Degree Year


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




Clayton Koppes


Southeast Asia, American, Vietnam War, Indonesia, Policy


American interests in Southeast Asia have received ample scholarly attention in the wake of the Vietnam War. Much of this material seeks to understand how policies in the first post-war years led to American military involvement in Vietnam. A sizable body of work is also devoted to U.S. policy in Indonesia in its first years of independence. But very few of these studies trace American interests in the region before 1940. Previous concerns for Southeast Asia are usually summed up in a few sentences that dismiss them as minor commercial interests of private companies. However, the development of American policy in Southeast Asia was not as sudden as these studies suggest. Since the late nineteenth century, the United States had become increasingly concerned with Southeast Asia. The process was a gradual one, but in no way did America's interest in the region start fresh in 1945. Several large scale continuities in American policy in Southeast Asia during the first half of the twentieth century can be observed.

First among these was a gradual and ongoing expansion of United States interests in the region. American involvement through the mid-nineteenth century was limited principally to trade in spices and a few other non-essential commodities. American exports to Southeast Asia were relatively unimportant. Then, in the late nineteenth century, American trade with Southeast Asia began to expand. Southeast Asia took on a new significance as a market for American manufactures. By the 1920's, however, interest in Southeast Asia as a buyer of American goods was preempted by concern for the region as a supplier of vital raw materials. The oil and rubber resources of the Netherlands East Indies were of special concern to the United States. Within ten years, however, military and security concerns gradually supplanted these economic interests. For the first time, events in Southeast Asia became an important strategic issue for the United States. After World War II, American policy entered a new era. While economic and security concerns continued no factor into American policy decisions in Southeast Asia after 1945, they were subordinated to larger ideological questions like the future of the European colonial empires and the spread of communism…

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