The United States, being a world power, has interests across the globe. These interests, along with the interests of their allies, put the U.S. in the position of safeguarding their concerns both far and near. These global interests include business partnerships and maintaining U.S. military presence in territories that require U.S. support. In effect, the U.S. has informally become the “policemen” of the world, adapting its foreign policy in order to protect those interests in the name of peace and democracy.
In the wake of the Civil War, a politician named James G. Blaine seized certain opportunities to further the U.S.A.’s foreign policy. While he didn’t find much success when he ran for President of the U.S., he did become Secretary of State in 1881 (“Blaine,” 2001). While Secretary of State he put forth the idea of Pan-American conferences in order to build ties with Latin America. This was both a political move to establish trade between the countries but also to help protect the U.S. from the residual fear of Great Britain. From this point forward, there is a long list of international events that mirror the motives and methods created back in the late 19th century. Two noteworthy events are the United States’ involvement in the Iraqi war from 2003 to 2011, and the United States’ presence in Afghanistan from 2001 to the present. Both events are extremely controversial, but there is significant evidence that the U.S. ingratiated itself in those conflicts in order to pursue its own interests, namely, foreign oil. That is not to say that peace and democracy would be positive consequence, but the idea of “policing” Iraq and Afghanistan was not completely charitable. Santos and Teixeira describe this in great detail in relation to the Iraq conflict: “George W. Bush was the president of the post-Cold War era who very explicitly made use of the most radical means of exporting democracy--the use of force.
He did so by placing the exporting of democracy into the core of his National Defense Policy and by making of it a fundamental pillar of his foreign policy after September 11” (2013, p. 132). They go on to explain three principles regarding foreign policy: “1. The values and principles of the Western liberal democracy are universal, that is, all the peoples of the world wish to become democratic. 2. Democracies do not fight each other. 3. The promotion of democracy makes the world safer and more prosperous for the United States” (2013, p. 136). These principles have played themselves out in numerous international conflicts and continue to do so as the U.S. takes on the role of policing the world, in the name of democracy but in pursuit of its own interests. Afghanistan was no different. The Afghanistan conflict initially began as a partnership between Afghanistan and the U.S. in opposition to the Soviet Union. However, the U.S. took a more democratic, liberal approach following September 11th, 2001, when the U.S. engaged in a war on terrorism focused on Afghanistan. Fighting terrorism was a way of protecting the world and democracy, the answer to peace.
U.S. foreign policy and its role as a major world power didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it was a series of strategic political moves involving building up the U.S. military, growing the U.S. economy through foreign trade and banking, and establishing the government as one that gets things done. The United States’ growth as a superpower was dependent on all of these things, but it really gained momentum near the end of World War I and into the World War II era. Even while the U.S. was neutral during most of WWI, it continued to serve its own interests by supporting the Allied side. Because of the United States interesting place in history as a nation built upon rebellion and democracy, preserving that freedom was always a part of the world view. This meant building up a military and becoming financially stable not only as a nation but as an international participant. Interestingly enough, the notion of “policing” the world was not only a means of pursuing its interests but a contributing factor in establishing itself as a superpower. The impacts were two-fold.
Still, it was following World War II when the U.S. took on a more active policing role. This role was perhaps most important immediately following WWII as the U.S.—Soviet tension grew with the fall-out. The U.S. had flexed its muscles with helping to win WWI and largely credited with winning WWII after dropping the atomic bomb. It was natural for the U.S. to once again stand up to the biggest threat to world peace—the Soviet Union and its nuclear threats. Once again, the U.S. took on the role of policemen in order to control the spread of communism. In fact, the Vietnam War and the Korean War were also concerned with the spread of communism. The U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War from 1955 to 1975 in order to prevent the spread of communism. The U.S. was involved in the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 in an effort to contain and prevent the spread of communism by China and North Korea. Through the use of propaganda, democracy and liberal ideals were once again the driving force, while at the same time, the U.S. was cementing its role as the policemen of the world. In his book, Selling War, John Schwenkler goes on to say, “the success of prior administrations in establishing the White House as a key media player and, more important, enshrining the idea of the U.S. military as bringer of freedom and defender of the civilized world meant that war had become a much easier sell” (2009, p. 46). This again perpetuated and continues to perpetuate the cycle.
U.S. foreign policy wasn’t limited to military action. There were some very crucial administrative decisions that acted as driving forces fueling international policy. Two of the most influential decisions were the Treaty on Naturalization in 1868, and the United Nations Charter in 1945. The Treaty on Naturalization in 1868 was a tremendous step towards international diplomacy as it opened borders between two countries (“Naturalization Treaty,” 2008) as opposed to sealing those borders and protecting them from foreign invaders. This established a platform for democracy allowing for actual proof that diplomacy was possible. Furthermore, the United Nations Charter in 1945 formed an allegiance of nations in support of peace. According to the U.S., democracy was the way to peace and with a large world following, those democratic ideals could be pursued with world support with the U.S. continuing to police the world.
In conclusion, the U.S. continues to play the part of policemen of the world. There are some positive results from this, both for nations under absolute rule and for the greater world at large. However, the ways in which the U.S. achieved this role and the motivation that continues to drive it should not go unquestioned. The U.S. certainly has global interests, and keeping this in mind along with the decisions made provide a clearer and more truthful reflection of the United States as a nation policing the world.
Blaine, James Gillespie. (2001). Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved
Naturalization Treaty Between the United States and Bavaria; May 26, 1868. (2008). The Avalon
Project: Lillian Goldman Law Library. Retrieved from
Santos, M. H. D. C., & Teixeira, U. T. (2013). The essential role of democracy in the Bush
Doctrine: the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan/O papel essencial da democracia na
Doutrina Bush: as invasoes do Iraque e do Afeganistao. Revista Brasileira de Politica,
56(2), 131+. Retrieved from
Schwenkler, J. (2009). Selling war. The American Conservative, 8(14), 45+. Retrieved from