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Isolationism is a foreign policy which combines a non-interventionist military policy and a political policy of economic nationalism (protectionism). In other words, it asserts both of the following:

  1. Non-interventionism – Political rulers should avoid entangling alliances with other nations and avoid all wars not related to direct territorial self-defense.
  2. Protectionism – There should be legal barriers to control trade and cultural exchange with people in other states.


"Isolationism" has always been a debated political topic. Whether or not a country should be or should not be isolationist affects both living standards and the ability of political rulers to benefit favored firms and industries.

All the First World countries (the UKmarker, United Statesmarker, etc.) trade in a world economy, and are experiencing an expansion of the division of labor, generally raising living standards. However, some characterize this as "a wage race to the bottom" in the manufacturing industries that should be curtailed by protectionism. Some argue that isolating a country from a global division of labor—i.e. employing protectionist trading policies—could be potentially helpful. The consensus amongst most economists is that such a policy is detrimental, and point to the mercantilism of the pre-industrial era as the classic example. Others argue that as the world's biggest consumer, with its own natural resources, the U.S. can wisely dictate what conditions can apply to goods and services imported for U.S. consumption, misunderstanding the nature of prices and their emergent, non-centrally planned, nature. Countries and regions generally enjoy a comparative advantage over others in some area. Free trade between countries allows each country to do what it does best, and benefit from the products and services that others do best. But "best" too often means monetary, excluding human and ecological costs, due to firms externalizing costs as a result of inadequately defined property rights. Protectionism allegedly interferes in the market process, making people poorer than they would be otherwise.

Isolationism by country


After the Zheng He voyages in the 14th century, the foreign policy of the Ming Dynastymarker in Chinamarker became increasingly isolationist. Hongwu Emperor was the first to propose the policy to ban all maritime shipping in 1371. The Qing Dynastymarker that came after the Ming often continued the latter dynasty's isolationist policies. Wokou or Japanese pirates were one of the key primary concerns, although the maritime ban was not without some controversy..


Irish neutrality has been a policy of the Irish Free State and its successor the Republic of Irelandmarker since independence from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker in 1922. This policy led to Ireland's neutral stance during World War II.

Economically, the Navigation Acts restricted and taxed Irish trade, to the detriment of her economy, which was also affected badly by the Corn Laws. These were introduced to protect Britain against reliance on cheap imports of grain, and to safeguard the income and power of hereditary landowners rather than business interests. The Corn Laws were campaigned against by those who favoured a return to a more free trade practice. In the late 1840s, when British shipping had achieved a world monopoly, those protectionist acts and laws were repealed.


From 1641 to 1853, the Tokugawa shogunate of Japanmarker enforced a policy which it called sakoku. The policy prohibited foreign contact with most outside countries. However, the commonly held idea that Japan was entirely closed is misleading. In fact, Japan maintained limited-scale trade and diplomatic relations with Chinamarker, Koreamarker, the Ryukyusmarker and the Netherlandsmarker.

The culture of Japan developed with limited influence from the outside world and had one of the longest stretches of peace in history. During this period, Japan developed thriving cities and castle towns and increasing commodification of agriculture and domestic trade, wage labor, increasing literacy and concomitant print culture, laying the groundwork for modernization, even as the shogunate itself grew weak.

North Korea

The foreign relations of North Korea are often tense and unpredictable. Since the ceasefire of the Korean War in 1953, the North Korean government has been largely isolationist, becoming one of the world's most authoritarian societies. Technically still in a state of war with South Koreamarker and the West, North Korea has maintained close relations with Chinamarker and often limited ones with other nations.


Just after independence was achieved, the country was governed from 1814 by the dictator Dr. Francia, who closed the borders of the country and prohibited trade or any relation with the exterior until his death in 1840.

United States

During the Interwar years (1918-1939), the United Statesmarker claimed to have had a foreign policy of non-intervention and neutrality in foreign affairs. Despite such claims of isolationism, the United States was a burgeoning imperalist empire at the turn of the 20th-century. Hence, the United States found it increasingly difficult to present itself as being neutral in such conflicts as World War I and World War II, despite under-reported widespread opposition held by the American people.

See also

Works cited

  1. Vo Glahn, Richard. [1996] (1996). Fountain of Fortune: money and monetary policy in China, 1000-1700. University of California Press. ISBN 0520204085
  2. Ronald P. Toby, State and Diplomacy in Early Modern Japan: Asia in the Development of the Tokugawa Bakufu, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, (1984) 1991.
  3. Thomas C. Smith, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan, Stanford Studies in the Civilizations of Eastern Asia, Stanford, Calif., 1959,: Stanford University Press.
  4. Mary Elizabeth Berry, Japan in Print: Information and Nation in the Early Modern Period, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.
  5. Albert Craig, Chōshū in the Meiji Restoration, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961; Marius B. Jansen, Sakamoto Ryōma and the Meiji Restoration, Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1961.


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