The diplomatic history of the United States oscillated among three positions: isolation from diplomatic entanglements of other (typically European) nations (but with economic connections to the world); alliances with European and other military partners; and unilateralism, or operating on its own sovereign policy decisions. The US always was large in terms of area, but its population was small, only 4 million in 1790. Population growth was rapid, reaching 7.2 million in 1810, 32 million in 1860, 76 million in 1900, 132 million in 1940, and 316 million in 2013. Economic growth in terms of overall GDP was even faster. However, the nation's military strength was quite limited in peacetime before 1940.

Brune (2003) and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., ed. The Almanac of American History (1983) have specifics for many incidents.

17th century

18th century

Robert R. Livingston named first United States Secretary of Foreign Affairs
— May 7 Congress votes to begin negotiations with Morocco.[6]
— New York–based merchants open trade with China, followed by Salem, Boston and Philadelphia merchants.
— October 11 Moroccan corsair seizes the American ship Betsey and enslaves the crew; the Moroccans demand that the US pay a ransom to release the crew and a treaty to pay tribute to avoid future such incidents.[6]
— March 11 Congress votes to appropriate $80,000 to pay in tribute to the Barbary states of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli.[6]
— July 9 The Moroccans release the Betsy and her crew.[6]
— July 25 Algerine pirates seizes the American ship Maria off the coast of Portugal; Algiers declares war on the US, and the dey Muhammad V of Algiers demands that the US pay $1 million in tribute to end the war.[6]
— June 23 Moroccan-American treaty is signed in the US agrees to pay tribute to Morocco in exchange for a promise that Moroccan corsairs will not attack American ships.[6]
— March 1 United States Congress succeeds Congress of the Confederation
— July 27 Department of Foreign Affairs signed into law
— September, changed to Department of State; Jefferson appointed; John Jay continues to act as foreign affairs secretary until Jefferson's return from France; from 1789 to 1883. Much of the routine overseas business is the responsibility of navy officers.[8]
— February 22 Congress votes to send another team of diplomats to Algiers to pay a ransom for the enslaved Americans and to negotiate a tribute treaty.[6]
— June 24 Jay Treaty with Britain. Averts war, opens 10 years of peaceful trade with Britain, fails to settle neutrality issues; British eventually evacuate western forts; boundary lines and debts (in both directions) to be settled by arbitration. Barely approved by Senate (1795) after revision; intensely opposed, became major issue in the formation of First Party System.[11]
— September 5 United States signs a treaty agreeing to pay tribute to Algiers in exchange for which the dey Ali Hassan will free the 85 surviving American slaves.[6] The treaty with Algiers is considered a national humiliation.
— July 11 Algiers frees the 85 American slaves.[6]
— The pasha Yusuf Karamanli of Tripoli, hoping for a similar treaty that Algiers has achieved starts attacking and seizing American ships.[6]
— President George Washington, preparing to leave office and troubled by the French Revolutionary Wars in Europe, issues his famous Farewell Address urging Americans to avoid involvement in foreign wars, beginning a century of isolationism as the predominant foreign policy of the United States.
— President Adams asks Congress to spend more money on the navy and to arm American merchantmen in response to the Barbary pirate attacks.[12]
— August 28 Treaty of Tripoli; treaty with Barbary state of Tripoli approved unanimously by Senate and signed into law by President John Adams on June 10; states "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."[13]
— April Tripoli threatens war if the US does not pay more tribute.[14]
— July The Tripolitan warship Tripolino takes the American merchantman Catherine and enslaves the crew.[14] Much outrage in the US
— September 30 Convention of 1800 (Treaty of Mortefontaine) with France ends the Quasi-War and ends alliance of 1778. The treaty frees up the US Navy for operations against the Barbary pirates.[14]

1801 – 1865

[14] The beginning of the First Barbary War. President Jefferson does not ask Congress for a declaration of war against Tripoli, but instead decides to begin military operations against Tripoli, arguing that the president has the right to begin military operations in self-defense without asking for permission from Congress.[15]

— July 24 An American naval squadron begins the blockade of Tripoli.[14]
— August 1 The U.S.S. Enterprise takes the Tripolitan ship Tripoli.[14]

