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Democracy in America

Global Politics: U.S.A. and the World

Investigate how the constitutional compromise of federalism continues.


Global Politics: USA and the World

Learning Objectives

After completing this session, you will be able to:

  • Describe some alternative versions of America’s role in the world.
  • Outline some of the new challenges that globalization has brought.
  • Identify and illustrate the principal tools of international diplomacy.
  • 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 recognized nation-states.

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 activities.

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 of nation-states.

Using the Video: Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion

Pre-Viewing Activity and Discussion (30 minutes)

Before viewing the video, discuss the following questions:

  • What, according to Monroe, are the differences between the interests of Europe and those of the Western Hemisphere? Is this still the case?
  • What was Mark Twain trying to convey about war?
  • In this era of globalization, what are the lines between domestic and international policy?
  • Is the traditional nation-state becoming a historic relic?

Using the Video: Watch the Video and Discuss

Watch the Video (30 minutes) and Discuss (30 minutes)

The video includes three segments:

1. New World Orders: U.S. Role in NATO Peacekeeping in Bosnia

The primary mission of our military has always been to protect and defend the United States against its enemies. But today our military is used to pursue a variety of national interests. As a world leader, the U.S. often intervenes in overseas conflicts, not only to address threats to our nation but also to keep peace, maintain economic stability, and promote democracy in other regions. A recent example is the U.S. involvement with international peacekeeping and nation-building operations in the former region of Yugoslavia.

Discussion Questions

  • Is the role being performed in Bosnia by the U.S. military one for which they are trained?
  • Should the military be involved in nation building?
  • Why are these activities so controversial?

2. International Trade and Foreign Policy: The Case of South Korea

International trade remains one of America’s most important foreign policy tools. In general, the U.S. seeks to reduce trade barriers through regional and international agreements. Trade policy also remains a tool to promote democracy, secure allies, and create new trading partners in an increasingly interdependent world. One of the most sustained efforts to use trade policy to build a strong ally and, at the same time, promote democracy was the Food for Peace program that the U.S. maintained with South Korea.

Discussion Questions

  • Can trade policy promote democracy?
  • What are the advantages of reducing trade barriers? What are the disadvantages?
  • What did the Food for Peace program in South Korea entail?
  • Did the Food for Peace program work?

3. NGOs and the Campaign Against Landmines

Like all nations, the U.S. uses its diplomatic relations with other national and international organizations to shape and implement its foreign policy. Treaties with other nations, and those creating international organizations like the UN or NATO, remain an important foreign policy tool. But in the post-Cold War era, NGOs are increasingly pushing their causes, some of which clash with express aims of the traditional nation-states. The effort of Jody Williams to oppose the use of landmines represents a case in which the aims of an NGO clashed with U.S. foreign policy.

Like most of us, Jody Williams found the images of children maimed by landmines abhorrent, but unlike most of us, she sprang into action to do something about the problem. Williams started an NGO with the goal of banning the use of landmines worldwide, and eventually she succeeded in getting over 1,000 NGOs from around the world to join her cause, which became known as The International Campaign To Ban Land Mines. Williams’s primary battle was with the military bureaucracies of the world; her primary weapons were a gutsy attitude, a telephone, and a fax machine. Through the efforts of Williams and others, the anti-landmine movement gained ground. By 1997, more than 120 countries had signed a treaty banning the distribution of landmines, but the U.S. was not among them.

According to U.S. policy-makers, if used properly, landmines are viable defensive weapons, as the border experiences involving North and South Korea prove. Williams remained unconvinced by such reasoning, even after she visited the de-militarized zone between those two countries. President Clinton, in contrast, maintained that landmines were an unfortunate necessity. As Jerry White, co-founder of the Landmine Survivors Network, sees it, the difference of views between the U.S. and anti-landmine forces is an example of the “love-hate” relationship that often prevails between NGOs and nation-states: “I would say governments love us and love to hate us. But it’s a dance that works both ways. They want to have the resources and work done by NGOs who very often are the experts on a particular issue. At the same time they want distance from [our] strong advocacy points.” In the end, Jody Williams and her International Campaign To Ban Landmines were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Despite their failure to get the U.S. to sign the treaty banning landmines, the efforts of Williams and others are now being analyzed by other NGOs that want to enhance their own success in a number of other causes.

Discussion Questions

  • How has The International Campaign To Ban Land Mines become effective?
  • Why does the U.S. continue to oppose the treaty?
  • Are NGOs a threat to national sovereignty?
  • What is the relationship between NGOs and nation states?

Using the Video: Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion

Post-Viewing Activity and Discussion (10 minutes)

  1. Who Should Be in Charge of Foreign Policy? (10 minutes)

The making of foreign policy in the United States has always involved the weighing of appropriate influence between the president and Congress. Although the president has historically been accorded the responsibility of representing the interests of our nation to other countries, Congress has nevertheless played an important role in foreign policy decisions. What are the appropriate roles for the president and Congress? Where should the locus of power reside? Does globalization and its concurrent shifts across national borders of capital and enterprises suggest that Congress should play a larger role.

Using the Video: Classroom Applications

You may want to have your students do the post-viewing activities: A Timeline of Key Events in the History of U.S. Foreign Policy and Who Should Be in Charge of Foreign Policy? They are provided for you as blackline masters in the Appendix of the print guide.


