June 2013 2-04: How far was there a return to ‘Normalcy’ in US foreign policy in the years 1920 to 1929? (24 marks)


June 2013 2-04: How far was there a return to ‘Normalcy’ in US foreign policy in the years 1920 to 1929? (24 marks)


  • President Harding’s victory in the 1920 election was largely due to his promises to keep the USA out of foreign affairs. Harding’s policies were continued by Coolidge after 1923
  • there was popular political and public support for ensuring that the USA was not involved in foreign entanglements of the kind that had led to its participation in the First World War
  • ‘Normalcy’ was also reflected in the USA’s refusal to join the League of Nations
  • ‘Normalcy’ placed the focus of US interests on economic development. Calvin Coolidge maintained that the business of America is business. US policy in Latin America was not seen as involvement in foreign affairs but protecting US interests in its own ‘back yard’
  • ‘Normalcy’ also led to the USA backing the Dawes Plan.  This was designed to ensure the repayment of war loans and facilitate German reparation payments.  It was a foreign policy strategy based on economic aims and consistent with the focus on, and the link between, ‘Normalcy’ in foreign policy and national economic interests. The refusal of the USA to cancel inter-allied debts.


  • the USA did see the importance of ensuring stability in the Pacific, dealing with the possibility that Japan may develop as a Pacific power.  This necessitated US participation in naval controls.  The Washington conference clearly indicated that ‘Normalcy’ was not the sole motive in US foreign policy
  • the USA participated in both the Dawes Plan of 1924, the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928, and the Young Plan of 1929. This showed that the USA was willing to take an active role in European affairs despite not being a member of the League. US involvement in Latin America showed a divergence from the idea of ‘Normalcy’.


Balance the importance of a return to ‘Normalcy’ against the clear examples of international involvement.  ‘Normalcy’ was important and it did set the tone of US policy but it was not all-pervasive and there was flexibility in its application. The USA did not isolate itself from the outside world.  It did not simply interpret a return to ‘Normalcy’ in foreign policy as a purely isolationist stance.  The emphasis in US foreign policy was on controlled interventionism rather than on promoting the role of the USA as a prime influence in international relations.


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