Will US foreign policy be affected by the culture wars?

Foreign policy becomes an extension of domestic policy. But adversaries like China, Russia and Iran are unlikely to be successful in exploiting divisions in the United States or Europe.

America’s culture wars may spill over into American foreign policy, but national divisions are unlikely to change the approach to adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

In a word

  • “Woke” is now shorthand for culture wars across the United States
  • Culture wars swing elections on both sides of the Atlantic
  • Common foreign policy interests will likely trump national differences

The partisan divide in United States politics has been exacerbated by cultural and social differences that can affect American foreign policy. Parallel debates are erupting across Europe, suggesting that the transatlantic community may be splitting along similar lines.

Undoubtedly, domestic issues are likely to affect political alignments in the US and across the Atlantic as well as strengthen the hand of ruling parties. The divisions are unlikely to be large enough to create geostrategic opportunities for adversarial nations like China, Russia and Iran to exploit.

What is “awake”?

“Woke” has become a code word for contrasting views on civilizational norms.

The social and cultural issues dividing America are vast and varied. They include race, gender, elections, immigration, class, crime, abortion, marriage, religion, education, and parental rights. Controversies have spread from local communities to the operation of federal agencies, including the armed forces.

“Revival in the military is being imposed by elected and appointed leaders in the White House, Congress, and the Pentagon who have little understanding of the purpose, character, traditions, and demands of the institution they are trying to change,” said defense expert and retired U.S. Army General Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.

Populists in the United States and Europe, considered a few years ago as fringe political movements, are winning the elections.

“Be Awakened” began life in our postmodern world as a vernacular to “alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice”. More recently, in pop culture, “woke” has morphed into a pejorative term. American commentator Perry Bacon Jr. claims that the term “woke” has quickly come to encompass anything and everything that conservatives dislike – “anything and anyone they want to discredit”. The Conservatives see things differently. “A lot of people now interpret Woke as a way to describe people who would rather silence their critics than listen to them,” according to Fox News commentator Michael Ruiz. “Woke” is now shorthand for culture wars across the United States.

It’s more than just a clash of American ideas. The culture wars are increasingly part of the debate in the European sphere. For example, in Spain, the conservative Vox party raised concerns about parental rights and gender issues, similar to those raised by American conservatives during state elections in Virginia that brought a conservative governor to power.

Moreover, pejorative terms for cultural conflicts have become part of the transatlantic discourse. In the United States and Europe, for example, elections that put the conservative Giorgia Meloni in a position to lead the Italian government immediately led to accusations that she was a “fascist”. The other party claimed that these attacks stemmed from opposition to their party’s traditional views on marriage, family, gender and religion.

Europe-Asia relations
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are unlikely to profit from domestic political differences in America or Europe. The two leaders met in Beijing on February 4, 2022. @Getty Images

Electoral and political change

There is no doubt that the culture wars influence elections on both sides of the Atlantic. Populists in the United States and Europe, considered a few years ago as fringe political movements, are winning the elections. More conservative leaders came to power in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom, in part because of changing views on cultural and social norms.

In turn, culture wars exacerbate political conflict. In the United States, for example, President Joe Biden, in a televised address to the country, called his political opposition radical. In Europe, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen led a campaign claiming that Hungary’s conservative government was undemocratic. She mocked Ms Meloni’s election and took part in talks to keep the conservative Vox party out of a possible coalition government in Spain.

Politics and foreign policy

Particularly noteworthy is the deepening partisan divide in American politics. America’s long-held post-World War II truism that “politics stops at the water’s edge” is in tatters. As the two main political parties polarize ideologically, it becomes more difficult to forge a bipartisan political consensus. As a result, increasingly, instead of politics stopping at the water’s edge, foreign policy is more of an extension of domestic policy. This trend is most clearly represented in climate politics, where the views of both parties on global strategies reflect their national agenda.

The result of this growing culture war is that as it influences elections and gives political power to one party or the other, that party’s political views will increasingly dominate the formulation of foreign policy.

It also has implications for international relations, as the ruling party will increasingly seek to align itself across the Atlantic with like-minded regimes that share their approach to social and cultural norms.

Despite “woke” wars and the exchange of blows over who is a “threat to democracy,” American and European politics have proven resilient.

However, cultural and political alignment is unlikely to overturn traditional considerations of national interests. Indeed, where national interests are perceived as vital, this influence continues to prevail over other concerns. American support for NATO is a good example. For example, despite hyper-partisan disagreements, the move to approve Swedish and Finnish NATO membership garnered overwhelming bipartisan support. Furthermore, US support for Ukraine remains bipartisan and appears to be continuing despite the results of the national midterm elections.



The most likely scenario is that foreign policy will change a lot from administration to administration and election to election, depending on which political party has its person in the White House. That said, the political realignment is unlikely to impact the fundamentals of US foreign policy. Whichever party wins, the United States will not ricochet between reflexively isolationist or globalist, but will oscillate somewhere in between.

There will be fewer opportunities for antagonistic powers like China, Russia and Iran to exploit divisions over cultural and social norms than one might expect. For one thing, none of these diets have demonstrated the ability to be extremely good at it. On the other hand, despite “woke” wars and the exchange of blows over who is a “threat to democracy,” American and European politics have proven resilient. Indeed, civil unrest in Iran, Russia and China outweighs any fragility in the West.

That said, changes in administration will affect transatlantic relations. Republican-led governments will lean more towards the UK, Nordic, Baltic, Central and Southern Europe, and remain more skeptical of a partnership with the European Union. Conversely, democratic regimes will work more comfortably with Paris, Brussels and Berlin.

A growing area of ​​tension, regardless of the parties in power, will be over public-private partnerships, where conservative groups will react less favorably to environmental, social and governance (ESG) agendas and diversity, equity and sustainability initiatives. Inclusion (DEI), as progressive governments embrace them. The corporate culture in the United States and Europe tends to be more progressive. This could lead to a more turbulent and divisive transatlantic trading environment, especially as nations also grapple with increasingly difficult geostrategic issues like sanctioning Russia and Iran and decoupling from China. .