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Evolution of Foreign Policy, Isolationism

Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, European wars, SEATO, Monroe Doctrine, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

The first and most enduring principle of American foreign policy was isolationism. As expressed by George Washington in 1796, isolationism meant that there should be no permanent alliances and “as little political connection as possible” with foreign nations. This policy only applied to political relations because the United States continued to trade with other nations and to expand its territory. In the early 1800s the United States extended its isolationist polices to all of the Western Hemisphere with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. This doctrine stated that the United States would stay out of European wars and that European nations should not attempt to extend their influence into the Americas.

America’s policy of isolationism continued after World War I (1914-1918), when European countries created the League of Nations to establish a collective security system. At that time the U.S. Senate refused to join the league despite President Woodrow Wilson’s support for it. It was only after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941—the event that brought America into World War II—that isolationism disappeared. After the war ended, the United States became involved in a system of alliances and regional defense associations. These associations, which specified that an attack on one member was an attack on all and would require a suitable collective response, included the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization of American States (OAS), and the now-defunct Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). These collective security alliances were adopted when the United States entered a 40-year period of mutual distrust—the Cold War—with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).

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