Monroe Doctrines in Asia?
Image Credit: US Navy

Monroe Doctrines in Asia?


Americans learn in grade school that the Monroe Doctrine was a phenomenon unique to US diplomatic history. Fashioned by Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and President James Monroe in 1823, it was in effect early America’s way of saying 'hands-off' to predatory outsiders. Latin America had largely cast off European rule early in the 19th century. US statesmen wanted to lock in these gains. They feared the European powers would attempt to reclaim lost empires in the New World, either through conquest or by creating client states.

Monroe and Adams sought to bias—or ‘shape’ in contemporary Pentagon lingo—the diplomatic environment against a return of the great powers. They put outsiders on notice that the United States regarded the security of the Americas as indivisible. That is, the US leadership would interpret any effort to subjugate any American republic as an unfriendly act toward the United States. Monroe and Adams engraved this axiom on US statecraft. It endured for a century, and arguably influences Washington’s handling of diplomatic affairs to this day.

Here endeth the history lesson (for the moment). Is the doctrine more than a distinctly US response to a specific set of circumstances? Some eminent statesmen think so. Fifty years ago, India’s founding prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, explicitly paid tribute to the precepts set forth by Monroe and Adams. Nehru used the doctrine to justify forcibly ousting the Portuguese from their centuries-old enclave at Goa, and he further cited it as the precedent for a ‘broad doctrine’ of benign Indian pre-eminence in South Asia.

Monroe and Adams wield authority from beyond the grave, it seems, and in some surprising quarters. And then there’s China. China subscribes to a kind of inverse Monroe Doctrine. Chinese pundits routinely castigate the United States for trying to superimpose a latter-day Monroe Doctrine on East Asia. They see such a doctrine as a device for containing Beijing’s rightful aspirations. In the same breath, they vehemently disavow any pretensions toward a Monroe Doctrine all their own. With apologies to Shakespeare, methinks the Chinese doth protest too much. Something’s going on there as well. One need not invoke Monroe by name to think in Monrovian terms.

It seems clear that something more universal than the preoccupations of early Americans manifested itself in the Monroe Doctrine. Something about the doctrine resonates with great powers that share certain attributes with 19th century America. While there are obvious differences between the United States then and rising Asian sea powers now, consider the similarities. The United States, India, and China are natural ‘hegemons,’ or overwhelmingly dominant powers, in home regions populated by lesser neighbours. They vastly overmatch nearby states by indices of national power ranging from territorial size to population to natural resources to gross domestic product to military potential. They inhabit distinct regions endowed with natural defences against outsiders’ exercise of political and military influence. Mountains, peninsulas, and sheer geographic distance are some of these. Furthermore, a nation that inclines to Monrovian thinking is a nation with considerable potential for sea power, since a hegemon puts its hands-off policy into effect chiefly on the high seas. And finally, a local hegemon with an anti-imperial and nonaligned past will likely find the Monroe Doctrine congenial.

The principles set forth by John Quincy Adams and James Monroe, then, could represent a natural precedent for nations that are roughly similar by these measures. Such nations could pattern their foreign policies and strategies on the Monroe Doctrine, as filtered through their own needs, interests, geopolitical circumstances, and history and traditions. The doctrine also presents outside observers with a device for tracking how rising powers may try to manage their geographic environs.

June 21, 2011 at 02:15

My point is that you are trying to lead me to agree with you that China is a lying nation whereas my contention is that all nations engage in lying…The US, Britain, India, China, ASEAN nations, Russia…etc. etc.

But they are times that they don’t lie but have only differences in opinion as in the South China Seas.

June 20, 2011 at 22:05


So what’s your points? I said the same?

It is better to live peacefully with the reality of existing geographical maps the nations rather then using history as a source of claims as you (acknowledge) the government may lie and history can be distorted by governments to suit their interests.

June 20, 2011 at 18:02


On 15th June 2011, US Senator Patrick Leahy at a Senate hearing (on US/Pakistan) questioned departing US State Secretary Bob Gates whether ” Other Government lies ..!!

Gate replied candourly : ” All Governments lie to each other” That’s how
business gets done.

I wish to extend the reach of lies even further. All Governments (whether democratic, communist, dictatorial) at some point or another and to various degrees frequently lie to their own people. Even more so to other countries depending on their self serving agenda.

In almost all countries, news are usually NOT HIDDEN and there are usually no major differences in content or about whether an incident has happened.

The difference is in the INTERPRETATION of the news.

Oftentimes, the politicians (or countries in their ideological contest) in collusion with the media give a self serving spin to it.

I was in China 2 months ago on holiday and the news I hear on all their TV channels before sleep time, especially those bad news happening in China are the same as what I see on Australian TV.

Try reading online The People’s Daily & The China Daily from China and then read the New York Times (On China section) or ABC news. You’ll be surprised it’s similiar in content.

India & China have been victims of media smears many times over.

June 19, 2011 at 18:08


I havn’t read “MBI Munshi’ book” so do not know what it says but I believe governments decision are taken on strategic interest and not on what some says or (even sometime against the a reality)

Will you not agree that what Chinese government do or say or claim cannot be always true? and since publication (specially on sensitive points) is state controlled then there is huge possibility the government can hide points which are against their counties strategic interest?
Do you disagree?

