IRC Special Report

The Good Neighbor Policy—
A History to Make Us Proud

By Tom Barry, Laura Carlsen, and John Gershman | April 2005

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President Bush says we must “stay the course” in Iraq , and he promises to continue during his second administration the radical foreign and domestic policies laid out during his first term. We believe it is time to change course.

But can the course of U.S. foreign policy ever truly be altered?

Has there ever been a model for a dramatic shift away from militarism and unilateralism toward international cooperation and peace?

The answer to these questions is yes.

In the late 1920s, the State Department, Commerce Department, and War Department were all weary of staying the course. Reacting to popular protest and rising concern from business, Washington and Wall Street began turning away from territorial acquisition and imperialism as preferred instruments of U.S. foreign policy. Instead of considering it the mission of a “master race” to manage the affairs of the “weaker races,” as Teddy Roosevelt had, leaders in politics and commerce now spoke about the need for nations to be good neighbors.

The Good Neighbor Policy of the Franklin D. Roosevelt presidency in the pre-World War II period marked a dramatic turn in U.S. foreign affairs. The new policy constituted a public repudiation of imperialism, cultural and racial stereotyping, and military interventions and occupations.

Can such a far-reaching reversal be replicated?

If history is a guide, then again the answer is yes.

U.S. foreign policy is once again at a crossroads, and its present course could be disastrous. One way out of the current morass is to look back to the inter-war period of history and see what lessons it holds for us today.

Can Roosevelt ’s Good Neighbor Policy of the 1930s provide a model for a Global Good Neighbor Policy for the 21 st century?


A New Domestic and Foreign Policy

Main Impacts of Good Neighbor Policy

  • Boom in hemispheric trade and accompanying economic recovery.
  • End to U.S. military interventions and occupations; no more U.S. Marines dying in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, or Nicaragua.
  • Hemispheric unity behind the United States and against the Axis powers.
  • Dramatic decline in the demeaning stereotyping of Latinos by the U.S. government, media, and entertainment industry.

Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidency by offering the electorate a sweeping new vision for both domestic and foreign policy. Under the banner of “a new deal for the American people,” FDR won the presidency in 1932 with one of the largest margins of victory ever seen in U.S. politics.

Roosevelt directly confronted the crises at home and abroad, launching major overhauls of both U.S. domestic and foreign policy. National and transnational capitalism were teetering, as economies collapsed and the ideologies of socialism and fascism took hold. International diplomatic and military affairs were in turmoil, as inter-imperial conflicts intensified.

The New Deal of massive public works programs, Social Security, arts and oral history projects, a shorter work week, and a higher minimum wage marked a major turning point in U.S. politics. The New Deal helped lead the country out of the Great Depression by reining in free market forces and instituting social safety nets that put unemployed citizens to work and provided income guarantees for the elderly and disabled. Today, these social democratic reforms are all under sustained attack by the Bush administration’s privatization policies.

In the United States , FDR is remembered mostly for his people-committed domestic policies and his strong leadership as a wartime president. However, President Roosevelt’s pre-war foreign policy was equally outstanding and is very relevant to today’s economic, security, and cultural conflicts.

In his March 1933 inaugural address, President Roosevelt announced a new approach to international relations that would become known as the 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,” Roosevelt declared.

In keeping with this new vision of U.S. foreign policy, every nation should be “the neighbor who respects his obligations and respects the sanctity of his agreements in and with a world of neighbors.”


Building a New Bipartisan Consensus on Foreign Policy

The seeds of FDR’s new foreign policy had already been planted. By the early part of the 20 th century it was becoming clear that territorial conquests, military intervention, and occupations were proving costly and counterproductive. The Spanish-American War of 1898 had proved the new global reach of U.S. military power, but the Yanquis quickly found that the Cubans and Filipinos hated them as much as they hated the Spanish.

