In the early 19th century, the young United States, with hopes of becoming a major world power like its former mother country, started a campaign for territorial expansion. In an era dubbed the Age of Imperialism the political and economic power of nations was secured through the acquisition of territory by the use of either military or diplomatic force. However, having been a former colony itself, The United States claimed to vehemently oppose the very nature of European (namely British) colonial policies. Therefore, the new United States originally had to justify its hypocritical imperialistic tendencies. The first instance in United States history of the use of these such ‘moral justifications’ was the belief in a Manifest Destiny – which asserted that the United States had been granted a God-given right and responsibility to settle the entire North American continent. Under the guise of Manifest Destiny, the United States expanded within what we call today the continental United States but, it was not without European contest.
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In 1823, to dispel European influence from the newly independent territories in the American continent President James Monroe issued a declaration which later became known as the Monroe Doctrine. It states that “in the wars of the European powers, in matters relating to themselves, we have never taken any part, nor does it comport with our policy so to do.”1 The seeming purpose of the original declaration was to keep Europeans out of the continent but over time this doctrine was repeatedly manipulated to justify US interventions and violations in the sovereignty of Latin American Nations. In a similar manner to Manifest Destiny, the Monroe Doctrine was given unilateral power to its proponents over the territories.2 In this paper, I will argue that The United States abused the Monroe Doctrine to justify enforcing its sole claim to territorial, military, and economic hegemony over the American continent.
To make the case for the detrimental evolution and ultimate abuse of the Monroe Doctrine it is necessary to comment on the historical context of the US when President Monroe made the declaration. Prominent US Historian, Dexter Perkins, wrote that the declaration wasn’t militarily mobilized in congress at the time he made it. Therefore, the Monroe Doctrine was even to a point assumed to be a benevolent act of the people who identified in the struggle for independence that the Latin American states were dealing with the American public supported the establishment because they could identify with the cause. Dexter Perkins writes primarily on the lack of European threat but he does mention that however incredible the threat it was still a bold declaration. However, the fact that the declaration was not backed by congressional might further proves that the doctrine was not meant to be forever.
Would it be fair to assume that the lack of economic interests in the continent was a direct result of European presence in the continent and once they were no longer a threat to the US they moved to establish inequitable commercial relations with these nations? When considering the definitive characteristic of the effects that the Monroe Doctrine had on Latin American states, one must refer to the creation of puppet regimes in most Latin American states. Expressing outrage for the direct and openly acknowledged colonization of Latin American states by Europe, the U.S. government established puppet state leaders in the specified countries, thus reducing the influence of Europe within the identified area. Since establishing colonies similarly to how Europe did it would have been hypocritical, puppet monarchies were viewed as a solution.
There is the assumption that the Monroe Doctrine was not supposed to represent a threat to the independence of Latin Americans and, instead was an attempt at ensuring the national security of the U.S., albeit a misguided one. Specifically, the claim that the Monroe Doctrine relishes the racist ideology of White Americans’ superiority over Latin Americans is often opposed to the idea that Latin American people needed guidance and support from the U.S. to attain any economic success. Specifically, LaRosa and Mora state that “The Monroe Doctrine, then, represented the U.S. attempt to define and broaden its political and economic sovereignty in the Hemisphere.”3 In addition, the proponents of the Monroe Doctrine tended to assume that, in a range of instances, the relatively positive ideas were distorted and, thus implemented in an inappropriate fashion.4
However, the specified arguments dissipate once the foundation for the doctrine is scrutinized in depth. On a closer inspection, the doctrine proves to be exceptionally racist in its underlying message of racial superiority. Furthermore, the very fact that it allowed for the promotion of colonialist policies and the infringement upon the rights of Latin Americans shows that it was beyond flawed. In addition, the doctrine was inefficient even at maintaining safety. Specifically, the missiles from Cuba and the conflict with Latin Americans indicated that the doctrine could not even deliver the outcomes that it claimed to provide.
Nevertheless, the Monroe Doctrine was extended as Root insisted, which resulted in the Platt Amendment. While the doctrine was represented as an endeavor at securing the boundaries of the U.S., it, implied infringement upon the rights of the Cuban government to choose whether to lease its lands to the U.S. 5 Furthermore, the amendment limited the choices that Cuba could make regarding its choice of a foreign policy.
