Isolationism is the foreign policy position that a nations' interests are best served by keeping the affairs of other countries at a distance. One possible motivation for limiting international involvement is to avoid being drawn into dangerous and otherwise undesirable conflicts. There may also be a perceived benefit from avoiding international trade agreements or other mutual assistance pacts.
"Isolationism" is a controversial style of policy. Whether or not a country should be isolationist affects both its people's living standards and the ability of its political rulers to benefit favored firms and industries.
The policy or doctrine of trying to isolate one's country from the affairs of other nations by declining to enter into alliances, foreign economic commitments, international agreements, and generally attempting to make one's economy entirely self-reliant; seeking to devote the entire efforts of one's country to its own advancement, both diplomatically and economically, while remaining in a state of peace by avoiding foreign entanglements and responsibilities.
Free trade eliminates the economic barriers otherwise posed by geopolitical borders, such as tariffs and various taxes that would be inconvenient for both manufacturers and consumers. However, isolationism on the other hand, can preserve local jobs that would otherwise be outsourced overseas. There is no universally accepted opinion regarding isolationism, although western countries often criticise North Korea, Cuba, and other countries for pursuing isolationist policies. These countries, conversely, generally rebut that their policies are in resistance to western imperialism.
Isolationism by country
Albania was isolated from other countries while it was under communist control from 1944 to 1990. Known officially as the People's Republic of Albania from 1946 to 1976, and then as the People's Socialist Republic of Albania from 1976 to 1991, Albania spent much of this time under the regime of socialist leader Enver Hoxha, who ruled from 1944 until his death in 1985.
Hoxha underpinned his vision of Albanian unity with a formidable xenophobia. The warmth with which he embraced foreign powers was outdone only by the ferocity with which he subsequently rejected them. Hoxha wooed, then spurned the British, the Americans, the Yugoslavs, the Russians and the Chinese, turning the full force of a defensive nationalism on the perceived heretic. Fear of invasion inspired outlandish policies that became a focus of fascinated disbelief outside the country. Here was a Balkan regime that seemed stranger than the fiction of Bram Stoker. Its very isolation gave rise to a kind of cultish logging of craziness: the construction of pill-boxes every few yards along the entire length of its borders; the ban on private car ownership; the compulsory shaving of beards; and, above all, the deification of two men--Josef Stalin and Enver Hoxha--whose memory remained sacred until 1990 when Albania was torn apart by half a century of pent-up popular anger.
Before 1999, Bhutan had banned television and the Internet in order to preserve its culture, environment, identity etc. Eventually, Jigme Singye Wangchuck lifted the ban on television and the Internet. His son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck was elected as Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan which is being transformed into a democracy.
After Zheng He's voyages in the 15th century, the foreign policy of the Ming dynasty in China became increasingly isolationist. The Hongwu Emperor was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1371. The Qing dynasty that came after the Ming dynasty often continued the Ming dynasty's isolationist policies. Wokou, which literally translates to "Japanese pirates" or "dwarf pirates" were pirates who raided the coastlines of China, Japan and Korea, were one of the key primary concerns, although the maritime ban was not without some control.
At the end of the Chinese Civil War, the country quickly closed off its borders to many outside countries and only maintained diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union. In 1949, Mao Zedong turned China into an isolationist, and communist country, along the lines of its Soviet benefactors. For a period of time the Chinese attempted to become self-reliant, but found that in doing so the country could not break even economically, especially when attempting to maintain a communist vision when it came to economics. In the 1970s the People's Republic of China began large radical economic reforms, which forced the country to change from a zero competition nation to one of the most capitalistic nations in the world. In doing so it quickly began to open its borders to the trade of various other countries thus adding itself to a global trade economy. While the government still regulates many of the country's cultural interactions with others, it is very open to the concept of an open market and competition with other countries, allowing free flow of technological innovations in and out of its borders.
From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan enforced a policy which it called kaikin. The policy prohibited foreign contact with most outside countries. However, the commonly held idea that Japan was entirely closed is misleading. In fact, Japan maintained limited-scale trade and diplomatic relations with China, Korea, the Ryukyu Islands and the Netherlands.