“Big Stick” policies did not stabilize and democratize intervened countries but instead incited armed popular rebellions. As in Iraq , post-intervention attempts to suppress these insurrections and impose order cost the United States more in lost lives and financial resources than the initial interventions.

As early as 1904, novelist and political humorist Mark Twain warned of the moral and political hazards to the United States if it continued to follow the imperialist path to progress. Twain observed that by occupying the Philippines the United States was committing “one grievous error, that irrevocable error,” playing the “European game” of imperialism and colonization.

By the late 1920s, a new consensus was emerging among Washington political leaders and Wall Street barons. After three decades of imperial conquest, followed by Gunboat Diplomacy of military occupations and the Dollar Diplomacy of heavy-handed financial control of other nations, the country’s elites found themselves agreeing with the popular wisdom of Mark Twain.

In election year 1928, both incumbent Herbert Hoover and Democratic Party leader Franklin D. Roosevelt advanced a new vision of international relations in which diplomacy and commerce would trump brute financial and military power. In a Foreign Affairs article in 1928, Roosevelt wrote that by seeking the “cooperation of others we shall have more order in this hemisphere and less dislike.”

Following his victory, President-elect Hoover undertook a goodwill trip to Central America . Citing complaints about Washington ’s overbearing and interventionist behavior, Hoover announced that a new policy was in the offing. “We have a desire to maintain not only the cordial relations of governments with each other,” he said, “but also the relations of good neighbors.”

As president, however, Hoover did little to pursue a new direction in foreign policy. Troop withdrawals did commence in Nicaragua and Haiti . After the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, however, Hoover only rarely addressed foreign policy issues.

It took FDR’s vision and political smarts—and the skills of his influential wife, Eleanor Roosevelt—to fashion a new policy agenda. Leveraging widespread dissatisfaction with existing directions in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, Roosevelt crafted a bold policy blueprint that addressed the crises both at home and abroad.


Being a Good Global Neighbor

Roosevelt ’s view of international relations was a startling departure from the ideological frameworks that previously dominated foreign policy discourse. His perspectives on how nations should behave appealed to both common sense and moral values.

Two months after he moved into the White House, FDR promised to help “spell the end of the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients.”

To replace this prevailing system, Roosevelt began to chart a new system guided by international cooperation. “Common ideals and a community of interest, together with a spirit of cooperation, have led to the realization that the well-being of one nation depends in large measure upon the well-being of its neighbors,” the new president asserted.

Being a good global neighbor for Roosevelt meant promoting peace and deglorifying war. As he put it: “I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen children starving… I have seen the agony of mothers and wives... I hate war.”

Roosevelt repeatedly alerted the nation about the rise of fascism and the new imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan . “We are not isolationists,” said FDR, “except so far as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. Yet we must remember that so long as war exists on earth there will be some danger that even the nation which most ardently desires peace may be drawn into war.”

At the same time, though, Roosevelt was formulating a foreign policy doctrine of nonaggression and demilitarization that would ensure that the United States did not precipitate wars as it had in the recent past with Spain and Mexico . “We seek to dominate no other nation,” he declared. “We ask no territorial expansion. We oppose imperialism. We desire reduction in world armaments.”

President Roosevelt intended that his Good Neighbor Policy improve U.S. relations with nations around the world. But it was in the Western Hemisphere that FDR’s new foreign policy framework had its most dramatic impact.


Beyond Mercantilism

The economic resurgence of the 1920s was short-lived, and the roar of the decade diminished to a whimper by 1928, the year Republican Herbert Hoover was elected president. Hoover ’s high-tariff policies, along with those of his Republican predecessors, Presidents Harding and Coolidge, contributed to a trade and financial crisis marked by plummeting imports and exports. By the year FDR took the White House for the Democrats, both parties agreed that the neo-mercantilist policies must be shed in favor of the reciprocal trade agreements proposed by Roosevelt .

