IN the foreign policy of the United States two principles are deeply rooted and conveniently labelled -- the principle of no entangling alliances, and the principle of the Monroe Doctrine. Both have a long and interesting past. The first goes back to the early days of our national history, to say the least; the second to the famous message of December 2, 1823. Yet neither the one nor the other of these principles has remained static. In particular, both have inevitably felt the impact of the events of the last quarter of a century.

In the literal sense of the term, the entangling alliance is still anathema; yet Americans have realized, and were bound to realize, the ineluctable necessity of a wider measure of international coöperation and of association with other Powers in the pursuit of their own national interests, and have acted accordingly. The participation of the United States in the last war, and in the peace negotiations which followed it; the constant interest shown by the American Government during the twenties in the question of reparations; the conferences of 1921-2, 1927, and 1930 for the reduction of armaments; the growth of the movement of Pan-Americanism in the last decade; the passage of the lease-lend bill last March; the inexorable course of events today--all demonstrate that while, formally speaking, the principle of no entangling alliances maintains itself, and perhaps ought to maintain itself, our national action in 1941 is based upon very different premises from those of an earlier epoch.

In the same way the principle of the Monroe Doctrine has undergone, and is undergoing, an important development. In order to study this evolution it is necessary briefly to reëxamine the postulates of the original message of President Monroe. Speaking of the controversy with Russia over the northwest coast of America, the President asserted that "the American continents [note well the plural form], 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." This, then, is a blanket prohibition on the acquisition by Old World states of territory in any part of the Western Hemisphere. In a later part of the same message, Monroe alluded to the situation of the Latin American republics, threatened, as he believed, by the designs of the Holy Alliance to restore Spanish dominion on this side of the Atlantic. "But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintained it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and 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 towards the United States." Taken literally, it will be observed, this statement would apply only to those republics which in 1823 had been recognized by the Government of the United States -- Mexico, Colombia, the Argentine and Chile. But with time Monroe's words would obviously apply to all the new states, and they carried then and carry now a clear implication that the physical conquest of these states by an Old World Power would be resisted by the United States.

The President indeed went further. In a phrase which may well be the subject of debate, but whose meaning I shall soon attempt to define, he declared that "we should consider any attempt on their part [i.e., the part of the European Powers] to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety." It has sometimes been denied that by these words Monroe issued a prohibition against monarchical régimes, and it has been maintained that he was speaking only of the system of united action against revolutionary governments which was typified by the Holy Alliance. Attention has been called to the fact that the United States, at the time of the message, had recognized the government of the Emperor Iturbide in Mexico, and was to recognize the government of the Emperor Pedro in Brazil. But any examination of the diplomatic correspondence of the time will explain this apparent contradiction. This correspondence shows a very definite opposition to monarchies under European influence. The states of the New World might settle for themselves what their institutions should be; but the American Government would resent the exercise of European pressure to determine these forms, or the setting up of régimes which were manipulated by ambitious or designing statesmen on the other side of the ocean. Monroe's opinions on this point were given, so to speak, an authoritative gloss in the notes written by William H. Seward to our minister in Paris between 1862 and 1865, when the Emperor Louis Napoleon attempted to set up the puppet régime of the Archduke Maximilian in Mexico.

Finally, it has often been pointed out, Monroe justified the position which he assumed in his message by reference to the abstention of the United States from European politics. I do not believe, and have never believed, that the words which he pronounced on this point ought to be considered as a part of his Doctrine. They were, in any case, cautiously phrased, alluding to non-interference of the United States in the wars of the European Powers "relating to themselves." But, avoiding all quibbling, it is only fair to say that there has existed in some minds the idea that the Monroe Doctrine sets up a principle of reciprocity limiting American activity outside the American continents, and in considering its evolution today we shall have to take that fact into account.


So much, then, for the past of the Doctrine. What is to be said with regard to the recent lines of its development? In what respect has it undergone and is it undergoing an evolution?

