United States non-interventionism
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United States
Non-interventionism, the diplomatic policy whereby a nation seeks to avoid alliances with other nations in order to avoid being drawn into wars not related to direct territorial self-defense, has had a long history of popularity in the government and among the people of the United States at various periods in time. Non-interventionism on the part of the United States over the course of its foreign policy, is more of a desire to aggressively protect the United States' interests than a desire to shun the rest of the world.
Non-intervention, sometimes referred to as military non-interventionism, seems to some to be the antithesis of isolationism. Maintaining the participation of the United States in global economic affairs is thought to likely boost trade and expand US diplomacy, in the view of Edward A. Olsen.
Thomas Paine is generally credited with instilling the first non-interventionist ideas into the American body politic; his work Common Sense contains many arguments in favor of avoiding alliances. These ideas introduced by Paine took such a firm foothold that the Second Continental Congress struggled against forming an alliance with France and only agreed to do so when it was apparent that the American Revolutionary War could be won in no other manner.
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. 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.
No entangling alliances (19th century)
President Thomas Jefferson extended Washington's ideas in his March 4, 1801 inaugural address: "peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none." Jefferson's phrase "entangling alliances" is, incidentally, sometimes incorrectly attributed to Washington.
In 1823, President James Monroe articulated what would come to be known as the Monroe Doctrine, which some have interpreted as non-interventionist in intent: "In the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken part, nor does it comport with our policy, so to do. It is only when our rights are invaded, or seriously menaced that we resent injuries, or make preparations for our defense."
After Tsar Alexander II put down the 1863 January Uprising in Poland, French Emperor Napoleon III asked the United States to "join in a protest to the Tsar." Secretary of State William H. Seward declined, "defending 'our policy of non-intervention — straight, absolute, and peculiar as it may seem to other nations,'" and insisted that "[t]he American people must be content to recommend the cause of human progress by the wisdom with which they should exercise the powers of self-government, forbearing at all times, and in every way, from foreign alliances, intervention, and interference."
The United States' policy of non-intervention was maintained throughout most of the 19th century. The first significant foreign intervention by the US was the Spanish-American War, which saw the US occupy and control the Philippines.
20th century non-intervention
The President of the United States Woodrow Wilson, after winning reelection with the slogan "He kept us out of war," was able to navigate neutrality in the war for about three years. Early in the war, the presence in the US of immigrants with divided loyalties in the conflict helped maintain neutrality. Various causes compelled American entry into World War I, the American Congress to declare war on Germany, and so involve the nation on the side of the Triple Entente in World War I. A few months after the declaration of War, Wilson gave a speech to congress outlining his aims to end the conflict, labeled the Fourteen Points. While this American proclamation was less triumphalist than the aims of some of its allies, it did propose in the final point, that a general association of nations must be formed under specific covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of political independence and territorial integrity to great and small states alike. After the war, Wilson traveled to Europe and stayed for months to labor on the post-war treaty; no president had previously enjoined such sojourn outside of the country. In that Treaty of Versailles, Wilson's association was formulated as the League of Nations.
Non-Interventionism between the World Wars
In the wake of the First World War, the non-interventionist tendencies of US foreign policy gained ascendancy. The Treaty of Versailles, and thus, United States' participation in the League of Nations, even with reservations, was rejected by the Republican-dominated Senate in the final months of Wilson's presidency. A group of Senators known as the Irreconcilables, identifying with both William Borah and Henry Cabot Lodge, had great objections regarding the clauses of the treaty which compelled America to come to the defense of other nations. Lodge, echoing Wilson, issued 14 Reservations regarding the treaty; among them, the second argued that America would sign only with the understanding that:
Nothing compels the United States to ensure border contiguity or political independence of any nation, to interfere in foreign domestic disputes regardless of their status in the League, or to command troops or ships without Congressional declaration of war.
Although the United States was unwilling to commit to the League of Nations, they continued to engage in international negotiations and treaties. In August 1928, fifteen nations signed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, brainchild of American Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand. This pact that was said to have outlawed war and showed the United States commitment to international peace had its semantic flaws. For example, it did not hold the United States to the conditions of any existing treaties, it still allowed European nations the right to self-defense, and it stated that if one nation broke the Pact, it would be up to the other signatories to enforce it. The Kellogg-Briand Pact was more of a sign of good intentions on the part of the US, rather than a legitimate step towards the sustenance of world peace.