It was Roosevelt ’s opinion that protective economic blocs and the mercantilism of the great powers, including the United States , led not only to economic ruin but also to armed clashes, as competing states sought to protect their foreign markets. “We do not maintain that a more liberal international trade will stop war,” said Roosevelt , “but we fear that without a more liberal international trade, war is a natural consequence.”

Being a good neighbor for Roosevelt and for Secretary of State Cordell Hull, had economic implications as well as security ones. Hull believed that a good neighbor policy meant offering U.S. markets for the region’s exports. If political relations were to improve, the United States had to open its doors to the Latin American and Caribbean economy, according to Hull .

For their part, Latin American and Caribbean nations were eager to access U.S. markets for their agroexports—such as sugar and cotton—and applauded Roosevelt ’s initiatives to lower tariffs and remove quotas. Working collaboratively, the U.S. State and Commerce departments launched a campaign to sign reciprocal trade agreements with all the countries of the hemisphere, and during the 1930s intra-regional trade boomed.

“The trade agreements which we are now making are not only finding outlets for the products of American fields and factories,” Roosevelt declared, “but are also pointing the way to the elimination of embargoes, quotas, and other devices which place such pressure on nations not possessing great natural resources that to them the price of peace seems less terrible than the price of war.”

FDR’s commercial vision was reflected in the Reciprocal Trade Agreements Act (RTAA) of 1934. This act fundamentally altered both the process and the content of U.S. trade policy. Before the RTAA, Congress established tariffs on goods in a protectionist manner. Under the RTAA, legislators delegated to the executive branch the authority to reduce tariffs through foreign trade agreements. Although the RTAA originally granted this negotiating authority to the executive branch for only three years, Congress periodically renewed the legislation and never again enacted a general tariff bill.

The shift away from mercantilism reflected in the Good Neighbor policy was a positive step toward building more equitable relations with U.S. trading partners and with Latin American countries in particular. Washington signed bilateral trade and diplomatic agreements with fifteen Latin American countries in this period, and some of the agreements included provisions for small amounts of foreign aid.

Most of the trade agreements reflected the norm of reciprocity. In addition to being more equitable for developing countries, economic good neighborliness also served changing interests within the United States , which had little to lose from the experiment. Roosevelt and Hull wanted greater access to Latin American agroexports—over the objections of domestic cotton, sugar, and tobacco growers—and also wanted an opening to the markets that Europeans had cornered in the region. There was little in the way of industrial exports from the region, and as Latin American economies started to boom during the 1930s and 1940s, their domestic markets were expanding targets for U.S. exports. In the 1932-41 period, U.S.-Latin America trade tripled.

The new bilateral agreements did, however, set a troubling precedent in U.S. relations with developing countries: the political conditioning of commercial relations. Trade and aid accords in the 1930s came with the understanding that nations would not enter into mercantile relationships with European countries or establish diplomatic relations with the Axis powers. This represented a new type of foreign control that, as we now know, eventually became quite intrusive. Later in the century, conditionality increasingly expanded to include a broadening array of requisite political and economic reforms, as well as agreements to support U.S. foreign policy globally.

In general, though, the FDR-era trade agreements were marked by greater reciprocity and openness, and subsequent problems were caused by detouring from the basic principles established in the period. The logical evolution of this process would have been the creation of the International Trade Organization, which would have established a framework for creating trade agreements broadly supportive of development. But opposition by U.S. business groups and others in the late 1940s derailed that effort and led to a more truncated trade policy that focused narrowly on liberalization.


From Gunboat Diplomacy to Good Neighbors

Following a period of heavy-handedness, the refreshing idea that U.S. foreign policy should be shaped mainly by good neighbor principles of respect and cooperation brightened prospects for improved U.S. relations with Latin America and the Caribbean . For nearly four decades, Washington ’s policy toward the region had been little more than a one-two punch of U.S.-style imperialism, alternating between Gunboat Diplomacy and Dollar Diplomacy, neither of which was very diplomatic.