The first point to be made in this regard has to do with the geographical area to which Monroe's famous principles have been applied. In theory these principles might be thought to cover both continents. In practice, from 1823 down to 1938, they were applied virtually without exception in the region of the Caribbean. Buchanan made feeble reference to the message in connection with the Anglo-French intervention in the Argentine in 1846; Seward hinted at its possible application in the controversy between Spain and Peru over the Chincha Islands; Polk invoked Monroe in connection with the question of Oregon. But with these exceptions the invocation of the Doctrine related to a much narrower area than has been generally realized.

The application of Monroe's great tenet to Canada is, then, one of the most striking developments of the last few years. The question was scarcely broached in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Polk, as has just been said, did go back to the message of 1823 in the controversy with Great Britain over Oregon; but from 1845 to our own times there is virtually hardly a reference to the possible application of the Doctrine to any part of the North American continent. A writer in the Revue des Deux Mondes in 1879 vaguely alluded to the matter, identifying the great dogma, as Europeans have all too commonly done, with American imperialism. In the last World War, Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, the German propagandist, suffering from a species of intellectual confusion which has more recently afflicted a distinguished American, brought forward the astonishing thesis that it was a breach of the Monroe Doctrine for a self-governing British Dominion in the Americas to go to war, though he gave gracious assurance at the same time that Germany would respect the position of the United States. But the only reference I have been able to find to Canada by an American was by William Howard Taft, who on November 28, 1914, asserted his conviction that an attack on Canada would definitely involve the United States. For the most part, however, such was the sense of security which this country felt, protected by the armies of France and Britain and by the British fleet, that the possibility of an attack on Canada was virtually ignored.

It was in the days before Munich that President Roosevelt, in a speech delivered at Kingston, Ontario, declared that "the United States would not stand idly by" if Canada were attacked. The language used on that occasion did not mention the Doctrine by name. Officials of the State Department indicated, however, that the Roosevelt declaration was an extension of Monroe's principles; and in his press conference next day the President, taking a slightly different tack, seemed to imply that his assurances were a normal and natural application of the tenets of 1823. The same view was taken, on occasion, both in the American and in the foreign press. There can be no dispute, therefore, on the fundamental proposition that for the first time in our history the Monroe Doctrine was applied to our neighbor of the north. Nor can there be any doubt that the action taken accorded with American public opinion as a whole. If there is one region more than another which the American people would defend against attack, and know they would defend against attack, it is Canada. This need not be a subject of speculation. On the contrary, the very interesting polls taken by Fortune affirm the fact beyond the shadow of a doubt. Nor has there been much doubt about the public approval of the steps which Mr. Roosevelt took to implement his declaration. In August of 1940, when the President announced the formation of a joint counsel of defense for Canada and the United States, such a prominent Republican as Senator Vandenberg, no militant advocate of strong measures, endorsed his stand; and even the most isolationist Senators offered no criticism.

The summer of 1940 also saw another bold move which may be regarded as an extension of the Monroe Doctrine. By the declaration of August 18, 1938, we had made it clear that we would defend the Dominion of Canada. By the destroyer-bases deal, formally announced on September 3, 1940, the American Government not only underlined its previous resolution, but went further. It was normal and natural, speaking purely in historical terms, that the United States should seek to strengthen its position in the Caribbean; the leaseholds of Antigua, Santa Lucia and Trinidad, perhaps also of the Bahamas, might conceivably have been thought of as falling within the limits of a traditional sphere of interest; but when Newfoundland and Bermuda were added to the list, the significance of such action was obvious, and the intention of the Roosevelt Administration to defend the outposts as well as the mainland of the North American continent became as clear as words, coupled with action, could make it. And here again the note of popular approval was unmistakable. It was inevitable that in the midst of a Presidential campaign some criticism should be addressed to the manner in which the agreement was made, and to the use of the form of an executive agreement in a matter of such momentous importance; but this makes it an even more impressive fact that so staunch an exponent of isolationist policy as Senator Wheeler of Montana applauded the President's action.

