America’s top foreign policy successes? Diplomacy, not war.
America's greatest international impact since World War 2 has been through its diplomacy, not its wars.
While it's had its share of misses, American foreign policy also produced some concrete successes in the years since World War 2 and it's possible to be hopeful.
It's also true that the U.S. has continued to stay involved in world affairs militarily. The wars it has been involved in have been pursued for strategic reasons and proved generally unsuccessful. Outmaneuvering and outlasting the Soviet Union, American diplomacy has kept the mainland in relative peace—perhaps truly shattered by 9/11.
What have been some of the most important accomplishments of recent U.S. diplomats? Here are the top 5:
The Marshall Plan: Rebuilding the post-war world
The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to rebuild Western Europe after World War 2. It consisted of $13 billion in economic aid to prop up destroyed European economies. The plan was signed into action by President Truman on April 3rd, 1948, and was named after Secretary of State George Marshall, who proposed the rebuilding assistance.
The plan indeed jump-started the European economy, spreading the American goodwill and earning it allies among former enemies, like Italy and Germany. The U.S. also put billions into the reconstruction of Japan.
The Marshall plan inhibited the spread of communism and essentially created the relationship that the U.S. and Western Europe enjoyed until President Trump.
3rd February 1949: Dignitaries, from left to right, Mr. Strachey, Mr. Holmgreen (Marshall Aid Representative), and Dr. W Kling (Assistant Agricultural Attache) at the Royal Victoria Dock in London to welcome the first shipment of Caribbean sugar made under the Marshall Plan of US aid for Europe. (Photo by Edward Miller/Keystone/Getty Images)
The Non-Proliferation Treaty
While the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, was a major international effort, the impetus behind it came from U.S. foreign policy. The treaty, initially negotiated between 1965 and 1968, with a number of countries signing in later decades, can be credited with keeping the world from exploding in a nuclear war.
The treaty's objective is the prevention of the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology while promoting cooperation for peaceful uses of nuclear energy. Its ultimate goal is complete nuclear disarmament.
The initial push for nuclear non-proliferation can be attributed to a December 1953 'Atoms for Peace' proposal by the U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, presented to the eighth session of the United Nations General Assembly. In the proposal, he called for an international organization to be established for the spread of peaceful nuclear technology while preventing the development of weapons capabilities in new countries. Eisenhower's proposal led to the establishment of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 1957, which has the dual responsibility of facilitating and controlling nuclear technology.
General view of the International Atomic Energy Agency board of directors meeting, 16 June 2003 in Vienna. The IAEA chief Mohammed El Baradei urged Iran to sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to allow the IAEA to inspect all suspect sites, not just those declared by Tehran. (Photo credit: DEAN CALMA/AFP/Getty Images)
The opening to China
According to Harvard University's Professor of International Relations Stephen M. Walt, President Nixon's 1972 decision to end the “long U.S. ostracism of China" was equally “a major event in modern diplomacy and a smart geo-strategic move," says Walt. It laid the groundwork for future relations with China, placed pressure on the Soviet Union, and helped the U.S. exit the Vietnam War.
While in current global circumstances, President Trump is keen on blaming China for a trade imbalance while engendering a trade war, at its time, Nixon's policy was seen as correct and successful.
US president Richard Nixon (L) toasts with Chinese Prime Minister, Chou En Lai (R) in February 1972 in Beijing during his official visit in China. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)
The reunification of Germany
The first Bush administration was instrumental in the relatively smooth process of reunifying Germany in 1990 as the Soviet Union was collapsing. The result? Germany is the powerhouse economy of Europe and one of the world's leading countries.
West Berliners crowd in front of the Berlin Wall early 11 November 1989 as they watch East German border guards demolishing a section of the wall in order to open a new crossing point between East and West Berlin, near the Potsdamer Square. (Photo credit: GERARD MALIE/AFP/Getty Images)
One of the most iconic moments of the past century occurred on June 12th, 1987, when President Reagan gave the "Tear down this wall!" speech in Berlin, proclaiming: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" This subsequently led to the wall's destruction and German unification during the next administration.