Gunboat Diplomacy was the government's euphemism for the bombardment of foreign ports and military invasion, while Dollar Diplomacy was the euphemism for the U.S. government's occupation of foreign countries--along with managing their banks and custom houses--to ensure the payment of foreign debts and security of foreign investors. Assistant Secretary of State Huntington Wilson under President Woodrow Wilson described [further euphemized] Dollar Diplomacy as "intelligent teamwork," involving U.S. Marines, creditors, diplomats, and investors.

Both Gunboat Diplomacy and Dollar Diplomacy were concepts openly embraced by Presidents McKinley, Roosevelt, Taft, Wilson, and Harding. Howard Taft, when serving as TR's secretary of war, lamented that his job included managing the "dirty so-called republics of South America ." After succeeding Teddy Roosevelt, then-President Taft echoed TR's view that the United States had the responsibility for managing Latin Americans, claiming "the right to knock their heads together until they should maintain peace."

The reason that FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy was first applied in U.S. relations with Latin America and the Caribbean stemmed from the root concept of good neighbors. In 1936 Roosevelt explained: “Peace, like charity, begins at home. That is why we have begun at home. But peace in the Western world is not all that we seek. It is our hope that knowledge of the practical application of the good neighbor policy in this hemisphere will be borne home to our neighbors across the seas.” The force of example, it was believed, would carry the policy beyond the shared shores of the hemisphere to eventually reach a global context.


Good Neighbor Deeds

Being a good neighbor meant primarily not being a bad neighbor, but the Good Neighbor Policy was not just rhetorical flourish. Midway through FDR’s first term, deeds and legislation underpinned his words in Latin America and the Caribbean , although his policy was not accompanied by large flows of foreign aid or demands that countries restructure their economic and political systems. Unlike other major foreign policy initiatives of the last century, such as Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress or George H.W. Bush’s Enterprise of the Americas , FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy was more than a repudiation of past policies.

Other presidents had rejected doctrines of territorial conquest, but none had been as explicit or consistent in limiting the criteria for intervention. Between the early 1890s and the beginning of the Franklin Roosevelt presidency, the U.S. had intervened militarily 29 times in the Western Hemisphere, mostly in Caribbean Basin nations. Several countries, including Haiti, Cuba, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, had experienced long periods of U.S. military occupation and administrative control.

FDR’s Good Neighbor policy specifically renounced most previous justifications for U.S. military interventions—including preemptive strikes to ensure political stability, occupations to force payment of foreign debts, retaliation for expropriation of U.S. investments, and the promotion of democracy. He ordered the withdrawal of all remaining U.S. troops in the Caribbean Basin, ending the long and shameful history of military interventions and occupations there. Speaking at a regional conference in Montevideo, Uruguay, in December 1933, Secretary of State Hull said that one of the core principles of the Good Neighbor Policy was nonintervention: “No state has the right to intervene in the internal or external affairs of another.”

A year later Roosevelt reassured the still-skeptical nations of Latin America and the Caribbean by saying, “The definite policy of the United States from now on is one opposed to armed intervention.”

True to his word, in the first year of his presidency, Roosevelt pulled U.S. troops out of the region, ending the occupations of Haiti and Nicaragua. There were no U.S. military interventions in the region during his twelve years in the White House (1933-45).

In 1934 the Roosevelt administration also forfeited the right of intervention granted by the Platt Amendment. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. government granted Cuba its independence. But the former Spanish colony was sovereign in name only. Washington had attached an amendment to Cuba ’s constitution authorizing the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of the island “for the preservation of Cuban independence, and the maintenance of a government adequate for the protection of life, property, and individual liberty.” By renouncing the Platt Amendment, the FDR government demonstrated to Latin Americans that it was truly serious about initiating a new era in U.S. relations with its southern neighbors.

In keeping with Hull’s declaration, the U.S. government did not militarily intervene after Bolivia and Mexico nationalized the holdings of U.S. oil companies. Responding to pressure from the U.S. firms, the State Department stated, “Our national interests as a whole outweigh those of our petroleum companies.”