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One could also argue that by stretching the Monroe Doctrine and adding the Platt Amendment, opportunities for reducing its offensiveness and managing the relationships between the U.S. and Latin America were created. However, the specified argument also disintegrates on a closer examination. Particularly, the very idea of the relationships between Latin Americans and the residents of the United States is rooted in the concept of inferiority and superiority is downright absurd.
Dexter Perkins went even further in questioning the legitimacy of the assumptions on which the Monroe Doctrine was based. According to Perkins, what the doctrine defined as the imminent threat to the political stability of the U.S. was not as dangerous as it implied. Nevertheless, Perkins insisted that the Monroe Doctrine embodied the moods and aspirations of American citizens.6 Thus, Perkins supported the notion of colonialist relationships that the Monroe Doctrine heralded as the key political course of the U.S. Perkins insisted that the principles that the doctrine postulated would contribute to the formulation of the American identity and become the cornerstone in structuring the policy of the relationships between Latin America and the U.S.7
With Root supporting the doctrine actively and Perkins maintaining neutrality toward it, Gaston Nerval represented the other extreme. Being strictly opposed to the idea of the U.S. controlling every political move of Latin America, he pointed out the inconsistencies in the essential provisions of the policy. The Monroe Doctrine destroyed the entirety of the goodwill and the foundation for friendly relationships that Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s policy managed to build. Contrasting the latter’s approach to the statements that the Monroe Doctrine incorporated, Nerval, posited that the doctrine not only failed to promote a new and more humanistic approach toward Latin American states but also invoked the aggressive policies that the U.S. pursued in the past, thus making the further development of positive relationships between the U.S. and Latin America impossible. Nerval rightfully viewed the so-called concessions that the Monroe Doctrine mentioned as degrading and pointed to the complete loss of autonomy for Latin America that the doctrine suggested.
Counterargument: National Security – Elihu Root
Although the U.S. Secretary of State, Elihu Root warned about the evident problems with which the Monroe Doctrine was imbued, he overlooked the issue of the conflict between Latin America and the United States. Specifically, Root articulated the concern for the national security of the U.S., insisting that the false notion of balance in power between the U.S. and Latin America.
Although the Monroe Doctrine as the initial focus on expansion and political aggression toward Latin American countries was altered, the changes incorporated several minor concessions that could not be deemed as legitimate. In addition, the doctrine retained its focus toward limiting the political power of Latin America, reducing its decision-making opportunities to a set of rigid guidelines that the U.S. had created. The doctrine’s original intent could be described as a forceful intervention into Latin American countries and intrusion into their foreign policies. Although the document was framed as a rather benevolent endeavor at guarding the safety of Latin America, it was, in essence, a means of preventing the threat that was not as evident and most overrated in the first place. The document was a clear infringement upon the rights of Latin American citizens and, thus did not need to exist.
Combs, Jerald A. The History of American Foreign Policy: v.1: To 1920. New York, NY: Routledge. 2015.
LaRosa, Michael J., and Frank O. Mora. Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S.-Latin American Relations. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.
Hamilton, Robert M. The Monroe Doctrine: The Birth of American Foreign Policy. New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2017.
“The Monroe Doctrine : also, Jefferson’s Letter to Monroe.” Archive.org. Web.
- “The Monroe Doctrine : also, Jefferson’s Letter to Monroe,” Archive.org, Web.
- Robert M. Hamilton, The Monroe Doctrine: The Birth of American Foreign Policy (New York, NY: The Rosen Publishing Group, 2017), 17.
- Michael J. LaRosa, Frank O. Mora, Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S.-Latin American Relations (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 51.
- Jerald A. Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy: v.1: To 1920 (New York, NY: Routledge. 2015), 77.
- Jerald A. Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy: v.1: To 1920 (New York, NY: Routledge. 2015), 78.
- Michael J. LaRosa, Frank O. Mora, Neighborly Adversaries: Readings in U.S.-Latin American Relations (New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007), 52.