Overview Unit 15
Global Politics: USA and the World
After completing this session, you will be able to:
- Describe some alternative versions of America's role in the
- Outline some of the new challenges that globalization has brought.
- Identify and illustrate the principal tools of international
- 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
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
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