month notice period. They had previously accused Russia , the legal successor of the Soviet Union, of violating the agreement with new land-based cruise missiles that exceeded this range. Russia, on the other hand, accused the USA of violating the treaty since 1999 and of deploying medium-range missiles in Eastern Europe. Russia had already declared in 2007 that the treaty no longer corresponds to its interests, and on February 2, 2019, it announced that it would also leave the treaty by August 2019. On August 2, 2019, the US and Russia officially declared the INF disarmament treaty to be over.

While Barack Obama made the “goal of a world without nuclear weapons” his program immediately after taking office in 2009, the Trump administration is striving to expand its arsenal in order to meet the new threat situation in the world, especially from the resurgent Russia. On September 5, 2017, Trump also "allowed" South Korea and Japan "to buy a greatly increased number of highly developed armaments from the US." During his presidential campaign in 2016, Trump said he thought it would be better for allies like Japan or South Korea to have nuclear weapons.

Spheres of interest

Because of its abundance of power and its claim to validity, the USA is expected to become involved in every matter of international relations . For this reason, it is not possible to delineate important spheres of interest from less important ones for the foreign policy of the United States. Nevertheless, there is and has always been a focus on certain regions and topics.

Latin America

The original addressee of American foreign policy since the existence of the United States has been Latin America. This goes back to the foreign policy doctrine of President Monroe , according to which the United States would stay out of European affairs if the major European powers also did the same on the American double continent . The meeting of the political rise of the United States with disintegration of the Spanish colonial empire, Latin America developed into the proverbial "backyard" (English. Backyard ) of the North American country.

The United States is particularly sensitive to political changes in Latin America. While they initially supported Simón Bolívar's commitment as a liberation fighter, reformer and politician of the republic against the outmoded Spanish monarchy, during the Cold War they did not tolerate any of the governments perceived as politically left-wing, which mostly referred to Bolívar, and supported them under this premise right-wing authoritarian regimes and military dictatorships (see for example Kirkpatrick Doctrine ).

A major US foreign policy effort in Latin America is the war on drug trafficking. The United States has struggled with excessive drug use, especially in its metropolitan areas, for decades. The US military's regional command responsible for Latin America coordinates military measures for the Caribbean and Central America .

middle East

In the Middle East , the former colonial powers such as the British Empire and Ottoman Empire as well as France and Great Britain were replaced as mandate powers in the course of the 20th century . The German great power aspirations had both direct and indirect significant effects on the area. With the failure of the former powers during the Suez crisis in 1954, the USA increasingly replaced them. Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states are important allies of the US but are enemies with one another. American support for Shah Reza Pahlevi made Iran a key adversary after the Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution . The substantial support of the terrorist organization Al-Qaeda from the Middle East also makes the region a constant topic of American foreign policy.

In the light of increased hijackings and acts of terrorism related to the Middle East, on July 19, 1985, President Ronald Reagan ordered a national program against terrorism in civil aviation. Three days later, he established an anti-terrorism working group under Vice President George HW Bush, which created profiles of terrorist groups and a program. On January 20, 1986, Reagan launched this first national program to combat domestic and global terrorism. It stipulated that the defense potential should be strengthened without compromising human and democratic values. President Bill Clinton took up this and decreed the first national counter-terrorism policy on June 21, 1995: Terrorism is a threat to national security and a criminal act that must be averted or punished with all power.

In 1998, a group of researchers and journalists first published a fictional memorandum to President Bill Clinton asking whether America needed a transnational policy towards “Islam”. This was made more concrete under the point of how such an Islamic policy towards the internal government in Islamic countries should be oriented, for example through intervention, pressure and engagement with the opposition. As an illustration, the fifth sub-item 5 / D states whether, for example, the American government should urge the then President of Egypt, Husni Mubarak , to share power with the Muslim Brotherhood, and whether Washington should start its own dialogue with this group in its diplomacy.