June 19, 2011 at 00:56

The author is merely trying to justify the USA’s original Monroe Doctrine which has no basis in International or Natural Law for that matter. The USA started out as small Dutch and English colonies, expanded to 13 English colony states followed by ethnic clensing of the Native Americans, the use of Black slave labor, and the grabbing competing French and Spanish colonies allowed the USA to expand continental wide.
There was no justification for the Monroe doctrine then and only economic and military power that enforced it. Nothing more nothing less. Now that the USA is no longer the economy supreme like it’s mentor Roman Republic it is subject to infighting, internal corruption and the poor and middle-class being down-trodden. The American empire last a hundred years. Will history be kind to her? Only time will tell.
For Indian commentators here to likewise claim a Monroe Doctrine for S. Asia is ludicrous and premature. Her smaller neighbours despise the Indian heavy handedness and machinations of RAW; China to India is not Egypt to Israel; and nor is Pakistan to India like the Palestinians to Israel. Any potential battleground is not easily navigable flat desserts but high mountains with the opposition having missiles and not stones.

June 18, 2011 at 20:42

Girish. By the way, I just realised that MBI Munshi’s book ” The India Doctrine 1947-2007 ” mentioned in his comment in this article might be the right place to look for the answers.

June 18, 2011 at 20:34

Girish..Thank you very much for trying so hard.

The period since India’s independence would be enough.

June 18, 2011 at 16:21


“By the way, there is an area of politics of India that have always made me curious. Could you enlighten us with your version?”

I didn’t get which area of polities you are talking about? there are many areas which require urgent improvement where as some areas are our milestones (infant case studies for others)such as sustaining a running worlds largest democracy in a larger, relatively poor and highly diverse country and also providing rapid growth which is second fastest in the world (with a potencial to become fastest)

“Why, how and when did territories like Arunachal Pradesh (which was once Southern Tibet), Sikkim and Nagaland became provinces of India ? ”

For that you need to read and understand India’s history which is fairly a long story of relatively 10,000+ years (as per your documentation and proofs) and about 5000 years as per internationally acknowledged facts.

I do not get by what logic it is established that AP was southern Tibet and even if it was (in a specific period of history) how relevant it is to use history as a source of logic to ascertain the claims in this world were shape and sizes of the kingdoms and countries keep on changes with time? China used history to claim Tibet and again history to claim AP as part of Tibet.

If you look at Indian history, entire south asia (including Afghanistan and many part of south east asia were ruled by many Indian rules in last thousands of years. So does that can be a logic to claim all the territories to be considered Indian?

I think it is more logical to settle with the current geographic as digging history for establishing logics will always fail.
Also the question will be from/to Date of which part of history are we talking about to make a claim? who will decide this parameter? the party who is making the claim?

Earlier there were only kingdoms who used to spread their culture as a footprint of influence and also the human settlements to territories with no man. And if logic of cultural similarities, similar looking people, once being part of one kingdom or since a great personality was born there, all these logic doesn’t fulfill the criteria of claiming a territories. As if that could be a logic then, I believe to a larger picture China, Korea and Japan should be one country and almost entire Africa (excluding South Africa) should be one country. no???

Indian subcontinents was many times ruled by either one rulers or got subdivided into many smaller kingdoms throughout its history.

Once India got independence and a one government established for Republic of India, all small kingdoms and province where invited to join Republic of India.

Almost all of them joined. Yes some of them where made to join (like goa and later Sikkim) as it was in the larger interest of Indian Republic and there is nothing bad in it as it was done with people’s consultation and choice and not by killing people or a forceful attempt.

Note: there is nothing bad in it as every country does that including China on the logic of larger strategic interest of the nation and latest example is Tibet itself but unfortunately it was not done with the peoples consent but rather by force.

I believe it is better to settle down and relax rather for all the nations as no one knows what will happen to all of the nations in future and to their geographical maps :-) as wheel of time never stops and nothing remains the same of ever.!!!

John Chan
June 18, 2011 at 07:35

@greg, I know there are a lot problems in China, as well as there were tens of thousands demonstrations in China. All those corruptions and embezzlements are really terrible. But nobody in the West is interested in those issues. All those anti-China bloggers are interested in smearing China with lies, twisted facts and distorted presentation. The West does not care the welfare of Chinese people, all they care is undermining China and breaking up China in the name of democracy and human rights, so they can enslave Chinese like in the era of unequal treaties.

greg, you are being disingenuous, you are saying the same thing as how the West smear China’s work in Africa, in order to whitewash their failure to build Africa after hundreds of years of occupying the land. Some western documentary such as History Channel gave totally different accounts from what you have said about China’s work in Africa.

Although the Chinese over enthusiasm behaviour may not compatible to the local culture in Africa, but by comparing with White people’s brutal exploitation in the Africa in the last few hundred years, I just wonder whether the West is qualified to question the Chinese without looking into the mirror themselves first.

Creating new name to derogate Chinese is a specialty of the civilized White people, it is their way to show their racist nature. You not only did not denounce such lowly behaviour, instead you are helping to spread it, it is really not worthy of you.

June 18, 2011 at 01:34

Rahul. Don’t misinterpret. I meant well. Only want to know why, how and when it happened from the Indian side. Call it sharing. No racism or color discrimination intended. If you feel offended by the apologies. Perhaps hopefully, someone from India will.

John Chan
June 17, 2011 at 23:06

@Leonard R,
Leonard, to the US it is “who need enemies with friends like you.” You reinforce China’s view on the US, an imperialist without principle. When Monroe Doctrine does not fit your need, you ditch it with specious explanation “The Monroe Doctrine is a bad, over-used analogy.”

China is a developing nation, yet she is bankrolling USA’s international power presence with trillions of dollars, and you called China free rider? Do you want China add “an ungrateful beggar” in her assessment list regarding the US?

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief