Why did the Carter administration pursue a foreign policy based on human rights? Was it successful?

Erik Ford
8 min readSep 24, 2020

The Carter administration pursued a foreign policy based on human rights because President Carter himself was a devout Christian who believed that human rights were to become an essential ingredient to world politics, and believed the United States should be a dominant player in this new arena. Arguably President Carter’s human rights focused foreign policy can be regarded as a success. Carter’s administration is accredited with normalisation of relations with mainland China, a process that began during the Nixon administration. President Carter also relaunched the peace progress in the Middle East through facilitating the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel, putting an end to hostilities between the two states. President Carter also returned the Panama Canal to the Panamanian’s by 1999, which required strong persuasion of the American Congress and Senate. Another monumental achievement for President Carter was the signing of the SALT II agreement with Soviet Union leader Leonid Brezhnev, in 1979. The Carter administration’s human rights centred foreign policy is a split from his predecessors who saw communist containment more essential than the value of human rights, and Carter sought not to neglect this dimension anymore.

To understand the workings behind and why President Carter chose a foreign policy that was structured around the notion of human rights, you must first examine the man and his beliefs. James Earl Carter Jr., more commonly known as Jimmy Carter, served as the 39th President of the United States of America between 1977 to 1981. Carter was previously the governor of Georgia from 1971 to 1975 before he threw his gauntlet in the ring, so to speak, to challenge Gerald Ford for the Presidency. President Carter was relatively an outsider to the rest of Washington compared to Presidents who came before him. Carter himself is regarded as a “nice guy” and very much how he saw the conduct of his presidency. Carter believed that things would just happen and support would naturally come because if you are doing a good job then you are sure to gain the support of those who mattered. Unfortunately for President Carter, this was not the case as he would find throughout his presidency. In a personality profile published by Walter Weintraub, examines the personalities of various presidents, in this case, Jimmy Carter. Weintraub, through analysis of various speeches and public announcements, found that Carter…

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Erik Ford

Post-graduate student at the University of Sydney, enrolled in the Master of Teaching (Primary) Program. I was previously an undergraduate at UWS enrolled in IR