Change in the Grand Strategy of the Republican Administrations of the United States, 1918-1988

Document Type : Research Paper


1 Assistant Professor, Department of International Relations, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

2 A PhD Candidate in International Relations, Faculty of Law & Political Science, University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran



The most fundamental orientation in the strategic culture of the United States of America is between the continuum of isolationism and internationalism. A comparison of the grand strategy of Wilson and Carter’s Democratic administrations, on the one hand, and the Harding and Reagan's Republican administrations, on the other hand shows that in the period between the beginning of World War I and the end of the Cold War, the Republican administrations-- unlike the Democratic administrations-- have shown major shift in their foreign policy strategy. As a result, the question arises as to why and how such a dramatic change had taken place? Accordingly, the objective of this paper is to investigate how system-level changes have led to a change in the foreign policy of Republican administrations by crossing the Republican Party sphere of influence? In order to answer this research question, the authors use the theoretical framework of neoclassical realism approach to foreign policy analysis. Given the stated objective of this study and considering that neoclassical realism theories use both the strength of international relations theories in the structural view of international phenomena, and the strength of theories of foreign policy by considering the internal and ideational factors, it seems that this theoretical framework is suitable for the present paper in order to provide insights into U.S. foreign policy-making.
First, an overview of the history of US grand strategy and definitions of isolationism and internationalism in some of the most prominent scholarly works are presented. The proper conceptualization of the "degree of internationalism" as a dependent variable is offered. Then, using historical analysis and interpretation, the authors continue with a detailed study of the grand strategy of Republican administrations in five vital time periods      (i.e., World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan), and examine the ups and downs of its degree of internationalism as compared to Democratic administrations. In each of these time periods, international changes affecting US vital interests, the reaction of senior Republican politicians to these changes, the resulting party controversies, and finally the impact they have had on the foreign policy of the Republican administrations have been analyzed in order to identify the main factors influencing the change in the grand strategy of these administrations. The reasons for the return of the Harding administration to the strategy of isolationism after World War I, the fracture within the Republican Party following the US entry into World War II, and its subsequent internationalist strategy, the Eisenhower administration’s policy towards the Korean War, the Nixon administration's response to the prolongation and erosion of the Vietnam War, and the differences in the foreign policy of the Carter and Reagan administrations in dealing with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan are among the most important issues examined.
The study of the procedures and processes of foreign policymaking indicates the existence of a coordination and order in the changes that have taken place. This  has manifested itself in the form of two different types of dynamics: The first is a steady line of change in the grand orientation of the U.S. foreign policy, which is gradually shifting from an isolationist strategy to an internationalist one. The second is an oscillation situation affected by the security-cost duality. Whenever a major security threat emerges, it tends to be more inclined to internationalism, and when the threat diminishes and the cost of internationalism increases, it tends to be less internationalist. At any rate, it is clear that the U.S. internationalism became more militant and interventionist after the Second World War.


Main Subjects

  1. الف) فارسی

    1. دهشیار، حسین. (1388) سیاست خارجی امریکا، واقع‌گرایی لیبرال. تهران: خط سوم.
    2. دهشیار، حسین. (1386) سیاست خارجی و راهبرد کلان ایالات متحده. تهران: قومس.
    3. شولزینگر، رابرت د. (1379) دیپلماسی امریکا در قرن بیستم (1997-1898)، ترجمه محمد رفیعی‌مهرآبادی. تهران: دفتر مطالعات سیاسی و بین‌المللی.
    4. کالاهان، پاتریک. (1387) منطق سیاست خارجی امریکا، نظریه‌های نقش جهانی امریکا، ترجمه داود غرایاق‌زندی، محمود یزدان‌فام و نادر پورآخوندی. تهران: پژوهشکده مطالعات راهبردی.
    5. کگلی، چارلز دبلیو؛ یوجین آر. ویتکف. (1394) سیاست خارجی امریکا، الگو و روند، ترجمه اصغر دستمالچی. تهران: مرکز آموزش و پژوهش‌های بین‌المللی وزارت خارجه.
    6. گوهری‌مقدم، ابوذر. (1399) سیاست خارجی امریکا در عصر جدید (2020-1900). تهران: دانشگاه امام صادق (ع).
    7. متقی، ابراهیم؛ زهره پوستین‌چی. (1391) روند تحول قدرت نرم در سیاست خارجی امریکا. تهران: نشر ساقی.
    8. مشیرزاده، حمیرا. (1393) تحول در نظریه‌های روابط بین‌الملل. تهران: سمت.

