Monroe Doctrine
December 2, 2002 9:40 AM   Subscribe

December 2, 1823 President James Monroe made his annual speech to congress and outlined his policy that the American continents were "henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers" Since then the US has, for better or worse, at times stood by the Monroe Doctrine, ignored it when they had bigger issues back home and even argued that it doesn't apply in the case of American imperialism. Is it time to retool our Latin America policy now that Europe doesn't seem so bent on imperialism there, or is the Doctrine needed as much as ever?
posted by Pollomacho (9 comments total)
Not defending the doctrine, but as a matter of practicality.. why do away with a unilateral treaty that can be selectively and arbitrarily enforced by its only signer?
posted by PrinceValium at 9:48 AM on December 2, 2002

See links above, particularly the Organization of American States and the history of the Venezuela-Guyana border dispute for more signators to the Monroe Doctrine, namely American nations and (in the case of the border dispute) the UK.
posted by Pollomacho at 11:16 AM on December 2, 2002

For the sake of historical accuracy: Monroe did not speak to Congress on this date, he just sent over his annual message on the state of the union. If we can trust the White House web site no president between Washington and Wilson went to Congress in person. Washington did, but the practice was criticized as being "too kingly." Wilson got some flak, too, but presidents have been doing it in person every since.
posted by beagle at 11:39 AM on December 2, 2002

Well it seems nobody but the Americans has heard of that doctrine anyway, so I don't know what good it does (anymore)?
posted by cx at 12:41 PM on December 2, 2002

Yeah I guess nobody really cares about the US foreign policy towards the Americas, silly me!
posted by Pollomacho at 1:43 PM on December 2, 2002

Just because no one wanted to get in to an argument over the Monroe Doctrine, don't mean that nobody cares about U.S. foreign policy... It just means that they don't want to argue about the Monroe Doctrine...
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 3:28 PM on December 2, 2002

Whatever consideration foreign powers have of U.S. sensibilities in the Americas is pure realpolitik and has nothing to do with any unilateral doctrine. That is why it is unilateral, and that is why it has no power as International Law.

The doctrine constrains American foreign policy in a greater degree than it constrains other foreign powers.
posted by cx at 4:43 PM on December 2, 2002

Maybe that is the problem I have with this doctrine of late as cx pointed it out above.

I always loved this doctrine as it showed we have no business of our own across the seas. Or the other way around too for that matter.
posted by thomcatspike at 5:09 PM on December 2, 2002

A doctrine is not, of course, a treaty; it doesn't even have the force of law. In the end it is little more than an advisory to successive presidents.

Pollomacho, the US hardly "ignored" the doctrine in relationship to Maximilian, the point man in Napoleon III's efforts to re-establish a colonial empire in the Americas. It was, truly, only possible because we were distracted by the Civil War; yet it's worth nothing that Gen. U.S. Grant's first military orders after Appomattox were sending Sheridan to Texas to rattle the French-Mexican cage.

Walter Russell Mead notes that both Britain and America were outside the Continental balance of power, and first the UK and later the US had an interest in keeping things that way. Walter Lippmann once noted that the Monroe Doctrine was one way for the two Anglo-American powers to agree to disagree without confronting each other, i.e. to share control of the maritime world in their respective spheres of influence. As British power declined, ours grew, finally tilting in our favor around World War I. The Monroe Doctrine was seen, as late as the period between the wars, as an essential element of enforcing this balance and keeping European squabbles at bay.

The doctrine's importance has declined in the post-colonial world, but it may not be completely irrelevant, as long as Russia and China (and other Pacific powers) continue to jockey for influence. The US saw trans-Pacific trade as essential to its own growth from Washington's time; Perry's canny opening of Japan, with equal mixtures of supplication and belligerence at bay. Similarly China sees its own trading future in places like South America and is determined to win influence there. (Witness, for example, the Hutchison-Whampoa contract to operate the Panama Canal, a bugaboo of neocons.) That said, as doctrine, it ultimately merely expresses a truism of American interests. Until those interests change, the doctrine will remain.
posted by dhartung at 5:49 PM on December 2, 2002

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