The United States' ability to shape international economic policy during the mid-1970s, a time of multiple global economic crises, perceived American weakness, and great Congressional scrutiny, is the principal theme of the recent Foreign Relations of the United States volume on Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976. Policymakers in the Nixon and Ford administrations recognized that economic policy was an important element of diplomacy. Since the founding of the republic, U.S. foreign policy has often reflected the nation's trade, commercial, and economic interests. Yet, as the unraveling of the post-war economic order by the 1970s indicated, the United States had to think differently about the intersections of foreign and economic policy when changed circumstances disrupted existing relationships with partners and competitors alike. The challenges posed by the emergence of a multi-polar world for the United States and its foreign policies provided a wide umbrella for the proceedings of the recent Office of the Historian conference, "Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976," co-hosted by George Mason University School of Public Policy.
The inaugural session of the Foreign Relations of the United States (FRUS) Special Conference Series, the scope of the conference's roundtable remarks and the keynote address given by Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats demonstrate how a "niche" topic, such as foreign economic policy, can shed light on a diverse range of subjects.
The "Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976" conference touched on several storylines. One narrative arc focused on how increased globalization forced the United States' economy--and those of other industrialized countries--to become more interdependent. Another theme was the evolving role of the U.S. dollar as the fixed exchange rate system envisioned at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference ended and a new system of flexible exchange rates began. As Under Secretary Hormats noted, technical economic and financial issues often became entangled with broader questions of national prestige.
Yet, the Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976 volume, as conference participants pointed out, speaks to more than just economic policy. The passage of the Trade Act of 1974 and the issue of the Jackson-Vanick Amendment, which tied human rights to U.S. trade policy, illustrated the tensions inherent between the roles played by Congress and the Executive Branch in crafting foreign economic policy. Conference participants noted how documents from Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976 demonstrate how the Nixon and Ford administrations worked with Congress in an era of heightened legislative scrutiny.
Panelists also addressed other important subjects as they discussed Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976. For example, documents in the volume shed light on the United States' perspective on European integration and whether Nixon administration officials felt that a unified Europe would serve U.S. policy objectives. In addition to gleaning greater insight into the dynamics of U.S.-European relations, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973-1976 documents and the conference's roundtable remarks provide a richer understanding of the U.S.-French relationship. The interactions between the Ford administration and their French counterparts in creating the G-7 and responding to other economic crises are instructive on many levels, and indicate the importance of creatively developing new solutions to pressing problems.
In listening to the audio files or reading the transcripts from these discussions, one gains a greater sense of the difficult obstacles and questions that faced U.S. policymakers as they grappled with the intersection of foreign economic policy and foreign policy during the 1970s. As noted by conference participants, learning more about foreign economic policy during the uncertain 1973-1976 period is also useful in addressing the challenges of the present.
The proceedings of this conference are available online through the Office of the Historian's website, http://history.state.gov/conferences/2011-foreign-economic-policy/audio-transcripts.