1802 —

— April 18 Second American naval squadron sent to the Mediterranean.[14]
— June 19 Morocco declares war on the United States.[14]
— June 2 Captain David Porter leads raid into Tripoli; first American amphibious landing in the Old World.[14]
— February 23 The American diplomat William Eaton meets with Hamet Karanmanli, the exiled brother of the pasha Yusuf Karamanli of Tripoli in Egypt and agrees that the US will depose Yusuf and put Hamet on the throne; the first American effort at "regime change".[16]
— March 8 A force of American sailors, marines, Tripolian exiles and Egyptian mercenaries under the leadership of Eaton leaves Alexandria with the aim of deposing pasha Yusuf of Tripoli.[17]
— April 28 Eaton's force takes Derna, the road is wide open to Tripoli.[18]
— June 4 Tripoli and the US sign a peace treaty.[18]
HMS Leopard (right) mauls the USS Chesapeake in 1807
— Treaty of Ghent is ratified by both sides and goes in effect in February; opens long era of friendly trade and peaceful settlement of boundary issues.
— March 2 The US declares war on Algiers.[18] The beginning of the Second Barbary War.
— June 28 Commodore Stephen Decatur arrives off Algiers, after threatening bombardment, the dey agrees to a peace treaty two days later in which he releases the American slaves and agrees to the end of the United States's tributary status.[18]
Siam (Thailand), The Roberts Treaty of 1833; stipulates free trade with few limitations, most favored nation status, and relief for US citizens in cases of shipwreck, piracy, or bankruptcy.
Second Sumatran expedition, in retaliation for the massacre of the crew of an American merchant ship.

1865 – 1900

Spanish–American War; "splendid little war" with American quick victory
Treaty of Paris; US gains Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico; pays Spain for claims; Cuba comes under temporary US control
— Hawaii seeks to join US; with votes lacking for 2/3 approval of a treaty on July 7. The Newlands Resolution in Congress annexes the Republic of Hawaii, with full US citizenship for Hawaiian citizens regardless of race

1901 – 1939

New York Times April 3, 1917

1939 – 1945

Main article: Diplomatic history of World War II § United States

— July 29 Japan occupies the southern half of French Indochina, seen as a threatening move.
— July 30 US together with Britain and the Dutch government in exile imposes trade embargo against Japan, most crucially in oil.
— August 13 Atlantic Charter. Anglo-American summit off the coast of Newfoundland. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill agree (1) no territorial gains sought by America or Great Britain, (2) territorial adjustments must conform to people involved, (3) people have right to choose their own govt. (4) trade barriers lowered, (5) there must be disarmament, (6) there must be freedom from want and fear ("Four Freedoms" of FDR), (7) there must be freedom of the seas, (8) there must be an association of nations. Charter is accepted by Allies, who call themselves "the United Nations".
— October 31 American destroyer USS Reuben James sunk by a U-boat. Rise in German-American tensions.
— December 6 American intelligence fails to predict attack on Pearl Harbor.[33]
— December 7 Attack on Pearl Harbor. United States is hit by surprise by Japanese Navy.
— December 11 Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S.
— January Casablanca Conference. Roosevelt and Churchill meet to plan European strategy. Unconditional surrender of Axis countries demanded, Soviet aid and participation, invasion of Sicily and Italy planned
— October 30 Moscow Declaration. Joint statement by the United States, United Kingdom and the Soviet Union promises that German leaders will be tried for war crimes after the Allied victory.
— November Cairo Conference. Roosevelt, Churchill and Chiang Kai-shek meet to make decisions about postwar Asia: Japan returns all territory, independent Korea.
— November Tehran Conference. Roosevelt and Churchill meet with Stalin.

1945 – 2000

— June 24 Berlin Blockade imposed by the Soviet Union, blocking traffic into western sectors of Berlin, followed by Operation Vittles, America airlifted massive amounts of food, fuel and supplies into city. Soviet blockade lifted on May 12, 1949.[41]
— January 21 Dean Acheson appointed Secretary of State. He will hold this office until 1953 and is remembered as one of the more abler Secretaries of State.
— April 4 America and eleven other nations sign the North Atlantic Treaty, creating NATO, a military alliance with the purpose of countering the Soviet Union and its allies.
— 23 May 1949 The United States, Britain and France grant independence in their zones in Germany to a new state called the Federal Republic of Germany.
— June 25 Korean War begins. US sends in troops to stop North Korean invasion; UN votes support; (Soviet Union boycotted UN and did not veto.) US forces deployed in Korea exceeded 300,000 during the last year of the conflict.
— September US-led invasion defeats North Korean army; UN authorizes rollback strategy, with North Korea to come under UN control
— November Chinese forces enter North Korea; roll back UN-US-South Korean forces to below 38th parallel
— March 28 President Vincent Auriol of France visits Washington to meet President Truman. During his visit, the US agrees to pay for entire French war effort in Vietnam, and to provide unlimited military aid.
— April President Truman fires General Douglas MacArthur as blame game escalates regarding Korean war stalemate.
— June Talks for an armistice in the Korean War open. The major issue that divides the Communist and UN sides is the return of the POWs with the Communists demanding that all POWs from their nations be repatriated while the UN insists on voluntary repatriation.
— September 1 ANZUS Treaty united America, Australia and New Zealand in a defensive regional pact
— May Eisenhower threatens use of nuclear weapons in Korean War; China agrees to negotiate.
— July 27 armistice signed ending the Korean War (it is still in effect).
— March 13 The Battle of Dien Bien Phu begins. As the French are faced with defeat in Vietnam, Eisenhower considers intervention with tactical nuclear weapons to break the siege of Dien Bien Phu, and orders the Joint Chiefs of Staff to start work on Operation Vulture, the plan to intervene in Vietnam. Operation Vulture is ultimately rejected as a policy option.
— April 26 Geneva conference opens. Through called to consider a peace treaty for the Korean War, the conference is soon dominated by the question of Vietnam. The Secretary of State John Foster Dulles heads the American delegation.
— June 18 Guatemala. Dwight D. Eisenhower authorizes Operation PBSuccess, a program of "psychological warfare and political action" against anti-US regime; Guatemalan military overthrows the left-wing government of Jacobo Árbenz and installs Carlos Castillo Armas.
— July 20 The Geneva conference closes with an agreement on the partition of Vietnam into two states with a promise to hold a general election in both by June 1956. Dulles does not sign the Geneva accords, but promises that the US will abide by them.
— September 8 SEATO alliance in Southeast Asia is founded. South Vietnam not a signatory


