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Tools of Foreign Policy

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  • 0:02 Foreign Policy
  • 0:45 Diplomacy & Sanctions
  • 2:02 Containment &…
  • 3:02 Deterrence & Military Force
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain some of the different tools used in foreign policy. It will focus on diplomacy, sanctions, containment, collective security, deterrence, and military force.

Foreign Policy

Throughout American history, there has been rather heated debate over our foreign policy. For instance, there are some who think we should police the world, spreading American values as we go. On the other hand, there are others who think we should lock our proverbial doors, shore up our not so proverbial fences, and mind our own business.

To really cover this debate would take a full semester or more. However, what we can do together is to spend some time exploring some of the tools used in foreign policy, specifically diplomacy, sanctions, containment, collective security, deterrence, and military force. Knowing that we have much to cover, we'll give a brief overview of each.

Diplomacy & Sanctions

Let's start with diplomacy. Stated very simply, diplomacy is dealing with other nations though dialogue and negotiations. We see this all the time as leaders of countries get together for summits and then stand at a podium smiling as they tell the world all they hope to discuss and accomplish. With this scene in mind, it's important for us to know that the president is America's chief diplomat. Yes, we have ambassadors all over the world, but when it comes to diplomacy, the president can and really should say, 'The buck stops here!'

When diplomacy just doesn't seem to be getting it done, countries will often begin to apply pressure to get what they need or want. Great examples of this are sanctions. Sanctions are official orders to stop all commercial activity and trade with another country in an effort to coerce them into making political changes. In other words, if diplomacy is failing, a country will decide to hit 'em where it hurts: their wallets. Probably some of the most famous examples of this are the U.S. government's refusal to trade with Cuba or most of the world's heavy hitters refusing to do business with South Africa until they put an end to their racist apartheid policies.

Containment & Collective Security

Along with sanctions, a government may also choose to employ containment. Containment is a foreign policy, adopted in 1947 by President Truman, that asserts that a nation and its ideologies will fall apart if they are prevented from spreading their influence. Sort of like we quarantine a modern disease, the philosophy is that if you can't beat 'em, just contain 'em, and they'll soon wither up and go away. Containment had its inception in America's dealings with communism during the Cold War.

When employing things like containment and sanctions, countries often want to make sure someone else has their backs. This brings us to collective security. As the name pretty much implies, collective security is countries making alliances with each other to strengthen the security of each member nation. A great example of this is the United States' special relationship with Great Britain. To put it in everyday terms, if someone messes with them, they're also messing with us.

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