The Monroe Doctrine is a policy of the United States introduced on December 2, 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to colonize land or interfere with states in North or South America would be viewed as acts of aggression requiring U.S. intervention. The Doctrine noted that the United States would neither interfere with existing European colonies nor meddle in the internal concerns of European countries. The Doctrine was issued at a time when nearly all Latin American colonies of Spain and Portugal had achieved independence from the Spanish Empire (except Peru and Bolivia, which became independent in 1825, and Cuba and Puerto Rico). The United States, working in agreement with Britain, wanted to guarantee no European power would move in.
President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. It became a defining moment in the foreign policy of the United States and one of its longest-standing tenets, and would be invoked by many U.S. statesmen and several U.S. presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and others.
The intent and impact of the Monroe Doctrine persisted with only minor variations for almost two centuries. Its primary objective was to free the newly independent colonies of Latin America from European intervention and control that would make the New World a battleground for the Old. The doctrine put forward that the New World and the Old World were to remain distinctly separate spheres of influence, for they were composed of entirely separate and independent nations.
Dexter Perkins wrote that the Monroe Doctrine was inspired by the Napoleonic Wars. The American government feared the victorious European powers would revive the monarchical government. France had already agreed to restore the Spanish Monarchy in exchange for Cuba. As the revolutionary Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) ended, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Holy Alliance to defend monarchism. In particular, the Holy Alliance authorized military incursions to re-establish Bourbon rule over Spain and its colonies, which were establishing their independence.
Allowing Spain to re-establish control of its former colonies would have cut Great Britain from its profitable trade with the region. For that reason, Great Britain's Foreign Minister George Canning proposed to the United States that they mutually declare and enforce a policy of separating the new world from the old. The United States resisted a joint statement because of the recent memory of The War of 1812, leading to the unilateral statement.
The full document of the Monroe Doctrine is long and couched in diplomatic language, but its essence is expressed in two key passages; the first is the introductory statement:
- The occasion has been judged proper for asserting, as a principle in which the rights and interests of the United States are involved, that the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.
The second key passage, a fuller statement of the Doctrine, is addressed to the "allied powers" of Europe (that is, the Holy Alliance); it clarifies that the United States remains neutral on existing European colonies in the Americas but is opposed to "interpositions" that would create new colonies among the newly independent Spanish American republics:
- We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.
Effects of the Monroe Doctrine
Because the U.S. lacked both a credible navy and army at the time, the doctrine was largely disregarded internationally. However, the Doctrine met with tacit British approval, and the Royal Navy mostly enforced it tacitly, as part of the wider Pax Britannica, which enforced the neutrality of the seas. This was in line with the developing British policy of laissez-faire free trade against mercantilism: fast-growing British industry was ever seeking outlets for its manufactured goods, and were the newly independent Latin American states to become Spanish colonies once more, British access to these markets would be cut off by Spanish mercantilist policy.
The Special Relationship
The Monroe Doctrine was viewed as a precursor to the Special Relationship. Similar to the United Kingdom's proposal to the United States of a League of Nations nearly 100 years later, Canning's proposal "defected ideas into the American decision-making process in such a manner that they imperceptibly seemed to be a part of Washington's own".
Latin American reactions in the 1820s
The reaction in Latin America to the Monroe Doctrine was undeniably upbeat. John Crow, author of The Epic of Latin America, states, “[Simón] Bolívar himself, still in the midst of his last campaign against the Spaniards, Santander in Colombia, Rivadavia in Argentina, Victoria in Mexico—leaders of the emancipation movement everywhere— received Monroe's words with sincerest gratitude”. Crow argues that the leaders of Latin America were realists. They knew that the President of the United States wielded very little power at the time, particularly without the backing of the British forces. Furthermore, they figured that the Monroe Doctrine was powerless if it stood alone against the Holy Alliance. While they appreciated and praised their support in the north they knew that their future of independence was in the hands of the British and their powerful navy. In 1826, Bolivar called upon his Congress of Panama to host the first “Pan-American” meeting. In the eyes of Bolivar and his men, the Monroe Doctrine was to become nothing more than a tool of national policy. According to Crow, “It was not meant to be, and was never intended to be a charter for concerted hemispheric action”.
