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Unilateralism in American foreign policy refers to the approach of acting independently and without significant consultation or coordination with other countries or international organizations. It involves the pursuit of national interests and the use of unilateral actions, such as military interventions or the imposition of economic sanctions, without seeking broad international consensus or approval. Here are some key instances of unilateralism in American foreign policy since 1990:

  • Military Interventions: The United States has engaged in unilateral military actions in various regions, often citing national security concerns or the need to protect American interests. Examples include the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was undertaken without explicit authorization from the United Nations Security Council, and the 2011 military intervention in Libya.
  • Trade and Economic Policies: The US has employed unilateral trade and economic measures, such as imposing tariffs or sanctions, to advance its economic interests or address perceived unfair practices by other countries. This includes actions taken against countries like China, Iran, and Russia, which have been subject to unilateral US sanctions.
  • Climate Change Policy: The US has at times pursued a more unilateral approach to climate change policy. For example, the United States did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and subsequently withdrew from the Paris Agreement in 2017, although it rejoined in 2021.
  • Security and Defense: The United States has occasionally pursued unilateral approaches to security and defense, including the development and deployment of missile defense systems without broad international consensus. The withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 2002 and the subsequent pursuit of missile defense technologies are examples of such unilateral actions.
  • National Security and Intelligence: The US has engaged in unilateral intelligence operations, including surveillance and data collection programs, such as the controversial National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013. These actions were undertaken without the knowledge or consent of other countries.

It is important to note that while unilateralism has been present in American foreign policy since 1990, it has not been the sole approach. The United States has also shown a commitment to multilateralism and has participated in international organizations and agreements to address global challenges. The balance between unilateral and multilateral approaches can vary depending on specific circumstances, administrations, and perceived national interests.



  • Unilateralism