The Dayton Accords
In November 1995, the Dayton Agreement for Peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina ended a 3.5-year-long Bosnian War. It was signed in Dayton, Ohio, following negotiations led by the U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, negotiator Richard Holbrooke, and General Wesley Clark.
From left background : Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, US President Bill Clinton, French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, British Prime Minister John Major and Russian Premier Victor Chernomyrdin, from left front Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic are signing the peace agreement on Bosnia at the Elysée Palace in Paris on December 14th, 1995. The accord was reached in Dayton, USA, on November 21st, ending over four years of war in former Yugoslavia. (Photo credit: MICHEL GANGNE/AFP/Getty Images)
Millions of doses of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine could be distributed as early as next week, if the FDA and CDC authorize it.
- The FDA and CDC will soon vote on whether to authorize the distribution of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.
- If approved, it would become the third vaccine available in the U.S., the other two being vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
- The new vaccine has a lower efficacy rate, but clinical data suggest its highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death.
Mediteraneo via AdobeStock<p>What makes Johnson & Johnson's vaccine unique is that it's effective after just one dose, while the vaccines produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna require two doses administered over several weeks.</p><p>And unlike the other two vaccines, Johnson & Johnson's vaccine doesn't need to be frozen during shipping and storage, it just needs to be refrigerated. That's because the vaccine protects against COVID-19 by delivering coronavirus proteins to the body through a common cold virus known as adenovirus type 26. In contrast, the other two vaccines perform a similar function, but they do it through mRNA, which is more delicate and requires freezing.</p><p>Not having to freeze the single-shot vaccine will make it cheaper and easier to distribute across the country, and it could result in many more people getting vaccinated.</p><p>But it's worth noting that Johnson & Johnson's vaccine doesn't seem to be as effective as the other two vaccines. According to the FDA analysis, the vaccine is about 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe cases of COVID-19, "when considering cases occurring at least 28 days after vaccination." Meanwhile, clinical data show that the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are about 95 percent effective at preventing severe cases of the disease.</p>
peterschreiber.media via AdobeStock<p>Still, that doesn't necessarily mean Johnson & Johnson's vaccine is inferior. The FDA analysis found that nobody who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was hospitalized or died due to COVID-19 (at least among cases that occurred 28 days after getting the shot).</p><p>So, while some people who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may still contract coronavirus, the vaccine does seem to significantly reduce the severity of COVID-19. The same holds true for the other two vaccines: Getting the shot (or shots) won't completely protect you from the virus, but it does protect you from the disease, reducing the chances of becoming hospitalized or dying to almost zero.</p>
COVID-19 vaccines and transmission<p>But what's less clear is the extent to which the vaccines prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Because the vaccines don't completely protect against infection, it might be possible for a vaccinated person to spread the virus. But COVID-19 vaccines might make transmission less likely.</p><p>After all, even if a person who gets vaccinated contracts the coronavirus, the virus would have a harder time replicating in their body, because the vaccine bolsters the immune response. So, one would expect that person to "shed" less of the virus out of their mouth and nose. In short: fewer infections means less replication, less shedding and less transmission. </p><p>That's the theory, anyway.</p><p><span></span>Scientists are still working to understand how exactly these vaccines affect transmission. But early data is promising. In a <a href="https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.02.06.21251283v1.full-text" target="_blank">preprint paper published on medRxiv</a>, Israeli researchers measured the amount of coronavirus within about 2,900 people who had received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Analyzing positive SARS-CoV-2 test results following inoculation with the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine [the Pfizer vaccine], we find that the viral load is reduced four-fold for infections occurring 12-28 days after the first dose of vaccine," the paper said. "These reduced viral loads hint to lower infectiousness, further contributing to vaccine impact on virus spread."</p><p>But until the data on vaccines and transmission become clear, the CDC recommends that vaccinated people still wear masks and practice social distancing.</p>
How does philosophy try to balance having free will with living in a deterministic universe?
- People feel like they have free will but often have trouble understanding how they can have it in a deterministic universe.
- Several models of free will exist which try to incorporate physics into our understanding of our experience.
