The Three Main Goals of American Foreign Policy

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Achieving collective action around the “national interest” is essential in foreign policy making. Given the threats inherent in the international system, Americans have an old adage that “politics stops at the water’s edge,” meaning that the nation should come together to achieve its common purposes in foreign policy. In addition to a concept of national interest, historical memory plays a pivotal role in foreign policy. Long ago, George Washington argued that America should have “as little political connection as possible” with foreign nations. Although this, America’s oldest foreign policy principle, still lingers in our political culture, America has nevertheless become an important world power necessarily and strategically tied to the world. This chapter considers the goals of American foreign policy, the relevant players in foreign policy making, the instruments of American foreign policy, and the American role in the world.

What are the goals of American foreign policy? How do these goals compete with, and reinforce, one another?

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Security, prosperity, and the creation of a better world are the three most prominent goals of American foreign policy.

Security, the protection of America’s interests and citizens, is a perennial concern, but America has tried to achieve security in different ways throughout its long history.

In the nineteenth century, American foreign policy was dominated by a policy known as Isolationism, wherein America sought to avoid involvement in the affairs of other nations.

During the twentieth century, two world wars and a subsequent Cold War changed the calculations behind American foreign policy. Necessarily engaged with the world, America turned from isolationism to a more proactive policy of deterrence, wherein the nation would maintain a strong military in order to discourage foreign attacks.

Foreign policy changed again at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century when the demise of the Soviet Union decreased the relevance of deterrence and the new threats of rogue states and terrorism caused the George W. Bush administration to shift to a policy of preemption (that is, a willingness to strike first in order to prevent an enemy attack).

Economic prosperity, accomplished mostly through trade policy, is a second major goal of American foreign policy. Expanding employment in the United States, maintaining access to foreign energy supplies, promoting foreign investment in the United States, and lowering prices for American consumers are all aims of American foreign economic policy.

Promoting international humanitarian polices in ways that make the world a better place is a third goal of American foreign policy. Aims such as promoting international environmental policies, advocating for human rights, and keeping peace between nations all fall under this category.

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The Three Main Goals of American Foreign Policy. (2022, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 25, 2024, from
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