A still more striking extension of the fundamental conception of the Monroe Doctrine in relation to the North American continent came to fruition in the early spring of 1941. This was the extension of the Monroe Doctrine to Greenland. As long ago as 1916, Rear Admiral Robert E. Peary, in an article recommending the purchase of this island, wrote as follows: "Geographically Greenland belongs to North America and the Western hemisphere, over which we have formally declared a sphere of influence by our Monroe Doctrine. Its possession by us will be in line with the Monroe Doctrine, and will eliminate one more possible source of future complications for us from European possession of territory in the Western hemisphere." The Admiral's words created very little repercussion at the time; no urgent problem of hemispheric defense presented itself to the American imagination 25 years ago. That Peary was right in his assertion there can be very little doubt. Indeed, one of the highest of authorities in such matters, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, has asserted in a recent article in FOREIGN AFFAIRS (January 1941): "All geographers concede that Greenland is in the Western Hemisphere." But the need of protective measures of any kind with regard to Greenland did not become clear until these latter days. In March 1941 came the passage of the lease-lend bill, pointing the lesson of Greenland's importance, and in April the Administration took action. By an agreement with the Danish Minister in Washington (an agreement which cost him a rebuke and disavowal by the intimidated government at Copenhagen), the United States took the island under its protection and was accorded the right to adopt such measures as might be necessary to ensure that the territory was not used by Germany. In announcing and clarifying this decision, both the State Department and the President specifically and definitely declared that such action was taken under the Monroe Doctrine. And once again they were sustained by the overwhelming body of American public opinion.

The case of Greenland clearly fell within the limits of the Monroe Doctrine. Was Iceland also to be included? The question had been raised by Stefansson in his book, "Iceland, the First American Republic," published about two years ago. In his ingenious article in this review, mentioned above, the famous Arctic explorer developed the theory that the proper dividing line between America and Europe, or, more properly between the hemispheres, was what he called the line of the "widest channel," or a line equidistant from the American continents on the one hand, and the African and European continents on the other. This principle brought Iceland within the Western Hemisphere, and it could be buttressed by a State Department report of 1868. In July, the Administration determined upon the occupation of this new outpost. Yet despite what has been said, its tone with regard to the Monroe Doctrine in this case was less certain than in the previous instances. Questioned with regard to the occupation, President Roosevelt made no appeal this time to the principles of 1823. Not the Doctrine, but the necessities of national defense, furnished the basis and justification for his action. And numerous dissents from the thesis that Iceland is a part of the Western Hemisphere indicate that he was wise in avoiding a debate on this geographical issue. Other and more solid grounds could be adduced for a measure intended to ensure the practical success of the policy of aid to Britain, solemnly adopted four months earlier.

Plainly the scope of the Doctrine has been extended, in the years from 1938 to 1941, to important areas in the northern parts of the Western Hemisphere. The question also has already arisen of extending the aegis of its protection to areas further south than ever before. The destroyer-bases agreement of September 1940, for example, gave the United States the opportunity of constructing a base in British Guiana; and earlier in the same year, the Administration entered into conversations with regard to the possibility of establishing a base as far away as Uruguay, in a region, which, I repeat, had not been the subject of any application of the principles of 1823 for nearly a hundred years. What went on in this latter case has to be gleaned from the rather fragmentary accounts that appear in the press; but the general outlines of the matter seem fairly clear. From the outset the Uruguayan Government appears to have been opposed to any leasing arrangement such as had been made by Great Britain; but it was willing to accept assistance from the United States in the construction of a great air and naval base which might be available to any of the New World nations in the event that their peace was endangered by European aggression. Despite much partisan criticism, such an arrangement was actually concluded in November; but it was made clear that the base to be built was to be operated and maintained exclusively by Uruguayan forces, and could be occupied by another Power, such as the United States, only upon the request of Uruguay herself. Despite these limitations, the interest taken by the United States in this whole project is the clearest possible evidence of an intention to extend the area which might be defended under the tenets of 1823. Nor does the Uruguayan case stand alone. There have been hints of discussions with other states, especially Brazil, and while no negotiations with other Powers outside the Caribbean appear so far to have come to fruition we are likely to hear more of them in the future.

