The Counselor for the Department of State (Lansing) to the Secretary of State

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I am submitting to you a memorandum upon the “Present Nature and Extent of the Monroe Doctrine and Its Need of Restatement,” since the questions, with which it deals, appear to me to require consideration and decision at the present time.

In all frankness I should say that my personal inclination has been against expanding our traditional policy in dealing with Latin America, and that I have been concerned over certain actions of this Government which seemed to be beyond the purposes of that policy. I approached the subject with this prejudice against any radical departure from established policy, but after taking into consideration the scope of the Monroe Doctrine, the present problems in Latin America, and the motives which to-day inspire our conduct in the international affairs of this hemisphere, I have been compelled to change my views.

It seems to me that the logic of the situation is irresistible, and that we must modify our present declared policy.

Whether this is to be done by a wider application of the Monroe Doctrine so as to include new methods of obtaining political control by European powers; or whether it is to be done by announcing a new doctrine, which will include the present standard of international duty, are questions which I am not prepared to answer without a more careful study of the subject. But that something should be done I am convinced, if this Government is to avoid the charge of insincerity and inconsistency in its relations with Latin America, [Page 460] of which suggestions are already too frequent and not without apparent justification.

When you have had opportunity to examine the annexed memorandum I would like very much to discuss the subject with you.

Very sincerely yours,

Robert Lansing

Memorandum by the Counselor for the Department of State (Lansing)1

Present Nature and Extent of the Monroe Doctrine, and Its Need of Restatement

The Monroe Doctrine is in substance that the United States considers an extension of political control by a European power over any territory in this hemisphere, not already occupied by it, to be a menace to the national safety of the United States.

In 1828, when the doctrine was enunciated, the dangers of the extension of European political power on this continent lay in the possible occupation of unsettled regions and in the conquest of the territory of an independent American state.

Later, during the Polk Administration, another danger was recognized in the possibility of a voluntary cession of territory by an American state to a European power, and the Monroe Doctrine was shown to be broad enough to include this means of acquiring political dominion.

While the primary idea of the Monroe Doctrine is opposition by the United States to any extension of European control over American territory or institutions, the idea is subject to the modification that the control must possess the element of permanency.

When the hostile occupation of the territory of an American state or the coercion by force of its government by a European power is intended to be temporary, and is employed solely as a means to compel the government of the state to meet a particular international obligation, which it has wilfully neglected or refused to perform, the territorial occupation or coercion would not appear to be in violation of the Monroe Doctrine. Nevertheless the intention of temporary control must be beyond question, and any indication of converting temporary control for a particular purpose into permanent control for general purposes would bring the case within the scope of the Doctrine and [Page 461] create a situation, in which the United States might be compelled to intervene.

Just how far a European government should be permitted to exercise control over American territory or over an American government as a means of obtaining redress for an international wrong is a question which must be decided in each case upon the facts. If it may be reasonably presumed from the circumstances surrounding the assumption of control or from the length of time it continues that the intention is to make it permanent, denial of such intention by the controlling power should in no way interfere with the assertion by the United States of its established policy or with its insistence that the European aggressor immediately withdraw from the territory or surrender its control.

In dealing with the cases as they arise the two essential elements of the Monroe Doctrine must be constantly borne in mind; first, that the doctrine is exclusively a national policy of the United States and relates to its national safety and vital interests; and second, that the European control, against which it is directed, must possess the element of permanency, or a reasonable possibility of permanency.

While occupation and conquest, as means of obtaining political control over American territory by a European power, are acts of that power alone, voluntary cession, as a means, is the mutual act of the two governments which are parties to the transfer. As a consequence the inclusion of voluntary cession among the acts of acquisition, against which the Monroe Doctrine is directed, introduces the necessary corollary that it may be invoked against an American government as well as against a European government. It is manifest from this that the Monroe Doctrine is, as has been said, a national policy of the United States and also that it is not a Pan-American policy. The opposition to European control over American territory is not primarily to preserve the integrity of any American state—that may be a result but not a purpose of the Doctrine. The essential idea is to prevent a condition which would menace the national interests of the United States.

In case it should become necessary to enforce the Monroe Doctrine against another American republic, which has ceded or apparently intends to cede any of its territorial rights to a European power, the preventive action of the United States would appear to be a direct interference with the sovereign authority of the American republic over its own territory. Logically such action, in case a cession is made or intended, amounts to an assertion of the primacy of the United States in the Western Hemisphere. The primacy of one nation, though possessing the superior physical might to maintain it, is out of harmony with the principle of the equality of [Page 462] nations which underlies Pan-Americanism, however just or altruistic the primate may be.

While, therefore, the Monroe Doctrine and Pan-Americanism may come into conflict, the Monroe Doctrine will in case of conflict prevail so long as the United States maintains the Doctrine and is the dominant power among the American nations. The equality of American republics and, in a measure, their independence are legal rather than actual, but it is necessary to acknowledge their legal existence, if the theory of Pan-Americanism is accepted. The Monroe Doctrine, on the contrary, is founded upon no assumptions of this character but upon a fact, namely, the superior power of the United States to compel submission to its will whenever a condition arises involving European control over American territory, which, because of the permanent nature of the control, is considered to be a menace to the national safety of the United States.

The Monroe Doctrine, therefore, should not be confused with Pan-Americanism. It is purely a national policy of the United States, while Pan-Americanism is the joint policy of the American group of nations. The Pan-American policy may support and may probably be considered as invariably supporting the idea of the Monroe Doctrine in opposing the extension of European political control over any portion of this continent. The reason, however, for such support will not be the national safety of the United States, but the mutual protection of American nations from European attempts upon their independence. In its advocacy of the Monroe Doctrine the United States considers its own interests. The integrity of other American nations is an incident, not an end. While this may seem based on selfishness alone, the author of the Doctrine had no higher or more generous motive in its declaration. To assert for it a nobler purpose is to proclaim a new doctrine.

