Here is a term paper on the ‘Characteristics of US Foreign Policy in the Inter-War Period’ especially written for school and college students.

US foreign policy in the inter-war period can be distinctly gleaned from her activities that took place in three different phases. One was directed to Latin America, the second was in Europe and the third conclusively meddled with Far East. In all these spheres the attitude of the United States was different. While in the Western hemisphere, her policy was one of direct interference, in Europe it was a policy of isolation and in the Far East the United States had no territorial ambitions but was mainly interested in maintaining an “Open Door”, in that region.

Woodrow Wilson had not mediated in the crisis of 1914 and when war was declared, he announced neutrality. In 1920 the United States withdrew from all its European commitments. President Harding and his two immediate succes­sors strictly followed the policy of isolationism and the tone of American policy was eminently conservative — both in domestic and foreign affairs. In the do­mestic policy Harding followed the policy of “return to normalcy” by which he meant the policy of encouraging private business.

This he sought to achieve by imposing high tariffs on the imported foreign goods in order to guarantee to the American manufactures a monopoly of the domestic markets. All restrictions on business were removed and the congress lowered the sur-tax and repealed the excess-profits tax.


In foreign affairs Harding for a time remained completely aloof from the League of Nations. But in Latin America he directly interfered into the internal affairs and, exploiting the opportunity of the battered European powers because of the World War she was able to impose her political and economic hegemony over Latin America.

This economic predominance of America on Latin America is known as “Dollar Diplomacy”. Since 1914 to 1929 American export became three times as much and import was only 40% of its total. According to William Keylor, Latin American economy had completely gone under the control of United State’s economy and turned it into a neo-colonial character. For uninterrupted exploitation of Latin American resources, United States followed “Big Stick Policy”.

Another development in the new foreign policy — which was perhaps most important, certainly more assertive — was seen in affairs in the Caribbean and Central America. In this sphere, American aims were directed not to sharing with the foreigners. European countries were strictly forbidden from entering into Latin America.

The policy was based on the implications of the Monroe Doctrine, December 1823, fully accepted as vital to American independence. Great Britain was evicted from Latin America. This monopoly of economic dominance in Latin America followed the policy of “Dollar Imperialism”.


In European affairs American President Woodrow Wilson’s vision and cooperation helped the Western Powers to win the war, Ketelbey points out, “………. his obstinacy and inflexibility helped to lose the peace”.’ Wilson had set his heart upon incorporating the Covenant of the League of Nations as an inte­gral part of the Peace Treaty.

He carried his point in spite of the opposition of Clemenceau and Lloyd George. But to secure the acceptance of his pet project he had to surrender or compromise many of the other thirteen points of his programme. The system of League of Nations was also largely due to him. The President firmly resisted the French demand for the whole left bank of the Rhine and held out stubbornly against the Italian demand for the Adriatic port of Flume. Eventu­ally Italy got the port.

This active intervention in European affairs was meekly accepted by the European States and it was his idealistic principles of Fourteen Points which assured Germany that surrender of arms would not lead her to accept any ignominious terms. In noble words eloquently expressed.

President Wilson had declared that “The World must be made safe for democracy.” The Fourteen Points, in his opinion, would make for a just and lasting peace founded upon an impartial respect for the wishes of the people and “a universal dominion of right.”


So long as Germany remained undefeated the noble idealism of the American President was more or less echoed by the Allies. But with the defeat of Germany, physical collapse of the President and the rejection of the League treaty by the Senate and the American people showed their distinct indifference toward European affairs, the under-current of selfish ambition, which ran in the minds of the Allied Powers, became a mighty torrent and swept aside all considerations of impartial distribution of justice.

The Americans retreated from the commitments they had undertaken, refused to acknowledge the guarantees that had been given in their name, threw up the idealistic schemes for the preservation of peace that their President had initiated. They ignored their responsibility for the execution of the treaty terms, and turned away from the major post-war reconstruction prob­lems. There is no denying the fact that without America’s active assistance, the powers that belonged to Triple Entente had remote chance of winning the war or achieve victory.

Huge amount of war debts they had contracted with the United States the Allies found increasingly difficult to pay. American Congress passed an Act prohibiting further loans to states in default. Although United States was not the member of the League of Nations she supported the World Court in idea, but would not participate in its functioning.

She also sent observers to some of the League of Nations meetings at Geneva and initiated the gesture of the Kellog- Briand Pact. When Italo-Abyssinian war began America reinforced her isolation by a Neutrality Act, designed to prevent her becoming involved in any future conflict through the export of munitions of war. In the World Disarmament Conference of 1932-33 sponsored by the League the United States assumed the leading part.

During 1930s two events took place which turned the world into a desperate situation and rescinded old political balance. In the first instance Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the White House in 1932 and, secondly. Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. The Great Depression of 1929 impelled United States to remain in isolation from European economy and this brought about ill-feeling in the mutual relations among European States.

