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POWER AND RESTRAINT: A FOREIGN POLICY REVIEW



Former President Theodore Roosevelt famously said that the United States must speak quietly but carry a large stick. A foreign policy vision that stood the test of time. Essentially, President Roosevelt warns leaders not to talk the United States into the military engagements but be prepared when unavoidable conflicts arise. As the lone global superpower, America must protect the peaceful world order and harmonize global needs. But America must address aggression wherever it occurs if diplomatic and economic deterrents prove ineffective.

What would an effective and appropriate foreign policy involve? American foreign policy should focus heavily on diplomacy to resolve the global disputes and maintain international law and order. Direct talks with offending nations or leveraging our network of allies to craft solutions. If needed, utilize economic deterrents, such as sanctions, tariffs, embargo, or restricted access to financial markets to incentivize behavior. Military engagement should only be the last resort, when all diplomatic channels exhausted or direct action against our citizens, interests, or allies.


While diplomacy should be the bedrock of foreign policy, our government needs to ensure that our military capability is second to none. Investments in modernization and advanced technology is important. Being on the forefront of new types of warfare is key to defeat our enemies with the least number of human casualties. A key deterrent to any conflict is the enemy knowing their inability for victory before  a single shot is taken. Although war is not the desired outcome, our nation should be fully prepared if it becomes the only option.

The United States is a superpower, not only because our military might or economic prowess, but because of our ideals for freedom, democracy, and peace. Despite of our capabilities, the United States of America is one of the few nations that does not seek to use it recklessly. Even in the global campaigns that defined our reputation for saving Europe from multiple German attempts for world domination or leading efforts to defeat global terrorism, diplomacy was the first path, until direct events drew us into conflicts. Our restraint matches our power. For some creating foreign policies challenges for us, their lack of restraint requires the world to restrict the level of power.

The greatest challenges in the maintaining the delicate balance of the global law and order is both one of economic and military aspects. Nations like Iran and North Korea seek to shift their influence in their regions with force and intimidation as they aspire to become nuclear nations. The access of weapons of mass destruction may prove harmful to neighboring nations who maintain close connection to the US and other western democracies.  On the economic front, Russia and China seek to counter our global standing by seeking superpower status through economic manipulation and social engineering. The resurgence of power to these two may not be ideal for those seeking social freedom and human rights.

The shared goal for dealing North Korea and Iran is not to engage them militarily but convince these two regimes to work towards disarmament. In exchange, the United States and other economic powers would increase economic engagements with the current largely isolated people. The criteria would need to include not only reduction in nuclear weapons activity but ceasing violating human rights and torture of their citizens and dissidents. Once compliance is ensured and verified, then sanctions can be lifted, and trade increased. Since these nations have a history of circumventing agreements, the international community needs to hold back on providing funds upfront.

During the Cold War, competing world views sought to influence the collective world culture. The American view of social and economic freedom competed with the Soviet view of communist society, which stronghandedly controlled social behaviors and economic activities. Despite being a Communist nation itself, China realized early on that it needed to open its economy, where it currently has somewhat market economy with communist government. While the Soviet Union no longer exists, the desire for influence in the world stage is still there. There is a need for America to work with these two nations, but to work on curbing behaviors that infringe on national and economic sovereignty as well as the array of human rights violations.

The path forward with these nations can be one of diplomacy and strategic talks. In the case of Russia and China, both nations appear to understand the need to find constructive working relationships, despite some conflicts in agendas. North Korea appears willing to see where negotiations will take it, as the nation is still highly isolated economically. Despite provocations, Iran must know that conflict with the global community is not in its best interest. It seeks to restore the poorly constructed Iran deal, which provided upfront benefits with little teeth.

There is always an issue of trust when dealing with regimes having poor history of compliance. Many of these nations faced accusations of conducting offending behaviors either through inspection manipulation or using third parties. For instance, many accuse Iran of funding terrorism across the Middle East with the help of regional organizations. Russia faced great deal of criticism over the years for not complying with treaties. Satellite imagery discovered efforts by China and North Korea to violate international sanctions.  

Furthermore, these nations have different political systems, creating dictatorships without term limits. There are opportunities for them to simply wait out an American administration hoping to find one easier to deceive. Or hold the status quo until more favorable terms can be attained. Consistency from administration to administration is important to show a unified front. America cannot afford reckless compassion in dealing with certain types of regimes.

Global leaders are not blind to the political situations in foreign nations. Appealing to the current political leanings in one’s society is a key part of their calculated behaviors. Propaganda can leverage demonstrated political emotions to influence foreign policy. For instance, strong anti-war sentiment can provide cover for certain regimes, understanding the political situation can restrict responses. Our leaders can avoid these traps with strategic planning that establish criteria for actions and consequences and be willing to administers those consequences where appropriate.


The endless balance of power and restraint. Americans do not want our leaders talking us into war. But Americans do not want to see dangerous regime blatantly attack our interests and allies while our government struggles with inaction. Not every situations calls for engagement, but that is an important deterrent to use when appropriate.