Background on Foreign Policy
New Foreign Policy Topics for 2015-2016
These topics arose during the 2015-2016 presidential primary debates as new topics...
Foreign Policy Topics for 2014-2016
- American Exceptionalism:
refers to America having a unique status in the world today. The interest in American exceptionalism counters Obama's rejection of the concept, when Obama said, "Sure, I believe in American exceptionalism in the same way the British believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism." Republicans generally interpret that as meaning, "No, I don't believe in your version of American exceptionalism at all."
Before the term "American exceptionalism" became popular, candidates discussed "multilateralism" vs. "unilateralism" in how America should deal with the world. Multilateralists believe that America should engage with the world through international organizations such as the United Nations, while unilateralists believe that America should act in America's interest regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.
AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, with 100,000 members, is the leading lobbying group for Israeli interests in U.S. politics. AIPAC only lobbies for bipartisan bills (jointly sponsored by at least one Democrat and at least one Republican), but AIPAC generally favors more conservative than liberal positions.
- NATO expansion:
- The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was, during the Cold War, the main counterbalance to the Soviet Union. Now it includes 28 countries, including some of the former Soviet bloc. At issue in 2015 is determining which former Soviet allies to include in NATO: the most recent additions were Albania and Croatia in 2009.
- Aspiring NATO applicants include three former Soviet republics-- Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova--plus four former Yugoslav republics--Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro. Those countries were all formerly part of the "Warsaw Pact," NATO's opponent.
- The Warsaw Pact was replaced after the breakup of the Soviet Union with the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which currently comprises Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan (withdrawn members include Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan).
- Crimean Crisis of 2014-2015:
- On March 16, 2014, Crimea held a referendum vote on whether to declare independence from Ukraine; the vote passed with 96% in favor. Russia recognized the independent Crimean Republic the next day; and the day after that, signed a treaty with Crimea's leaders annexing it to Russia. Russia then invaded and annexed the Crimea.
- The Ukraine protested but its army was insufficient to oppose the Russians. Russia also threatened the same sort of referendum vote (and invasion) of Eastern Ukraine, which distracted attention from Crimea.
- A 1954 Soviet Decree was hence undone: Transfer of the Crimean oblast from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (February, 1954)
In 2014, the eastern region of Ukraine was declared the "Donetsk People's Republic," supported by Russia but declared a terrorist group by Ukraine supporters.
As of 2015, Ukraine's supporters claim that Russia supports the Donetsk group militarily, for the purpose of declaring a separate state affiliated with Russia.
These topics arose during the 2014 Senate primary debates as new topics...
New Foreign Policy Topics for 2012
- Ebola outbreak:
- The largest Ebola outbreak in history began in West Africa in December 2013. The disease was first identified in 1976, but the 2014 outbreak was the first to infect cities rather than rural areas. After one year, about 6,000 people have died from 17,000 cases, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. The infection rate is still increasing in those three countries.
- Unlike most viruses, Ebola is infectious even after its host has died; hence many people get infected while preparing the dead for burial (until special Ebola-safe burial practices took effect). At greatest risk are the doctors and nurses treating the ill, since the virus spreads though contact with bodily fluids, which are commonly exposed during treatment.
- President Obama’s response has been to send U.S. military personnel to assist with constructing more hospital beds and other needed infrastructure. The medical infrastructure of the affected countries has been severely damaged, with the deaths of many doctors and nurses.
- Obama has stated that he will not impose travel restrictions on West Africa, an action which has been demanded by many Americans, except to screen incoming air passengers.
Obama states that restricting air travel would hinder the medical response because fewer doctors and nurses could fly into the affected area.
- Cuba normalization:
Pres. Obama said on Dec. 17, 2014 that he would ease economic and travel restrictions on Cuba and attempt to partner with Congress to end the trade embargo.
His announcement came after Cuba released American Alan Gross, who had been imprisoned for five years, and a Cuban who had spied for the U.S. In exchange, the U.S. freed three Cubans jailed in Florida.
