American Presidents and the United Nations : Internationalism in the Balance book cover
1st Edition

American Presidents and the United Nations
Internationalism in the Balance

ISBN 9780367367398
Published July 30, 2021 by Routledge
224 Pages

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Book Description

American Presidents and the United Nations: Internationalism in the Balance offers a fresh look at the U.S.–UN relationship. The current discourse regarding America’s linkage with the UN—and particularly about the President’s influence on the world body—has metamorphosed well beyond the conventional conversation of the post-World War II generation. This book places the UN–U.S. relationship within the evolving fabric of international affairs and American political developments through the 2020 presidential election, into the early Biden administration. The text integrates analyses of individual presidential politics and presidential foreign policy preferences from Franklin Roosevelt through Donald Trump, with congressional responses, and seemingly ever-accelerating, troublesome, and often unanticipated international crises. Readers will find the latest scholarship, primary sourcing, as well as synthesis, and a fresh analysis of the ongoing and increasingly multifaceted political and intellectual debate about America’s role in the world. The book spotlights one of the most creative, complex, and inspirited global institutions ever devised by human beings—the United Nations—and puts it in context with the powerful role of the American presidency. Essential for students, scholars, and general readers alike.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Introduction

The President and the United Nations

Presidential Worldviews

Some Definitions

The Liberal International Order




Neoliberalism and its Critics from the Left


The American Debate about the United Nations and World Affairs

The United Nations at Three-Quarters of a Century

Traditional and Contemporary Arrangements of International Politics

Chapter 2 Building and Maintaining the Postwar Order: FDR to Jimmy Carter

Peace and Security in the Nuclear Age

Arms Control and Disarmament

Maintenance of Peace and Security

Envisioning a Better World


Chapter 3 Ronald Reagan: The Shining City on the Hill

Reagan and the World

Ronald Reagan and the UN: Phase One

The Evil Empire

The Middle East, Reagan, and the UN



Reagan and the UN: Phase Two


Chapter 4 The New World Order: George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton

Reaching an Apex in Multilateralism

President Bush and the Gulf War


Democratic Enlargement

Peacekeeping Redux

UN Reform


Chapter 5 George W. Bush: Challenging Collective Security

God’s Will Be Done

Distaste for International Organizations and Agreements

September 11, 2001

Democracy and the End of Tyranny

Iraq War

The Quartet and a Roadmap to Peace

The Other Side of George W. Bush

The Missed Opportunity


Chapter 6 Barack Obama: Pragmatism in the Service of a Future Global Order

"Hardheaded at the Same Time as We’re Bighearted": The Niebuhrian President

Four Speeches and a Prize

America’s Retreat from UN Engagement

The Middle East

Ending Two Wars

Palestinian–Israeli Dispute

Arab Spring

Russia–U.S. Confrontation in the Security Council

Curbing Iran’s Nuclear Program

Climate Change


Chapter 7 Donald Trump: The Impulses of Nativism and Isolationism

The Crisis of 2020

America’s Retreat from Multilateralism

Struggles Within the Administration

Disrupting the Middle East Quagmire

The Korean Crisis

Confronting China

Trumpism, the UN, and the Future




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John Allphin Moore, Jr. is a professor of history emeritus, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the United Nations, co-author of The New United Nations, and has written or co-authored articles and books on topics ranging from UN studies to American political history.

Jerry Pubantz is a professor of political science and the founding dean of the international honors college at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the United Nations, the co-author of The New United Nations, and the author of other works on the world body and American foreign policy.


Praise for American Presidents and the United Nations: Internationalism in the Balance

"This carefully researched and clearly written study presents a comprehensive assessment of how U.S. presidents have engaged in international diplomacy through the United Nations from its founding to the present. With judicious and painstaking attention to detail, the authors explain American challenges and successes with the United Nations, providing a frank assessment of future prospects for cooperation. The instructive, engaging case studies are essential reading for scholars and classes on American foreign policy and international relations."

Meena Bose, The Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the Presidency, Hofstra University

"Moore and Pubantz have not only written a much-needed text capturing the historical trends and ideological themes in U.S. international engagement, but they have revealed the critical role American presidents have played in altering the political commitments and diplomatic tenor at the United Nations. For students, scholars, and the public, their book provides a compact and compelling look at the competing political forces and the dominant personalities structuring the ‘liberal international order’ during the past seventy-five years. Detailing the two-decades-long trend of U.S. presidents preferring unilateral over multilateral diplomacy, they also show that President Trump's rejection of international allies and institutions was more a continuation and culmination than a complete departure. Despite the fact that many of the world's current crises are global in nature—from the coronavirus pandemic and climate change to economic inequality and racial justice—the authors rightly conclude that a revitalization of American-led international institutions, with the U.N. playing a key role, is not a given because public opinion remains divided over their effectiveness in promoting peace and prosperity."

Lara Brown, Director, The Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University

"American Presidents and the United Nations: Internationalism in the Balance should be an indispensable part of any personal library focusing on international affairs or American politics. Much of the 20th and 21st centuries have involved starts and stops in creating an institutional manifestation of the international community, and the world's greatest power for most of this time has been the United States. Often over the past 75 years, the UN has been both a real institution constantly evolving to address global issues and a symbol in American politics. American presidents have variously considered it the U.S.’s tether to the world, a useful place to exercise leadership, a flawed but necessary part of international diplomacy, or, in the last few years, a hostile place thwarting American interests. In the end, the UN is what one Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, once told my students: ‘If the UN did not exist, we would have to invent it.’ For it to survive, we do not have to invent it, but we do have to reform it to reflect the realities of a new and much more globalized world. This new book captures this history, this debate, and this reality."

Shelton L. Williams, President, The Osgood Center for International Studies, Washington, D.C.