American Foreign Policy


What was the concept of 'manifest destiny'?

The belief that the United States had a God-given right to dominate the northern half of America.

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What was US foreign policy like in 1890?

Non-interventionist in other government's internal affairs and wars, but not their trade.

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Why was the USA neutral in WW1 until 1917?

  • The US believed the war broke out in 1914 due to European power disputes, and did not view the war as a threat to American trade interests.
  • President Woodrow Wilson's ideals were of democracy, open-door trading and diplomacy, and he stressed anti-imperialism.
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Why did the policy of neutrality end?

  • Neutrality was impossible as long as America was trading with the combatants.
  • Trade with Britain and France rose, whilst trade with Germany decreased.
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Why did America enter the war in 1917?

  • America was provoked by Germany's submarine warfare, which caused the Lusitania to sink, killing around 130 Americans aboard the liner. Though they were warned by America, Germany resumed submarine warfare in the hope of reducing allied resources.
  • The Zimmerman Telegram revealed Germany's plans to form a military alliance between themselves and Mexico against America.
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Change and Continuity 1890-1920

  • After 1898, the USA maintained its interests in Latin America, prepared to intervene to maintain regional stability and establish US hegemony.
  • The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 triggered a change in public attitude towards a neutral foreign policy.
  • America's decision to enter WW1 in 1917 was a turning point in their foreign policy, as Wilson had previously stressed anti-imperialism.
  • America's global involvement expanded hugely between 1890-1919. At the end of the 19th century, the US was concerned about its own domestic 'manifest destiny'. However, the Spanish-American War and World War One were turning points in US foreign policy, entangling it further into international politics.
  • Between 1901-1920, Presidents Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson pursued similar policies towards American interests in Latin America and the Far East.
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How did the US contribute to the victory of WW1?

  • America joined the counter-offensive against Germany.
  • American support was beneficial in improving morale and transporting food and industrial goods.
  • The US government mobilised the population to produce ammunition and weaponry, and propaganda was widely used.
  • Their naval building programme enabled them to recover quickly from attacks.
  • Their economic assistance was vital in financing the Allied fight.
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Paris Peace Conference 1919

  • Following an armistice, discussions took place amongst the allied victors to decide peace treaties.
  • President Wilson put together 'Fourteen Points' as a basis for a treaty, including the creation of a League of Nations to prevent future wars.
  • Also freedom of the seas, free trade and disarmament of all nations.
  • Treaty of Versailles formed.


  • The US failed to join the League of Nations and never signed the Treaty of Versailles due to Republican opposition and the Democrat's failure to compromise.
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Impact of World War One

INDUSTRIAL GROWTH - The war left the USA as the strongest industrial producer in the world thanks to innovation and technical advancements.

EQUAL RIGHTS - The war raised expectations of greater equality for African-Americans.

THE RED SCARE - Threat of communism.

FAILURE TO JOIN THE LON - Symbolic of America's unwillingness to commit itself to international relations.

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Isolationism or Internationalism?


The USA tried to follow a policy of 'independent internationalism', which meant being actively involved with other nations, but also protecting national interests.

However, the US faced many problems, including:

  • The rise of communism
  • Maintaining control in Latin America
  • Recovering war debts
  • Managing competition in the Far East

Therefore, the US avoided isolationsim through trading involvement, the spread of American popular culture and international acion.

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The Washington Naval Conference 1921-22

  • 9 major powers including the US, Britain, France and Japan met to discuss the arms race.
  • Arms production seen as economically wasteful for debt repayments, and led to competition and war.
  • Proposed that ships be deliberately destroyed.

Three treaties passed:

Five Power Treaty: limited tonnage of navies

Four Power Treaty: ended Anglo-Japanese alliance, consultation by other countries in event of crisis

Nine Power Treaty: 5 main powers plus others established 'open-door' principle  as international law

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The Dawes Plan 1924

Proposed reducing Germany's annual reparation payments to support the country's financial recovery.

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The Locarno Pact 1925

Germany, France and Belgium guaranteed each other's boundaries.

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The Kellogg-Briand Pact 1928

Pledged to settle disputes peacefully. War should only be resorted to in self-defence. It had no sanctions, however, and so was meaningless.

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The Wall Street Crash 1929

The Crash increased tariffs against imports and resentment over unpaid foreign debts.

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Isolationism or Internationalism?


  • Widespread desire for isolationism.
  • USA not economically strong following Wall Street Crash.
  • FDR Roosevelt had no intention of becoming involved in European affairs, and instead encouraged economic cooperation through the 'good neighbour' policy.
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Isolationism or Internationalism?

