Being Nice Instead of a Selfish, Violent Jerk
A Global Good Neighbor Ethic for International Relations
The following is a summary of the May 2005 report by the International Relations Center and Foreign Policy In Focus. The full report will become available soon.
This article was made available through the news service of Foreign Policy in Focus. Foreign Policy in Focus has kindly granted us permission to share top articles with the readers of the Progress Report.
by Tom Barry, Salih Booker, Laura Carlsen, Marie Dennis, and John GershmanSeldom, if ever, has U.S. foreign policy been as confusing or as divisive as it is today. The occupation of Iraq , the deepening trade deficit, saber-rattling abroad, and disdain for international cooperation have left the American public uncertain about what exactly the U.S. government is doing overseas, and why.
Public uncertainty about U.S. actions overseas is not a new phenomenon, certainly not one that’s distinctive to the George W. Bush era. The citizenry has frequently questioned whether Washington’s foreign policy really serves U.S. interests and truly makes everyone more secure. Especially since the 1890s -- when our revolutionary republic began thinking more about expanding the U.S. dominion abroad and less about its own independence, democracy, and freedom -- civic apprehensions have shadowed official foreign policy.
Today the “global war on terror” and talk of “regime change” in other countries have sparked criticism from both the political left and right, and many voices have risen to protest these initiatives and demand a change in foreign policy. The president says we should “stay the course.” But the high costs, scant results, and increasing dangers of our current foreign policy course indicate the need for a sharp change in direction.
Can we alter the course of U.S. foreign policy? Has there ever been a model for a dramatic shift away from militarism and unilateralism toward international cooperation and peace?
Fortunately, U.S. foreign policy has another legacy -- one that makes us proud and can serve as a model and inspiration for ourselves and others. It is the Good Neighbor policy that President Franklin D. Roosevelt proposed in the 1930s as a fresh perspective on international relations and U.S. foreign affairs. His presidency (1933-45) marked a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign relations and was characterized by a public repudiation of three decades of imperialism, cultural and racial stereotyping, and military intervention.
In the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) is remembered mostly for his social democratic policies at home and his strong leadership as a wartime president. However, Roosevelt’s pre-World War II foreign policy was equally outstanding and quite relevant to today’s economic, security, and cultural conflicts.
In his March 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt announced a new approach to international relations that would become known as his Good Neighbor policy. “I would dedicate this nation to the policy of the good neighbor -- the neighbor who resolutely respects himself and, because he does so, respects the rights of others.”
The Good Neighbor policy of the 1930s provides a contrast to the current approach toward international relations -- not an anomaly but a perspective deeply rooted in U.S. history. The Good Neighbor period was a time when the United States took a firm stand as a global leader, not a global bully; a time when America actively sought to build multilateral cooperation rather than assert global dominance.
Our world has seen major transformations unimagined in the days of the Great Depression and the New Deal. As national and global conditions change, political agendas must also evolve. FDR’s Good Neighbor policy cannot be applied as a blueprint for foreign policy today, but the basic principles behind it offer keys to building new international relations that are socially, politically, and environmentally sustainable.
Good Neighbor Principles
The globalized conditions of the 21st century require a Global Good Neighbor ethic consisting of four general principles and three precepts that address the primary areas of international relations: military affairs, sustainable development, and governance.
Principle One: The first step toward being a good neighbor is to stop being a bad neighbor.
Principle Two: Our nation’s foreign policy agenda must be tied to broad U.S. interests. To be effective and win public support, a new foreign policy agenda must work in tandem with new domestic policies to improve security, quality of life, and basic rights in our own country.
Principle Three: Given that our national interests, security, and social well-being are interconnected to those of other peoples, U.S. foreign policy must be based on reciprocity rather than domination, mutual well-being rather than cutthroat competition, and cooperation rather than confrontation.
Principle Four: As the world’s foremost power, the United States will be best served by exercising responsible global leadership and partnership rather than seeking global dominance.
Principle Five: An effective security policy must be two-pronged. Genuine national safety requires both a well-prepared military capable of repelling attacks on our country and a proactive commitment to improving national and personal security through nonmilitary measures and international cooperation.
Principle Six: The U.S. government should support sustainable development, first at home and then abroad, through its macroeconomic trade, investment, and aid policies.
Principle Seven: A peaceful and prosperous global neighborhood depends on effective governance at national, regional, and international levels. Effective governance is accountable, transparent, and representative.
Like FDR’s international relations initiatives, these principles break with the traditions of the foreign policy elites and emulate the practices of towns, communities, and neighborhoods across our land. They are easily understood, because they are not drawn from foreign policy journals or ideological tracts. Global Good Neighbor principles reflect our basic values, our golden rules, our personal responsibility, our common sense, and our human decency. They are principles based on the everyday practices of good neighbors.
Shedding Political Labels
The U.S. citizenry needs and deserves a new foreign policy that clarifies rather than confounds values -- one that breaks through the barricades established by outdated political labels of conservative vs. liberal, realist vs. idealist, or isolationist vs. internationalist.
