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Robyn Eckersley

This chapter examines the evolution of U.S. foreign policy on environmental issues over four decades, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. It first considers U.S. environmental multilateralism and foreign environment policy before explaining how the United States, despite being widely regarded as an environmental leader during the Cold War period, has increasingly become an environmental laggard in the post-Cold War period. The chapter attributes the decline in U.S. leadership to the country’s new status as the sole superpower, the more challenging character of the new generation of global environmental problems that emerged in the late 1980s, the structure of the U.S. economy and political system, and key features of U.S. grand strategy.

Chapter

This chapter focuses on US involvement in the Vietnam War. Lyndon B. Johnson inherited the Vietnam conflict in difficult circumstances. He had not been elected president in his own right and so, perhaps, believed that he should carry on with John F. Kennedy’s policies. It was unclear what exactly Kennedy would have done in Vietnam, but Johnson retained his predecessor’s foreign policy team and did not question the basic principle of America’s foreign policy, which called for communism to be resisted. The chapter first considers the escalation of US involvement in Vietnam during the period 1963–5 before discussing the conflict between the US and North Vietnam in the succeeding years, along with the Tet offensive and its implications. It concludes with an assessment of Richard Nixon’s decision to restart large-scale US bombing of North Vietnam.

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This chapter examines the negotiations pursued by the United States and the Soviet Union in the early 1970s. The most dramatic change in international diplomacy in the early 1970s was the rapprochement between Beijing and Washington. After two decades of enmity, it was announced on 15 July 1971 that Richard Nixon was to visit China. The ‘Opening to China’ was in accord with the Nixon–Kissinger hope of maintaining a favourable position vis-à-vis the Soviets despite America’s problems in Vietnam. The chapter first considers the so-called ‘triangular diplomacy’ involving the US, USSR, and China as well as the East Asian balance, before discussing the Moscow Summit and Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I). It concludes with an assessment of the Nixon administration’s Vietnam settlement in 1972–3 via the Paris peace accords.

Chapter

Robyn Eckersley

This chapter examines how US foreign policy on environmental issues has evolved over a period of nearly five decades, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. It first considers the United States’ environmental multilateralism as well as environmental initiatives under Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Donald Trump before discussing key trends and puzzles in US foreign environmental policy. It shows the United States as an environmental leader during the Cold War, but an environmental laggard in the post–Cold War period, with the Obama administration’s re-engagement in climate diplomacy as a significant exception. The chapter also explains how the larger trend of waning environmental leadership from the United States has occurred at the same time as international environmental problems, especially climate change, have increasingly moved from the periphery towards the centre of world politics.