The economic depression that ensued after the Crash of 1929, also continued to abet non-intervention. The attention of the country focused mostly on addressing the problems of the national economy. The rise of aggressive nationalist governments in Italy and Japan led to conflicts such as the Italian conquest of Ethiopia and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. These events led to ineffectual condemnations by the League of Nations. Official American response was muted. America also did not take sides in the brutal Spanish Civil War.
Non-interventionism shortly before World War II
As Europe moved closer to war in the late 1930s, the United States Congress continued to demand American neutrality. Between 1936 and 1937, much to the dismay of the Anglophile President Roosevelt, Congress passed the Neutrality Acts. For example, in the final Neutrality Act, Americans could not sail on ships flying the flag of a belligerent nation or trade arms with warring nations. Such activities had played a role in American entrance into World War I.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland; Britain and France subsequently declared war on Germany, marking the start of World War II. In an address to the American People two days later, President Roosevelt assured the nation that he would do all he could to keep them out of war. However, his words showed his true goals. "When peace has been broken anywhere, the peace of all countries everywhere is in danger," Roosevelt said. Even though he was intent on neutrality as the official policy of the United States, he still echoed the dangers of staying out of this war. He also cautioned the American people to not let their wish to avoid war at all costs supersede the security of the nation.
The war in Europe split the American people into two camps: non-interventionists and interventionists. The two sides argued over America’s involvement in this Second World War. The basic principle of the interventionist argument was fear of German invasion. By the summer of 1940, France suffered a stunning defeat by Germans, and Britain was the only democratic enemy of Germany.   In a 1940 speech, Roosevelt argued, "Some, indeed, still hold to the now somewhat obvious delusion that we … can safely permit the United States to become a lone island … in a world dominated by the philosophy of force." A national survey found that in the summer of 1940, 67% of Americans believed that a German-Italian victory would endanger the United States, that if such an event occurred 88% supported "arm[ing] to the teeth at any expense to be prepared for any trouble", and that 71% favored "the immediate adoption of compulsory military training for all young men".
Ultimately, the ideological rift between the ideals of the United States and the goals of the fascist powers empowered the interventionist argument. "How could we sit back as spectators of a war against ourselves?" writer Archibald MacLeish questioned. In an address to the American people on December 29, 1940, President Roosevelt said, "…the Axis not merely admits but proclaims that there can be no ultimate peace between their philosophy of government and our philosophy of government."
However, there were still many who held on to non-interventionism. Although a minority, they were well organized, and had a powerful presence in Congress. Pro-German or anti-British opinion contributed to isolationism. Roosevelt's national share of the 1940 presidential vote declined by seven percentage points from 1936. Of the 20 counties in which his share declined by 35 points or more, 19 were largely German-speaking. Of the 35 counties in which his share declined by 25 to 34 points, German was the largest or second-largest original nationality in 31. Non-interventionists rooted a significant portion of their arguments in historical precedent, citing events such as Washington’s farewell address and the failure of World War I. “If we have strong defenses and understand and believe in what we are defending, we need fear nobody in this world,” Robert Hutschins, President of the University of Chicago, wrote in a 1940 essay. Isolationists believed that our safety as a nation was more important than any foreign war. The interesting thing is that the arguments the non-interventionists used in 1940 echoed the themes of Washington and Jefferson. Charles Lindbergh’s words in a 1940 speech, “…those of us who believe in an independent American destiny must … organize for strength,” are not that different from Washington’s pleas for international isolation.
As 1940 became 1941, the actions of the Roosevelt administration made it more and more clear that the United States was on a course to war. This policy shift, driven by the President, came in two phases. The first came in 1939 with the passage of the Fourth Neutrality Act, which permitted the United States to trade arms with belligerent nations, as long as these nations came to America to retrieve the arms, and pay for them in cash. This policy was quickly dubbed, ‘Cash and Carry.’ The second phase was the Lend-Lease Act of early 1941. This act allowed the President, “…to lend, lease, sell, or barter arms, ammunition, food, or any ‘defense article’ or any ‘defense information’ to ‘the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.’” American public opinion supported Roosevelt's actions. As United States involvement in the Battle of the Atlantic grew with incidents such as the sinking of the USS Reuben James (DD-245), by late 1941 72% of Americans agreed that "the biggest job facing this country today is to help defeat the Nazi Government", and 70% thought that defeating Germany was more important than staying out of the war. Isolationist families' sons fought in the war as much as others.