Never till our time, indeed, has the Monroe Doctrine been given in practice the wide construction which its language suggests, and never before have such wide and varied activities been conducted over so large a geographical area with the object of endowing it with physical force.

We have been discussing matters of practice. The course of events in Europe raises also a large question of theory with regard to that part of Monroe's message which alludes to the "political system" of Europe. What is to be the attitude of the United States towards Nazi-controlled régimes in any of the states of the New World? Are such régimes to be recognized? If they are not, what then? Are any steps to be taken against them? If so, what steps, and on what principle? National Socialism came to power by exploiting and distorting the democratic idea; it claims for itself a democratic origin. What is the proper policy if it raises its head in some state on this side of the Atlantic? The very embarrassments which the question suggests point the fact that this is a war involving the largest conceivable issues. The triumph of democratic ideals and the discrediting of totalitarian dogma in the Old World may be the only means of protecting and developing the impulses of democracy in the New.

Up to date, however, no acute question had presented itself. The short-lived régime of Colonel Germán Busch in Bolivia had Fascist or semi-Fascist tendencies. The attitude taken by President Arias in Panama only a short time ago suggested German influence at work. But in both cases the threat, if threat there was, was dissolved quickly enough by the action of Bolivians and Panamanians themselves. There is need, however, to be vigilant in these matters. For the present, our Government seeks to buttress and protect existing régimes against the invasion of European influence by a policy of generous financial assistance and wise political coöperation. As long as it continues such a policy the installation of German-controlled governments in any Latin American state seems unlikely. We must not expect of these states that they will operate their governments precisely as we operate ours. We have already witnessed in some instances wide departures from accepted democratic forms, and may witness others. But the vital point lies, as I have said before, in the independence of these governments from European control. This is obviously tied up with the whole issue of the war, and with even larger considerations than those involved in the Monroe Doctrine.


There is, however, a third aspect of the principles of 1823 which needs to be discussed as of 1941, namely the tendency towards the international acceptance of them, a tendency not to be confused with the "good neighbor" policy or with Pan Americanism. Before discussing this matter in detail let me attempt to make the distinction between the three different policies clear.

The Monroe Doctrine deals, as I indicated at the beginning, with certain very specific problems: (1) the problem of possible European territorial aggrandizements or conquests in the New World; and (2) the problem of the possible translation to this hemisphere of forms of government alien to American ideals. Now the objectives of the good neighbor policy or of Pan Americanism obviously are far wider. The good neighbor policy has never been, and perhaps cannot be, exactly defined. But its central conception is that of a friendly, fair and considerate attitude on the part of the United States in dealing with the other republics of the New World. It means, of course, recognition of their interests, their aspirations, and their points of view. It has implied, and perhaps it inevitably implies, abstention from officious interference in their affairs, or from military interventions such as have marked our foreign policy at some epochs. It expresses a point of view rather than a fixed set of principles. The concept of Pan Americanism is not quite so nebulous. Pan Americanism may be defined as the coöperative activity of the American states in the political, economic or cultural spheres. Such activity may conceivably relate to the preservation of those interests especially marked for protection by the message of 1823. But, obviously, it might relate to much more besides -- to such specific matters as agreements on copyrights or patents, to agreements for the facilitation of trade, to cultural exchanges, to a vast variety of problems. Pan Americanism is no more identical with the tenets of Monroe than the good neighbor policy is.

When we speak, therefore, of the internationalization of the Monroe Doctrine we should not allow ourselves to be confused by the many encouraging signs of increasing coöperation between American states, but should address ourselves specifically to the question as to how far there has developed a movement to support that Doctrine by international action.