    ب) انگلیسی

    1. Cunningham, Sean P. (2003, October) “The 1976 GOP Primary: Ford, Reagan, and the Battle that Transformed Political Campaigns,” East Texas Historical Journal 41, 2: 6. Available at: (Accessed 23 May 2021).
    2. Dueck, Colin. (2008) Reluctant Crusaders. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    3. Dueck, Colin. (2010) Hard Line: The Republican Party and US Foreign Policy since World War II. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    4. Dueck, Colin. (2019) Age of Iron: On Conservative Nationalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    5. Doenecke, Justus D. (1987, Summer) “The Anti-Interventionism of Herbert Hoover,” Journal of Libertarian Studies 8, 2: 311-340. Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2021).
    6. Fensterwald, Bernard. (1958, June) “The Anatomy of American Isolationism and Expansionism,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 2, 2: 111-139, <DOI/1177/002200275800200201>.
    7. Fordham, (2009) “The Limits of Neoclassical Realism: Additive and Interactive Approaches to Explaining Foreign Policy,” in Steven Lobell, et al., eds. Neoclassical Realism, the State, and Foreign Policy. London & Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    8. Goodall, Alex. (2014) “US Foreign Relations under Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover,” in Katherine Sibley, ed. A Companion to Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. New York: Wiley, 53-76, <DOI:10.1002/9781118834510.ch3>.
    9. Grosscup, George C. (1972) Isolationism and American Foreign Policy, A PhD Dissertation in Political Science, University of Massachusetts Amherst, United States. Available at: (Accessed 12 October 2022).
    10. Holsti, Ole. R; and James N. Rosenau (1984) American Leadership in World Affairs: Vietnam and the Breakdown of Consensus. Boston: Allen and Unwin.
    11. Hulsey, Byron C. (1995, March) “Himself First, His Party Second, Lyndon Johnson Third: Everett Dirksen and the Vietnam War, 1967,” Congress & the Presidency: A Journal of Capital Studies 22, 2: 167-181, <DOI/1080/07343469509507727>.
    12. Johns, Andrew L. (2015) A Companion to Ronald Reagan. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
    13. Johnson, Paul. (1995a, May-June) “Review: The Myth of American Isolationism: Reinterpreting the Past,” Foreign Affairs 74, 3: 159-164, <DOI:2307/20047131>. Available at: (Accessed 12 October 2022).
    14. Johnson, Robert D. (1995b) The Peace Progressives and American Foreign Relations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
    15. Johnstone, Andrew. (2011) “Isolationism and Internationalism in American Foreign Relations,” Journal of Transatlantic Studies 9, 1: 7-20, <DOI/1080/14794012.2011.550772>.
    16. Kaufman, Burton I. (1982) Trade and Aid: Eisenhower's Foreign Economic Policy, 1953-1961. Baltimore, MA: Johns Hopkins University Press.
    17. Kimball, Jeffrey. (2006, March) “The Nixon Doctrine: A Saga of Misunderstanding,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 36, 1: 59-74, <DOI/1111/j.1741-5705.2006.00287.x>.
    18. Kitchen, Nicholas. (2010, January) “Systemic Pressures and Domestic Ideas: A Neoclassical Realist Model of Grand Strategy,” Review of International Studies 36, 1; 117-143, <DOI:1017/S0260210509990532>.
    19. Keefer, Edward C. (1986) “President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the End of the Korean War,” Diplomatic History 10, 3: 267-289, <DOI/1111/j.1467-7709.1986.tb00461.x>.