- Even if physics could rule out free will, there would still be philosophical questions about it.
Hard Determinism<p> Some philosophers have taken the argument of casual determinism mentioned above and used it to say that there is no room for free will at all. This stance, called "hard determinism," maintains that all of our actions are causally necessary and dictated by physics in the same way as a billiard ball's movement. </p><p> The Baron d'Holbach<strong>, </strong>a French philosopher, explained the stance:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"> "In short, the actions of man are never free; they are always the necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas and of the notions, either true or false, which he has formed to himself of happiness; of his opinions, strengthened by example, by education, and by daily experience."</p><p> While physics and philosophy have both advanced since the enlightenment era, hard determinism still has supporters.</p>
Indeterminism<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/DMNZQVyabiM" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> As some of you are probably thinking right now, quantum physics, with its uncertainties, probabilities, and general strangeness, might offer a way out of the determinism of classical physics. This idea, sometimes called "<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/" target="_blank">indeterminism</a>," occurred to more than a few philosophers too, and variations of it date back to ancient Greece.</p><p> This stance holds that not every event has an apparent cause. Some events might be random, for example. Proponents of the perspective suggest that some of our brain functions might have random elements, perhaps caused by the fluctuations seen in quantum mechanics, that cause our choices to not be fully predetermined. Others suggest that only part of our decision-making process is subject to causality, with a portion of it under what amounts to the control of the individual. </p><p> There are issues with this stance being used to counter determinism. One of them is that having choices made randomly rather than by strict causation doesn't seem to be the kind of free will people think about. From a physical standpoint, brain activity may involve some quantum mechanics, <a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22830500-300-is-quantum-physics-behind-your-brains-ability-to-think/" target="_blank">but not all of it. </a>Many thinkers incorporate indeterminism into parts of their models of free will, but don't fully rely on the idea. <br><a href="https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg22830500-300-is-quantum-physics-behind-your-brains-ability-to-think/" target="_blank"></a> </p>
Soft Determinism<p> Also called "<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/compatibilism/" target="_blank">compatibilism</a>," this view agrees with causal determinism but also holds that this is compatible with some kind of free will. This can take on many forms and sometimes operates by varying how "free" that will actually is. </p><p> <a href="https://www.informationphilosopher.com/solutions/philosophers/mill/" target="_blank">John Stuart Mill </a>argued that causality did mean that people will act in certain ways based on circumstance, character, and desires, but that we have some control over these things. Therefore, we have some capacity to change what we would do in a future situation, even if we are determined to act in a certain way in response to a particular stimulus. </p><p> Daniel Dennett goes in another <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/iphi/files/free_will_2016_01.pdf" target="_blank">direction</a>, suggesting a two-stage model of decision-making involving some indeterminism. In the first stage of making a decision, the brain produces a series of considerations, not all of which are necessarily subject to determinism, to take into account. What considerations are created and not immediately rejected is subject to some level of indeterminism and agent control, though it could be unconscious. In the second step, these considerations are used to help make a decision based on a more deterministic reasoning process. </p><p> In these stances, your decisions are still affected by prior events like the metaphorical billiard balls moving on a table, but you have some control over how the table is laid out. This means you could, given enough time and understanding, have a fair amount of control over how the balls end up moving. </p><p> Critics of stances like this often argue that the free will the agent is left with by these decision-making models is hardly any different from what they'd have under a hard deterministic one. </p>
