What is the Big Stick Policy and How Did It Shape US Foreign Relations?

    What is the Big Stick Policy and How Did It Shape US Foreign Relations?

    The Big Stick policy was a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt to describe his approach to foreign affairs. The phrase comes from a West African proverb that says “Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” Roosevelt used this proverb to explain his relations with domestic and international actors, emphasizing the importance of diplomacy backed by a strong military presence.

    The Big Stick policy was most evident in Roosevelt’s dealings with Latin America and the Caribbean, where he applied the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine. The Monroe Doctrine, issued in 1823, declared that the Western Hemisphere was off-limits to European colonization and intervention. The Roosevelt Corollary, announced in 1904, asserted that the United States had the right and duty to intervene in the affairs of its neighbors if they were unable or unwilling to maintain order and sovereignty. This gave the United States a pretext to exercise its influence and protect its interests in the region.

    Some examples of the Big Stick policy in action are:

    • The Panama Canal: Roosevelt supported a revolt by Panamanian rebels against Colombia in 1903, which led to the creation of an independent Panama and the signing of a treaty that granted the United States control over a strip of land for building a canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal was completed in 1914 and became a vital strategic and commercial asset for the United States.
    • The Venezuela Crisis: In 1902, Venezuela defaulted on its debts to European creditors, who responded by blockading its ports and threatening military action. Roosevelt intervened and mediated a settlement that prevented war and ensured that Venezuela paid its obligations. He also established the principle that the United States would act as an “international police power” in cases of chronic wrongdoing by Latin American countries.
    • The Dominican Republic: In 1905, Roosevelt negotiated an agreement with the Dominican Republic, which was also facing financial troubles and foreign pressure. The agreement gave the United States control over the Dominican Republic’s customs revenues and allowed it to pay off its debts and stabilize its economy. The agreement also served as a model for similar arrangements with other Caribbean nations, such as Haiti and Nicaragua.

    The Big Stick policy had both positive and negative consequences for the United States and its neighbors. On one hand, it helped secure US interests and influence in the region, deterred European interference, promoted stability and development, and fostered goodwill and cooperation among some countries. On the other hand, it also provoked resentment and resistance among some countries, who saw it as an imperialist and paternalistic intervention that violated their sovereignty and dignity.

    Another aspect of Roosevelt’s foreign policy was his involvement in world affairs and his promotion of international peace and cooperation. He believed that the United States had a responsibility to use its influence for the good of humanity and to uphold the principles of civilization and democracy. Some examples of his efforts in this regard are:

    • The Russo-Japanese War: In 1904, war broke out between Russia and Japan over rival interests in Korea and Manchuria. Roosevelt feared that a prolonged conflict would destabilize the balance of power in Asia and threaten American interests. He offered to mediate between the two sides and hosted a peace conference in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1905. The resulting Treaty of Portsmouth ended the war and recognized Japan’s dominance in Korea and southern Manchuria, while preserving Russia’s rights in northern Manchuria. Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for his role in ending the war.
    • The Great White Fleet: In 1907, Roosevelt sent a fleet of 16 battleships on a 14-month voyage around the world to showcase American naval power and goodwill. The fleet, painted white for peacetime, visited ports in Latin America, Hawaii, Japan, China, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, and Europe. The voyage was a diplomatic success, as it demonstrated America’s global reach and fostered friendly relations with other countries.
    • The Hague Conferences: Roosevelt supported the international peace movement that sought to establish mechanisms for resolving disputes and preventing wars. He participated in the first and second Hague Conferences in 1899 and 1907, which aimed to create a permanent court of arbitration and to codify the laws of war. He also helped negotiate several treaties on specific issues, such as the limitation of naval armaments, the protection of submarine cables, and the rights of neutral countries.

    Roosevelt’s foreign policy marked a significant departure from the traditional isolationism that had guided American diplomacy since the founding of the republic. He believed that America had a global mission and a national interest that transcended its own borders. He also believed that America had the moral authority and the military might to shape the world according to its values and ideals. His legacy as a statesman and a leader is still evident today, as the United States continues to play a prominent role in international affairs.

    Hi, I’m Adam Smith

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