Will the 2012 US presidential election affect US foreign policy?

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Rubén Ruiz's picture

The world is changing fast. Power in the international arena had never changed so quickly. Until 1989, during the Cold War, the world was bipolar. The United States and the Soviet Union were the most important powers in the world. However, after the fall of Berlin Wall and because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States was the Hegemon. There was no state with so much power as the USA in the world. Nevertheless, in the last years, some countries are gaining in importance and influence. These developing countries are making the world multipolar. Despite the rising, in economic terms, of the so called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the United States will continue to be for some decades the most powerful country, although not in the same terms as before. Now, in a global world, the USA will need more cooperation with other states and international organizations in order to face common challenges. In a globalized world, common challenges must be faced by common responses.

Foreign policy has always been a fundamental pillar in US politics. The development of a foreign policy also depends on the security and defense policy. Security and defense are key aspects for the adoption of a foreign policy. The National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States is directly related with the priorities of the Government in foreign policy. The three NSS adopted in the USA in the last decade (2002, 2006 and 2010) express the primacy of United States and its values all over the world without geographic boundaries and the promotion of the political and economic liberalism. The NSS of 2010 has been considered as a loss of ambition of the USA in security issues and, therefore, a decrease of leadership of the USA in the world. However, it can be considered as a pragmatic strategy as well, a strategy that reflects the reality into which we are going deep: a multipolar world. The NSS 2010 moves from unilateralism (in the last NSS) towards multilateralism. As a result, the USA would like intensify dialogue with the different powers and with international organizations.

Therefore, there is always a continuity in the foreign policy of the United States. There are differences in the rhetoric when Republicans and Democrats deal with foreign policy issues but, in practice, when they are in power, pragmatism is the premise to follow. We could state that the true policy makers of the US foreign policy are not the Government and the Congress, but the national interests of the United States. Foreign policy is used to maintain security, stability and prosperity in the domestic issues, for instance, in the energetic policy. In this case, the Realpolitik is the most important principle to adopt agreements with countries which, although they do not share similar values and principles than the USA, these are necessary to the survival of US economy.

Priorities in the US foreign policy do not change. During the political electoral campaigns we can notice some differences in the attitudes. Republicans are used to be more unilateral and Democrats are a priori in favor of multilateralism. Nevertheless, when both political parties hold the power, they adopt a unilateral position. We can make a parallelism with the policies regarding the EU by the United Kingdom. The two most important parties, Conservative and Labour Parties, adopt a stronger position against EU politics when they are in the opposition. On the contrary, after winning the elections, pragmatism is the guideline of British politics. Therefore, US citizens want to listen that the Government protects their interests. Prosperity, optimism, hope, freedom... are words which define what Americans think about their lives, about their country, about the way of understanding the state where they live and about the dreams they pursue. Priorities in the US foreign policy are based on all these principles and neither Republicans nor Democrats would change them.

Since the End of World War II, US foreign policy has as a principle objective maintaining the American hegemony all over the world. This priority has not changed. The United States knows that Washington must make steps towards multilateralism, because the world in the 21st century will be multipolar. They will need dialogue in order to fight against the common risks and threats which affect all of us. That is why during the last decades, the USA has never hesitated in using the force to defend their interests wherever they are: during the Cold War to maintain influence in the most of states as possible, as the USSR did, and afterwards, to protect the interests of USA and its allies. After the Cold War, the United States, without differences of political trends, did not hesitate in intervening in different points of the world in order to maintain stability in such countries of interest for the USA, particularly due to security and energetic reasons. Wars in the former Yugoslavia, Irak and Afghanistan are a prove of that.

US relations with important powers will not change after the 2012 US presidential election. The best relations with the European Union, the transatlantic axis, will be always at high level. The USA and the EU share principles and values and similar wishes for peace and security in different parts of the world. Democrats and Republicans know that they need dialogue with Russia and China on important international concerning issues. Both countries are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the United States needs their support for issuing  resolutions protecting global interests. Besides, the positions of the White House regarding Israel and Iran have not changed in a significant way, in comparison with last Administration. The excellent relations with Tel Aviv will not end and regarding Teheran, the USA will not hesitate to use force against this country if Washington see in this regime a threat against US interests.

Nowadays, the most important world geopolitical point is situated in Asia, in the Indian Ocean, where many interests for the USA are at stake. In Asia are emerging important countries, as well as in Africa and Latin America. The next Government of the United States will continue to be clear that the US needs allies all over the world to maintain their interests.

Summing up, the outcome of the next presidential election in the United States will not change the priorities in the US foreign policy. We could see during a political campaign some rhetoric differences. However, priorities will actually not change in a country whose important interests are mantaining the hegemony and influence in the world.


  1. “National Security Strategy”, May 2010, Washington (United States of America)
  2. “El mundo después de Bush”, Vanguardia Dossier, nº29, October/December 2008, Barcelona (Spain)