When the United States of America declared its independence from England in 1776, the Founding Fathers led their people out of monarchic rule and into a democracy. They found the Royal tradition to be archaic, and believed that a balanced, multi-tiered government was the only way to ensure fairness in their new nation. “We the people” was the new motto, establishing that officials were to be elected by the people and for the people, never to be selected by inheritance or the previous administration. One of the main factors in this was establishing a free-market economy, where businesses would not be burdened by intrusive government regulation, as long as they paid taxes. Thus, having a democratic government is seen, by many, as being contingent upon a free market; when the government involves itself too deeply in the dealings of business, democracy has ceased to function. Communism, a political ideology which decries a profit-based economy and privately owned property, became the primary adversary of American democracy during the mid-20th century in a dispute known as the Cold War. Politics in this era were dominated by fear that Communism would spread throughout the world. As a result, nearly every major foreign conflict involving the United States until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990 dealt with the threat of Communism—from the Vietnam War to the Iran-Contra conflict.
The term “Gunboat diplomacy” (referencing the type of arms-equipped boats used to protect national borders in conflict) describes a country that uses warfare as a threat against other nations in order to achieve its own goals. This was a defining characteristic of the Cold War; as opposed to a “hot” war, the Cold War saw no battles fought, but the threat of war was palpable for decades. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union fired a single shot, but both possessed powerful nuclear weapons, ensuring mutual destruction if either side engaged in military action against the other. Tension between the nations and their allies was a major factor in international relations during the latter half of the 20th Century, and though the US and the Soviet Union never entered into battle, they each engaged in several wars to defend their political and social beliefs.
Spreading democracy has often been cited as one of the USA’s primary goals in foreign relations. However, American troops have often been more successful in limiting the reach of Communism, rather than establishing successful American-style democracies. Often, the US would rather support an authoritarian dictator—which directly contradicts democratic values—than allow a Communist or Socialist government to be established.
Examples of American Gunboat Diplomacy: