When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war or other, in order that the people may require a leader. – Plato, 347 B.C.

Libertarians believe that our foreign policy should be characterized by peaceful, non-aggressive relations with other countries. Therefore, our government should:

  • Strictly refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of other countries
  • Offer no foreign aid or military assistance
  • Maintain an all-volunteer military solely for the purpose of defending Americans within our own borders
  • Erect no barriers to free trade with the people of other countries

We have tried to justify our current interventionist foreign policy by viewing ourselves as the “world’s policeman,” without which the world would collapse into disorder, human-rights atrocities would be widespread, and power-hungry countries would gobble up weaker ones. However, our ability to prevent such situations has seldom been successful, as is obvious from reading the news.

Instead, our government should stay out of other countries’ business. After all, what right do we have to invade another country – does that give them the right to invade us? We have over 2,000 military bases scattered throughout the world (the exact number is not known, because secret bases exist). These bases and the billions of our tax dollars the U.S. government spends each year are supposed to make the world and America safer, but it only serves to make other countries resent our aggressive interference.

Our military should only defend our citizens within our borders. The military should be mostly volunteer National Guard members. Currently it is mostly full-time, professional soldiers, which makes it easier to enter into long wars (part-timers have lives they want to get back to, which makes long wars unpopular). Also, an effective missile defense system would allow us to defend our borders more effectively, without threatening any other countries. All of this would cost far less then our current vast military, and would ensure both our freedom and our safety from foreign aggressors.

Our government should not offer military assistance to other countries, even when they request it, and even when it seems heartless to refuse. Instead, individuals and groups should be allowed to fund private military groups to defend the people of a besieged country, to buy arms for them, or even to personally go to the country and take up arms themselves. All of this should be legal for our citizens to do.

If only individuals and private groups funded wars, this would solve the problems we currently have with unpopular wars. Right now, the government forces everyone to pay for wars, even if a person believes that a particular war might be morally wrong. If wars were funded voluntarily, however, people could support the causes that they saw as just, while not supporting ones they disagreed with. And dire situations around the world would certainly receive funding, as evidenced by the outpouring of hundreds of millions of dollars after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

And government should not offer foreign aid, because government foreign aid is notoriously corrupt. Most of the money ends up in the hands of wealthy contractors building large projects that will be of little use to the people of those countries. Even worse, much of the money goes to dictators and tyrants, serving only to prop up the corrupt regimes that exploit their people.

Instead, all foreign aid should be given by private individuals and groups. Privately-funded groups do a far better job of making sure the money gets to the people who need it most. And they use donated funds much more efficiently, with fewer layers of bureaucracy between the donors and the recipients. This is because if they don’t make good use of donations, people will find out and stop donating.

These are not “isolationist” policies. Because we would continue to trade freely with all willing countries, we would retain much closer ties with them. Countries who trade with each other are less likely to start wars against each other, because it hurts each country economically to lose that trade. (“When goods don't cross borders, soldiers will,” as Fredric Bastiat, an early French economist, asserted.)

Our government currently imposes trade embargoes against countries that they don’t like. This makes it illegal for citizens to trade with citizens of the embargoed countries, and hurts us economically. And it hurts the other country even more, causing their citizens to hate us.

Instead, free trade is an effective way to show them the benefits of living in a free country. When the citizens of a repressed country are able to see how much better off we are, they demand such freedoms themselves and rise up to break free of the corrupt dictators who control them. When revolutions come from within, they are much more likely to last than externally, militarily imposed changes.