During the first half of the 19th century, it was Great Britain’s preoccupation with exerting its power on the rest of the world that led it to decide to support the Monroe Doctrine. At the time, South America as a whole constituted a much larger market for British goods than the United States. Crow argues that it was ultimately the support of Great Britain, not the Monroe Doctrine, which protected the sovereignty of Latin America’s newly independent nations.
In 1836, the United States government objected to Britain's alliance with the newly created Republic of Texas on the principle of the Monroe Doctrine. On December 2, 1845, U.S. President James Polk announced to Congress that the principle of the Monroe Doctrine should be strictly enforced and that the United States should aggressively expand into the West, often termed as Manifest Destiny.
In 1852, some politicians used the principle of the Monroe Doctrine to argue for forcefully removing the Spanish from Cuba. In 1898, following the Spanish-American War, Spain ceded to the United States for the sum of $20 million, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and Cuba (until granted formal independence from the US in 1902).
The doctrine's authors, chiefly future-President and then secretary-of-state John Quincy Adams, saw it as a proclamation by the United States of moral opposition to colonialism, but it has subsequently been re-interpreted and applied in a variety of instances. President Theodore Roosevelt asserted the right of the United States to intervene to stabilize the economic affairs of small nations in the Caribbean and Central America if they were unable to pay their international debts. This interpretation, intended to forestall intervention by European powers that had lent money to those countries, has been termed the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine.
In 1862, French forces under Napoleon III invaded and conquered Mexico, giving the country to Austrian-born Emperor Maximilian. Americans proclaimed this as a violation of "The Doctrine," but were unable to intervene because of the American Civil War. This marked the first time the Monroe Doctrine was widely referred to as a "Doctrine." After the civil war came to an end, the U.S. brought troops down to the Rio Grande in hopes of pressuring the French government to end its occupation. Mexican nationalists eventually captured the Emperor and executed him, reasserting Mexico's independence.
In the 1870s, President Ulysses S. Grant and his Secretary of State Hamilton Fish endeavored to replace European influence in Latin America with that of the United States. Part of their efforts involved expanding the Monroe Doctrine by stating "hereafter no territory on this continent [referring to Central and South America] shall be regarded as subject to transfer to a European power."
1895 saw the eruption of the Venezuela Crisis of 1895, "one of the most momentous episodes in the history of Anglo-American relations in general and of Anglo-American rivalries in Latin America in particular." Venezuela sought to involve the US in a territorial dispute with Britain over Guayana Esequiba, and hired former US ambassador William L. Scruggs to argue that British behaviour over the issue violated the Monroe Doctrine. President Grover Cleveland through his Secretary of State, Richard Olney cited the Doctrine in 1895, threatening strong action against the United Kingdom if the British failed to arbitrate their dispute with Venezuela. In a July 20, 1895 note to Britain, Olney stated, “The United States is practically sovereign on this continent, and its fiat is law upon the subjects to which it confines its interposition.” British Prime Minister Lord Salisbury took strong exception to the American language. The United States objected to a British proposal for a joint meeting to clarify the scope of the Monroe Doctrine. Historian George Herring wrote that by failing to pursue the issue further the British “tacitly conceded the U.S. definition of the Monroe Doctrine and its hegemony in the hemisphere.”
The Drago Doctrine was announced on December 29, 1902 by the Foreign Minister of Argentina, Luis María Drago. Drago set forth the policy that no European power could use force against an American nation to collect debt. President Theodore Roosevelt rejected this as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, declaring "We do not guarantee any state against punishment if it misconducts itself".
In the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy cited the Monroe Doctrine as a basis for America's "eyeball-to-eyeball" confrontation with the Soviet Union that had embarked on a provocative campaign to install ballistic missiles on Cuban soil.
