Isolationism is a policy that seeks to avoid political and economic entanglements. Protectionism is the creation of barriers to control trade and cultural exchange. Both could be a factor After First Contact with an extraterrestrial civilization.
Isolationism is frequently cited when referring to American political policies, most often in connection with Europe. It started with George Washington and played a major part in American involvement in World War Two.
So, how could isolationism apply to First Contact? One would imagine there would be a segment of human society that would want to keep us walled off from any extraterrestrial entanglements. It could be as drastic as telling an alien civilization to stay away. It could also come in a complex set of rules and regulations brought on by protectionism. We have already seen elements of this behavior: the debate over sending messages from Earth out into space to take a proactive approach to spurring First Contact. Many say proactive communication is a bad idea as it could attract extraterrestrial visitors bent on aggression or exploitation.
I think a certain amount of care and concern is an important element of any First Contact scenario. We would have no idea what problems we could be entering into with the start of a new extraterrestrial relationship. As I have stated before even the most benign contact could prove challenging if it involves the transfer of scientific information or other contact that could impact our scientific, economic and political systems. First Contact should be tightly controlled and obsessively planned down to the last detail. It cannot be left to physical scientists. Social scientists will need to take the lead and there is just a small number that have considered the impact of First Contact.
The path for humanity After First Contact is likely to be a balancing act. We should strive to be transparent in the process and the open in the diplomatic effort. And yet there must be authority placed in the hands of some world organization, and there must be tight control in the early days of the process. The overriding goal should be openness and a freedom of exchange. This cannot be accomplished until a system of diplomatic contact is developed.
It is likely that some isolationists that won’t agree with even the most conservative approach After First Contact. This group may grow if humanity faces significant unrest in the wake of First Contact. Elements of isolationism and protectionism should be part of any response and yet they must be elements that we seek to disintegrate over time.
All of this will take extraordinary leadership and an iron political will. The United Nations is clearly not ready for this challenge. And yet in any First Contact scenario they will be the only body able to represent all of the people of Earth. There will be a huge struggle between isolationists and more liberal groups. The debate will be an important one After First Contact.