An effective policy will be neither strictly self-serving nor purely altruistic. In adopting Global Good Neighbor principles to guide our relations with other nations and peoples, we reject the false dichotomy between what’s good for the United States and what’s good for the world. As Roosevelt underscored in his inaugural address, good foreign relations are based on self-respect. No matter how well-intentioned the motives, no matter how inspiring the rhetoric, a foreign policy that lacks firm footings at home is flawed.
Foreign policy is enacted by governments, but the ethic of a Global Good Neighbor extends beyond the realm of government. In this increasingly interconnected world, individuals, communities, churches, organizations, and corporations have a role to play in forging international relations.
Good neighbor practices apply whether we operate a business, purchase goods, travel, or share the planet’s resources.
An Ethic, Not a Doctrine
The Global Good Neighbor initiative is not a policy doctrine.
U.S. society and the rest of the world have had enough of Washington’s “national security doctrines” and “grand strategies” for foreign policy. To answer the question of what in the world we are doing and why we are doing it, we don’t need another grandiose scheme. By viewing the world in simplistic terms, doctrines and grand strategies inspire only confusion and misadventures.
A central problem with most foreign policy frameworks -- such as the Cold War and the “global war on terror” -- is that they shoehorn all issues into extremely narrow and often entirely inappropriate niches.
The current foreign policy framework of the “global war on terrorism” has generated hypocrisy and quagmires in spades. In the name of fighting international terror, the U.S. government, with bipartisan support, is mired in a war against “narcoterrorism” in Colombia, committed to long-term military occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan , and shackled to support for intransigent hard-liners in Israel. So broad, vague, and bewildering is the framework of the war against terrorism that it justifies aiding outlaw states like Pakistan, condemning citizen movements and political leaders as “radical populism,” walling off the U.S.-Mexico border, and routinely violating civil liberties and human rights at home and abroad.
The nation’s fourth president, John Quincy Adams, warned that the United States should “go not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.” His advice does not imply that there are no monsters in the world, but it warns against trumping up threats to U.S. national security. The Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War, and the current Iraq War are among the many examples of U.S. crusaders unnecessarily going abroad to destroy monsters.
Clearly, some very real monsters do exist in the world and must be destroyed before they do more damage. Foremost among them is Al Qaeda, which is both a cadre organization and a movement. The cadre Al Qaeda has attacked the United States and its people on several occasions, including September 11, 2001, and it should be vigorously sought out and incapacitated, whether by trial and incarceration or by precision strikes guided by accurate intelligence.
As part of the Bush administration’s global war on terror, Pentagon spending and overseas troop deployments have increased dramatically. Only a small part of this new spending, however, addresses the threat of international terror. There is no sign that terrorism aimed at U.S. troops and contractors in the region is diminishing as a result of the “war on terror;” in fact, there is substantial evidence to the contrary.
But a new public consensus is emerging that, by its actions and arrogance, the U.S. government is stirring up dangerous discord and precipitating a disintegration in international relations. In doing so, current U.S. leaders are jeopardizing America’s future.
We can no longer “stay the course” as President Bush has advocated and as the leaders of both political parties have largely affirmed.
To change course, America needs a new ethic of international relations.
For that, we don’t need to start from scratch or borrow from the United Nations, Europe , or any single political sector at home. The U.S. government and people have the legacy of FDR’s Good Neighbor policy as an auspicious touchstone. If we restore the neighborly ethic of mutual respect for each other’s rights, we will have made enormous strides in promoting security, development, and good governance -- not only for our nation but for the entire globe.
The Global Good Neighbor ethic is not a detailed blueprint for improved international relations. It is an ethic to guide effective international policy and action in confusing and complex times. Whether the problem is devastating tidal waves, transnational terrorism, or global climate change, these principles provide basic guideposts for global engagement.
Adopting the Global Good Neighbor ethic doesn’t require backing a specific political party. It doesn’t mean joining or leaving the conservative, liberal, progressive, left, or right political camps. All it requires is a belief, as Roosevelt had, that everyday good neighborly practices -- self-respect, mutual respect, and a spirit of cooperation -- are the proper starting points for mutually beneficial international relations. This “policy of the good neighbor” was right in the 1930s, and it is right again for our time.
Tom Barry is the policy director of the International Relations Center (IRC) and the founder of Foreign Policy In Focus; Salih Booker is the executive director of Africa Action and a co-chair of the IRC's board of directors; Laura Carlsen is the director of the IRC Americas Program; Marie Dennis is the director of the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and a member of the IRC board of directors; and John Gershman is a codirector of Foreign Policy In Focus and the director of the IRC Global Affairs Program.
A Global Good Neighbor Ethic for International Relations is a product of the IRC's Global Good Neighbor initiative. This endeavor promotes dialogue and action aimed at forging a new animating vision for U.S. foreign policy -- a vision that reflects insights from people worldwide and that is grounded in the belief that U.S. citizens should be active participants in the formation of a new foreign policy.
The IRC is launching the Global Good Neighbor initiative with a series of policy papers, including The Good Neighbor Policy -- A History to Make Us Proud and A Global Good Neighbor Ethic for International Relations. Forthcoming papers in the Global Good Neighbor series include regional policy overviews that apply the ethic's principles to each of the world's regions and a thematic series on the major issues of international relations, including security, sustainable development, and governance.
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