Research Programs: Summer Stipends

Period of Performance

5/1/2004 - 6/30/2004

Funding Totals

$5,000.00 (approved)
$5,000.00 (awarded)

Modernization as a Tool in U.S. Foreign Relations in East and Southeast Asia, 1914-1973

FAIN: FT-52448-04

David Karl Francis Ekbladh
Tufts University (Washington, DC 20904)

The project explores the evolution of modernization as an integral element in the foreign relations of the American state as well as U.S. non-governmental organizations. Modernization emerged in the reform movements of the early twentieth century. U.S. non-governmental organizations in interwar Asia led the way in forging a particularly American style of overseas development. Following World War II, the U.S. government incorporated these existing concepts into its Cold War policies. These approaches were central to U.S.-led "nation building" programs in South Korea and South Vietnam. Modernization was altered during the 1960s by its connection to the Vietnam War and an environmental critique that highlighted development's costs.

Media Coverage

Review (Review)
Author(s): G. John Ikenberry
Publication: Foreign Affairs
Date: 5/1/2010
Abstract: In this important book, Ekbladh provides one of the most compelling portraits yet of the liberal ideas that guide U.S. foreign policy. . . . Even though the liberal vision of modernization lost appeal amid the trauma of the Vietnam War, as Ekbladh's fascinating account makes clear, it remains deeply embedded in the American imagination.
URL: http://

Review (Review)
Author(s): Travis Nelson
Publication: Political Science Quarterly
Date: 12/21/2011
Abstract: [T]his is a book with a broad mandate. . . . It is a significant contribution to have such a compelling account of the overall strategic impetus of American development during, before, and after the Cold War.

Associated Products

The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order (Book)
Title: The Great American Mission: Modernization and the Construction of an American World Order
Author: David Ekbladh
Abstract: The Great American Mission traces how America's global modernization efforts during the twentieth century were a means to remake the world in its own image. David Ekbladh shows that the emerging concept of modernization combined existing development ideas from the Depression. He describes how ambitious New Deal programs like the Tennessee Valley Authority became symbols of American liberalism's ability to marshal the social sciences, state planning, civil society, and technology to produce extensive social and economic change. For proponents, it became a valuable weapon to check the influence of menacing ideologies such as Fascism and Communism. Modernization took on profound geopolitical importance as the United States grappled with these threats. After World War II, modernization remained a means to contain the growing influence of the Soviet Union. Ekbladh demonstrates how U.S.-led nation-building efforts in global hot spots, enlisting an array of nongovernmental groups and international organizations, were a basic part of American strategy in the Cold War. However, a close connection to the Vietnam War and the upheavals of the 1960s would discredit modernization. The end of the Cold War further obscured modernization's mission, but many of its assumptions regained prominence after September 11 as the United States moved to contain new threats. Using new sources and perspectives, The Great American Mission offers new and challenging interpretations of America's ideological motivations and humanitarian responsibilities abroad.
Year: 2010
Primary URL:
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Type: Single author monograph


2011 Stuart L. Bernath Book Prize
Date: 3/1/2011
Organization: ociety for Historians of American Foreign Relations

2010 Best First Book Award
Date: 9/1/2010
Organization: Phi Alpha Theta