The Monroe Doctrine Essay, Research Paper
The Monroe Doctrine: Monroe’s gift to mankind
On December 2, 1823, Monroe went to Congress and delivered one of the most important speeches of his life indeed one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States. The contents of this speech became known as the Monroe Doctrine.
During this period of time many Americans believed that there should be enough land for every American citizen, what was known as the Manifest Destiny, and the only method in which the United States was to acquire more lands was through expansion. Another justification for land expansion was that the people of the United States were superior to other people and should therefore extend their boundaries in order to elevate the other people to the American level of superiority. This was known as the “City on a Hill principle.” At the time of the presentation of the Monroe Doctrine, many countries in Central and South America were declaring their independence or achieved independence from their European colonizers. The European powers were reluctant to give up their territory in the Americas and were prepared to use force to keep them. This led Monroe to state:
“. . . The Government of the United States has been desirous by this friendly proceeding … 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 colonisation by any European powers. . .” 1
This declaration was meant to keep the Europeans out of American affairs and in return America would stay out of European affairs. He also described under what conditions the United States would feel threatened when he stated
” … We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and 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 maintain it, and whose 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 United States.” 2
In essence the Monroe Doctrine divided parts of the globe into areas of influence and did not want Europeans to establish new colonies in the Americas resulting the United States as the only powerful nation in the Western Hemisphere while the Europeans were left to fight among themselves in determining the most powerful in Europe. It also mentioned that the United States would take it as an unfriendly act if any European were to control any country in the Americas.
The original intent was to keep the powerful Europeans from the Western Hemisphere, but it ended up being much, much more. It ended up extending America’s desire for self-preservation, into a mandate for expansion first into Latin America, then into the Pacific and eventually around the world. This mandate has since been called into question during the conflicts in Cuba, Korea, Vietnam, Panama, and Grenada. Ironically, all of these interventions were influenced by the Monroe Doctrine an ostensible defensive policy and one can also see applications of the Monroe Doctrine today.
The first time when the Monroe Doctrine was really put to the test was in 1861. Mexico had announced that it would repudiate its foreign debts. 3 The ramification of such an act was to anger the British, Spanish, and the French so much that they decided to occupy the country in order to force Mexico to pay its debts. Shortly after the occupation, Britain and Spain withdrew from the conflict. France, on the other hand, did not withdraw but overthrew the Mexican government and established an empire. During this period, the United States had the Civil War on its hands and was not able to enforce the Doctrine. Towards the end of the Civil War, the United States was able to intervene and to cause the French to withdraw from Mexico. As shown here, France broke the Monroe doctrine by replacing the government of Mexico. After all of this France had to accept the Doctrine and ended up with very little accomplished because it had to withdraw from Mexico. This managed to keep a major European Power from gaining a strong foothold in the Americas and just south of the United States’ borders. It also marked the first time the United States would intervene in the political affairs of another country by invoking the Monroe Doctrine.
The next event produced by the Monroe Doctrine was the Spanish American War in 1898. This war was sparked by the island of Cuba, one of the few remaining Spanish colonies in the Americas. Cuba wanted independence from Spain and declared their independence in 1895. This angered Spain who did not want to lose this colony and was willing to keep it by force if necessary. In the end the United States felt compelled to protect Cuba’s wish for independence and this led to the Spanish American War. The war was short and in the end Cuba got its independence and the United States got Puerto Rico, Guam , and the Philippines. It appears that Spain did not acknowledge the Monroe Doctrine and it led them into war, but the reality was that the United States also wanted to diminish Spain’s dominance in the Americas and open up new markets for American products. 4 At the end of the war, the United States achieved many things. It defended the independence of Cuba, achieved a peace treaty with Spain, and gained various territories. None of this would have happened unless the United States enforced the Monroe Doctrine. This demonstrates the insidious use of the Monroe Doctrine and the resulting gain of territories by the United States.
Another occurrence in which the Monroe Doctrine was used by the United States to expand its influence was during the Venezuelan debt controversy. 5 This controversy was brought up when the Venezuelan government tried to repudiate its debts to investors from Great Britain, Germany, and Italy. They tried diplomacy but when that failed, the European Countries threatened to use armed force to get their money. At this point the United States stepped in and mediated a peaceful settlement. Along with this, during an address to Congress, Theodore Roosevelt stated in 1904, in the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, the right of the United States to intervene in the internal affairs of Western Hemisphere nations to prevent “chronic wrongdoing.” 6 By doing this he expanded the Monroe Doctrine ’s mandate and established the United States as an international police force. It meant that the United States had the right to intervene on any Latin American affairs if it believed that there was some wrong being done. This also explicitly gave the United States the right to intervene, while before it was assumed. The international police power was an extension of the Monroe Doctrine, it mandated that the United States had the right to police all of Latin America. Through this event the United States gained more power and authority over the Americas. This new addition to the concept of the Monroe Doctrine also decreased the power of the big European countries.
The aforementioned police power also lead the United States in sending troops to Nicaragua. This event began in 1912 when a revolution started in Nicaragua. When the United States saw what was happening, it sent twenty-six hundred troops to try to put an end to it. Once the revolution was stopped, the United States left over one hundred troops to guard the territory they controlled. This occupation lasted until 1933. Ironically, this whole sequence of events was against the intention of the Monroe Doctrine. Senator Borah in response to this event said that the Monroe Doctrine “does not give us the right … to invade territory, to tear down governments and set up others.” 7 Senator Borah was right. The United States did not have the right to intervene with Nicaragua’s revolution. It went against the original intent of Monroe Doctrine. There might have been some “chronic wrongdoing” there, so it might have been justifiable for the invasion. Once the problem was resolved, there was no justification for the leaving of troops there. This was even highly contradictory to very principles that the United States stood for.
