Impact of the end of cold war on us foreign policy thinking
The cold war era was a period of tension and intense rivalry between the United States and its allies on one side and the USSR and its allies on the other side. Cold war started in the mid 1940s after the eventful conclusion of the Second World War and would cease in the early 1990s. The international system then was characterized by bi-polarity where America and the Soviet Union were the two super powers, at the conclusion of the war though; the world reverted back to uni-polarity. Though the US and the USSR never went into physical confrontations, they waged proxy wars against each other in their areas of influence. At the era of cold war, the United States foreign policy was geared towards containment. America’s effort was meant to arrest the spread of communism in the world. This can be best seen in the Truman Doctrine that was appropriately drafted to haste the spread of communism in Eastern Europe. With the fall of the iron curtain and the demise of communism, the United States foreign policy had to be altered to ensure it maintained the global hegemony it had created (Thomas J., McCormick, 1995).
The end of the Cold War also led to the United States initiating a foreign policy that was meant to foster globalization, undertake the largely ignored humanitarian interventions as well as push for renewed vigor towards democracy. It is these policies that will remain largely the focus of this paper, policies that were as a consequence of the end of the cold war and the crumbling of communism.
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The immediate post cold war era presented better fortunes for the United States in terms of economic growth. This is a period that was characterized by low inflation and technological advancement that led to momentous and sustained economic growth. America boasted of ownership to global conglomerates and the largest multinational companies. Apart from the economic prosperity, it has boasted of cultural and political influences across the world that is unmatched by no other. Military influence also spans across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and in Europe where it has continued to make its presence known through a demonstration of high tech weapons. This indicates that the United States created a hegemon during the cold war era and with the main threat to this hegemony, USSR, gone; it had to protect its influence at all costs and check on the rise of any future challenge to its global prominence. The end of cold war had to bring in a new line of thinking over whether the United States would pursue isolationists policies in the bid to wade off detractors or would embrace what some scholars refer to as the “benevolent hegemon” where it liaises with other nations in coming up with solutions to global problems.
The United States since the end of cold war continued to pursue unilateralism supporting “America’s continuing International Pre eminence” and actively preventing “the emergence of states that could challenge it.” (Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy) Others believe that the US foreign policy regarding its hegemon in the post cold war era has remained unclear. Howard J (1996, 4) believes that “the articulates of coherent policy” in the post cold war era has been “hindered by the absence of a clear enemy to replace the Soviet Union” (Patterson, J., 1997).
The end of cold war resulted to the United States pursuing a foreign policy that sought to popularize democracy in the world. There has been a common belief in the United States that liberal democracies are less prone to war believing that it is the autocratic and the highly militarized regimes that are likely to wage war against each other. Although capitalism has come to be identified with democracy, the latter took a backseat in the cold war era with the United States forcefully supplanting popularly elected regimes, with military rulers, on the basis that they were leaning towards the left in support of communism. Africa and the Latin America bear such scars of American mechanizations. With the end of cold war fast approaching, George H.W. Bush coined the term “new world order” which sought to reinvigorate the search for democracy. President Bill Clinton followed suit discriminating on aids and pegging it on democratic reforms. The United States then employed carrot and stick tactics. In addition to aid, the United States used the threats of force to remove democratically elected leader replacing them with military regimes. This was a radical shift from the cold war era during which time the United States was financing dissidents in the name of cold war. The end of cold war hence resulted to a revival of the need to push for democratic reforms. In the cold war era, the United States was dining with dictators and did not see the need to press for reforms even in countries where there were no prospects of democratization in sight. This was so as long as those leaders vowed to stamp out any element of communism in their countries (Robert L. P., 1995).
The end of the cold war era also paved way for the enactment of policies that were geared towards pushing for humanitarian inventions and also the push for the respect of human rights and dignity.
The United States policy in the cold war era smacked of unilateralism and invasions were very common. Humanitarian interventions on the other hand were rare. The end of the cold war however brought another face of America. United States began initiating moves aimed as spearheading human rights campaigns as well as contributing greatly to humanitarian interventions. An example is in Iraq where it successfully brought to a halt Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iraq. It also initiated a similar intervention in Somalis though with disastrous repercussions when US marines were butchered by Somali Clansmen. The United States also reinstalled President Jean Berthand Aristide of Haiti after a Military Coup in 1994. This was a radical departure from a precedent set by Ronald Reagan who had stated that the United States should not commit its forces overseas unless its national interests was at stake. The Clinton administration also responded to Bosnia to pre-empt a Serbian annihilation in 1995. This is despite the fact that the conflict had been going on since the Second World War and well into the cold war. The immediate post cold war era was characterized by such humanitarian intervention although the United States has been largely criticized for its inaction towards stopping the genocide that went on unabated in Rwanda. President after president in the post cold war era has vowed to devote United States efforts towards humanitarian missions (Palmowski, J., 2004).
In addition to humanitarian missions, the cold war era triggered a spate of the United States push for human rights reforms across the world with those states that were considered to have a respect for human rights looked at more favourably. Although this became more pronounced after the end of the cold war, the society too had a role to play. The public in the United States plays a crucial role in policy formation and implementation. The process of foreign policy formulators in the United States is influenced by two factors, these being “the broad attitudes and orientations of the people of the United States” and “the societal actors that affect policy making”. (James m,1998, 4) The end of cold war made the government to be more responsive to the publics sentiments and hence the clamor for human rights reforms. In the cold war era, the United States was too blinded by the obsession to arrest the spread the communism to notice the grave violation of human rights which went on under its very nose and also at its behest. The Vietnam war is still fresh in the Americans mind when the United States ignored the sentiments echoed against the invasion and went ahead and massacred thousands of innocent civilians. The end of cold war compelled the United States to introduce a foreign policy whose core was the need for human rights reforms (Karaagac, J., 2000).
Indeed the end of the cold had a great impact on the United States foreign policy. In the cold war era the United States was largely consume by the need to check on the fast rising communism. With communism crumble and USSR on its knees, the foreign policy had to be altered radically to ensure that America’s hegemony went on unchallenged. The United States foreign policy also became more responsive to the need for humanitarian interventions in countries such as Somalia and Kosovo. This era too would see reinvigoration towards the push for democratization of priory autocratic nations especially in the third word countries.
Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy. Cold war: Post–cold War Policy. Retrieved on October 9, 2008 from
James M. Scott, 1998. After the End: Making U.S. Foreign Policy in the Post-cold War World. Duke University Press, pp 4-17
Howard J. Wiarda. U.S. Foreign and Strategic Policy in the Post-Cold War Era: A Geopolitical Perspective. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1996 pp 4-43
Karaagac, John, 2000. Between Promise and Policy: Ronald Reagan and Conservative Reformism. Lexington Books, pp 17-34
Patterson, James, 1997. Grand Expectations: The United States, 1945-1974. Oxford University Press, pp 54-57
Palmowski, Jan, 2004. A Dictionary of Contemporary World History. Oxford University Press, pp 20-23
Thomas J. McCormick, 1995. America’s Half-century: United States Foreign Policy in the Cold War and After. JHU Press, pp 21-33
Robert L. Paarlberg, 1995. Leadership Abroad Begins at Home: U.S. Foreign Economic Policy After the Cold War. Brookings Institution Press, pp 46-48