The culture of Japan developed with limited influence from the outside world and had one of the longest stretches of peace in history. During this period, Japan developed thriving cities and castle towns and increasing commodification of agriculture and domestic trade, wage labor, increasing literacy and concomitant print culture, laying the groundwork for modernization, even as the shogunate itself grew weak.
In 1863, King Gojong took the throne of the Joseon Dynasty when he was a child. His father, Regent Heungseon Daewongun, ruled for him until Gojong reached adulthood. During the mid-1860s he was the main proponent of isolationism and the principal instrument of the persecution of both native and foreign Catholics.
The foreign relations of North Korea are often tense and unpredictable. Since the Korean Armistice Agreement ended the armed conflict that existed during the active part of the Korean War in 1953, leaving a de facto truce in place ever since, the North Korean government has been largely isolationist, becoming one of the world's most authoritarian societies. While no formal peace treaty exists between North and South Korea, both diplomatic discussions and clashes have occurred between the two. North Korea has maintained close relations with the People's Republic of China and has often limited its contact with other nations. The North Korean government has banned all media from other countries (such as video games, newspapers, and goods), especially South Korea and the United States, and smuggling these products is illegal.
Just after independence was achieved, Paraguay was governed from 1814 by the dictator José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia, who closed the country's borders and prohibited trade or any relation with the outside world until his death in 1840. The Spanish settlers who had arrived just before independence had to intermarry with either the old colonists or with the native Guarani, in order to create a single Paraguayan people.
Francia had a particular dislike of foreigners and any who came to Paraguay during his rule (which would have been very difficult) were not allowed to leave for the rest of their lives. An independent character, he hated European influences and the Catholic Church, turning church courtyards into artillery parks and confession boxes into border sentry posts, in an attempt to keep foreigners at bay.
The USSR exerted measures to isolate its constituent republics from the First World, including culturally, such as by Cyrillization in the Moldavian SSR. Using what is known as the Iron Curtain, they attempted to hold themselves and their satellite states within their own power, without interruption or intervention from other countries. They also served the purpose of keeping people in, a tragic fact that separated families and loved ones from each other over the course of many years.
Switzerland has been neutral in foreign relations since the Battle of Marignano in 1515. Switzerland did not participate in either of the World Wars and it joined the United Nations as late as 2002, leaving only the Vatican City as the last widely recognized non-UN member at the time of joining. Switzerland is not a member of the European Union or the European Economic Area and the general public remains opposed to full EU membership.
In February 2014, Swiss voters narrowly approved a referendum to restrict immigration and reintroduce quotas on foreigners originating from the EU.
While some scholars, such as Robert J. Art, believe that the United States has an isolationist history, other scholars dispute this by describing the United States as following a strategy of unilateralism or non-interventionism instead. Robert Art makes his argument in A Grand Strategy for America (2003). Books that have made the argument that the United States followed unilaterism instead of isolationism include Walter A. McDougall's Promised Land, Crusader State (1997), John Lewis Gaddis's Surprise, Security, and the American Experience (2004), and Bradley F. Podliska's Acting Alone (2010). Both sides claim policy prescriptions from George Washington's Farewell Address as evidence for their argument. Bear F. Braumoeller argues that even the best case for isolationism, the United States in the interwar period, has been widely misunderstood and that Americans proved willing to fight as soon as they believed a genuine threat existed.
Events during and after the Revolution related to the treaty of alliance with France, as well as difficulties arising over the neutrality policy pursued during the French revolutionary wars and the Napoleonic wars, encouraged another perspective. A desire for separateness and unilateral freedom of action merged with national pride and a sense of continental safety to foster the policy of isolation. Although the United States maintained diplomatic relations and economic contacts abroad, it sought to restrict these as narrowly as possible in order to retain its independence. The Department of State continually rejected proposals for joint cooperation, a policy made explicit in the Monroe Doctrine's emphasis on unilateral action. Not until 1863 did an American delegate attend an international conference.
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- Country neutrality
- International isolation
- Monroe Doctrine
- Splendid isolation
- United States non-interventionism
- Unilateralism in the United States
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