The "Big Brother"
The "Big Brother" policy was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine formulated by James G. Blaine in the 1880s that aimed to rally Latin American nations behind US leadership and to open their markets to US traders. Blaine served as Secretary of State in 1881 in the cabinet of President James A. Garfield and again from 1889 to 1892 in the cabinet of President Benjamin Harrison. As a part of the policy, Blaine arranged and led the First International Conference of American States in 1889.
The "Roosevelt Corollary"
As the United States began to emerge as a world power, the Monroe Doctrine came to define a recognized sphere of control that few dared to challenge. Before becoming president, Theodore Roosevelt had proclaimed the rationale of the Monroe Doctrine in supporting intervention in the Spanish colony of Cuba in 1898. After he became president, and following the Venezuela Crisis of 1902–1903, Roosevelt added the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine in 1904. This corollary asserted the right of the United States to intervene in Latin America in cases of “flagrant and chronic wrongdoing by a Latin American Nation”.
The Roosevelt Corollary was the most significant amendment to the original doctrine and was widely opposed by critics, who argued that the Monroe Doctrine was originally meant to stop European influence in the Americas. This amendment was designed to preclude violation of the doctrine by European powers that would ultimately argue that the independent nations were “mismanaged or unruly”.
Critics, however, argued that the Corollary simply asserted U.S. domination in that area, essentially making them a "hemispheric policeman."
The Clark Memorandum
In 1928, the Clark Memorandum was released, concluding that the United States need not invoke the Monroe Doctrine as a defense of its interventions in Latin America. The Memorandum argued that the United States had a self-evident right of self-defense, and that this was all that was needed to justify certain actions. The policy was announced to the public in 1930.
In 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles invoked the Monroe Doctrine at the Tenth Pan-American Conference, denouncing the intervention of Soviet Communism in Guatemala. This was used to justify Operation PBSUCCESS. U.S. President John F. Kennedy said at an August 29, 1962 news conference:
The Monroe Doctrine means what it has meant since President Monroe and John Quincy Adams enunciated it, and that is that we would oppose a foreign power extending its power to the Western Hemisphere [sic], and that is why we oppose what is happening in Cuba today. That is why we have cut off our trade. That is why we worked in the OAS and in other ways to isolate the Communist menace in Cuba. That is why we will continue to give a good deal of our effort and attention to it.
The Cold War
During the Cold War, the Monroe Doctrine was applied to Latin America by the framers of U.S. foreign policy. When the Cuban Revolution established a Communist government with ties to the Soviet Union, after trying to establish fruitful relations with the U.S., it was argued that the spirit of the Monroe Doctrine should be again invoked, this time to prevent the further spreading of Soviet-backed Communism in Latin America. During the Cold War, the United States thus often provided intelligence and military aid to Latin and South American governments that claimed or appeared to be threatened by Communist subversion. This, in turn, led to some domestic controversy within the United States, especially among some members of the left who argued that the Communist threat and Soviet influence in Latin America was greatly exaggerated.[who?]
The debate over this new spirit of the Monroe Doctrine came to a head in the 1980s, as part of the Iran-Contra affair. Among other things, it was revealed that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency had been covertly training "Contra" guerrilla soldiers in Honduras in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow the Sandinista revolutionary government of Nicaragua and its President, Daniel Ortega. CIA director Robert Gates vigorously defended the Contra operation, arguing that avoiding U.S. intervention in Nicaragua would be "totally to abandon the Monroe doctrine".
Critics of the Monroe Doctrine, such as Noam Chomsky, argue that in practice the Monroe Doctrine has functioned as a declaration of hegemony and a right of unilateral intervention over the Americas: a sphere of influence “to leave America for the Americans” that would grow stronger with the Roosevelt Corollary. Chomsky points to the work of filibusters, most notably William Walker, who tried to conquer and annex various countries in Latin America.
Many Latin American popular movements have come to resent the "Monroe Doctrine", which has been summarized there in the phrase: "America for the Americans".
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