WAR DEBTS: President Hoover ended all war debts, and a law was made preventing loans to countries which owed America money.

AGGRESSION IN EUROPE AND ASIA: The USA made no attempt to use economic or military sanctions despite Hitler's occupation of Poland (1939), or Japan's declaration of East Asia in their 'sphere of interest' (1934).

Japan's declaration of a 'New Order' in Asia in 1938 caused the US to increase its navy, end a trade treaty with Japan and provide China with financial aid.

RELATIONS WITH THE USSR: Relations between the USSR and the US were cautious, and showed a lack of concern for each other's welfare.

PROBLEMS AT HOME: There was considerable opposition to involvement abroad.

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The Neutrality Acts (1935-37)

1935 - If there was a war, America would not supply arms to either side.

1936 - No loans would be given to a country engaged in war.

1937 - 'cash and carry' principle - Warring countries could only purchase arms from the USA if they were paid for and taken away by the purchaser.

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Moving away from isolationism

  • By 1937, FDR began to see that the USA might need to be involved in European affairs.
  • World trade seen as a force for both peace and reviving the US economy.
  • By 1939, the USA could no longer ignore the worsening situation in the world.
  • The USA had to move away from the limitations of the Neutrality Acts, which could result in aid being denied to victims of German aggression.
  • After the declaration of war in 1939, Congress agreed to the 'cash and carry' principle.
  • Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 finally caused the USA to enter the Second World War.
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Change and Continuity 1920-1941

  • Congress' rejection of the Treaty of Versailles led to isolationist policies in the 1920s and 30s.
  • The Wall Street Crash of 1929 and the resulting Depression encouraged inward-looking policies.
  • A policy of neutrality was impossible to maintain with events in Europe, as demonstrated by the aggression of other nations in the lead up to WW2.
  • Abandonment of neutrality by entering WW2 in 1941.
  • The USA was never able to retreat entirely from world affairs because of the growth of its industry and trade.
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What was the 'Roosevelt Corollary'? (1904)

An ammendment to the Monroe Doctrine which stated the US had the right to intervene in the affairs of other countries on the continent if they felt there was any 'wrongdoing'.

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What was the Teller Amendment? (1898)

An amendment to a resolution to war with Spain, which was intended to show the USA had no desire to take over Cuba.

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What was the Atlantic Charter? (1941)

Stated the ideal goals of the Second World War, including:

  • Self-determination.
  • Global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all.
  • Freedom of the seas.
  • Abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations.
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What was the Lend Lease Act? (1941)

  • Principal means for providing US military aid to foreign nations during WW2.
  • Authorised the President to transfer arms to any country whose defence was vital to US defence.
  • Permitted the US to support its war interests without being directly involved in battle.
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945)

  • Put the economic interests of the US above all else.
  • Did not have a strong desire in free trade and international economic cooperation.
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What was FDR's 'Good neighbour' policy?

No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.

For instance, the US renounced control over the Cuban government, and US troops were withdrawn from the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

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What was the Platt Amendment? (1901)

A treaty between the US and Cuba under which the United States would end its military occupation of Cuba and protect its independence.

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Taft's Dollar Diplomacy

President William Howard Taft (1909-1913)

  • Focused on advancing American commerical interests abroad.

What was 'dollar diplomacy'?

An American policy to further its aims in Latin America and East Asia through economic power by guaranteeing loans made to foreign countries.

E.g. The USA bought the financial debts of Honduras in 1909.

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President Warren. G. Harding (1921-23)


  • US changed economically, socially and psychologically after WW1.
  • Experienced a number of changes in policy under President Wilson.
  • Harding promised a return to 'normalcy'.
  • Foreign policy should refrain from excessive intervention in international complications.
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President Calvin Coolidge (1923-29)


  • Emphasised need to uphold America's economic and military power - not entirely isolationist.
  • No desire to implement domestic reform or radical policies.
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Post WWI Treaties

5 major peace treaties prepared at the Paris Peace Conference:

Treaty of Versailles - Ended the state of war between Germany and the Allied Powers.

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Post WWI Treaties

Treaty of Saint-Germain - Signed by Austria and the Allied Powers, recognising the independence of Hungary, Poland, Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

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Post WWI Treaties

Treaty of Neuilly - Required Bulgaria to cede various territories after its defeat in WWI.

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Post WWI Treaties

Treaty of Trianon - Regulated the status of an independent Hungarian state and defined its borders.

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Post WWI Treaties

Treaty of Sevres - Abolished the Ottoman Empire and obliged Turkey to renounce all rights over Arab Asia and North Africa.

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The Young Plan 1929

Further reduced Germany's WWI reparation payments and ended foreign control of their economy.

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