IT WAS BURIED DEEP in his State of the Union address to Congress. A warning to the great powers of his day that any attempt to once again colonise the Western Hemisphere would be regarded as a direct threat to the national security of the United States of America. The year was 1823. The President delivering the State of the Union address was James Monroe. And the declaration that the entire Western Hemisphere of the globe was an American sphere of influence became known as “The Monroe Doctrine”. It remains a core principle of US foreign policy to this very day.
What amazes historians about the Monroe Doctrine is the sheer affrontery of the United States in declaring half the world off-limits to powers in possession of considerably more wealth and military strength than itself. One can only imagine the lips of the rulers of Great Britain, France, Russia and Prussia curling in contempt at this jackanape of a republic presuming to teach the world its business.
Not that the great powers of the day misunderstood the reasoning motivating President Monroe and his advisers. The Spanish Empire: which had once embraced the whole of the South American continent (except Brazil) Central America and what is now Mexico, the South-Western states of the US and California; had just lost, or was in the process of losing, her American possessions – just as, forty years earlier, Great Britain had lost her thirteen North American colonies. Monroe’s Doctrine warned Europe’s rulers: “Don’t even think about trying to take them back!”
Why, then, is it so difficult, one year from the 200th anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, for the United States to comprehend why the Russian Federation might want to declare Eastern Europe, the Ukraine in particular, off-limits to the NATO alliance?
Twice, in just over a century, vast armies have swept eastward across the Great European Plain to wreak havoc upon the peoples of, first, the Russian Empire, and then the Soviet Union. In the last invasion, led by Nazi Germany (in alliance with Romania, Hungary and Italy) more than 20 million Soviet citizens lost their lives. Had the Nazis won, it was their plan to starve as many again to death, emptying the broad wheatlands of the Ukraine of human inhabitants in preparation for their permanent “Germanisation”.
It is a melancholy fact that the only American president who truly appreciated what had happened to the Russian people was John F. Kennedy. Hardly surprising, really, since his refusal to tolerate the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba, which he deemed to be a violation of the Monroe Doctrine, had brought him face-to-face with the certainty that casualties numbering in the scores-of-millions would be America’s fate if he and General-Secretary Khrushchev did not step back from the brink of Armageddon.
In his famous 1963 speech to the students of the American University, in Washington DC, Kennedy described the Soviet Union’s experience in terms these young Americans could understand:
“[N]o nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of the Second World War. At least 20 million lost their lives. Countless millions of homes and farms were burned or sacked. A third of the nation's territory, including nearly two thirds of its industrial base, was turned into a wasteland – a loss equivalent to the devastation of this country east of Chicago.”
The Cuban Missile Crisis was, of course, sparked by the United States decision to install Jupiter nuclear-tipped missiles along the Soviet Union’s border with Turkey – a NATO ally. The quiet withdrawal of those missiles was the quid-pro-quo for Khrushchev’s withdrawal of his Cuban missile batteries.
If the United States President, Joe Biden, has forgotten the lessons of 60 years ago, then the Russian Federation President, Vladimir Putin, has not. Unacceptable in 1962, the stationing of significant military resources (including tactical nuclear weapons) along Russia’s borders remains unacceptable in 2022.
Would the United States tolerate a hostile, Russian-backed, military alliance refusing to rule out inviting Mexico to become a member? Any US President who allowed a nuclear-armed rival to establish a puppet regime just across America’s southern border would be rightly accused of abandoning the Monroe Doctrine, and impeached.
Why, then, can’t President Joe Biden acknowledge that President Putin is asserting no more than President Monroe – and with considerably greater justification?
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 14 January 2022.
That is a very perceptive article, where you lay out in vivid detail the lessons from history that are repeating today.
For quite some time now, the US has taken a unilateral view of the world. Recall that the US has arrogated to itself the right to veto the decisions that the US mislikes that are made by the people of any country. Just ask any non-US nation west of the Azores and east of the Kamchatka Peninsula. Just ask Yugoslavia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan...
Yet any other nation that might have an interest in what happens on their own borders - Ukraine, Georgia, and, one anticipates, Kazakhstan - boy does the US kick up a row!
The US whangs on sanctions at any excuse whatever, and often none. Yet when Russia decides to withhold gas supplies to Ukraine on account of Ukraine's non-payment and Ukraine's outright theft, WHOA, blow me down, there's the Good Ol' US of goddam A accusing Russia of 'weaponising' the gas supply. On Nordstream 2 the hold up is due either to US orders or EU red tape (probably both) - and out comes the 'Russia weaponising' gag once more.
The cynical hypocrisy exhibited by the US on the global stage is un-bally-believable.
Whatever sauce Monroe/Biden likes on his goose, it is too gamey upon a gander served up by chef V.V. Putin.
Ion A. Dowman
You missed out Nazi Germany's democratic ally in the war against the USSR - Finland.
Technically, New Zealand was at war with Finland. We even seized a Finish sailing ship, the Pamir.
By the same token, with the history of the USSR IN the Ukraine, you can see why they want nothing to do with Russia.
Why are he and the guy in Belarus the only dictators left in Europe?
Zertainly, for such folk, you make a good case. If I were Ukrainian I'd wish to be in NATO.
Putin sees the world as the power of power, but doesn't understand it comes from freedom and democracy, at least in the West.
Yes, if he leaves Ukraine alone by an agreement for that country not to join NATO it's a good thing.
I wondered when you would venture into by far the most important news that has been going on fr the last month Chris. Good stuff!
From whatI have been reading, a referendum on Nato membership taken in Ukraine would be unlikely to produce a positive outcome; especially if the Donbas was included in the vote, but probably iether way. The government of Ukraine at present is the result of a coup that deposed the elected government and imposed an American puppet regime in it's place. Zelensky was certainly elected enthusiastically but he is not in total control of his government and is loosing support hand over fist.
He is aware however that his country is on the verge of becoming the meat in the US/Russian sandwich. And is going to avoid that if he can. But it will be the US that forces that on him if anyone does; not Russia. All our MSM is making out that Russia is about to invade Ukraine, but tere era ethnic Russian people throughout the country who would be in the middle of any such action .
In a recent pole taken in Russia 4% believed that trouble in Ukraine was being instigated from Russia, 25% from Ukraine itself and the remainder thought it was from the USA. A similar pole taken in Ukraine came out with very similar percentages. Few people in Ukraine think their country is being run by Ukrainians.
I'm pretty sure that Putin in not among the 4% of Russians who think that Russia is threatening Ukraine. He is perfectly clear about where his problems lie and it isn't next door. If he makes a move to stop NATO expansion to his border it will not be Ukraine that Russia attacks , it will be where the problem lies.
D J S
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