Ethnic Identity Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Thomas Ambrosio | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1

Ethnic Identity Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy

Thomas Ambrosio

There has been an explosion in ethnic group participation in politics in this city.

—Representative Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.) 1


ETHNIC IDENTITIES AND “FACTION”

In Federalist 10, James Madison considered the problem of “faction” and how the proposed new republic would ameliorate the negative consequences of internal divisions. Just as during the founding of the United States, controversies over faction remain politically meaningful today. Current attention has shifted from ideological or economic divisions to those based on racial, ethnic, religious, or national identities. In order to include all of these different bases of identity under one conceptual framework, this book uses the term ethnic identity groups—politically relevant social divisions based on a shared sense of cultural distinctiveness. 2 Some scholars see the rise of multiculturalism as inherently dangerous to the internal cohesion of the United States and potentially threatening the very survival of the country. 3 In foreign policy, the United States is sometimes seen as increasingly unable to define its national interests with any degree of consensus, largely because of identity-based divisions. 4

Like other societal interest groups, ethnic identity groups establish formal organizations devoted to promoting group cohesiveness and addressing group concerns. Although many of these groups are apolitical, others are created for explicitly political purposes. Interest groups in general seek to influence policy, either domestic or foreign. As the line between international and domestic politics becomes blurred, so too does the permissible range of interest group activities. The phrase “politics ends at the water's edge” is commonly cited but is often irrelevant because foreign policy is increasingly driven by parochial concerns. Likewise, the interests of domestic actors are becoming more and more a product of events overseas. When it comes to ethnic identity groups, this phrase becomes completely meaningless.

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