The Monroe Doctrine

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.

                                  –President James Monroe‘s 7th Annual Address to Congress 12.2.1823

When the United Colonies, in General Congress Assembled, declared their independence from Great Britain there were three European powers occupying North America: Spain, Russia and England. By the time the 1790’s rolled around, France was reoccupying the Louisiana Territory; a tract of land France had ceded to Spain following the end of the French & Indian War. For her own part, the new United States of America had little means of removing these powerful Europeans from American soil. It had been with the assistance of the French, and a lesser degree the Spanish, that the US had even won her independence. However, the problem of French occupation quickly found a peaceful resolution when Thomas Jefferson authorized the purchase of the Louisiana Territory. Within a decade of that purchase, the United States found herself in a second war with the English; the War of 1812. While this war is still considered by many to be a status quo war, it demonstrated the emergence of American military capabilities.

It was with this that 11 years after the Americans stood toe to toe with the English that President James Monroe promulgated his Monroe Doctrine. This doctrine warned the powers of Europe to never again attempt to colonize the Americas. Yet, our Monroe Doctrine did not take into consideration that in 1823 the United States did not have the military capabilities to enforce this doctrine. Therefore, the Monroe Doctrine relied heavily upon our good relations with the English. American military power was not at the point of enforcing such a doctrine until after the Spanish-American War, which was explicitly fought to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.

The Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine added the next evolution in American military involvement in the world. In addition to preventing European powers from occupying the Americas, the Roosevelt Corollary promised American intervention in Latin Countries unable to pay international debts. It also declared the right of the United States to intervene and stabilize any Latin American Country. This doctrine helped create a partnership between the United States and her Latin American counterparts to the South. It was not, however, the last evolution of the Monroe Doctrine. Rather, the Monroe Doctrine would undergo another change in the late 1940’s.

With World War II officially over, the post-World War world began to take shape. In a matter of years it was apparent that the United States and Soviet Union were settling in for a long, cold War. President Harry S. Truman, hoping to halt the spread of Communism, issued his own corollary to the Monroe Doctrine: The Truman Doctrine. This doctrine stated that the United States would send troops to anywhere in the world in order to prevent the spread of communism. It was under this doctrine that the United States became involved in the Korean War and Vietnam War. As an extension to the Truman Doctrine was the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan was the economic side of the Truman Doctrine. The plan called for the United States to economically prop up Western Europe to help confront the Soviet Union.

Finally, the last of the evolutions of the Monroe Doctrine came in the wake of 9/11. The Bush Doctrine called upon the United States to meet the spread Terrorism anywhere in the world it may find safe harbor. This doctrine has resulted in the United States intervening in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Monroe Doctrine was devised to simply assert that the United States would not tolerate European intervention in the Americas. Since it was first put forth by James Monroe, the Monroe Doctrine has been transformed to assert American right to intervene in the governments of Latin America, under the threat of Communism, or supporters of Terrorism.

What Was Containment?

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, much of the globe was divided between the allied powers who were victorious in the war. Particularly, the United States and Soviet Union carved up the map placing areas of influence in the hands of each other. Arguably, the most famous of the post war spoils was Germany. The Allied Powers divided Germany, particularly Berlin, into East and West with Berlin divided into three districts occupied by England, the United States and the Soviet Union. It quickly became apparent to the West that the Soviet Union was not satisfied with simply taking their spoils. United States President Harry S. Truman felt it necessary for the US to have a policy concerning the Soviet Union’s appeared designs on Empire. From the Soviet threat came the American policy of Containment. What Containment was, largely rests with the theory’s architect: George Kennan. Kennan was an important diplomat in the post World War II era including stints as Ambassador to Russia and Yugoslavia. He was also placed in the US State Department under Secretary of State Marshall. From Kennan’s writings came three important policies during Truman’s presidency: The Truman Doctrine, The Marshall Plan and NSC-68. Together, these three policies shaped American policy towards the Soviet Union in particular and Communism in general.

