A New Trend in United States’ Foreign Policy 4

One particular bit of news, which may very well pass unnoticed sheds some light on a possible future course of United States’ future foreign policy. The news is that the US Congress has reached an agreement with the White House over new free trade policy guidelines. This agreement could ease the ratification of trade deals with several Latin American countries. Under the new policy, countries with free trade deals with the US will be committed to adopting and enforcing laws that abide by basic international labour standards as well as internationally-agreed environmental standards of business practice. US deputy secretary of state, John Negroponte, said that the Latin American states are ”strategic elements not only to our economic relations but also to our political relations”.

Why is this news important? In the author’s opinion it shows that the US has decided to adopt a new tactic in what regards improving its image in what concerns foreign relations as well as a better one in what concerns efficiency. What I mean by the latter is that a foreign policy based on economic cooperation, i.e. free trade, is much more superior in terms of political returns, especially in Latin America. Latin America has seen, in the past few years, a return of leftist governments, in Bolivia, Brazil and, the most notable Venezuela. Although Washington can not compete for influence with the vocal Chavez or Evo Morales in terms of public speeches, it can counter them where they are at their weakest, in terms of economic development. It is a known fact that Venezuela as well as Bolivia have major economic dificulties in their respective countries, and that is a soft spot in what concerns the politcal impact of their speech in the whole of Latin America. Therefore, a policy of free trade (for those who do not know, it is about abolishing internal tarrifs on imports), long sought by the Bush administration, that would indeed benefit both sides is a guarantee of a larger influence of American economy and politics on Latin America to the detriment of Chavez and Morales-like practices.

It is in the US interest that Latin American countries do not follow a path to authoritarian dictatorships, as they did all too often in the past 200 years and the best path to prevent that would be a free economy. Sure, it can be argued that it is only a small step, but it is the author’s opinion that the United States has moved away from short term easy and costly solutions to foreign policy and is ready to favor a more indirect approach to foreign policy. This approach, called by some democratic peace theory, as it is assumed that a free and capitalist economy would guarantee a democratic government, had been succesfull in the European Union’s approach to the former eastern european states, altough it took around 15 years for it to work.

In conclusion, it seems that the United States has begun to renounce its power politics and hard rhetoric in favor of a more subtle yet more effective approach to foreign policy. For the first time in a while, it seems the Americans are ready to go the distance.

Andrei Cristian VLAD


  1. It would be really interesting to see if the US won’t apply double standards this time, as it has done before. Even the WTO (not to mention traditional pro-free trade popular journals, such as the Economist and NY Times) has admitted that the free trade doctrine and practice has entailed double standards. For instance, the US (& Europe) maintain quotas when it comes to imports coming from the developing world (including Latin America). Absent of real commitment to free trade on both ways of the road (elimination of import quotas & tariffs, and of economic subsidies – especially in agriculture), the whole „free trade policy” is just empty rhetoric.

    Secondly, the US has been applying soft politics (in the economic realm) for a long time. Just take a look where US foreign aid has been directed in the last decades. It’s no novelty that the US is applying the doctrine of the democratic peace in its foreign policy (remember the Marshall plan?). The question remains whether US economy can cope with free trade – the real deal. Just look at the US trade deficit and you will notice the picture ain’t rosy.

  2. The new trend in US foreign policy is not democratic peace theory, but good old fashion realism. And this has been epithomized by the frequent visits made in last couple of years to the Department of State by Henry Kissinger. This changed occured as a result of the faillure of the Bush doctrine and the demise of the neo-conservative influence due to the war in Iraq.

    Realism is indeed about power politics but it is also about diplomacy and skilfull employment of the means available to a state in order achieve its foreign policy goals. It is opposed to neo conservative approach by the simple fact it does not assume that the world is divided in good guys and bad guys. Instead is made up of rational actors that can negotiate and opt for alternatives in terms of courses of action to be taken in foreign policy. Realism also states that is immoral o try to impose on the international system your own system of values – that will bring about a balancing coalition.