— February 24 Baghdad Pact is founded. Later known as the Central Treaty Organization (or CENTO) initiated by John Foster Dulles, members were Iran, Iraq, United Kingdom, Pakistan, and Turkey, US aid.
— The annual People's Republic of China-United States Ambassadorial Talks begin.
— November 1 The first "accelerated pacification" of launching land reforms in South Vietnam intended to persuade South Vietnamese peasants not to support the Viet Cong is launched; a success.
— The United States signs the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
— January 28 Nixon launches policy of Vietnamization, in which American ground troops in Vietnam were to be steadily reduced and the American role was to provide military training, equipment, and air support for the South Vietnamese military. Vietnamization was intended to reduce American losses in Vietnam, and thus reduce the domestic pressure for a total withdrawal of American forces. At the same time Nixon intensified the war by beginning Operation Menu, the secret bombing of Cambodia.[42] Nixon's aim in Vietnam is to force a Korean War-type armistice, which requires that the war go on until Hanoi agreed to the American terms while at the same time forcing Nixon to deflect pressure from domestic anti-war protests. With the same aim of achieving an armistice that would allow South Vietnam to continue to exist, Nixon begins a policy of seeking better relations with the Soviet Union and China, hoping those two states would reduce, if not end their arm supplies to North Vietnam in return for better relations with Washington, and thus forcing Hanoi to accept peace on American terms.
— February Following the success of the first "accelerated pacification" and the Phoenix Program of "neutralizing" (i.e. assassinating) Viet Cong operatives, Nixon applies strong pressure for more "accelerated pacification" campaigns and the Phoenix Program killings in South Vietnam as a part of the effort at breaking the Viet Cong. For Nixon, "accelerated pacification" and the Phoenix Program killings both have the effect of weakening the Viet Cong without the use of American troops, which serves to achieve both his aims of reducing American forces and applying pressure for the Vietnamese Communists to accept peace on American terms.
— March 8 President Nasser of Egypt launches the War of Attrition against Israel. The US supports Israel while the Soviet Union supports Egypt.
— July 25 Nixon announces the Nixon Doctrine in which Nixon warns that the United States will not go to any lengths to defend its allies, especially in Asia, and henceforth American allies must do more for their own defense. The doctrine is especially aimed at South Vietnam and is intended to pressure the South Vietnamese government to do a more effective job of fighting the Communists.
— July Nixon visits Pakistan and meets with the Pakistani President General Agha Yahya Khan, tells him that he wants to use Pakistan as an intermediary for talks with China.[43] Yahya Khan agrees to Nixon's request.
— September 9 Walter Stoessel, the American ambassador to Poland is ordered by Nixon to make contacts with Chinese diplomats in an informal way.[43]
— October 16 Pakistani ambassador to the United States Agha Hilaly tells Kissinger that President Yahya is going to visit China early the next year, and is there any message that Kissinger would like Yahya to pass on to Mao.[43]
— November 3 Nixon gives a TV speech claiming that there was a "silent majority" supporting his Vietnam policies, states that he needs some more time for his policies to work, denounces anti-war protestors as a threat to world peace, and asks for the support of the "silent majority" to help him "to end the war in a way that we could win the peace."
— November 17 The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks begin.
— February 23 Hilaly tells Kissinger that after Yahya's visit to Beijing that the Chinese were interested in the American offer, but did not want to negotiate from a position of weakness.[43]
— March Under the "accelerated pacification", more than million hectares of land have been redistributed in American-encouraged land reform in South Vietnam.[44]
— March 7 Chiang Kai-shek who has heard reports of Sino-American talks in Warsaw writes to Nixon to protest.[43]
— April 29 Nixon orders the Cambodian Incursion. American and South Vietnamese force invade eastern provinces of Cambodia with the aim of clearing out the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese forces based there. Sparks much protest in the United States.
— June By this point in the War of Attrition between Israel and Egypt, there are regular clashes occurring between Israel and Soviet forces in Egypt, leading to fears that this might cause a world war, which in turn leads to strong pressure for a ceasefire.
— October 25 During a Pakistani-American summit, President Nixon asks President Yahya to pass on another message to Beijing about the American wish for rapprochement with China.[43]
— October 31 Kissinger meets with Romanian President Nicolae Ceaușescu and asks him to pass on a message to China that the US wishes for a normalization of relations with the People's Republic of China.[43]
— January 12 Corneliu Bogdan, the Romanian ambassador to the US tells Kissinger that Ceaușescu has passed on the American message, and that for Mao, normalization would be possible if the US would end the "occupation" of Taiwan as Mao calls American support for Taiwan.[43] This poses a major problem for Nixon as allow China to take Taiwan would greatly damage America's image and pose domestic problems.
— March 4 Nixon gives press conference, and warns that better Sino-American relations cannot come at the expense of Taiwan.[43]
— March 26 Pakistan launches Operation Searchlight intended by President Agha Yahya Khan to crush the Awami League in East Pakistan, and to eliminate the intelligentsia, political class and Hindu minority of East Pakistan.[45] As General Yahya is a key conduit in the talks between the US and China, the Nixon administration does not protest Operation Searchlight as it fears this might offend General Yahya, as part of its marked "tilt" towards Pakistan.[45]
— April 6 The Blood telegram sent by Archer Blood, the American consul in Dhaka and 20 other diplomats protesting the Nixon administration's silence about the Pakistani government's repression in East Pakistan and what the telegram argues is a campaign of genocide by the government against the Hindu minority in East Pakistan.[45] The Blood telegram does not affect American policy towards Pakistan, and effectively cuts the career of Blood and the other diplomats.[45]
— April 14 Ping-pong diplomacy. The American table tennis team is allowed to visit China, causes a sensation.[43] During a phone conversation, Kissinger says "It's a tragedy that it has to happen to Chiang at the end of his life but we have to be cold about it", to which Nixon replies "We have to do what's best for us".[43]
— April 21 Pakistani President Yahya informs Nixon that he had spoken with Zhou Enlai, and that the Chinese wished for a senior American envoy to make a secret visit to Beijing.[43]
— April 27 About the Chinese offer of a secret American envoy to visit Beijing, Kissinger tells Nixon that "If we get this thing working, we will end Vietnam this year."[43]
— July 9 Kissinger visits Islamabad, Pakistan, and from there goes on to a secret trip to Beijing to meet Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong.[43] During the secret summit in Beijing, it is agreed that President Nixon will visit China the next year.[43]
— December 3 Indo-Pakistani war begins. The US supports Pakistan while the Soviet Union supports India.
— December 11 Nixon orders Task Force 74 to the Bay of Bengal in an attempt to intimidate India into accepting a ceasefire before the Indians defeat Pakistan.
— December 16 The war ends in Pakistan's defeat. Nixon fails in his efforts preserve Pakistan's unity, and East Pakistan secedes as the independent People's Republic of Bangladesh.
— February 21 Nixon visits China, and at the end of the trip the United States and China issue the Shanghai Communiqué endorsing the One-China policy. Nixon in Beijing opens era of détente with China.
— May 9 Nixon orders Operation Linebacker with the aiming of destroying North Vietnam's logistical capacity.
— May 22 Moscow summit. Nixon in Moscow opens era of détente with Soviet Union; SALT I.
— June 3 Quadripartite Agreement governing the status of Berlin.
— October 8 Kissinger meets with the North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho in Paris for peace talks to end the Vietnam War, and initially the talks go well.
— October 18 President Nguyen Van Thieu of South Vietnam rejects the proposed Paris peace agreement, complaining that Kissinger had not consulted him.
— December 17 Paris peace talks break down.
— December 18 Nixon orders "Christmas Bombings" against North Vietnam following the breakdown in the Paris peace talks.
— 27 January Paris Peace Accords ends the American war in Vietnam; POW's returned in March.
— October 6 October War begins with a surprise attack on Israel by Egypt and Syria. The US supports Israel while the Soviet Union supports Egypt and Syria.
— October 12 Nixon orders Operation Nickel Grass, a major American effort to supply Israel with weapons to make good the IDF's heavy initial losses.
— October 20 Arab oil embargo led by King Faisal of Saudi Arabia against the US and other Western nations begins as punishment for support of Israel. The oil embargo sparks major inflation in the United States.
— October 24 The Soviet Union announces that it will send troops to Egypt, which in turn leads Kissinger to warn that the United States will send troops to fight the Soviet forces deployed to Egypt. Nixon places the United States military on DEFCON 3, one of the highest states of alert. The Soviets back down.
— October 25 A ceasefire brokered by the US and the Soviet Union ends the October War.


