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Published on April 2nd, 2014 | by Bill Burton
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US Foreign Policy – A Necessary Evil?

The recent developments in Ukraine have brought the foreign policy approaches of Nations around the world into question once more, none more so than in the USA. Russian President Putin’s aggressive posturing over Ukraine’s fleeting glances towards the EU, and the now inevitable annexation of Crimea have put immense pressure on the world’s governments. The appetite for intervention amongst both the public and politicians has vastly diminished in Europe and the US after the costly Iraq and Afghanistan wars. It is possible that this more cautious approach has created a vacuum and Putin is going to try and fill it.

The US is perhaps in the most precarious position following Russia’s actions. Its place as sole superpower and dominator of world foreign policy has been seriously brought into question. Since assuming office President Obama has toned down the aggressive rhetoric of the previous Bush administration. Resetting relations with numerous countries, including Russia, and offering a hand to all nations that were willing to engage with him. The US public have been generally supportive of this stance and despite the protestations of establishment Republicans, the Tea Party branch have also advocated a more restricted world role. Has this new approach from the Obama administration lead to the situations in Ukraine, with Putin sensing an opportunity to test his mettle? It is plausible, although the situation is extremely complex.

When assessing the US approach, it is necessary to understand the state of the military in America. At a glance the  constant warmongering and military industry in the US seems to be both morally wrong and illogical. Interfering in other nations affairs has a huge cost, both in human and financial terms. The US spends more on its military than the next ten countries in terms of GDP countries combined and has military bases in over 170 nations.

Whilst the military activity of America may be wrong, and one can certainly make a good case that it is, there is some degree of logic to it. America has large and complex geopolitical interests. Globalisation has ensured that economies around the world are inextricably linked, this has served no country better than America – whose corporations have been able to effectively manoeuvre into domestic markets.

The continued support for Israel is an example of this, with a $3bn annual cost in aid and detrimental affect on its neighbours in the Middle East. Yet its close relationship with Israel affords America a strong presence in the region, which is important given its geopolitical significance from vast oil reserves.

Maintaining such a strong military presence has domestic benefits also. It provides large numbers of jobs and subsequently boosts economic output. Reducing military spending has largely been ignored in recent years despite large cuts in the federal budget. A strong military has become established not only into the political sphere but also the public consciousness. The continued military spending has been dubbed the ‘military industrial complex’, a self perpetuating cycle that illustrates the influence on vested interests in maintaining military spending. Whilst this certainly has an impact, to completely attribute American foreign policy to this would be wrong.

Whilst stockpiling enough nuclear weapons to destroy the world multiple times is clearly unnecessary, the recent events in Ukraine have shown that America’s military spending and presence have possibly been justified. The more considered approach to foreign policy from Obama can be seen as creating a power vacuum on the world stage, countries may feel encouraged to pursue more adventurous foreign policy approaches, as has been the case with Russia.  Obama has been reluctant to dictate terms to Putin, besides a few negligible bans. Military action is not possible against a nation as powerful as Russia.

The idea of Obama embarking on a more responsible approach to foreign policy alone has been questioned by Noam Chomsky. Obama has rapidly increased the scale of drone strikes which Chomsky has dubbed the worlds largest terrorist activity. He also highlights the still frosty relations with Iran and North Korea as evidence that any change has been limited.

The events in Ukraine have been viewed from a western perspective in most of the mainstream media. Putin attempting to fill a gap left by Obama seems slightly farfetched, though he may have been encouraged to act so aggressively by Obama’s move cautious approach. In reality, events closer to Russia are likely of much greater significance. Large numbers of Ukrainian citizens are ethnically Russian and wanting to return control to their mother country. Putin has very few checks on his power and authority so is able to act with relative impunity in relation to former Soviet states.   A stronger American presence would likely have limited impact on the whole situation, as was seen in Georgia in 2008 where the US was supposedly in a much stronger position.

Ramping up military activity will not solve problems such as Ukraine. The western response has been both timid and laughable. The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Gogozin jibed that the he didn’t need a visa to listen to Tupac. Treating Russia like a naughty school child will bring limited results, especially considering its strong financial position and role as a main energy supplier. A more reasoned and understanding approach from the west, in relation to Russia and foreign policy more generally would be a better route.



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About the Author

Graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in Politics. Topics of interest include income inequality, drug law reform, domestic politics and US politics. @bilburt

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