The Pope worked behind the scenes to make many of the arrangements.
President John F. Kennedy initiated the embargo against Cuba in 1962 after Fidel Castro led the communist revolution to take over the Cuban government.
As of 2015, the embargo is still in effect and is the most enduring trade embargo in modern history.
Despite the existence of the embargo, the US is the fifth largest exporter to Cuba. However, Cuba must pay cash for all imports.
The UN General Assembly has, since 1992, passed a resolution every year condemning the ongoing impact of the embargo and declaring it to be in violation of international law.
- Vietnam normalization:
- In 1975, after North Vietnam won the Vietnam War, President Gerald Ford extended the 1964 trade embargo on North Vietnam to unified Vietnam.
- In 1994, President Bill Clinton ordered an end to the U.S. trade embargo.
- In 2001, the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement granted Vietnam permanent normal trade relations (PNTR). In 2007, Vietnam joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).
- In 2011, bilateral trade reached $21.8 billion, compared to $220 million in 1994.
- For the 2016 race, the key issues are how to conduct trade with a non-market economy (Vietnam is socialist). Vietnam with six other countries are now in the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations with the U.S.
- President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela was a nationalist and a Marxist.
Because of his connection to Communism, he was considered an enemy of America; but because of Venezuela’s oil wealth and drug pipeline, Venezuela was important for American policy.
- In 2006, President Chavez spoke at the United Nations the day after President George W. Bush had spoken there, and said, “Yesterday, the devil came here. And it smells of sulfur still today. From this rostrum, the president of the United States, the gentleman to whom I refer as the devil, came here, talking as if he owned the world. Truly. As the owner of the world.”
- Chavez died in office in 2013; relations have still not thawed.
These topics arose during the 2011-2012 Republican primary debates as new topics; we also update the older topics below from the 2012 primaries...
refers to the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms (R, NC) and Rep. Dan Burton (R, IN). The law extended the embargo against Cuba, initiated by Pres. Eisenhower in 1960 and strengthened by Pres. Kennedy in 1962. The embargo expresses US opposition to Fidel Castro's communist policies in Cuba. Fidel Castro retired in 2008; the Communist Party still rules via Fidel's brother Raul Castro. Pres. Obama has promised to relax the embargo but as of 2012, only the travel ban was slightly loosened.
- Cuba Travel Blockade:
The US government has forbidden US citizens from traveling to Cuba since the 1960s. Try booking a trip from Mexico City to Havana on travelocity.com (or any travel website) and it says, "Due to a U.S. government travel restriction we are unable to book this reservation." You can, however, purchase that same ticket while in Mexico City, or anywhere else in the world. The bill below attempts to undo this long-standing situation.
Click for full background on China
The 2016 election has candidates demanding a decrease in foreign aid (or an increase). The actual numbers are listed below; the foreign aid allocation, while controversial, is not economically large: it represents 1.5% of federal expenditures ($45 billion out of $1.3 trillion in 2009).
Total foreign aid is broken down into military and non-military components, since many would not consider military assistance to be foreign aid but rather war spending by proxy.
For comparison, the total U.S. budget is about $3,800 billion.
- The term Arab Spring refers to a series of revolutions in Arab countries, which toppled (or threatened to topple) dictators or kings.
- Immolation: The first revolution began in Tunisia on Dec. 17, 2010: a fruit vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, tried to stop a policewoman from stealing his fruit. The woman and some other officers then hit the vendor with a baton. After being told at city hall that he could not register a complaint about the incident, Bouazizi immolated himself in an anguished act of protest.
- Tunisia: Bouazizi's suicide sparked widespread protests in Tunisia that toppled the country's dictator, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and then spread throughout the region.
- Egypt: Protests began in Egypt on Jan. 25; Hosni Mubarak resigned on Feb. 10, 2011.