    Returning to Bamse’s post the fact that the US is using economic means to deal with the threats and risks coming from latin america has nothing to do necessarily with free trade and especially with the democratic peace theory (NB: some of the assumptions of the demcoratic peace theory were used by neo-cons when they elaborated the bush doctrine). It means that the US is weak now and cannot afford a more assertive foreign policy in its backyard. Furthermoore this moment of weakness has brought about the involvement of China and Russia in the Western Hemisphere – everybody knows that in the WH the US is the regional hegemon and since 1823 this part of the world hass been off limits to other great powers.

    In this region the threat comes from Chavez, which has declared war on US interests in the region. However Mr. Chavez is also someone willing to bankrup his country in order to do that – which is actualy good news for the US, because in the long run it means that he will be ruined and likely to be ousted. Furthermore despite its oil wealth Venezuela is linked to the US as the latters third largest provider of fuel. That is an opportunity that the US government will use. On the other hand the leftists in this region are not united and there are many differences among them. That can be exploited easily by holding out the promise of real free trade – especially for the poor farmers in the region. This is a solid prospect now that the US needs large amounts of grain to produce ethanol. So in the long run the US will, if the policymakers are smart enough, isolate Venezuela from its neighbours without too much fuss, by simply obtaining compliance from its neighbours. The deal is like this: I, the US will open my market to your products – especially agricultural, while you countries of Latin America will leave Chavez be and forego its revolution, making yourself prosperous at the same time. This is a bargain for countries like Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and maybe Ecuador (though that seems a bit unlikely).

    So this new trend bamse has observed is actually not democratic peace theory or free trade per se, but good old fashion realism.

  3. @ we should not confuse free-trade from a theoretical point of view with free-trade from the economic standpoint and free-trade as a geopolitical tool. I was talking about the latter. If we base the discussion on the fact that the US is using it as a political tool, which is my oppinion it is the case, it really does not matter if they use dobule standards or triple; it is the nature of politics. It should be reminded that the EU does the same in what concerns inflation and deficits of member countries compared to those of new members (remember that Germany refused to pay a fine for having a deficit of over 2%).
    So, if we talk about serious politics, and not just empty newspaper rhetoric you are bound to have at least double standards.
    I seem to notice the fact that you consider free-trade as a „weapon of the imperialist west” that keeps the poor countries from developing. I hope I am wrong 😀
    @G I was talking about using free-trade as a means to an end, the end being a safer and more prosperous Latin America the only hindrance being that it will take a little more time. It is of little relevance if the US have or do dot have the means for a military intervention to oust Chavez; a military intervention is not possible, and not just from a military point of view, but also political, international, financial, etc.
    Sure, it can be argued that it is only a failsafe salution, but I think its merits will be recognised by the americans once more. I am not a blind advocate of soft power politics but i think a balanced use of both saft and hard has a much batter chance of producing results than just one.

  4. @bamse… from a theoretical perspective, what you are saying could make sense (although I fail to see the logic behind separating the three types of free trade???), but still we should keep condemning double standards and strive to achieve minimum universal laws. just as politics is not just newspaper rhetoric, it is equally not theory only; failing to translate (theoretical) politics in sound and efficient policies (just as is now happening with free trade) means that politics is a failure… just as knowledge is futile unless instrumentalized, political theory with no value for policy is just empty academic discourse. and I don’t believe the EU is any better than the US when it comes to hindering free trade and applying double standards on free trade; the EU tends to compensate through higher development assistance, though. and I am not against free trade; on the contrary, a genuine liberalization of trade would bring about huge advantages to all stakeholders. research points out it would increase the income of developing countries with over $500 billion (which is much more than the Monterrey Consensus requires in development assistance, for instance). and economic development is a not a zero-sum game; since the industrial revolution it has been a win-win game; gross inequalities are due to skewed applications of theoretical models we proud ourselves in abiding by.

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