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Isolationism is a broad foreign affairs doctrine held by people who believe that their own nation is best served by holding the affairs of other nations at a distance. Most Isolationists believe that limiting international involvement keeps their country from being drawn into dangerous and otherwise undesirable conflicts. Some strict Isolationists believe that their country is best served by even avoiding international trade agreements or other mutual assistance pacts.
Two other terms often associated with Isolationism, but not necessarily the same as Isolationism, are:
- Non-interventionism – is the belief that political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial differences (self-defense). However, most non-interventionists are supporters of free trade, travel, and support certain international agreements, and therefore differ from isolationists.
- Protectionism – Relates more often to economics, its proponents believe that there should be legal barriers in order to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.
"Isolationism" has always been a debated political topic. Whether or not a country should be isolationist affects both its people's living standards and the ability of its political rulers to benefit favored firms and industries.
The policy or doctrine of trying to isolate one's country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, and generally attempting to make one's economy entirely self-reliant; seeking to devote the entire efforts of one's country to its own advancement, both diplomatically and economically, while remaining in a state of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities.
All the First World countries trade in a world economy, and experienced an expansion of the division of labor, which generally raised living standards. However, some characterize this as "a wage race to the bottom" in the manufacturing industries that should be curtailed by protectionism. Some argue that isolating a country from a global division of labor—i.e. employing protectionists trading policies—could be potentially helpful to the people. The consensus amongst most economists is that such a policy is detrimental, and they point to the mercantilism of the pre-industrial era as the classic example. Others argue that as the world's biggest consumer, with its own natural resources, the U.S. can wisely dictate what conditions can apply to goods and services imported for U.S. consumption, misunderstanding the nature of prices and their emergent, non-centrally planned, nature. Countries and regions generally enjoy a comparative advantage over others in some areas. Free trade between countries allows each country to do what it does best, and ultimately to benefit from the products and services that others do best. But "best" too often means monetary, excluding human and ecological costs, due to firms externalizing costs as a result of inadequately defined property rights. Protectionism allegedly interferes in the market process, making people poorer than they would be otherwise.
Isolationism by country
Albania was isolated from other countries while it was under communist control from 1944 to 1990. Known officially as the People's Republic of Albania from 1946 to 1976, and then as the People's Socialist Republic of Albania from 1976 to 1991, Albania spent much of this time under the regime of Enver Hoxha, who severely restricted citizens' freedom and contact with the outside world.
Before 1999, Bhutan had banned television and the Internet to preserve its culture, environment, identity etc. Eventually, Jigme Singye Wangchuck lifted the ban on television and the Internet. His son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was elected as Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan which is being transformed into a democracy.
After Zheng He's voyages in the 15th century, the foreign policy of the Ming Dynasty in China became increasingly isolationist. Emperor Hongwu was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1371. The Qing Dynasty that came after the Ming often continued the latter dynasty's isolationist policies. Wokou or Japanese pirates were one of the key primary concerns, although the maritime ban was not without some control.
At the end of China’s bloody civil war, the country quickly closed off its borders to many outside countries and only maintained diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. In 1949 Mao turned China into an isolationist, and communist country, along the lines of its Soviet benefactors. For a period of time the Chinese attempted to become self-reliant, but found that in doing so the country could not break even economically, especially when attempting to maintain a communist vision when it came to economics. In the 1970s the People's Republic of China began large radical economic reforms, which forced the country to change from a zero competition nation to one of the most capitalistic nations in the world. In doing so it quickly began to open its borders to the trade of various other countries thus adding itself to a global trade economy. While the government still regulates many of the country's cultural interactions with others, it is very open to the concept of an open market and competition with other countries, allowing the flow of technological innovations to flow in and out of its borders freely.
From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called kaikin. The policy prohibited foreign contact with most outside countries. However, the commonly held idea that Japan was entirely closed is misleading. In fact, Japan maintained limited-scale trade and diplomatic relations with China, Korea, the Ryukyu Islands and the Netherlands.
The culture of Japan developed with limited influence from the outside world and had one of the longest stretches of peace in history. During this period, Japan developed thriving cities and castle towns and increasing commodification of agriculture and domestic trade, wage labor, increasing literacy and concomitant print culture, laying the groundwork for modernization, even as the shogunate itself grew weak.
In 1863, King GoJong took the throne of the Joseon Dynasty when he was a child. His father, Regent Heungseon Daewongun, ruled for him until Gojong reached adulthood. During the mid-1860s he was the main proponent of isolationism and the principal instrument of the persecution of both native and foreign Catholics.
