Russia & China may be ready to challenge America's 'Monroe Doctrine'
For 200 years, the Monroe Doctrine – asserting a US sphere of influence over Latin America – has been a cornerstone of American policy. But as Russia and China assert their opposition to the US-led world order, American dominance in the region is beginning to look a little shaky.
As the “Russian invasion” scare enters its fourth month, and Russian tanks still fail to roll into Kiev, the parameters of Moscow’s likely response to the West’s rejection of its security demands are becoming a little clearer. Frustrated with what it sees as decades of Western contempt for its concerns, Moscow has demanded that the US offer it security guarantees, including a promise not to expand NATO further to the east. As has become clear through America’s negative response this week, the US has no intention of doing as Russia desires. The issue is now how the Kremlin will react.
Despite hysterical headlines in the Western media about a Russian invasion of Ukraine, Moscow has categorically ruled this option out. “Our nation has likewise repeatedly stated that we have no intention to attack anyone. We consider the very thought that our people may go to war against each other unacceptable,” said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexei Zaitsev this week.
This is not surprising. Russian officials and security experts have repeatedly made clear that Ukraine is a secondary issue and that their primary concern is a much broader one – the general nature of the international system and of the security architecture in Europe. The idea that failure to achieve agreement on the latter would lead to the invasion of the former was never very logical. Instead of targeting Ukraine, Russia’s response to the current diplomatic impasse is much more likely to be directed at the party deemed by Moscow to be most responsible for the problem, namely the US.
And what better way to do this than to challenge America in its own back yard? Since President James Monroe declared his famous “doctrine” in 1832 – according to which any foreign interference in the politics of the Americas is deemed a hostile act against Washington – the US has fiercely asserted its primacy in both North and South America.
Nowhere has this been clearer than in successive US administrations’ efforts to depose the government of Cuba, as well as the imposition of sanctions on that country for over 60 years. During the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Washington made it clear that it was willing even to risk nuclear war to prevent potentially hostile weaponry being deployed close to its borders. Meanwhile, elsewhere it has used other methods to undermine or overthrow Latin American governments deemed insufficiently friendly. These include supporting coups and insurgencies, such as aiding the Contras in Nicaragua in the 1980s.
But Washington’s ability to bend Latin America to its will appears somewhat weakened. Support for regime change in Bolivia and Honduras has backfired, with members of the deposed governments having returned to power. Meanwhile, China is expanding its Belt and Road Initiative into South America, with seven countries having signed up to join and negotiations under way with Nicaragua to add an eighth. The US is no longer the only player in town.
Russia has now stepped into the mix. In the past few weeks, President Vladimir Putin has held telephone conversations with the leaders of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, all countries with whom Washington has very poor relations. According to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, agreement was reached with all three “to deepen our strategic partnership, with no exceptions, including military and military-technical.”
Asked if this meant deploying Russian troops to those countries, Lavrov’s deputy Sergey Ryabkov failed to rule it in, but failed to rule it out also. “The president of Russia has spoken multiple times on the subject of what the measures could be, for example involving the Russian Navy, if things are set on the course of provoking Russia, and further increasing the military pressure on us by the US,” he said.
A much-discussed extreme option would involve going back to 1962 and placing missiles in Cuba or Venezuela. Given that Russia now has missiles with hypersonic capabilities, this would give it the capacity to strike the US in a matter of minutes, rendering any defense impossible.
It seems unlikely, though, that the Russian government would take such a provocative step unless the US first did something similar in Ukraine or elsewhere close to the Russian border. Even the option mentioned by Ryabkov of some Russian naval deployment to the region is far from certain. “We can’t deploy anything” to Cuba, said former president Dmitry Medvedev this week, arguing that it would harm that country’s prospects of improving its relations with the US and “would provoke tension in the world.”
Still, the threat of such action now dangles in the air. So, too, does the possibility of lesser options, such as additional arms sales as well as economic assistance to enable the Cubans and others to resist American sanctions. For now, we will have to wait and see exactly what “military and military-technical” measures Moscow has in mind. But it is likely that whatever it is will not be to the Americans’ liking. Nor will Russia’s more general support of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Reacting to talk of Russian military deployments in the Americas, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has promised that the Americans would respond “decisively.” This is somewhat ironic, since Sullivan and his peers in the US government seem to deny Russia the right to respond to American deployments close to its borders. But that is by the by. In reality, it’s hard to see what Washington could actually do, short of starting a catastrophic war. Efforts to overthrow the Cuban and Venezuelan government having failed, and economic ties having been almost fully broken, its leverage against those countries is weak.
Washington now has to face the reality that while it remains the foremost power in the world, it can no longer be fully confident of its hegemony even close to home. Its decline is a very gradual process. Nothing very dramatic will likely result from Russia’s latest announcement. It is also possible that Moscow would have decided to cooperate more deeply with Cuba and others even in the absence of current East-West tensions. But had relations been good, one can imagine that the Kremlin might have been inclined not to challenge the US in its own neighborhood.
As it is, the news highlights the fact that pressuring Russia is not a cost-free option from Washington’s point of view and may well rebound to its disadvantage. That’s something that the authorities in the White House could do well to consider.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.