By Leah Walker, Vishnu Kannan, and Joe Longo
Consider the avocado, the “alligator pear,” the foundation of guacamole, and essential ingredient in avocado toast. In the 2000’s, avocados began appearing throughout the United States, offered everywhere from Subway to the finest restaurants in New York. Avocado consumption has risen to the point that during the 2016 Super Bowl, Americans consumed nearly 139 million pounds of avocados. In fact, the production of the fruit is a billion-dollar industry. What caused this sudden change? In 1997, Congress lifted an eighty-year-old ban on the import of avocados. This allowed avocado producers to take advantage of the then-new North American Free Trade Act, ratified in 1994. NAFTA allows Canadian, American and Mexican goods to flow throughout the continent as though they were produced domestically. Thus, what was once a costly product in America could now be produced in Guadalajara and marketed in Quebec, lowering prices by expanding supply. This is exactly what occurred in the avocado market. The average American ate about 1.5 pounds of avocados annually before the ratification of NAFTA, and more than 5 pounds a year a decade and a half later. Because of the foreign policy initiatives undertaken by the first Bush and Clinton administrations, what was once only a Super Bowl appetizer evolved into an everyday staple.
Foreign policy initiatives such as NAFTA are traditionally led by the executive branch of government. The President’s office coordinates and consults with governmental departments. In the case of trade negotiations, the relevant departments include State, Commerce, Agriculture, and Labor. Although congressional input is certainly important, almost all of the decisions are made by the executive. Additionally, independent organizations, such as think tanks, play a role in advising on foreign policy by submitting memos and publishing the results of their research. This structure of decision-making and the acceptance of a variety of influences applies not just to trade negotiations, but to all aspects of foreign policy.
The same institutions that give Americans cheap avocados also protect from nuclear incidents. US foreign policy is critical to limiting the risk of nuclear war or mishap through negotiations, treaties, and sanctions. Thousands of nuclear warheads are currently pointed at US allies, military bases, and the mainland. To prevent their launch, the United States has continuously negotiated with other nuclear powers, developing treaties to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in the world and reduce the likelihood of nuclear war. The multilateral Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by the United States and most countries, stops any non-nuclear country from acquiring nuclear weapons and pushes countries to adopt nonproliferation and safe nuclear energy production. This treaty, along with a series of others prohibiting the development of nuclear weapons in certain regions, such as the African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone Treaty and the Latin America Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Tlatelolco), ensure that no other countries gain nuclear weapons. For states with, or attempting to gain, rogue nuclear programs, such as Iran and North Korea, the United States and the international community can impose sanctions. In dealing with countries that already have nuclear weapons, the United States negotiates treaties to diminish their stockpiles or limit potential offensives. These include the International Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (ICOC), which limits construction of new ballistic missiles. In other words, it is foreign policy that keeps the United States, and the world, from nuclear engagement.
Foreign policy is avocados, nuclear weapons, and everything in between. It is interwoven in the fabric of American life. Electronics are assembled abroad and imported, oil prices are largely determined by foreign entities, and avocados are everywhere. However, with both nuclear weapons and avocados, the United States’ policy is largely determined by executive appointees who are not directly accountable to the American people. This is primarily because foreign policy is highly specialized and much of the public feels alienated from the field. The best way to ensure robust discussion is to arm the electorate with the necessary tools to engage in the debate.