Isolationism is a category of foreign policies institutionalized by leaders who asserted that their nations' best interests were best served by keeping the affairs of other countries at a distance, as well as a term used, sometimes pejoratively, in political debates. Most Isolationists believe that limiting international involvement keeps their country from being drawn into dangerous and otherwise undesirable conflicts. Some strict Isolationists believe that their country is best served by even avoiding international trade agreements or other mutual assistance pacts.
Two distinct and unrelated concepts that are occasionally erroneously categorized as Isolationism are:
- Non-interventionism – is the belief that political rulers should avoid military alliances with other nations and to avoid interfering in wars bearing no direct impact on their nation. However, most non-interventionists are supporters of free trade, travel, and support certain international agreements, unlike isolationists.
- Protectionism – Relates more often to economics, its proponents believe that there should be legal barriers in order to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.
"Isolationism" is currently a somewhat 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 Enver Hoxha, who severely restricted citizens' freedom and contact with the outside world.
Before 1999, Bhutan had banned television and the Internet 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. Emperor Hongwu was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1371. The Qing Dynasty that came after the Ming often continued the latter dynasty's isolationist policies. Wokou or Japanese pirates were one of the key primary concerns, although the maritime ban was not without some control.
At the end of China’s bloody 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 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 the flow of technological innovations to flow in and out of its borders freely.
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.
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.
- International isolation
- Monroe Doctrine
- Splendid isolation
- United States non-interventionism
- Unilateralism in the United States
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