Through all of this, it is important to remember that the Monroe Doctrine was not a set of laws. Many countries honored it, but none were legally obligated to do so, except for the United States. In 1945 and 1947, some of the concepts from the Monroe Doctrine were amalgamated into the Act of Chapultepec and the Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance. The Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance was signed in 1947 in Rio de Janeiro. This treaty stated that any armed attack against an American country, would be considered an attack against all. The treaty of Chapultepec was also related to this, it stated that the Americas would provide a united defense of any American country being attacked. These two documents finally included most of the ideas of the Monroe Doctrine. These treaties formalized the unilateral statement by one country into an agreement by all the countries of the Western Hemisphere.
The gradual expansion of the Monroe Doctrine mandate would lead the United States into conflicts from Latin America, across the Pacific to Korea. One of the original intents of the Monroe Doctrine was to keep unfriendly powers from the United States 8 borders but with the gain of Phillipines, Guam, Hawaii it shifted or acquired new frontiers in Asia and the inevitable involvement into conflicts of that continent. The Korean conflict was a civil war between the North and South and, to complicate the issues, it also introduced the ideology war of capitalism versus communism. The United States entered into the conflict when North Korea invaded the South Korea with the support of communist China and the USSR, in order to safeguard capitalism. By entering into a conflict in Asia, the United States entered into a region not originally covered by the Monroe Doctrine. The lack of a guiding idea for this region, like a Monroe Doctrine, led the United States into a long war and a high number of casualties. This shows the danger of extending the Monroe Doctrine. Soon after the Korean War, the United States got involved with the Vietnam war, another product of World War II. After World War II ended, the French, who had previously controlled Vietnam lost it to the Japanese. Eventually Ho Chi Minh and his forces declared Vietnam an independent country. The United States, in order to oppose communism and protect its markets, encouraged South Vietnam to become independent of the communist North . After many years of fighting, the United States finally withdrew, but not before thousands of American Soldiers were killed. There are many questions raised by this conflict. The United States believed in independence and democracy but it denied Vietnam of its independence by trying to put France back into control and then supporting an unpopular regime. Another reason why the United States did this was for the “protection of democracy”. This “protecting of democracy” idea comes from a combination of the “City on a Hill” and the Monroe Doctrine. Democracy is considered the better form of govenment so the United States must use it’s power to secure democracy. Vietnam was becoming a communist country and the United States that it was promoting democracy by allowing the French to retake control. America departed from its ideals and the Monroe doctrine by aiding France against Vietnam.
One of the more recent tests of the Monroe Doctrine was the Cuban Missile Crisis. It began when Soviet Union started to build nuclear missile silos on the island of Cuba to achieve a better balance of power. The United States had earlier tried to overthrow the communist Cuban government and it led to the Russians trying to protect Cuba. The United States was afraid of this because the nuclear missiles were in such close proximity that it would leave very little time to stop them. The United States and the rest of the Americas interpreted this as a military threat and therefore it was a breach of the Monroe Doctrine. President Kennedy declared a naval blockade and delivered an ultimatum to Soviet Union to order the ships carrying the missiles to turn back or the United States would be forced to destroy them. After a two week stand-off, the Russian government yielded. This event almost precipitated a third World War. On this occasion, it seems like the United States extended the Monroe Doctrine to the affairs of another country.
In 1987, another instance of intervention occurred, this time in Panama. Apparently the people of Panama had staged numerous anti-American demonstrations. These protests were devised by the government because of the numerous sanctions made against them by the United States. These sanctions and protests increased as the president of Panama, Emanuel Noriega, was charged with drug trafficking. Eventually, the United States invaded Panama and deposed Noriega. Soon after, Guillermo Endara was elected president. This event shows the United States extending its power. The Doctrine acknowledged all of the independent countries in the Americas, yet the United States kept on intervening in other countries in the Americas and setting up governments. The United States had no right to replace a government. It goes against the original principles that were set up in the Monroe Doctrine. The irony in this, is that the justification for most of these interventions is spreading of American ideals, which include the Monroe Doctrine. Indeed, intervention is the logical outcome of the Monroe Doctrine itself.
From the very beginning, the Monroe Doctrine was intended to protect American ideals. It managed to do so for a long time even through the Mexican-French war, the Spanish-American War, and the Venezuelan debt controversy. The doctrine existed for about a hundred years, though it had a couple of clarification and improvements, it was used the way it was intended. Eventually, the ideas and principles of the Monroe Doctrine became beclouded. The principles of the Monroe Doctrine and the idea that America was a “City on a Hill” got mixed. America started using the Monroe Doctrine as an excuse to spread its influence and ideals. This is extremely ironic. How can America spread its ideas and influences about non-interference by taking down governments, setting up new ones, just because they were communist or corrupt. That is the country’s own problem, not that of the United States. This brings up the pressing question about Bosnia. When looking at the facts, Bosnia is related to Vietnam and Korea. The problem in Bosnia is basically a civil war based upon race, while the Vietnam and Korea were internal conflicts about politics. In all three, the United States deemed it necessary to intervene. Bosnia is meant to be a peacekeeping mission. The question is whether it will end up as another Vietnam. The similarities are internal conflict and American intervention. Is president Clinton setting the stage for another debacle like Vietnam? By moving troops into Bosnia, have the United States forgotten about all past conflicts? Isn’t it believed that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it?
If we have learned anything from the Monroe Doctrine, it should be that foreign governments should not interfere in another nation’s politics. When the United States stood by its principle of non-interference, it was one of the most prosperous and peaceful country. Whenever it interfered in matters in Latin America or Asia it only contributed to a huge conflict or created oppressive regimes.
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