With the rise of fascism and a new imperialism in Europe and East Asia , the United States realized that it could not assume that Latin American countries would side with it in the event of an international conflict. Bad neighbor policies over the past four decades had undermined any natural solidarity based on proximity and similar histories, and many countries were hostile to the United States , believing that it—more than Germany —was the bad neighbor, the aggressor, and the imperialist. What’s more, sectors of the Latin American and Caribbean elites, especially the military high commands, admired European fascism and had little enthusiasm for U.S.-style democracy.

However, the Good Neighbor Policy—both in its political and economic aspects—was directly responsible for creating an atmosphere of mutual support that led most of the nations of the Western Hemisphere to give their unified support to the Allies. Commenting on Latin American support for the United States and the Allies going into World War II, Hull explained, “The political line-up followed the economic line-up.”

FDR’s effort to reduce the influence of direct U.S. rule of other countries abroad went beyond the Western Hemisphere. In 1934, Roosevelt promoted Philippine independence (albeit on unequal terms) by signing the Tydings-McDuffie Act that provided for Philippine independence in 1946, after a ten-year transitional government.

The president’s Good Neighbor Policy often required a compromise between promoting democracy and tolerating dictatorships in Nicaragua , Cuba , and the Dominican Republic as well as authoritarian and military governments throughout South America . The oft-cited apocryphal quote attributed to Roosevelt regarding Nicaragua ’s Somoza—“He’s a son of a bitch, but at least he’s our son of a bitch”—reflected the tension between geopolitical realities and democratic values that is an intrinsic challenge for every administration’s foreign policy.


Changing Culture to Change Policies

Part of Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy in Latin America was his administration’s initiatives to end the demeaning cultural stereotyping of Latinos. President Theodore ”Teddy” Roosevelt’s idea of U.S. leadership was “to show those Dagos that they will have to behave decently.” When speaking about the proposed incorporation of Texas into the United States , TR said that it was “out of the question for them [Texans] to submit to the mastery of the weaker race.” Foreshadowing the current doctrine of preventive war, President Teddy Roosevelt asserted in 1904 that the Anglo-American civilization in the Western Hemisphere had the moral obligation to resort to “the exercise of an international police power… in flagrant cases of wrong-doing and impotence.”

FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy also spoke directly to cultural and moral values, but unlike his distant relative Teddy, Franklin D. Roosevelt did not reinforce racist and supremacist prejudices. Instead, he sought to rid the U.S. government and society of its base prejudices and racist assumptions about Anglo-Saxon superiority. What’s more, the Good Neighbor Policy attempted to lay to rest the belief that the United States had a God-given mission to establish dominion over other societies.

In large part, it was the lack of paternalism, racism, and cultural bias in Roosevelt ’s own language that made the Good Neighbor Policy work. The president’s rhetoric at least seemed to reflect mutual respect and formed an important groundwork for building his new policy. Moreover, the administration began supporting cultural exchange and outreach programs. And as a result of government pressure, media and film characterization of Latinos no longer included as many cultural and racist stereotypes. The turnaround was striking, prompting one historian to remark that in this period “ Hollywood ’s attitude toward the Latin countries suddenly bordered on reverence.”

The government proactively worked to bring about this change. A State Department committee suggested new approaches to Hollywood to breach the cultural divide. A special commission even pointed to the “need to create ‘Pan Americana,’ a noble female figure bearing a torch and cross, subtly suggesting both the Virgin Mary and the Goddess of Liberty.”

“What they got instead was pulsating music and throbbing sensuality from the song-and-dance routines of Brazil’s Carmen Miranda,” wrote historian Peter Smith. As a result, he concluded, “Throughout U.S. popular culture, Latin America came to be seen as provocative, thrilling, cooperative—and desirable.” Walt Disney’s popular films, “Saludos Amigos” and “The Three Caballeros,” contributed to the improved public image of Latinos.

