Principles of a Progressive Foreign Policy for the United States


Last Updated on January 11, 2021.

Progressives seek a world where the United States acts to uplift and reinforce all peoples’ desire for dignity, prosperity and self-determination. We believe we can best achieve this goal by building a global movement for change rooted in solidarity and our shared values of justice, equality, and security for all.

Our values do not stop at the water’s edge. Our foreign policy is intimately interlinked with our domestic policy, so we must apply our shared values to the United States’ engagement abroad just as we do at home. The militarization of our foreign policy is intertwined with the militarization of our own society, whether in policing, incarceration and deportation, mass surveillance, or the rise of hateful ideologies like anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and racism. At home and abroad, we must commit to advance policies of liberation and work to dismantle policies that subjugate Black, brown, and other disenfranchised communities. Our foreign policy must fulfill the same values of human rights, justice, and self-determination we seek at home by reinforcing intersectional grassroots movements to win real change.

Human security is not divisible and our own fears of insecurity do not justify policies that make others less safe. People in the United States have the right to personal safety – as do peoples all around the globe. Endless wars, the empowerment of autocrats and human rights abusers, and the pursuit of the interests of the few at the expense of the many will not keep us safe. The United States’ safety depends on building security for all people around the world, not simply on the might of our military. Only by helping to make others secure will we ourselves become more secure.

We must prioritize diplomacy, development, and the well-being of all people in the world. For too long we have applied the use of military force to a variety of security challenges that do not have military solutions, with disastrous results. Most security challenges do not have a military solution, nor does every security challenge present an existential threat to the United States. We believe that the U.S. must reorient its national security framework to be based on conflict prevention, locally-led development, democratic governance reform, accountability, and peacebuilding, and avoid policies that foment more conflict.

The health of the global environment is fundamental to global security. We already see the deleterious effects of climate change at home and abroad that drive displacement, conflict, and disenfranchisement. We recognize the United States’ role in driving climate insecurity and that many of the security challenges we face around the world are driven by climate change. Our own and the world’s future require effective, bold, and immediate responses to climate change if we are to achieve human and environmental security around the world.

We must build a sustainable, human-centered economy, and encourage those in the global economy to do the same. We must end our role as the largest purveyor of violence in the world by eliminating the economic incentives for corporations to profiteer off of human suffering and environmental exploitation. We recognize our endless wars and exploitative economic policies are often driven by corporations who benefit from the expansion of conflict around the world. We must reconceptualize our national security spending to instead invest in people, programs, and industries that empower individuals, workers, institutions, and communities to support human needs.

Ending economic, racial, and gender inequality around the world and dismantling global oligarchy are fundamental to creating a world economy that works for everyone. Our international economic policies must empower people, not corporations. We must prioritize championing the right to organize collectively in order to build an international economic system that uplifts the poorest, gives workers around the world a fair playing field, and upholds the same basic rights and dignity for all people regardless of who they are, who they love, who they pray to, or where they live.

The right to self-determination, economic prosperity, and freedom from oppression are the drivers of a stable and inclusive world system. For many, in the United States and around the world, the international order developed after World War II has lost its credibility. Cooperation, diplomacy, and development remain the cornerstones of global security, but we must never allow our engagement to create impunity for misconduct. The U.S. can and must help create a more inclusive and accountable world system that ensures the desires of peoples, not just governments, are protected, but only by first ensuring the United States’ own actions uphold international law and norms, universal human rights, and empower global collective action.

The location of someone’s birth should never confine them to poverty, war, or environmental insecurity. The United States must safeguard universal human rights to dignity, equality, migration, and refuge. All people have the right to seek opportunity, safety, and stability through migration. We must always prioritize approaches based on human dignity and diplomacy over those that vilify or dehumanize others, or use coercion or force. Our investments in the United States and abroad must reflect our shared stake in the health and well-being of the world’s most marginalized populations, the planet, and in recognition of our mutual interests.

We must democratize our foreign policy and include and center those most affected by our decisions. All too often our nation’s foreign policy has been fueled by colonialism, white supremacy, economic exploitation, patriarchy, and xenophobia because our policies have been developed with only elite interests in mind. The U.S. must be a leader in dismantling systemic oppression by acting in solidarity with those working to cast off injustice within our borders and beyond them. By centering the voices and needs of the populations our policies disproportionately affect – women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, people in the Global South, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and low-income communities around the world – we can ensure we develop policies that uplift everyone and defend the rights of all individuals and communities.

We must build the United States’ credibility in the world by consistently upholding our values and these principles in every instance, not only when convenient. We must implement our foreign policy based in our belief in human rights, accountable governance, economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice for all. Silence in the face of abuses in the name of national security fuels our own and the world’s insecurity. We must lead with our values in our engagement with our allies and competitors alike, rather than allowing our alliances to be a blank check for impunity. It is not only our government that must uphold our values and these principles in every instance; it is also the responsibility of every person in the United States to ensure that our engagement at home and abroad consistently reinforces these principles to build a more just and peaceful world.

You can download our Progressive Foreign Policy Principles one-pager here or watch this video, which we made with a number of our movement partners and champions in Congress!

February 28, 2019