Authored by: Laura Neack

Routledge Handbook of American Foreign Policy

Print publication date:  August  2011
Online publication date:  April  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415800884
eBook ISBN: 9780203878637
Adobe ISBN: 9781135967352


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The George W. Bush administration’s unilateral preemption doctrine, announced in November of 2002, was the capstone to a series of unilateral actions by the administration. This aggressively toned unilateralism was welcome in some realist and hawkish circles (these not being the same), but it was greeted with dismay elsewhere as the beginning of the end of the American-built, post-World War II global architecture. This latter group saw the election of Barack Obama as an antidote, a return to American multilateralism. In contrast to these expectations, the Obama administration has promoted a practical multilateralism that may still embrace the more standoffish tones of the George W. Bush administration. And, to add a little more grey to this discussion, the Bush administration may have been more strident than its predecessor, but it was following the lead of the Clinton administration such as when President Bill Clinton announced that the United Nations (UN) would need to learn to say no to some commitments or the United States would say no to it. If there is a lesson to be learned from all this, it is not that American multilateralism is coming to an end, but that American multilateralism as it has been demonstrated since the end of the Cold War and, in fact, for the entire post-World War II period has been marked by a “particularistic” strain of internationalism that makes use of broad multilateralism as both goal and method and bilateralism and unilateralism.

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