Over a period of several years, Roosevelt , Hull , and other State Department officials could indeed show measurable progress in spanning what had previously been considered an unbridgeable cultural divide separating the United States and Latin America . By changing the words that Washington chose to describe U.S.-Latin America relations and the pictures that Hollywood used to depict Latin Americans, the United States became much better neighbors with the other countries of the hemisphere.

However, the multiculturalism of the Good Neighbor approach toward Latin Americans did not translate to Asians in general, or to the Japanese in particular. With tragic results, FDR presided over the internment of thousands of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. Historian Greg Robinson traces FDR’s support for that policy to his adherence to the early twentieth century’s racialist view of ethnic Japanese in America as immutably “foreign” and threatening. These prejudicial sentiments, along with his constitutional philosophy and leadership style, contributed to Roosevelt’s approval of internment--a policy opposed and resisted by Eleanor Roosevelt and other leading members of FDR’s administration.


Interests and Better Instincts

Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy was a more ethical, moral, respectful, and neighborly approach to international relations than that of his predecessors. His mandate that U.S. foreign policy should “give them a share” and “show them respect” was a visionary departure from four decades of imperialism.

Yet the Good Neighbor Policy was not so idealistic that it departed from the priorities of U.S. economic interests and national security concerns. In improving U.S. political, economic, and cultural relations, Roosevelt was able to demonstrate that U.S. security and economic interests also benefited.

The president’s Good Neighbor Policy represented a refreshing realpolitik that departed both from the traditional realist balance-of-power framework of ordering international relations, and from the racist and patriarchal ideology of the master race. Good neighborliness meant that nations of varying incomes, influence, and size could and should live in the same global neighborhood with each receiving respect and each receiving a share.

At least at home and in the Western Hemisphere, Roosevelt succeeded in changing a political climate ridden with fear and malaise to one of hope and determination. Later, during the pre-planning for a postwar international order, FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt were able to bring their good neighbor agenda to work in shaping international relations beyond the hemisphere. They believed that good neighbor ethics should be complemented by new collective security institutions like the United Nations and by international treaties like the conventions on political and economic/social rights.


Alarm in the Neighborhood

FDR’s Good Neighbor Policy came to a crashing close with the onset of the Cold War when the promotion of national security states trumped notions of cooperation and respect. Instead of being neighbors, Latin American and Caribbean countries were regarded more as pawns in a new “great game” that pitted the United States and its allies against communism.

After Truman became president following Roosevelt’s death, Cold War alarmism led to a revival of U.S. intervention. The bold idea that the United States should conduct its foreign policy as if it were a good neighbor living in a global neighborhood of diverse cultures and politics was never resurrected—neither during lulls in the Cold War nor in its peacetime aftermath.

The Good Neighbor Policy of non-interventionism and respect was replaced in 1947 by a national security strategy that led to a sordid history of covert operations, Pentagon/CIA-engineered coups, U.S. military invasions and occupations, and close relations between Washington and the most repressive and reactionary forces in the region.

Fortunately, the United States and the other countries of the hemisphere are no longer raising the alarm about the purported threat of communist subversion and revolution. However, new terms such as “terrorism” and “radical populism” play much the same role in a slightly updated version of the script. Far from reviving the good neighbor policies of mutual gain and respect that prevailed before the alarmism and militarism of the Cold War, current leaders in Washington have indicated their intention to retain many of the divisive attitudes that characterized the 1980s.

The time is ripe for a revival of good neighbor values and policies. A more integrated world guided by principles such as respect and the shared benefits of trade and development would provide both the richest and poorest nations with a firmer foundation from which to face the forces of globalization.

The U.S. government and society are still suffering from a bad neighbor reputation. The Cold War practice of treating neighbors as political pawns and surrogates, combined with the imposition of neoliberal economic reforms and a globally unpopular “war on terrorism,” has revived the “Yanqui Go Home” sentiment that spread through the hemisphere early in the 20 th century.

