This part of our foreign policy is, at heart, all about “soft” power – how much other nations and peoples like, admire, and trust America and Americans. Of course, “liking us” certainly won’t prevent them from taking actions against us if they decide that it’s in their best interests, but a certain degree of mutual respect, admiration, and trust – especially trust – can go a long ways towards mitigating the possibility of hostile action, and can help us in some negotiations.
Canadians, for example, live comfortably next door to the United States. They have rich resources and a long and indefensible border, and they simply trust that we would not use our military power to overwhelm them. After two centuries of peace, close alliance, and economic cooperation, this seems like a reasonable decision, but a look back at history will show how seldom two such unequal neighbors have lived at peace without the weaker one being extremely vigilant and paranoid about the larger.
Building a framework for cooperation is better than just ignoring the sympathies and interests of others. Every nation has its interests and tries to get the best deal it can in negotiations, but all of the trade that I’ve been talking about works far better with willing partners who don’t want to screw us over and who trust us not to screw them. The economic impacts of our soft power and diplomatic policies are even fuzzier and harder to pin down than those of our military policies, but they are there, and they are considerable.
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