The Truman Doctrine, or the Truman Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, was the official US policy to Communism. The doctrine entailed that the United States would meet the spread of Communism wherever it was to be found in order to stop it. This doctrine directly placed the United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War and lead to US involvement in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In the aftermath of the Truman Doctrine, President Harry S. Truman directed Secretary of State Marshall to create a plan to help stimulate the European economies. Initially, the plan was to offer aide to all European Countries (including the Soviet Union.) However, the USSR and her satellites refused to accept the money. Together with the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan’s economic angle played directly to George Kennan’s theory of Containment. Yet, NSC-68 was largely against Kennan’s theory and ultimately led him to leave government. At the heart of NSC-68 was the gradual coercion of the Soviet Union through massive peace time military spending and largely the abandonment of diplomatic and economic strains of the Containment Policy. In addition, NSC-68 also blurred the line between Communism in general and the Soviet Union; ultimately the two would be seen as part and parcel of each other under the policy.

However, these do not get at the heart of what exactly Containment was meant to be as George Kennan conceived of it. In his book, American Diplomacy, Kennan outlines his theory of how to contain the Soviet Union. At the heart of Kennan’s argument is the need for the US to have a sound policy in dealing with other countries such as the Soviet Union. Kennan states, “the idea of the subordination of a large number of states to an international juridical regime, limiting their possibilities for aggression and injury to other states, implies that these are all states like our own…”[1] Of course here Kennan is speaking of the newly formed United Nations, whose main goal was to provide a means of peaceably settling differences between sovereign nations. However, as Kennan points out, the United Nations does not assume the differences between regimes and treats all as the same.

This does not, of course, mean that the United States needs only to develop a military answer to possible Soviet aggression. Kennan’s argument does not imply that the Soviet Union was not a military threat to the United States; they had detonated their first Atomic Bomb in 1949. It does, however, reflect Kennan’s view of Marxist theory in the form of Soviet Communism. At the core of Soviet Communism, “has always been in the process of subtle evolution.”[2] It is for this reason that Kennan believed that a purely militaristic approach to the Soviet Union was unnecessary. Kennan identifies that the Soviet Union has, in the past, relaxed its policy of intervention in economics. When they had done this the capitalistic elements of the Russian economy flourished. And as long as these elements could survive they would, “always constitute a powerful opposing element to the Soviet regime and a serious rival for influence in the country.”[3] For this reason Kennan incorporated an economic element into his theory of Containment. By supporting the capitalistic elements of the Soviet economy, we would provide them with a lifeline to challenge the state controlled government.

The most important element of Kennan’s theory of Containment encompassed one basic principal: the Soviet Union will eventually dissolve if left to its own devices. As Kennan states, “The Kremlin has also proved able to accomplish its purpose of building up in Russia, regardless of the interests of the inhabitants…” In which case, the Soviet Union destroyed its best men in attempting to prop up the state through, “labor camps and other agencies of constraint…”[4] Every aspect of the Soviet system of government placed unnecessary constraint on the people of Russia. Change in Russia depended on these internal constraints on the people and economy, but also on the American government’s influence on Russia:

But the United States has it in its power to increase enormously the strains under which Soviet policy must operate, to force upon the Kremlin a far greater degree of moderation and circumspection than it has had to observe in recent years, and in this way to promote tendencies which must eventually find their outlet in either the break-up or the gradual mellowing of Soviet power.[5]

The policy of Containment required both the Soviet Union to continue on its path of self destructive and the United States to influence the Soviet Union through economic, diplomatic and military policies. So what was Containment? It was the official policy of the United States government to prevent the spread of Soviet style Communism to the rest of the world. The policy of Containment encompassed economic, diplomatic and military aspects against the Soviet Union. Despite many changes to the policy, and the emphasis on different aspects at different times, Containment was the official policy that helped bring down the Soviet Union.

[1][1] George F. Kennan. American Diplomacy, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.) 97

[2] Ibid. 107

[3] Ibid. 110

[4] Ibid. 121

[5] Ibid. 127


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