American isolationism and what it means

How isolationists are pushing towards a new world order

Last month, House Republicans shot down a foreign aid bill that would guarantee billions in military aid to Israel and Ukraine. This came during an uphill battle for the Ukrainians after a failed counter-offensive. Despite the war remaining relatively static with minimal territorial gains or losses on each side, the Russians have captured a key town, Adivika, seen as one of their most significant gains in months. Ukraine needed that aid to replenish diminishing ammunition and supplies crucial to the war effort. With the war nowhere in Ukraine’s favour, have the Americans abandoned their latest NATO project?

Republicans blocked the bill, citing issues with US-Mexico border concessions that the Democrats had included. Despite including some of the most radical provisions reminiscent of Trump-era policy, they were not good enough to achieve the blessing of the Republicans. Yet this rejection of foreign aid goes beyond mere border squabbles. This falls under a more significant trend of American isolationism, mainly cultivated by members of the Republican far-right. Isolationism is nothing new in American politics. It was their leading foreign policy before WWI and during the interwar period. The USA was a country of neutrality, at least on European matters, as the same cannot be said for issues within the North and South American spheres. Regardless, this conservative-led ideology has been experiencing a resurgence, with a steady growth in support since the invasion of Iraq and subsequent “forever wars” that have exhausted the public. This shift in American foreign policy preferences means drastic ramifications for the country, its allies, and adversaries, leading us into an eventual new world order.

Donald Trump is a leading figure in pushing “America First” policies that align with isolationist ideology. Isolationism in America has already reached the stage of re-emergence. This is seen through the policy being institutionalized within the Republican Party, becoming the central norm for their foreign policy. It is only a matter of time before the norm of isolationism reaches the stage of internationalization with the 2024 presidential election later this year. 

What does this mean, and how is it relevant to international relations? The Republican isolationist camp is not entirely isolationist, comparable to pre-19th century Japan. Instead, they want to shift priority to what they perceive as a more significant threat to American hegemony, which is China, and is referred to as the “Asian Pivot.” To them, the USA is wasting its time with Europe and Russia. Ukraine and NATO expansion was a fatal error that has set the USA back in great power competition. Russia is now alienated from joining the Americans in counterbalancing against China. Both the Democrats and Republicans agree that China poses a threat to American hegemony. The war in Ukraine has diverted attention away from China’s rise, putting the USA in what Western elites perceive as a dangerous position. Its adversary has grown too strong to stop, eroding current and future American power projection.

While Russia was the main threat to American unipolarity during the Cold War, those days are long gone. The “Soviet menace” has crumbled, and despite the efforts of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia is a shadow of what it used to be. The more cynical American foreign policy makers saw the expansion of NATO and the subsequent war in Ukraine as a way to weaken the Russians permanently. This policy of aggression against Russia has not been as effective as desired, inadvertently leading to unprecedented growth in Chinese influence. 

Global multipolarity is sure to come if it has not already arrived. The days of unchecked American unipolarity are over, and the isolationists are exacerbating the declining hegemony. America is struggling to hold onto the power and influence it once had, with its ability to make unilateral decisions with full global support severely hindered. The USA is in a phase of delegitimization, with its public image worsened by inaction in Ukraine. The future of NATO seems uncertain with the abandonment of Ukraine and inflammatory remarks from Donald Trump, where he publicly encouraged Russia to attack allies who do not pay the minimum percentage of GDP to the alliance. Will the USA back up its allies in their time of need? Or will decisions be gridlocked between both parties like they are now? Either way, this is dangerous for the integrity of American imperialism and may lead to destabilizing results for the rest of the world. In the emergence of multipolarity, there will undoubtedly be a competition of interests between great powers. Whether this leads to war or a reversal of a zero-sum system is up to the preferences of the elites.

One Response

  1. *Avdiivka. It is a stretch to call it a “key town.” The only thing that makes it key is the sheer amount of casualties each side has sustained holding it or seizing it. Some 40,000 dead or wounded.

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