The foreign relations of North Korea are often tense and unpredictable. Since the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the armed conflict that existed during the active part of the Korean War in 1953, leaving a de facto truce in place ever since, the North Korean government has been largely isolationist, becoming one of the world's most authoritarian societies. While no formal peace treaty exists between North and South Korea, both diplomatic discussions and clashes have occurred between the two. North Korea has maintained close relations with China and has often limited its contact with other nations. The North Korean government has banned all media from other countries (such as video games, newspapers, and goods), especially South Korea and the United States and smuggling these products is illegal.
Just after independence was achieved, Paraguay was governed from 1814 by the dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who closed the country's borders and prohibited trade or any relation with the outside world until his death in 1840.
Francia had a particular dislike of foreigners, and the recently pre-independence settled Spanish had to intermarry with either the old colonists or with the Guarani, in order to create a single Paraguayan people. Any foreigners who came to Paraguay during his rule (which would have been very difficult) were not allowed to leave for the rest of their lives. An independent character, he hated European influences and the Catholic Church, turning church courtyards into artillery parks and confession boxes into border sentry posts, in an attempt to keep foreigners at bay.
Switzerland is well known for staying neutral in foreign relations. Switzerland did not participate in either of the World Wars. Switzerland also joined the United Nations much later than most other European countries, and is not a member of the European Union.
The history of isolationism in the United States reaches as far back as the first President. In his farewell address, George Washington advised as follows:
The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible. So far as we have already formed engagements, let them be fulfilled with perfect good faith. Here let us stop. Europe has a set of primary interests which to us have none; or a very remote relation. Hence she must be engaged in frequent controversies, the causes of which are essentially foreign to our concerns. Hence, therefore, it must be unwise in us to implicate ourselves by artificial ties in the ordinary vicissitudes of her politics, or the ordinary combinations and collisions of her friendships or enmities.—Washington, George."Washington's Farewell Address 1796." Yale Law School Avalon Project, 2008. Web. 12 Sept 2013.
Isolationist sentiment near the end of the Cold War led the U.S. to develop an apathy to the circumstances in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of Soviet troops. This allowed local fundamentalists known as the Taliban to capture Afghani government. The Taliban protected and supported the group known as Al Qaeda which engaged in international terrorism, most notably the attacks on 9/11.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Isolationism|
- International isolation
- Monroe Doctrine
- Splendid isolation
- United States non-interventionism
- Unilateralism in the United States
- (Sullivan, Michael P., "Isolationism." World Book Deluxe 2001. CD-ROM.)
- "Neutrality, Political," (2008). International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences; retrieved 2011-09-18
- Vo Glahn, Richard.  (1996). Pit of Money: money and monetary policy in China, xc1000-1700. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-20408-5
- Ronald P. Toby, State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, (1984) 1991.
- Thomas C. Smith, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan, Stanford Studies in the Civilizations of Eastern Asia, Stanford, Calif., 1959,: Stanford University Press.
- Mary Elizabeth Berry, Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
- Albert Craig, Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961; Marius B. Jansen, Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.
- Barry, Tom. “A Global Affairs Commentary: The Terms of Power,” Foreign Policy in Focus, November 6, 2002), University Press.
- Berry, Mary Elizabeth. (2006). Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period. Berkeley: University of California Press. 10-ISBN 0520237668/13-ISBN 9780520237667; OCLC 60697079
- Chalberg, John C. (1995). Isolationism: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 10-ISBN 1565102231/13-ISBN 9781565102231; 10-ISBN 1565102223/13-ISBN 9781565102224; OCLC 30078579
- Craig, Albert. (1961). Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. 10-ISBN 0674128508/13-ISBN 9780674128507; OCLC 413558
- Glahn, Richard Von. (1996). Fountain of Fortune: Money and Monetary Policy in China, 1000-1700. Berkeley: University of California Press. 10-ISABN 0520204085/13-ISBN 9780520204089; OCLC 34323424
- Graebner, Norman A. (1956). The New Isolationism; a Study in Politics and Foreign Policy Since 1950. New York: Ronald Press. OCLC 256173
- Jansen, Marius B. (1961). Sakamoto Ryoma and the Meiji Restoration. Princeton: Princeton University Press. OCLC 413111
- Nichols, Christopher McKnight (2011). "Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age." Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011. 
- Nordlinger, Eric A. (1995). Isolationism Reconfigured: American Foreign Policy for a New Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 10-ISBN 0691043272/13-ISBN 9780691043272; OCLC 31515131
- Smith, Thomas C. (1959). The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan. Stanford: Stanford University Press. OCLC 263403
- Sullivan, Michael P. "Isolationism." World Book Deluxe 2001. CD-ROM.
- Toby, Ronald P. (1984). State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 10-ISBN 0691054010/13-ISBN 9780691054018; OCLC 9557347
- Washington, George "Washington's Farewell Address 1796." Yale Law School Avalon Project, 2008. Web. 12 Sept 2013.