Certain steps have undoubtedly been taken in this direction, the first important one in December 1936. In that year, a special conference called at the suggestion of President Roosevelt met in Buenos Aires to consider the problem of the maintenance and preservation of international peace. This conference adopted a convention providing for international consultation "in the event that the peace of the American republics is menaced." Its language spoke only of common deliberation "for the purpose of finding and adopting methods of peaceful coöperation." It certainly did not imply, therefore, in any specific fashion, that there should be united action against an aggressor state. Nor was there anything more specific in the provision for consultation "in the event of an international war outside America."

In 1936, however, Germany's shadow was visible only to a relatively small number of persons, despite the progress of German rearmament and the clear warning given by the reoccupation of the Rhineland. But by the time the Pan American Conference convened in Lima in 1938, there had been an ominous development of German power, and it was clear that the world had escaped war only by the appeasement policy of Chamberlain and Daladier. At Lima, then, the solidarity of the American nations was more forthrightly expressed. In the well-known Declaration of December of that year the states of the New World not only affirmed "their spiritual unity," achieved "through the similarity of their republican institutions," but also declared "their continental solidarity and their purpose to collaborate in the maintenance of the principles upon which the said solidarity is based" and stated their decision to "maintain and defend" these principles "against all foreign intervention or activity that may threaten them." The Declaration continued: "In case the peace, security or territorial integrity of any American Republic is thus threatened by acts of any nature that may impair them, they proclaim their common concern and their determination to make effective their solidarity." In order to implement this pledge, provision was made for a special machinery of consultation, instead of leaving the matter largely to chance, as had been done at Buenos Aires. It was stipulated that the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the American republics, "when deemed desirable and at the initiative of any one of them," would "meet in their several capitals, by rotation, and without protocolary character."

The Declaration of Lima will no doubt impress different persons differently. Words are not deeds, and resolute declarations of intention may evaporate in the field of day-by-day activity. On the other hand, only the cynic will depreciate the impulse which lay behind the accord of 1938. Beyond all doubt that accord demonstrated the strength of the democratic ideal in the New World and set up the justified hope that it would be defended against aggression. Nor was the Declaration of Lima a mere form. Acting under its terms, the New World states met at Panama from September 23 to October 3, 1939, and adopted certain common resolutions with regard to the subject of neutrality; and what is more important for the subject of this paper, they met again in Havana from July 21 to 30, 1940, and drew up certain protocols very intimately related to the Monroe Doctrine.

The original message of Monroe said nothing about the transfer of territory from one European Power to another. But it was a logical deduction from its tenor that a change of territorial status in this hemisphere which, let us say, installed a powerful European state at the doors of an American republic, might be opposed. Without reference to the Doctrine, and indeed even before its enunciation, the United States opposed the transfer of West Florida, and still more, of Cuba, to any other Power. What was stated at first specifically, was stated generally and clearly by President Grant, and from 1870 forward it has been definitely understood that this country was opposed to territorial cessions in this hemisphere by New World states to Old World states or by one Old World state to another. Obviously, this question of possible transfer, rarely raised in practice during the nineteenth or early twentieth century, presented itself in an especially acute form with the German subjugation of Holland in the spring of 1940 and the subsequent conquest of France. What of the Dutch West Indies, or of Martinique and Guadeloupe? What of French Guiana? No one could tell what the future might hold. Taking time by the forelock, and acting not alone but in concert with the other American states, the United States proceeded to work out a formula at Havana in the summer of 1940. By the declaration there adopted, the American republics declared that they would consider "any transfer, or attempted transfer, of the sovereignty, jurisdiction, possession or any interest in or control over any such region to another non-American State . . . as against American sentiments and principles and the rights of American States to maintain their security and political independence." Emergency action was authorized on the part of any individual state. But there was also set up a machinery of international control, through an Inter-American Commission of Territorial Administration, over any territories which it might become necessary to occupy as a result of some threat from abroad. Ratification of the Protocol of Havana has already been deposited with the Pan American Union by nine states. Here, then, was a step towards common action in a matter falling within the scope of the Monroe Doctrine.

