Global implications

To those outside the United States, shutdowns are often a difficult battle to understand — few other nations have comparable crises in reaction to domestic funding disputes. But even if the shutdown is a distinctly American phenomenon, its effect will be felt internationally in three big ways.

1. People

The U.S. government employs thousands of people around the world — people who work at U.S. embassies may be the most obvious examples. Generally, the people whose work is most vital to national security and the safety of human life are considered "excepted" and are required to work through the shutdown, instead of being put on unpaid furlough. They will be given back pay once a new spending bill is passed. Most American diplomats fall under this category. But the nonexempt workers may end up not getting paid. This is especially true for people contracted to do work for the U.S. government, many of whom are not U.S. citizens.

2. Procedure

A government shutdown has a major effect not only on who goes to work but what work gets done. The State Department, for example, said it will keep issuing passports and visas — though it warned that such activities "will remain operational as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations." But some other services will not be provided, which can have unexpected consequences. The shutdown can also have implications for humanitarian assistance and foreign aid.

3. Prestige

To many nations, U.S. government shutdowns are bewildering. The prospect of a political dispute leaving large numbers of government workers without pay is unheard of in most other political systems. Yet there have been 22 federal government shutdowns in the United States since 1979, including three in the past year.

Washington Post