Libertarian Freedom<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UZmpUGl6eRc" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> This is the stance with the premium free will people tend to talk about—the idea that you are in full control of your decisions all the time and that casual determinism doesn't apply to your decision-making process. It is "<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/" target="_blank">incompatibilist</a>" in that it maintains that free will is not compatible with a deterministic universe. </p><p> People holding this view often take either an "agent-casual" or "event-causal" position. In an agent-casual stance, decision-makers, known as "agents," can make decisions that are not caused by a previous action in the same way that physical events are. They are essentially the "prime movers" of event chains that start with their decisions rather than any external cause. </p><p> Event-casual stances maintain that some elements of the decision-making process are physically indeterminate and that at least some of the factors that go into the final choice are shaped by the agent. The most famous living proponent of such a stance is Robert Kane and his "<a href="https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/incompatibilism-theories/#2.3" target="_blank">effort of will"</a> model.</p><p>In brief, his model supposes an agent can be thought responsible for an action if they helped create the causes that led to it. He argues that people occasionally take "self-forming action" (SFA) that helps shape their character and grant them this responsibility. SFAs happen when the decisions we make would be subject to indeterminism, perhaps a case when two choices are both highly likely- with one being what we want and one being what we think is right, and willpower is needed to cause a choice to be taken. </p><p> At that point, unable to quickly choose, we apply willpower to make a decision that influences our overall character. Not only was that decision freely chosen, but any later, potentially more causally-determined actions, we take rely at least somewhat on a character trait that we created through that previous choice. Therefore, we at least partially influenced them. </p><p>Critics of this stance include Daniel Dennett, who points out that SFAs could be so rare as to leave some people without any real free will at all. <br></p>
Can’t we just outsource free will to physics?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/R-Nj_rEqkyQ" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> No, the question of free will is much larger than if cause and effect exist and apply to our decisions. Even if that one were fully answered, other questions immediately pop up. <br></p><p>Is the agency left to us, if any, after we learn how much of our decision-making is determined by outside factors enough for us to say that we are free? How much moral responsibility do people have under each proposed understanding of free will? Is free will just the ability to choose otherwise, or do we just have to be responsible for the actions we make, even if we are limited to one choice?<br></p><p> Physics can inform the debate over these questions but cannot end it unless it comes up with an equation for what freedom is.</p><p>Modern debates outside of philosophy departments tend to ignore the differences in the above stances in a way that tends to reduce everything to determinism. This was highlighted by neuroscientist Bobby Azarian in a recent Twitter <a href="https://twitter.com/philipcball/status/1356244216385560581" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thread</a>, where he notes there is often a tendency to conflate hard determinism with naturalism—the idea that natural laws, as opposed to supernatural ones, can explain everything in the universe. .</p><p> Lastly, we might wonder if physics is the right department to hand it over to. Daniel Dennett awards evolutionary biology the responsibility for generating consciousness and free will.</p><p> He points out that while physics has always been the same for life on Earth, both consciousness and free will seem to have evolved recently and could be an evolutionary advantage of sorts—not being bound to deterministic decision making could be an excellent tool for staying alive. He considers them to be emergent properties we have and considers efforts to reduce us to our parts, which do function deterministically, to be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joCOWaaTj4A" target="_blank">unsound</a>. </p><p> How to balance our understanding of causal determinism and our subjective experience of seeming to have free will is a problem philosophers and scientists have been discussing for the better part of two thousand years. It is one they'll likely keep going over for a while. While it isn't time to outsource free will to physics, it is possible to incorporate the findings of modern science into our philosophy. </p><p> Of course, we might only do that because we're determined to do so, but that's another problem. </p>
"The Expanse" is the best vision I've ever seen of a space-faring future that may be just a few generations away.
- Want three reasons why that headline is justified? Characters and acting, universe building, and science.
- For those who don't know, "The Expanse" is a series that's run on SyFy and Amazon Prime set about 200 years in the future in a mostly settled solar system with three waring factions: Earth, Mars, and Belters.
- No other show I know of manages to use real science so adeptly in the service of its story and its grand universe building.
Credit: "The Expanse" / Syfy<p>Now, I get it if you don't agree with me. I love "Star Trek" and I thought "Battlestar Galactica" (the new one) was amazing and I do adore "The Mandalorian". They are all fun and important and worth watching and thinking about. And maybe you love them more than anything else. But when you sum up the acting, the universe building, and the use of real science where it matters, I think nothing can beat "The Expanse". And with a <a href="https://www.rottentomatoes.com/tv/the_expanse" target="_blank">Rotten Tomato</a> average rating of 93%, I'm clearly not the only one who feels this way.</p><p>Best.</p><p>Show.</p><p>Ever. </p>
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