Important steps in the Middle East conflict under American aegis were the Camp David Agreement between Israel and Egypt and the Oslo Agreement . The United States criticizes the Israeli settlement building on the West Bank and the associated occupation of the West Bank. Convictions of Israeli military actions against Palestinian targets at the United Nations mostly come about through an abstention from the US veto power in the Security Council . At the same time, they are calling for the Palestinians to turn away from terrorist violence and for a modernization of Arab societies, which so far has only taken place in parts.

From 2011 to 2018 the US was a participant in the civil war in Syria .

In the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran over hegemony in the Middle East, President Donald Trump positioned himself on the side of Saudi Arabia in 2017.

East asia

The American policy of containment (instead of an active rollback policy ) goes back to President Truman like the American diplomat George F. Kennan and was a first approach to the later détente policy. The USA supports the southern part of Korea, which was divided as a result of the Korean War, such as the Republic of China on the island of Taiwan, which is not recognized (officially out of consideration for the PRC) . In the course of the security policy dependence of these states, the USA gradually implemented economic and socio-political reforms in these countries. Above all, the success of economic liberalization motivated many Southeast Asian states to imitate it, with similar success.

After the end of the Cold War, the Asian crisis and the large foreign exchange reserves of various East Asian central banks made East Asia particularly important for financial policy. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 , security policy came back into focus. Since then, the United States has been working even more closely with Australia, which also feels threatened by Islamist terrorism due to a number of serious attacks. The USA has a similarly intensive cooperation in its anti-terrorism efforts with Southeast Asian countries in which a high proportion of Muslims live.

A rapprochement with the People's Republic of China took place under President Nixon in particular as part of what is known as ping-pong diplomacy . However, due to the real increase in power since the economic reforms under Deng Xiaoping , the threat to Taiwan from the one-China policy and the lack of transparency in Chinese politics, tensions regularly arise, in addition to the US's increased financial dependence on China since the 1990s.


The United States established itself politically, militarily and morally in the Pacific Ocean through the Pacific War against the Japanese Empire , which was waged as part of World War II . The San Francisco Peace Treaty and the Treaty on Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America were important steps . Due to two opposing tendencies in Japanese politics, the island country became dependent on the United States in terms of security policy: On the one hand, Japanese society's desire for pacification was a long consensus, on the other hand it shared the perception of a threat from the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China.

Diplomatic relations


Allies of the USA in three grades Dark blue: NATO, light blue: so-called major-non-NATO-allies; most important allies outside of NATO; Light green: Members of the Partnership for Peace

The United States is a founding member of NATO, currently the leading military alliance . It currently has 28 members from large parts of Europe and Canada. According to the NATO charter, the US (like all other members) is obliged to stand by a member country if it is attacked. However, this only applies to European and North American territory, which is why the USA z. B. did not go to war on the UK side in the Falklands War.

Relations with Great Britain as a former colonial power and multiple opponent of the war are as changeable as German-American relations . In the wake of the Second World War, a special relationship arose between the United Kingdom and the United States , which also includes intensive exchanges in sensitive areas such as strategic planning, the execution of military operations, nuclear technology and secret services.

The secret services of Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA have been working closely together since the end of World War II, legitimized by the UKUSA agreement .

German-Americans like Carl Schurz and Henry Kissinger played a central role in American foreign policy, just as emigrants and immigrants from Germany have contributed significantly to the economic and scientific leadership of the USA to this day. Even after 1989, Germany remained a central location for the American military, and the exchange between West German intelligence services and the economic link with the USA is and was extremely close. Of the 96,000 soldiers stationed in Europe, 64,300 are in Germany, around 10,500 each in Italy and the United Kingdom. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Germany served as a bridgehead and logistical hub to the crisis regions in geostrategic proximity to Europe.

Map of the United States' main allies who are not members of NATO.