Rathbun (2008) compares three separate themes in conservative policies since the 1980s: conservatism, neoconservatism, and isolationism. These approaches are similar in that they all invoked the mantle of "realism" and pursued foreign policy goals designed to promote national interests. Conservatives, however, were the only group that was "realist" in the academic sense in that they defined the national interest narrowly, strove for balances of power internationally, viewed international relations as amoral, and especially valued sovereignty. By contrast, neoconservatives based their foreign policy on nationalism, and isolationists sought to minimize any involvement in foreign affairs and raise new barriers to immigration. Former Republican Congressman Ron Paul favored a return to the non-interventionist policies of Thomas Jefferson and frequently opposed military intervention in countries like Iran and Iraq.
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (December 2012)|
- >US national defense for the twenty-first century: the grand exit strategy By Edward A. Olsen p 181 line 10, 179 paragraph 2
- Raico, Ralph. America's Will to War: The Turning Point, Mises Institute
- Vote in House of Representatives was 373 to 50 in favor of war, and in Senate 82-6.
- Selig Adler, The Isolationist Impulse: Its Twentieth Century Reaction (New York: The Free Press, 1957), 201
- Ibid, 213
- Ibid, 21.
- Ibid, 214 & 215
- Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Fireside Chats," Chat from 3 Sept. 1939, accessed via 'The American Presidency Project' online at http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/index.php .
- Adler, Isolationist Impulse, 259.
- The Annals of America, vol. 16, (Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 1968),6, N.B. The Annals of America is a multivolume collection of primary sources grouped by year.
- Ibid, 8.
- "What the U. S. A. Thinks". Life. 1940-07-29. p. 20. Retrieved November 10, 2011.
- Ibid, 4
- Roosevelt, Chat from 29 Dec. 1940.
- Adler, Isolationist Impulse, 257.
- Lubell, Samuel (1956). The Future of American Politics (2nd ed.). Anchor Press. pp. 139–140,142.
- Ibid, 284.
- Annals of America, 71.
- Ibid, 75
- Ibid, 257.
- Ibid, 282.
- Cull, Nicholas John (1995). Selling War: The British Propaganda Campaign against American "Neutrality" in World War II. pp. 185,241. ISBN 0-19-508566-3.
- Brian C. Rathbun, "Does One Right Make a Realist? Conservatism, Neoconservatism, and Isolationism in the Foreign Policy Ideology of American Elites," Political Science Quarterly 2008 123(2): 271-299
||Constructs such as ibid., loc. cit. and idem are discouraged by Wikipedia's style guide for footnotes, as they are easily broken. Please improve this article by replacing them with named references (quick guide), or an abbreviated title. (June 2010)|
- Adler, Selig. The Isolationist Impulse: Its Twentieth Century Reaction. New York: The Free Press, 1957.
- The Annals of America. vol. 16. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 1968.
- Doenecke, Justus D. "American Isolationism, 1939-1941" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Summer/Fall 1982, 6(3), pp. 201–216.
- Doenecke, Justus D. "Explaining the Antiwar Movement, 1939-1941: The Next Assignment" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Winter 1986, 8(1), pp. 139–162.
- Doenecke, Justus D. "Literature of Isolationism, 1972-1983: A Bibliographic Guide" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Spring 1983, 7(1), pp. 157–184.
- Doenecke, Justus D. "Anti-Interventionism of Herbert Hoover" Journal of Libertarian Studies, Summer 1987, 8(2), pp. 311–340.
- Gaddis, John Lewis. Surprise, Security, and the American Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2004.
- Nichols, Christopher McKnight. "Promise and Peril: America at the Dawn of a Global Age". Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2011.
- Roosevelt, Franklin D. “Fireside Chats.” 3 Sep. 1939, 29 Dec. 1940, 9 Dec. 1941.
- Weinberg, Albert K. Manifest Destiny: A Study of Nationalist Expansionism in American History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1935.