The beginning of a new era : the rise of american imperialism

31 décembre, 2014 | Commentaires fermés sur The beginning of a new era : the rise of american imperialism

The mix of idealism and realism of the american foreign policy, which became the norm through the United Nations created in 1946 and which was globalized at the end of the Cold War, took its roots at the end of the XIX century when the United States became a key actor upon the international stage. It is the main feature they introduced through the international society which is linked to their rise as a great power.

 I suggest a summary of chap. 20 of the « History of the USA » by Bryn O’Callaghan (Longman, 2004) of the main event which revealed this feature : the Spanish-american war in the 1890s.

On January, 25, 1898 the US navy ships, the Main exploded in the Havana harbor :


The R. Hearst’s newspapers influenced and framed public opinion to focus its anger against the spanish government. The purpose was to expel the colonial spanish rule in the american neighborhood. The american foreign policy was simply following the european imperialism trend to scramble for new territories in Asia and Africa.


Hearst summarized his role and purpose in the americain foreign policy to its journalist in Cuba : « You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war. » The role of the media in diplomacy never dismissed since this time.

 In addition to the realist stand of the american foreign policy, the US intervention rested on idealist justification.

Indeed, the cuban people started to rebel against spanish rule in 1895. The brutal repression into prison camps reported by the press mobilized american public opinion against Spain. After an ultimatum from the american president Mc Kinley, the two countries were at war in 1898. The two operation theaters of the Spanish-american war were Cuba and the Philippines. Even if the moral value of Liberty and the compassion with a colonised people from a former colonised people was the main war justification, the war consequence was american imperial extension over these territories. Moral values invocation by political leaders and the help of media to frame public opinion leaded the US in external war which transformed it in a imperial power.

This extension of the american influence sphere was coming from the perception of an existential threat rising since the 1820s. At that time, the Spanish empire in South America was confronted with people rebellion. Spain asked for the help of European powers. As a former european colony, the US clearly warned European powers not to intervene in its natural sphere of influence in the Americas. This was the « Monroe’s doctrine » stated by the president in 1823 : « we should cnosider any attempt on european powers to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and  safety. » In order to sustain american independence from imperial powers, the chosen strategy was to preclued any other powers in its neighborhood. It is an hegemonic strategy as the consequence of this doctrine illustrated it. In 1904, president T. Roosevelt add a corollary to it which said the US would intervene there whenever it thought necessary.

The justification was to guarantee stability of latin american countries to avoid any exterior intervention. Any challenger in the american neighborhood should be dismiss.

At the end of the spanish american war, the US gained influence upon Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam and it annexed Hawaï. The natural way to install stability was to take the political levers of these countries regim.

 But, at the opposite of the European imperialism, this security goal didn’t entail a closed view of political and economic influence upon a territory. During the partition of China the american diplomacy favored the « Open Door » solution to promote free competition among businesses. As a counterpart, american businessmen were always present to invest and support strategic american political goals, the Dollar diplomacy.

 The main features of the american foreign policy were set before the irruption of the first World War. At the end of the Cold War, they rise again as norms of the international society.