For various reasons, the US is also allied with countries outside of Europe. In addition to the originally purely are real political interests often idealistic motivated sympathies broader American population groups entered, for example, by a latent threat from the respective neighboring countries. The United States shares with South Korea the trauma of the Korean War and the fear of the conquest of the southern half of the Korean peninsula by the highly armed communist north. Japan also feels threatened by North Korea; the unresolved legacy of World War II is weighing on its relations with China. The USA is trying to prevent the People's Republic from implementing its one-China policy by making concessions as well as by deterring and guaranteeing Taiwan . With Australia they share strategic interests in the Pacific region as well as common cultural roots. In addition to eight other countries, all of these countries have a legally established privileged position, the status of the so-called Major non-NATO ally ( roughly in English : “The main ally of the United States outside NATO”). There are also gradations between them, some of them have better relations with the US than some NATO members.

In addition, the USA is trying to bridge the culturally torn identity of Turkey through forced integration of the country into the West and thus position the country against Russia , Iran and Syria .

In 2005, George W. Bush and the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh signed an international agreement on far-reaching strategic cooperation between the two countries in civil nuclear energy . The agreement is potentially explosive because India never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty . In addition, the USA de facto legitimized the arbitrary acquisition of nuclear weapons by India, which manifested itself in the detonation of a nuclear weapon in 1974, although the USA wants to prevent Iran from a similar approach by all means .

In March 2006, the United States signed a treaty with Bulgaria to set up American bases in the country on the Black Sea , which has been a member of NATO since 2004. The agreement allows the USA exclusively (as opposed to a conceivable integration into NATO) to set up four bases that the USA will use together with the Bulgarian armed forces . The US wants to station at least 2500 soldiers in Bulgaria. The agreement is part of the United States' geostrategy to relocate bases in Western Europe to Central and Eastern Europe that were created during the Cold War against the Soviet Union.

In July 2018, German Chancellor Angela Merkel doubted that the US was still a reliable partner. "What we have taken to be quite natural for many decades, namely that the United States of America sees itself as the power of order for the whole world, for better and for worse, is no longer guaranteed for the future," said the Chancellor at their summer press conference in Berlin. The week before, US President Donald Trump had questioned NATO during his trip to Europe and called the European Union an opponent.

Diplomatic missions


Map of states with no official diplomatic relations with the United States

The United States has an extensive network of diplomatic missions . Almost every state in the world has an American embassy and is in turn represented by an agency in Washington DC, the capital of the USA. Few countries have no official relationship with the US:

  • BhutanBhutan Bhutan : Due to Bhutan's foreign policy neutrality and its foreign policy representation by India, the US ambassador to India is also responsible for its neighbor.
  • IranIran Iran : The Islamic Revolution and the failed attempt to free American hostages from the embassy in Tehran created ongoing tensions between the US and Iran. The Swiss ambassador acts as a mediator.
  • Korea NorthNorth Korea North Korea : The US has not recognized the Stalinist North Korea since the Korean War and its establishment and has given its neighbor South Korea massive support.
  • SomaliaSomalia Somalia : Somalia has had no stable government since the fall of Siad Barres in 1992.
  • SudanSudan Sudan : The Islamic fundamentalist government of Sudan is accused by the US of aggression against its neighbors and of supporting Islamist terrorism .
  • TaiwanRepublic of China (Taiwan) Taiwan : In order to avoid a confrontation with the People's Republic of China, the United States does not recognize the Republic of China (Taiwan), although friendly relations exist.
  • Western SaharaWestern Sahara Western Sahara : The US does not recognize the Democratic Arab Republic of the Sahara, or “Western Sahara” for short.

In most cases, however, the United States maintains informal relations with these countries, mostly through allied third countries such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Switzerland or the like. The United States maintains de facto embassies in Cuba and Taiwan, but these are trade representations were.

Intergovernmental Organizations

The United States is a member of numerous intergovernmental organizations , many of which it itself suggested.

Congress has given the executive a minimum level of participation in the United Nations through federal law. To this end, he passed the United Nations Participation Act (Public Law 79-264) on December 20, 1945 , which he amended on October 10, 1949. President Truman put these laws into executive action by means of Executive Orders 9844 (April 28, 1947) and 10108 (February 9, 1950). According to the provisions of these regulations, the State Department prepares an annual report on its own American involvement in the events and proceedings of the United Nations, as well as on the diplomatic conduct of other states on subjects of particular interest to the United States.