    20. Ladwig, Walter C. (2012) “A Neo-Nixon Doctrine for the Indian Ocean,” Strategic Analysis 36, 3: 1-22, <DOI/1080/09700161.2012.670533>.
    21. Lee, Oliver M. (2008) “The Geopolitics of America's Strategic Culture,” Comparative Strategy 27, 3: 267-286, <DOI/10.1080/01495930802185627>.
    22. Lorick, William C. (2011) He Kept Us Out of War: Narrative of Woodrow Wilson's War Rhetoric, 1916-1918, A PhD Dissertation in Political Science, University of Alabama, United States. Available at: handle/ 123456789/ 1189/ pdf?sequence= 1&isAllowed=y (Accessed 12 October 2022).
    23. Meibauer, Gustav. (2020) “Interests, Ideas, and the Study of State Behavior in Neoclassical Realism,” Review of International Studies 46, 1: 20-36, <DOI/10. 1017/S026021051900>.
    24. Nau, Henry R. (2015) Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
    25. Nichols, Christopher M. (2013, May) “The Enduring Power of Isolationism: An Historical Perspective,” Orbis 57, 3: 390-407, <DOI/10.1016/j.orbis. 05. 006>.
    26. Pach, Chester. (2006, March) “The Reagan Doctrine: Principle, Pragmatism, and Policy,” Presidential Studies Quarterly 36, 1: 75-88, <DOI/10.1111/j.1741-5705.2006.00288.x>.
    27. Posen, Barry R. (2007, October) “Stability and Change in US Grand Strategy” Orbis 51, 4: 561-567, <DOI:10.1016/j.orbis.2007.08.001>.
    28. Randolph, Christopher S. Jr. (2006) “The Effects of Electoral Concerns on Presidential Foreign Policy,” Vanderbilt Undergraduate Research Journal 2, <DOI/10.15695/vurj.v2i0.2734>.
    29. Ripsman, Norrin M., et al. (2016) Neoclassical Realist Theory of International Politics. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
    30. Streissguth, Thomas, et al. (2010). Isolationism. New York: Infobase Publishing.
    31. Storrs, Landon R. (2015, July) “McCarthyism and the Second Red Scare,” Oxford Research Encyclopedia of American History, <DOI/10.1093/acrefore/ 013.6>. Available at: view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-6 (Accessed 12 December 2021).
    32. Schreiber, Oscar. (1951) “Tenth Anniversary of Lend-Lease,” The Australian Quarterly 23, 3: 64-67. Available at: (Accessed 7 May 2021).
    33. Snyder, Ronald. H. (2004, Autumn) “Wisconsin Ends the Political Career of Wendell Willkie,” The Wisconsin Magazine of History 88, 1: 30–41. Available at: (Accessed 12 December 2021).
    34. Tuttle, William. (1970, March) “Aid-to-the-Allies Short-of-War versus American Intervention,” The Journal of American History 56, 4: 840-858, <DOI/10.2307/1917521>.
    35. Webster, Joel. (2017, Spring) Coolidge against the World: Peace, Prosperity, and Foreign Policy in the 1920s. A Master's Thesis in History, James Madison University, United States. Available at: master201019/501 (Accessed 12 December 2021).
    36. Wilson, John F. (1962, June) “Harding's Rhetoric of Normalcy, 1920–1923,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 48, 4: 406-411, <DOI/10.1080/ 00335636209382568>.
    37. Wittkopf, Eugene R. (1986, December) “On the Foreign Policy Beliefs of the American People,” International Studies Quarterly 30, 4: 425-445, <DOI/10. 2307/2600643>.
    38. Zum Hofe, Timothy J. (2018) Eisenhower's Shift in Containment Policy: How the" New Look" Ensured Victory in the Cold War, A Master's Thesis, Southeast Missouri State University, United States. Available at: https://www.proquest. com/openview/0770da4b66fb81a8e80f9321149612b8/1?pq-origsite= gscholar&cbl=18750&diss=y (Accessed 12 December 2021).