Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That American foreign policy must be judged by this criterion: does it serve the just interests of the United States?”
The Sharon Statement’s final clause contains a question that has prompted debates amongst conservatives, who all agree with what it says, for sixty years. The debates focus around two key points of disagreement. First, what does ‘foreign policy’ encompass, and second, what is meant by the “just interests of the United States”?
While many Americans may think of foreign policy in strictly military themes, the early Young Americans for Freedom viewed it more broadly. They felt that the Cold War should be waged not only militarily but also strategically and economically, too. An example of this mentality is their campaign against Firestone when it sought to open a rubber plant in the Soviet satellite state of Romania which could have been used to supply rubber to the North Vietnamese and Vietcong. While building a rubber plant may be considered an economic issue, the arguments against it were not economic in nature but based around national defense and strategic concerns. Those who look at foreign policy only through the lens of embassies or military action might miss the bigger picture.
The larger foreign policy debate has been centered around defining what are the just interests of the United States. Some have echoed President Washington’s advice to avoid entanglements in European affairs, while others seek to use American foreign policy in a more interventional manner. Due to America’s position as the world’s superpower, it is not feasible, nor desirable, to be completely isolated from the rest of the world. On the other hand, it is not possible for America to fix all of the world’s problems and trying to do so would cause it to stretch out its resources too thinly.
One example of an ‘interventionist’ foreign policy that promotes America’s just interests is the use of the American navy to protect the freedom of the seas. By securing the right of ships of all nations to travel the oceans in peace, international trade and the economic prosperity that results from trade is encouraged. Additionally, having a strong naval presence around the globe enables America to deploy its military more quickly if it needs to anywhere in the world. Thus, it is important to pay attention when countries like China threaten the freedom of the seas, as that can have a long lasting impact.
It is also in America’s interest to have allies that it can rely on if necessary for several reasons. First, treaties such as NATO have allowed the United States to project its economic and military might farther from home by partnering with other nations who have similar goals. Additionally, if America wishes to use foreign policy tools other than military intervention, such as economic sanctions, it helps to have other countries working alongside. This is especially important if a military intervention is not practical for whatever reason.
Overall, American foreign policy must recognize that the United States is the world’s superpower and thus cannot retreat from the world stage. While the military is an important part, it should be a last resort as America can work with its allies to exert influence in other ways such as economic sanctions. As the world evolves, so do America’s interests and thus its correct responses to the world’s problems.
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.