Since the Havana Conference there have been other signs of coöperative action falling within the purview of the principles of 1823. They include the negotiations with Uruguay and Brazil already mentioned, as well as those with states nearer at hand, such as Mexico and Panama. They evince a disposition on the part of American republics to coöperate in what may fairly be described as the implementation of the Doctrine. It is not possible as yet to comment on these arrangements in detail, but their large importance is sufficiently obvious.

We are, however, a long way from the complete internationalization of the Monroe Doctrine. It would be possible to speak of such a thing with accuracy only if much more sweeping steps were taken; if, for example, there existed a general agreement among the nations of the New World "to respect and preserve as against external aggression their territorial integrity, and their political independence." It would be necessary, too, for these nations to decide by common agreement, and not "by virtue of their individual capacities," as it was put at Lima, when the moment for common action had actually arrived. Such measures do not yet seem probable. It is not likely that they would be accepted today by all the states of Latin America, nor is it by any means certain that they would be accepted by our own opinion, in view of the reiterated assertion of American statesmen that the Monroe Doctrine is a national, not an international, policy, to be defined by the United States alone. Binding agreements of this type are repugnant to American tradition, and to the opportunism of the American mind; and Monroe's principles seem likely to be most effectively used in the future, as indeed they have been in the past, to give force and direction and emotional conviction to our own public opinion rather than to bring about a virtual alliance between the American republics.

And now a word as to a fourth and last aspect of the tenets of 1823 in terms of the present world. In some minds, as has been indicated, the Monroe Doctrine has been connected with isolationism. This is an undeniable fact. It has, in my judgment, been wrongly so connected. The words of Monroe's message are susceptible of more than one interpretation; but what is more important, as one of our most penetrating publicists, Archibald Cary Coolidge, pointed out more than thirty years ago,[i] it is fundamentally illogical and unnecessary to assume that because the United States has special interests which it desires and intends to protect in the Western Hemisphere, it is estopped from such measures as it may deem necessary to take in other parts of the world, or from such association with other Powers as it may deem desirable in the pursuit of its legitimate purposes and ambitions. As a matter of fact, in practice, no such deduction has been drawn; and neither our policy of expansion in the Pacific, following hard upon the heels of the Spanish-American War, nor our intervention in Europe in 1917 and 1918, was successfully, or even very frequently, contested on the ground of the violation of the principles of 1823.

The present war, moreover, has brought a forthright declaration on this point from the present Secretary of State, Cordell Hull. Early in July 1940, Herr von Ribbentrop brought up the argument, by no means adduced for the first time in Germany, that the Monroe Doctrine "contemplated" non-intervention in Europe. Secretary Hull's reply, given in a press statement of July 5, deserves to be quoted. "The Government of the United States," he said, "pursues a policy of non-participation and non-involvement in the purely political affairs of Europe. It will, however, continue to coöperate, as it has coöperated in the past, with all nations whenever the policies of such nations make it possible, and whenever it believes that such efforts are practicable and in its own best interests, for the purpose of promoting economic, commercial and social rehabilitation, and of advancing the cause of international law and order, of which the entire world stands so tragically in need today."

Never has the matter been put more clearly. And it has been interesting, in these latter months, to observe that rarely indeed have the isolationists made direct appeal to the principles of 1823. The grisly record of our times, then, underlines a fact which is also attested by the past: the Monroe Doctrine has not been, is not, and ought not to be, a cover for a policy of isolation, or a justification of that myopic sense of national interest which assumes that the Americas lie not merely in another hemisphere from Europe or Asia, but in another world, and that they remain unaffected by the tragic and, in some measure, inscrutable events unfolding on the other side of the two great oceans.

[i] "The United States as a World Power," New York: Macmillan, 1908.

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  • DEXTER PERKINS, Professor of History at the University of Rochester; author of "The Monroe Doctrine," "Hands Off: A History of the Monroe Doctrine," and other works
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