- Libya: On Jan. 14 2011, protests began in Libya and degenerated into a civil war. On March 19, UN forces (including the US) began a bombing campaign. On Aug. 13, 2011, Moammar Khadafy fled the capital and was subsequently killed.
- Syria: Protests began in Syria on Jan. 26 2011; as part of the region-wide Arab Spring. In fighting degenrated into a full-scale civil war, with hundreds of thousands of civilians killed. Fighting has focuswed on the rebel stronghold of Homs, where 2,000 opposition protesters were killed by the Syrian government. Protesters have demanded the end to nearly five decades of Ba’ath Party rule, an end to torture for imprisoned protesters, as well as the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited his position from his father.
The Arab League, the US, and the European Union have condemned Assad's actions, but China and Russia have blocked any sanctions at the UN.
President Obama considered military action in 2013-2014, but the American public roundly rejected the idea. Candidates in 2015 discuss arming the rebels; targeting ISIS; and an air war without U.S. ground troops.
In January 2015, the government of Yemen collapsed, with the president resigning under pressure from the Houthi rebels.
Yemen was formerly two countries -- South Yemen merged with the Yemen Arab Republic in 1990 after a long civil war. Many fear a split, or a civil war, or growing al Qaeda influence, after the government collapse.
- Major protests have occurred in Bahrain, Algeria, and Iraq; numerous other Arab countries have had protests as well.
Foreign aid advocates (including Hillary Clinton) suggest increasing foreign aid to 1% of the total budget; that increase would be at least an eight-fold increase.
|Billions / year|| ||Economic|
|2003|| ||$16.1 || ||$8.0 || ||$24.1 |
|2004|| ||$20.4 || ||$5.9 || ||$26.3 |
|2005|| ||$25.2 || ||$7.6 || ||$32.8 |
|2006|| ||$21.9 || ||$10.7 || ||$32.6 |
|2007|| ||$21.8 || ||$12.9 || ||$34.7 |
|2008|| ||$26.9 || ||$15.4 || ||$42.3 |
|2009|| ||$29.8 || ||$14.9 || ||$44.7 |
|2010|| ||$29.0 || ||$13.3 || ||$42.3 |
|2011|| ||$30.7 || ||$16.5 || ||$47.2 |
|2012|| ||$31.1 || ||$14.4 || ||$45.6 |
The distribution of foreign aid is not evenly distributed and indeed is politically-determined.
The table below shows the distribution for the top ten recipient countries for 2010 to 2012
(average distribution for the three years, in millions).
Those three years represent President Obama's first three budgets without influence of President Bush.
|Millions / year||Economic|
|Afghanistan|| $3,050 || || $6,700 || || $9,750
||Israel|| $30 || || $2,950 || || $2,980
||Iraq|| $1,200 || || $1,500 || || $2,700
||Pakistan|| $1,100 || || $500 || || $1,600
||Egypt|| $200 || || $1,300 || || $1,500
||Jordan|| $500 || || $300 || || $ 800
||Colombia|| $500 || || $100 || || $ 600
||West Bank/Gaza||$600 || || $0 || || $ 600
||Russia|| $400 || || $100 || || $ 500
||Mexico|| $300 || || $100 || || $ 400
- The UN was founded in 1945 with 51 member countries. Its membership has since grown to 189 member countries, with representation from about 90% of the world's countries.
- UN Members are sovereign countries. The UN is not a world government, and it does not make laws. It does, however, provide the means to help resolve international conflict and formulate policies on matters affecting every country.
Some of the UN's major organs are:
- The General Assembly: All UN Member States are represented in the General Assembly - a kind of parliament of nations which meets to consider the world's most pressing problems. Each Member State has one vote.
- The Security Council: The organ with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. There are 15 Council members. Five of these - China, France, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the United States - are permanent members. The other 10 are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms. Member States have discussed making changes in Council membership to reflect today's political and economic realities.
- UN peacekeeping operations are established by the Security Council. There's an ongoing UN presence in Kashmir since 1949; in Cyprus since 1964, and in Kosovo since 1999, for a few examples. The US commits troops to some of these peacekeeping efforts.