— January 18 Under an American disengagement plan negotiated by Kissinger, Israeli forces pull back from the Suez Canal.
— March 17 Arab oil embargo against the West ends.
— November President Gerald Ford and General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev agree to the framework of SALT II at the Vladivostok Summit Meeting on Arms Control.
— September 29 MNF comprising forces from the United States, France, and Italy set to Lebanon to stabilize the nation in the middle of its civil war.
— April 18 A suicide attack by the Iranian-supported Hezbollah terrorist group destroys the American embassy in Beirut.
— October 23 A suicide attack by Hezbollah kills 241 American servicemen, mostly Marines in Beirut.
— October 25 US invades Grenada in response to a coup d’état by Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard on the Caribbean island.
— February 26 Reagan orders the Marines in Lebanon to be "redeployed to the fleet" as the withdrawal from Lebanon is euphemistically known.
— April 10 Senate votes to condemn Reagan for mining Nicaraguan waters.
— September 20 Another suicide attack by Hezbollah damages the American embassy in Beirut.
— March 24 Gulf of Sidra incident. Libyan attacks on American warships in the Gulf of Sidra.
— April 5 La Belle discotheque in Berlin bombed by Libyan agents. The discotheque is popular with American servicemen and two out of the three killed are American. As the NSA has broken the Libyan diplomatic codes, it is established that the bombing was planned out of the Libyan "people's bureau" (embassy) in East Berlin.
— April 15 Operation El Dorado Canyon. The US bombs Libya in response to the bombing in Berlin.
— November The news of the Iran–Contra affair breaks: White House officials sell weapons to Iran and give the profits to Contras; President Reagan embarrassed.
— June 12 President Reagan gives the "Tear down this wall!" speech in Berlin, saying "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Reagan argues that tearing the Berlin Wall would be a symbol of Soviet good faith to prove Gorbachev was sincere in seeking better relations with the West.
— September 12 Four plus two treaty signed by the US, Britain, France, the Soviet Union, West Germany and East Germany formally ends World War II in Europe, grants the two German states the right to unify and ends all of the sovereign rights held by the Allies in Germany since 1945.

21st century

See also


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Further reading