A bad neighbor image makes it more difficult for the United States to help forge common strategies to address such diverse problems and threats as international terrorism, climate change, transborder mobster and drug trafficking syndicates, corporate crime, and falling wage levels.

The Good Neighbor Policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt was not perfect. Nothing is. It certainly did not dissolve the vast economic asymmetry between nations. Nor did it ensure that the first U.S. reaction was always respectful or that Washington always refrained from wielding its economic and military power as a big stick.

But if the United States is ever again to exercise power with moral authority and regain credibility as a responsible international leader, it must first be regarded as a good global neighbor. That doesn’t necessarily require major new foreign aid, economic development, or trade programs. But it does mean putting the values of respect, interdependence, and peace at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

The Good Neighbor Policy demonstrated that it was possible to alter the course of international relations and U.S. foreign policy. As in 1932, it is time once again to change course, and the model of the Good Neighbor policy is a good one to follow.

This policy review was written by the three senior program staff of the IRC (online at Tom Barry, Laura Carlsen, and John Gershman. Barry is the IRC’s policy director, Carlsen directs the IRC’s America’s Program, and Gershman is the IRC codirector of Foreign Policy In Focus, a joint IRC-IPS program.


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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 Gershman
May 2005

Seldom, 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.


Canada-Cuba Relations
The Other Good Neighbor Policy


by John M. Kirk and Peter McKenna

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In the "neighborhood" of the Americas, Canada alone has maintained consistently cordial relations with Cuba, in spite of considerable pressure from the United States. In the first book-length study of the subject, John M. Kirk and Peter McKenna explore this unusual dynamic, focusing mainly on the period since 1959.

They begin with the evolution of the Canadian-Cuban relationship, which was initially founded on pragmatic economic and commercial considerations. Cuba has always been one of Canada’s major trading partners in Latin America, and it is the second most popular vacation resort for Canadians. Subsequent chapters, ordered historically, explore each Canadian prime minister’s response to the revolutionary government in Havana. Changing personalities and ideologies in that office have had a significant impact on Canada’s Cuba policy. The authors also look at the relationship from the Cuban point of view: they draw on privileged interview and archival material from Cuba, including never-before-seen diplomatic records from Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, to create a thoroughly rounded portrait.

In what is perhaps a controversial stance, the authors seek to use Canada’s Cuba policy as a lesson in good neighborliness for the United States, and they dedicate their book to "all those who struggle for the introduction of common sense, dignity, and justice into U.S.-Cuban relations."


John M. Kirk is professor of Latin American Studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of José Marti, Mentor of the Cuban Nation (UPF, 1983), Between God and the Party: Religion and Politics in Revolutionary Cuba (UPF, 1988), and Politics and the Catholic Church in Nicaragua (UPF, 1992) and has coedited five other books.


Peter McKenna is assistant professor of political science at Saint Mary’s University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of Canada and the OAS: From Dilettante to Full Partner (1995) and numerous articles on Canadian foreign policy.


1997. 296 pp. 6 X 9.

7 tables, notes, bibliography, index.

ISBN 0-8130-1520-0
 Cloth, $55.00


Canada-Cuba Relations - jacket cover!

"[A]bsolutely essential reading for those interested in either the international relations of Cuba or Canada, or both, and will reward those with an interest in US-Cuban relations as well." -- Latin American Studies

"An invaluable contribution toward one of the most pertinent and controversial policy issues on Canada’s current hemispheric agenda. . . . Timely, innovative, educational, sprightly written; fills an important gap in the Canadian-Latin American literature."--David H. Pollock, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa

"A superbly written and researched book, it provides a much-needed and fascinating account of Canada’s relations with Cuba since Castro took power. Americans reading of Canada’s effective and principled policy toward Cuba can only shake their heads and wish their own government would be so sensible."--Wayne S. Smith, Johns Hopkins University and the Center for International Policy in Washington, D.C.