The aloofness of United States from European politics ensured the Western hemisphere from American intervention, which the United States sought to accomplish by declaring the Monroe Doctrine formulated by President James Monroe in December 1823. This brought over Latin America to her side and the rupture of European political connections with the American continent was completed. The mediation of the United States in the Russo-Japanese war served to emphasize her position as a world-power.

Another instance of the growing world consciousness was her participation in the Moroccan question in the Algeciras Conference of January 1906. It was a purely European question and the United States departed from the Monroe Doctrine in taking part in it.

The fact is that the United States has become a world power with the responsibilities that go with such position. Hence when the Great War broke out, Theodore Roosevelt who was then retired from Presidentship was outspoken in his denunciation of the German invasion of Belgium and urged the United States Govern­ment to intervene. President Wilson maintained for a time an attitude of “watchful waiting”.

But in April 1915, President Woodrow Wilson emphatically declared that the time had drawn near to come forth from the Monroe Doctrine as Germany intensified her submarine attack against British maritime strength. In April 1915 a German submarine torpedoed off the Irish coast the British liner Lusitania carry­ing some munitions of war. Among 1,200 people drowned, 118 were citizens of the United States. President Woodrow Wilson warned Germany that any repeti­tion of such an act would be treated as “deliberately unfriendly”.

These events had repercussions across the Atlantic. Declaring in January 1917 unrestricted submarine warfare, Germany outraged American national feelings and national interests. President Wilson immediately broke off diplo­matic relations with Germany and started arming American ships. But in America a section of American multinational population was pro-German and anti-British, hence did not want to act embroiled in war.

At the same time German secret agents were involved in sabotaging defensive activities in the United States. German U-boats intensified their attack and sank US ships which were busy supplying war materials to Britain. “They totalled nearly 5,40,000 tons in February, some 6,00,000 tons in March. On 2 April the President gained the backing of Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.”

Monroe Doctrine was aban­doned and the United States was drawn into the vortex of world-politics, and the Great War afforded the greatest of many indications that America had abandoned that policy of self-isolation which at one time was the national ideal. But it should be noted that though the United States not joined the war in its initial stage, directly, it began supplying huge quantity of munitions and other war materials to the Allies and thereby joined the war indirectly.

The Great Depression had made the Republican Government unpopular. Hence Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic candidate, swept the polls and promised a “New Deal” which quickly rallied the people to his side. It was a bewildering complex of reforms carried out with amazing speed.

It represented the culmination of the trend towards the abandonment of laissez-faire or individualism and stood for a great co-operative movement throughout all industry in order to prevent unfair competition and disastrous over-production. The New Deal was embodied in the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933, which came to be known as NIRA.

In the thirties of the century, sometime after 1933, events in Europe filled the minds of the Americans with a sense of disillusionment. The League failed in its primary object of securing international cooperation. Its quest for world security became as elusive as the ignis fatuus. The aggression of the Axis Powers shocked American public opinion.

The counterweight of the United States power began to make itself felt a little more directly in the European arena. President Roosevelt threatened Hitler and Mussolini of the consequences that might befall them if they continue to carry on their aggressive attitude. He also requested them not to invade or attack a list of thirty countries. But they did not pay heed to this request.

The aggressions of, the Axis Powers was unabated and it shocked American public opinion. All these induced in the Americans a mood of cynicism and dis­gust and confirmed them in their isolationist views.

They wanted to remain aloof from all international embarrassments and disputes and so their foreign policy expressed itself through a series of Neutrality Acts which embodied their policy of avoiding foreign complications. These Neutrality Acts were enacted piecemeal from 1935 to 1937 and their object was to prohibit trade with or giving credit to any belligerent. America was not to be involved in any non-American war.

The Allied Powers, Britain in particular, was increasingly looking to the United States for obtaining the necessary flow of armaments. While Roosevelt agreed to aid Britain, he assured American population that “your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.” Lend-Lease Bill, which was drafted and sent to both Houses of Congress in January 1941 and passed after vigorous debate but by substantial majorities on 11th March 1941.

Two weeks later the operation of Lend-Lease began. But the joining of the United States into war gradually became indispensable. Staff talks in Washington between British and American officers in early 1941 paved the way for this. A general agreement was reached that in the event of the United States joining the war it would be desirable to take the offensive against Germany first, while maintaining a defensive position in the Pacific, whatever the Japanese might do.

The United States’ Atlantic fleet was strengthened and in April 1941 the President issued a number of measures to assist in the naval war: ten coast-guard cutters were transferred to Britain, British warships were allowed to refit in American dockyards and American merchant­men were allowed to go to Red Sea ports.

In August Churchill and Roosevelt met at sea off the Newfoundland coast and drew up a statement of the common pur­pose of the two countries which became known as the “Atlantic Charter”. This seems to have been Roosevelt’s moment of decision. Henceforward the United States was involved in an “undeclared war”.