As it approaches its bicentennial, the Monroe Doctrine is making a comeback in the United States political debates. It asserts that America will oppose foreign incursions in the Western Hemisphere by powers outside of it. Potential presidential candidates like Vivek Ramaswamy and Ron DeSantis are advocating for the revival of the doctrine. They are using it to justify a potential U.S. military attack on criminal organizations in Mexico. Their views have been influenced by former President Donald Trump, who praised Monroe at the United Nations, along with advisors like John Bolton and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
While the Biden administration has refrained from explicitly mentioning the Monroe Doctrine, it has warned about China’s increasing presence in the Western Hemisphere, echoing the principles of the doctrine. This marks a shift in the relevance of the Doctrine, as it had previously been linked to U.S. Cold War interventions and unilateralism in the region. Despite the doctrine being widely considered toxic, U.S. politicians have struggled to distance themselves from its legacy, and U.S. actions and words in Latin America continue to be viewed through the lens of the Monroe Doctrine. Monroe and Adams announced the tenets that would become known as the Monroe Doctrine in 1823, which included the establishment of separate spheres between Europe and the Americas and opposition to European attempts at reconquest and territorial ambitions in Latin America and the Pacific Northwest. At the time, the doctrine was not backed up by military force, but it allowed the U.S. to show solidarity against European conquest. The doctrine grew in importance over the years, being invoked to ward off adversaries worldwide. However, it also offered protection to Latin American countries while allowing the U.S. to define threatening actions and determine how to respond to them. Despite its association with unilateralism and interventionism, some Latin American liberals and U.S. abolitionists hoped to use the Monroe Doctrine to promote a hemispheric destiny based on law and solidarity. They sought to break free from Old World wars and intrigues and criticized the expansion of imperial powers that could reach their shores. In addition, the doctrine also served isolationists to argue against the U.S. involvement in European alliance politics. President Teddy Roosevelt further deepened the doctrine’s association with unilateral U.S. interventions, emphasizing the right and duty of the U.S. to police its neighborhood. President Woodrow Wilson largely shared this view, incorporating Monroe into the League of Nations Charter and soured Latin Americans on the doctrine. Today, the Monroe Doctrine has proven to be a divisive issue, with both proponents and opponents using it to advance their political agendas.