The dominance of the United States in international politics has made its foreign policy a subject of constant controversy in media, culture and science around the world. In international relations, a sub-discipline of political science , few questions ignore the influence of the United States.

Criticism of US foreign policy relates to a perceived lack of conformity of the results with its goals, as the US likes to see itself as the sword and shield of democracy . The military interventions are criticized as encroaching on the sovereignty of the countries concerned. Critics of globalization see the United States as the mainspring of globalization in the political economy . It is also stated that the USA would lead a policy of neocolonialism that disadvantages or patronizes countries in the " third world ". Environmentalists criticize a perceived blockade of international efforts to establish binding environmental standards. In the area of ​​security policy, the extensive restrictions on civil rights imposed by the PATRIOT Act have raised concern among foreign privacy advocates as the US urges its allies to agree to the security standards of this law. In addition, privacy advocates condemn the worldwide activity of the United States intelligence services and accuse you of compiling extensive collections of data on people from all over the world without them having any influence on it. A number of highly market-oriented economists, such as Milton Friedman , criticize the contradicting policies or their ineffectiveness in both the war on drugs and the war on poverty . In addition, economists usually demand that the United States' repeated maxim of free trade be implemented.

The United States has also recently come under increasing criticism on account of allegations that it violates international law in numerous places . Among other things, they are charged with torture methods such as waterboarding , which is used in the Guantanamo prison camp , for example (see also Torture in the USA ). They are also charged with numerous war crimes ; primarily the are torture scandal at Abu Ghraib , or the whistleblower platform WikiLeaks revealed July 12, 2007 Baghdad airstrike to name.