- The Economic and Social Council: Under the authority of the General Assembly, its organs include the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), and the UN Children's Fund.
- The International Court of Justice: The "World Court" is the main judicial organ of the UN. Consisting of 15 judges elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council, the Court decides disputes between countries. Participation by States in a proceeding is voluntary, but if a State agrees to participate, it is obligated to comply with the Court's decision.
- The International Criminal Court: The ICC was founded by the United Nations General Assembly in 1998, by a vote of 120-7. The United States voted against the Rome Statute, the founding treaty, along with China, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Qatar, and Yemen. The U.S. never ratified the treaty, and hence is not legally bound by the ICC. President George W. Bush opposed the ICC on grounds that U.S. service members could be prosecuted. President Barack Obama stated in 2009 that the U.S. would cooperate with the ICC, but has not attempted to ratify the Rome Statute in the Senate.
- The International Monetary Fund: The IMF, the World Bank, and other specialized agencies are linked to the UN through cooperative international agreements.
- The UN System: In addition to financial organizations, other specialized agencies include: the World Health Organization, the Universal Postal Union, the International Civil Aviation Organization, and other treaty-based organizations for international cooperation and commerce.
- The US failed to pay its UN dues, until the total reached almost $1 billion in 2000. In May 2001, the House voted 252-165 to withhold $244 million in back dues the US had agreed to pay, until the UN restored the US seat on the UN Human Rights Commission.
- Despite the failure to pay dues, the US contributed a total of more than $1.4 billion dollars to the UN system in other assessments, and spent an additional $8.7 billion from the US military budget to support various UN resolutions and peacekeeping operations around the world.
- The UN budget (1999) is about $1.3 billion per year for the UN itself and about $10 billion for the UN system (excluding the separate budgets for the IMF and World Bank).
Israel & Palestine
- Russia continues to suffer from 50% annual inflation and a recession exacerbated by the Asian economic crisis. The IMF is planning to shore up Russia with a $4.5 billion loan.
- US-Russian relations were strained by the Kosovo conflict (Russia has historically supported the Serbs); the expansion of NATO (we added 3 former Soviet satellites over Russian objections in 1997); the war in Chechnya (a Russian province suffering from a Muslim uprising and independence movement); and uncertainty over President Yeltsin's political stability.
- Vladimir Putin won election as President of Russia in early 2000. President George W. Bush met with Putin shortly after Bush's inauguration in January 2001.
- While Chechnya still is a thorn in the side of US-Russian relations, Russia's assistance in the US war in Afghanistan seems likely to foster good relations and additional US economic aid.
- The hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu lost the election to Ehud Barak in May 1999. Barak had re-opened peace talks with Syria and Lebanon as of July 1999, promising a negotiated peace with both by next year.
- A land-for-peace deal was negotiated with Palestine in the Wye River Accords of 1998, but the process was stalled under Netanyahu. The Palestinian Authority under Yassir Arafat currently controls 27% of the land area of West Bank and Gaza; the Wye River Accords would add 13%. The current land area includes 98% of the Palestinian population.
- Ariel Sharon, a conservative hard-liner and former military leader, won election as Prime Minister in 2001, in large part because of Israeli frustration at the continuing Intifadeh, or Palestinian uprising.
- Israel has occupied Syria's Golan Heights since 1967. Israel has controlled much of South Lebanon since the early 1980s, with Syria controlling much of the rest of Lebanon. Negotiations with Syria will focus on returning Golan to Syria and returning Lebanon to independence.