As stated, this traditional policy, as originally declared and subsequently defined, relates to European acquisition of political power in America by means of occupation, conquest or cession of territory. There is, nevertheless, another method by which such power may be acquired, a method, which to-day can be more easily and more successfully employed than those to which the Monroe Doctrine has been in the past applied. It is a mode of extending political power, which, in my opinion, has caused much of the confusion and uncertainty as to the scope of the Monroe Doctrine because of its gradual development and the failure to recognize it as in practical conflict with that policy.

Within the past quarter of a century the rapid increase of wealth in the United States and the great nations of Europe has caused their people, in constantly increasing numbers, to seek investments in [Page 463] foreign lands. No richer field has been presented than the vast undeveloped resources of the republics south of the United States. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been expended in these lands by the capitalists of this country, Great Britain, France, Germany, and other European nations in the construction of railways, the establishment of steamship lines, the development of mines, the cultivation of cotton, fruits, and other agricultural products, and the operation of various industrial enterprises.

In the opening up of these countries and the development of their resources their governments require financial aid, or seize the opportunity to replenish their treasuries. Eager investors, appreciating the natural riches of these regions and the possibilities of reward to those who obtain the right to exploit them, lend their money readily in exchange for special privileges, concessions and large rates of interest.

The governments of many of these republics, impoverished and improvident and frequently in the hands of unscrupulous and greedy men, careless of the future and heedless of their country’s welfare, borrow beyond the limit of their capacity to repay, hypothecating every possible source of national revenue for years to come. As a result some of the smaller American republics, ruled by military dictators or oligarchies, who have enriched themselves at the expense of their countries, have become hopelessly bankrupt. In some cases the United States, in others a European power, is the chief creditor, to whose favor the insolvent nation must look for the means to continue its political existence.

With the present industrial activity, the scramble for markets, and the incessant search for new opportunities to produce wealth, commercial expansion and success are closely interwoven with political domination over the territory which is being exploited.

The European power, whose subjects supply the capital to install and operate the principal industries of a small American republic and furnish the funds upon which its government is dependent, may, if it so wishes, dominate the political action of the American government. To state it in another way, a European power whose subjects own the public debt of an American state and have invested there large amounts of capital, may control the government of the state as completely as if it had acquired sovereign rights over the territory through occupation, conquest or cession.

The question, which is unavoidable, but which can only be answered after mature thought for it is pregnant with difficulties and with seeming departures from the time-honored policy of the United States, is this—

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When by reason of commercial and financial domination a European power becomes undoubted master of the political conduct of an American republic, is a condition presented which may justify the United States in applying to it the Monroe Doctrine with the same vigor, with which it would have applied the Doctrine if the European power had by force or treaty established a protectorate over the American republic?

If the conditions are compared, it is evident that in both cases a European nation has extended political control over American territory; and in both cases the element of permanency is present. They are to all intents identical in their results, though they differ in the means by which the results were obtained.

The United States would certainly oppose the surrender by an American republic of all or a portion of its sovereignty to one of the great powers of Europe. It would be a voluntary and peaceable act of the republic, but it would be manifestly contrary to the Monroe Doctrine. If voluntarily and peaceably an American republic becomes so financially dependent upon a European power that the latter controls the government of the former, is not that also contrary to the Monroe Doctrine? Is not one case as great a menace to the national safety of the United States as the other? If there is a practical distinction between the two cases, what is that distinction? If there is no practical distinction, why should the Monroe Doctrine not be applied to both?

These questions suggest the following:

Has the time arrived, as a result of modern economic conditions in Central and South America, when the Monroe Doctrine, if it is to continue effective, should be restated so as to include European acquisition of political control through the agency of financial supremacy over an American republic?

If a more radical change of policy than the one suggested by the foregoing query seems necessary and advisable under present conditions the question to be answered may be stated thus:

Should a new doctrine be formulated declaring that the United States is opposed to the extension of European control over American territory and institutions through financial as well as other means, and having for its object, not only the national safety and interests of this country, but also the establishment and maintenance of republican constitutional government in all American states, the free exercise by their people of their public and private rights, the administration of impartial justice, and the prevention of political authority from becoming the tool of personal ambition and greed, the chief enemies of liberal institutions, of economic development, and of domestic peace?

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Stated in a more general way the question is this:

Do not the modern ideals and aims of government in the United States require us to abandon the purely selfish principle, which has so long controlled our policies in dealing with other American nations, and to adopt more altruistic and humanitarian principles, which will be in harmony with the sense of fraternal responsibility, which is increasingly dominant in all our international relations?

In the presentation of these questions there is no intention to advocate a particular policy in dealing with the international affairs of the Western Hemisphere. They are submitted solely for the purpose of suggesting possible changes in the Monroe Doctrine, either conservative or radical, which will be more in accord with modern ideals and conditions. It appears to me to be necessary, in order to avoid confusion and contradiction in the future conduct of affairs of the Department, to determine definitely whether the Monroe Doctrine should remain unchanged, should be restated, or should be superseded. Uncertainty as to the policy, which this Government intends to pursue, will undoubtedly cause embarrassment when special cases are presented for action. The subject, in my judgment, should receive prompt and careful consideration.

Robert Lansing
  1. Filed separately under file No. 710.11/185½.