Humanitarian intervention by the United States is a fairly recent phenomenon. For many decades after independence, foreign policy and military entanglements were in the country’s own self-interest: expanding territorial holdings to what ultimately became the 48 states, proclaiming hegemony over the Western hemisphere, fighting piracy on the high seas and honoring treaty alliances. Policy Goals. The onset of the Cold War forced America to take a more active stance.
The nation needed to proclaim the validity of the democratic model, prop up weak republics, provide disaster relief, give dole-out’s to the starving, tender development aid, oppose human rights violations, and contest Soviet hegemony in Asia, Cuba, Europe and Africa. Naturally, there was criticism that development aid and the policy of containing the Communist threat also served American economic interests but the EU countries, Japan and China practice the same. The more altruistic models of Canada and Australia are exceptions to the rule.
Forms and Historical Precedents. The earliest forms of altruistic intervention comprised outright food aid. Examples were breaking the Berlin blockade, the CARE and “Hands Across the Seas” programs, and aid to sub-Saharan Africa. One of the most famous incarnations of humanitarian aid was the Marshall Fund, billions of dollars of money used to help rebuild a Europe devastated by World War II. From the 1950s onwards, the United States leveraged its influence in the UN, World Bank, and GATT to funnel billions of dollars in development aid to Third World countries.
There have been political and military interventions to break the backs of totalitarian regimes and protest human rights violations, e. g. against Marcos of the Philippines, the Chinese government, invasion of Iraq to liberate the Kurds, North Korea. Objections to humanitarian intervention abroad can be traced chiefly to a lingering isolationism as well as the contention that America ought to feed its own poor. As the largest economy on earth, however, the United States has obligations to oppressed peoples.