- Does Palestine Exist? (a hot topic in the 2012 GOP primaries):
Britain controlled both Israel and Palestine as a colony known as "The British Mandate in Palestine" prior to 1948. On May 14, 1948, the United Nations (with US support, but without Arab support) declared the region partitioned into two states, Israel and Palestine. Neighboring Arab countries immediately invaded; Israel survived the ensuing war but Palestine did not. Egypt, Syria, and Jordan occupied areas which the UN had declared as parts of Palestine. Israel also occupied some of those areas in 1948, and all of those areas in 1967, but Israel agrees that eventually there should be two states. Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum claimed during the presidential primaries that "Palestine" does not exist; they mean that it was only an independent legal nation for a very brief period in 1948. But the "Palestinian" identity did exist prior to 1948, and has become the self-identification of Arabs living within the current Israeli borders.
- Since the Gulf War in 1991, the US has launched 4 major military strikes against Iraq, most recently Operation Desert Fox in December 1998.
- The US and UN continue to actively enforce a containment policy against Saddam Hussein; our primary tools are the 'no-fly zones' and an economic embargo.
- During the US War on Terror, Saddam has been regularly accused of state-sponsored terrorism and of building bioterrorism weapons, but has laid low during the prosecution of the war.
- The Iraq War formally ended on Dec. 15, 2011. Approximately 5,000 "security contractors" will remain to guard the US Embassy in Baghdad, plus several thousand more "general support contractors." Another 9,000 US troops are just over the border in Kuwait.
Asian Economic Crisis
The economies of the Asia-Pacific region until 1997 seemed to be rushing towards prosperity on par with the US and Europe.
But in July 1997, the currencies of Thailand and Indonesia collapsed, followed by recessions throughout East Asia.
The 'Asian Miracle' countries were characterized by limited democracy (usually one-party) in open economies (albeit via political insiders).
The current situation is:
Japan: In slump since 1990 and in recession since June 1998; Japan outlined an Emergency Economic Package in Nov. 1998.
Indonesia: President Suharto resigned after 1998 riots in which 1,200 were killed; elections promised for 1999.
East Timor: Indonesia invaded East Timor in 1975 shortly after Portugal granted it independence. This island of 800,000 people (to Indonesia's 200 million) voted 80% for independence in August 1999.
In September, Pres. Habibie invited in an Australian-led, UN-sponsored force of 7,000, including US support groups but no troops, to stop a massacre by the Indonesian army.
China: Holding the line on devaluing its currency is credited with stopping total Asian economic collapse.
China's economy has been growing by 8-10% annually in recent years, by far the world's fastest growth. They maintain a partially open economy with a Communist government.
Asian Tigers: Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan all suffered minor recessions and are currently recovering.
ASEAN: Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, and Thailand were economically weaker than the more developed 'Tigers,' and suffered accordingly.
Nevertheless, ASEAN admitted 4 new members (Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos), which may open and democratize those countries.
- North Korean Nukes:
Pakistan and their nemesis India both successfully tested nuclear weapons in 1998. Neither country signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and hence their nuclear test were not subject to international criticism. Iran, in contrast, signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996 and hence is subject to international criticism for developing nuclear weapons. North Korea never signed the treaty, but was criticized internationally anyway for its first nuclear test in 2006. Pakistan and India have about 100 nuclear warheads each, compared to 8,500 possessed by the United States; 11,000 possessed by Russia; and fewer than 10 possessed by North Korea.
- North Korea:
- As many as 2 million have died from starvation since 1995. Drought and famine continue today, and South Korea is concerned that the North will attack if facing imminent political collapse.
- Naval clashes threatened open warfare in spring and summer 1999.
- In 2000, the regime placed emphasis on expanding foreign trade links, embracing modern technology, and attracting foreign investment, but in no way at the expense of relinquishing central control over key national assets or undergoing market-oriented reforms.
- North Korean Succession:
- North Korean President Kim made a trip to Moscow in 2000, his first trip ever out of the country, but spent 10 days traveling in each direction by train because he refused to fly.
- Kim Jong-Il, the “Dear Leader” of North Korea, died in Dec. 2011, and was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un, now dubbed the “Great Successor.”
Besides his idiosyncratic personality, the new North Korean leader has been criticized for human rights violations, as well as grandstanding on nuclear weapons.