The Readings for Democracy in America unit 15 are available here for download as a PDF file. You’ll need a copy of Adobe Acrobat Reader to read the files. Acrobat Reader is available free for download from

Download Unit 15 Readings, Global Politics: U.S.A. and the World

  • Introduction—Global Politics: USA and the World
  • Tocqueville, Democracy in America: “The Present and Probable Future Condition of the Indian Tribes That Inhabit the Territory Possessed by the Union” and “Why Democratic Nations Naturally Desire Peace, and Democratic Armies, War”
  • The Monroe Doctrine
  • The Marshall Plan
  • Twain, “The War Prayer”


  1. What nasty “modern” discovery destroyed the way of lives of many native Americans?
  2. How did Tocqueville believe the American government treated the native populations? How did the federal government’s treatment compare to the treatment offered by the states?
  3. What are the differences, according to Monroe, between the interests of Europe and those of the western hemisphere?
  4. Compare the discussion of production and distribution of goods and materials in the Marshall plan with Jefferson’s Query 19 (Readings, Unit 13).
  5. What was Mark Twain trying to convey about war?

Introduction—Global Politics: USA and the World

“We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world,” said President McKinley in his 1898 speech concerning the Spanish-American War and the American occupation of the Philippines. “And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength, and thanksgiving to Almighty God that he has marked us as his chosen people, henceforth to lead in the generation of the world.”
Similarly, George W. Bush at a prayer breakfast, February 6, 2003, said, “One thing is for certain: We didn’t ask for these challenges, but we will meet them. I say that with certainty, because this nation has strong foundations that won’t be shaken.” Or his father, on announcing his attack on Iraq for invading Kuwait in 1991: “We have before us the opportunity to forge for ourselves and for future generations a new world order—a world where the rule of law, not the law of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations. When we are successful—and we will be—we have a real chance at this new world order, an order in which a credible United Nations can use its peacekeeping role to fulfill the promise and vision of the U.N.’s founders.” What these presidential war statements have in common is the suggestion of American hesitancy to war, the reluctance to accept the responsibility of war, and finally, the redemptive power of military violence. They also, regrettably, suggest the commonplace of war in American politics.

“There are at the present time two great nations in the world,” wrote Tocqueville of the Americans and the Russians in a passage that was often quoted during the cold war. “The Anglo-American relies upon personal interest to accomplish his ends and gives free scope to the unguided strength and common sense of the people; the Russian centers all the authority of society in a single arm…. Their starting-point is different and their courses are not the same; yet each of them seems marked out by the will of Heaven to sway the destinies of half the globe.” Today, one could say that he perhaps underestimated the influence of the United States.

If Americans are serious about making the world, and themselves, more democratic they need to reflect on the role of force in American nationalism and examine the problems for democracy that exist in the vast international power that the United States now wields. American power touches the lives of virtually everyone in the world—through inaction as well as action. Democracy suffers when people’s lives are affected and, to some extent, controlled by powers over which they have no control. This is a serious intellectual and political problem for a nation such as the United States which is identified as democratic yet occupies a position of undemocratic power and influence over so much of the world. Such power presents a great challenge to democracy in the world and in the United States, a challenge that this collection has tried to meet by providing readings in every chapter demonstrating that America has always been an active international power and the ways in which America has attempted to utilize this power for democracy.

From its very inception as the product of British expansionism, the United States has consistently relied on territorial and non-territorial adventures to solidify national identify and affiliation, to facilitate commerce, to secure resources, to expand markets, divert attention from domestic crises, respond to outrageous or tyrannical political behavior of other states, and to inject capital into the economy. The importance of the Native American border threat for national unification in the earliest period of nation building should not be forgotten. Many of the readings collected here attempt to shed some light on all these reasons for war and international meddling and to highlight the value in confronting the problems of democracy and power in the world.

Examining historical accounts of the international power of the United States can make American citizens more aware of how they are viewed from other places. Readers can also begin to examine, hopefully, the central role that violence, war, expansion, and control has played in their own notions of national freedom, national destiny, and the nation itself.

The readings in this chapter relate to many of the readings in earlier chapters. For example, throughout the book the readings have consistently utilized such things as the border disputes with Native Americans and the American control of the Philippines to place international questions in a variety of contexts. There are other connections to earlier chapters, such as Henry David Thoreau’s connections to Jefferson. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson suggested that at some point honest people should proclaim their lack of affiliation with the political body that governs them; Thoreau directed a similar statement at the United States, when he suggested that the government must stop supporting slavery and stop making war on Mexico or its ties of respect should be dissolved.

The opening reading of this reader was Pericles’s speech to the citizens of Athens, proclaiming to them the glory of those who had died in battle. In conclusion, this reader can offer no such stirring call to arms and blood, but it can offer the unspoken part of Pericles’s speech as Mark Twain might have heard it. In “War Prayer,” a short anti-war story by Twain, an angel explains the cost of military glory—the inglorious nature of that glory—in the death of others. If nationals in a powerful nation-state like the United States are going to avoid the fate of the gathered parishioners who ignored the words of the angel, that is, if they can see the other side of power and the challenges it presents to democratic life, then there is hope that the United States and the world can become democratic.

Web-based Resources U.S. Department of State’s Web site contains informative sections on history, education, and culture, and K-12 learning resources. Web site of the United Nations provides extensive information on past and current UN programs. Its Cyber School Bus section contains a wealth of materials for classroom use.