Web links


German-language links


Spheres of interest

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Eugene R. Wittkopf et al: American Foreign Policy - Pattern and Process. 7th edition. Thomson Wadsworth, Belmont 2005, p. 29.
  2. ^ Zbigniew Brzeziński : The Grand Chessboard. Basic Books, City 1997, p. 151 ff.
  3. Trump claims to have stopped the attack on Iran ten minutes before the start . Mirror online. June 21, 2019
  4. Erich Follath / Georg Mascolo / Holger Stark: Atomic agreement: "If someone gets up to kill you, kill him first" . The time . Edition 37/2019. September 5, 2019 (advance publication on zeit.de on September 4, 2019).
  5. Sapolsky, Harvey M. et al .: US Defense Politics - the Origins of Security Policy , New York and Abingdon: Routledge 2009, p. 17.
  6. cit. in Sapolsky, Harvey M. et al .: US Defense Politics - the Origins of Security Policy , New York and Abingdon: Routledge 2009, p. 17.
  7. "[...] Today only the United States play in a class of their own. American professional politicians may normally be provincial, but there is a real foreign policy elite to manage the superpower role, with lively exchanges between government jobs, private companies, universities and think tanks. The think tanks are not only numerous, they are also private, open-minded, and in some cases highly ideological. The saucy thesis is appreciated; Washington is full of 30-year-olds who explain the world to you and know exactly how to rule it. (The fact that things are often wrong and not work out is another matter.) […] “ In: Jan Ross : World explorer, desperately sought. In: The time . No. 35, August 24, 2006. Accessed December 25, 2007.
  8. cf. James Ed Willard: Military Diplomacy: An Essential Tool of Foreign Policy at the Theater Strategic Level. (PDF; 467 kB) Command and General Staff College, 2006.
  9. cf. Schake, Kori: A Robust State Department ( memento from October 11, 2011 in the Internet Archive ), in: Defining Ideas , September 2, 2011. Accessed September 3, 2011.
  10. Sam C. Sarkesian, John Allen Williams, Stephen J. Cimbala: US National Security: Policymakers, Processes & Politics. (PDF; 337 kB) 4th edition. Lynne Rienner , Boulder, Colorado , Colorado 2008, p. 5.
  11. cf. Marcus G. Raskin: Democracy versus the National Security State. ( Memento from January 30, 2012 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 3.4 MB) In: Law and Contemporary Problems. Vol. 40, No. 3, Presidential Power. Part 2, Summer 1976, pp. 189-220.
  12. cf. for example Niall Ferguson : Colossus - The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Penguin Press, New York.
  13. Putin threatens withdrawal from cold war nuclear treaty . In: The Guardian Online . October 12, 2007 ( theguardian.com [accessed February 2, 2019]).
  14. Reaction to US decision: Russia also suspends INF disarmament treaty . In: Spiegel Online . February 2, 2019 ( spiegel.de [accessed February 2, 2019]).
  15. The INF Treaty is history . In: Deutschlandfunk . August 2, 2019 ( deutschlandfunk.de [accessed August 2, 2019]).
  16. Oliver Hoischen: After Obama's Inauguration: The End of the Atomic Age? . Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . January 25, 2009.
  17. Clemens Wergin: What is behind Donald Trump's new nuclear doctrine . welt.de. 3rd February 2018.
  18. Trump wants to arm Japan and South Korea with "highly developed weapons" . welt.de. 5th September 2017.
  19. The White House is appalled: Trump wants to arm Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons . bz-berlin.de. April 1, 2016
  20. As an example (tagesschau.de archive) for this proverbial use, the Tagesschau report "Economic war in Latin America - the USA is losing its 'backyard'" from May 2, 2005 is cited.
  21. Wolfgang G. Schwanitz : America's unwritten Islamic policy ( Memento from September 27, 2011 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 747 kB), Auslandsinformationen der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung 9 (2006), I, pp. 4–29.
  22. Wolfgang G. Schwanitz: America's unwritten Islamic policy , Auslandsinformationen der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 10 (2006), II, pp. 89–116, here p. 100.
  23. Dominik Peters: Saudi Arabia versus Iran - The Pyromaniac . Mirror online. November 26, 2017
  24. ^ Explosive agreement. In: Zeit online, December 9, 2006. Date of discovery: December 22, 2007.
  25. Matthew Brunwasser: For Bulgarian villagers, US bases mean jobs. In: The International Herald Tribune , April 28, 2006. Accessed December 22, 2007.
  26. [1] . sueddeutsche.de. 20th July 2018
  27. cf. Avalon Project : United Nations Participation Act, December 20, 1945. In: A Decade of American Foreign Policy 1941-1949. n. d. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  28. cf. Avalon Project: Amendment of United Nations Participation Act, October 10, 1949. In: A Decade of American Foreign Policy 1941-1949, n. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  29. cf. National Archives : Executive Order 10108 - Designating the United States Mission to the United Nations and Providing for Its Direction and Administration. In: Federal Register. n. d. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  30. See US Department of State: Reports, n. D. Retrieved August 10, 2011.
  31. "The Lucifer Effect: The Power of Circumstances and the Psychology of Evil" by Philip Zimbardo, 2007 Spektrum Verlag. ISBN 978-3-8274-1990-3 .
  32. ^ Süddeutsche Zeitung online on April 25, 2011: Wikileaks reveals secret papers on Guantanamo. Retrieved April 29, 2011 .
  33. The Guardian on April 25, 2011: Guantánamo leaks lift lid on world's most controversial prison. Retrieved April 29, 2011 .
  34. "Torture and Let Torture - 50 Years of Torture Research and Practice by the CIA and the US Military" by Alfred W. McCoy , July 2005, two thousand and one. ISBN 978-3-86150-729-1 .
  35. "America's Terror Crusade - Wars, Torture and Human Rights Abuses in the 21st Century" by Dennis Kirstein, May 2008. ISBN 978-3-8370-5986-1 .
  36. Tom Cohen: Leaked video reveals chaos of Baghdad attack. CNN , April 7, 2009, accessed August 19, 2010 .