The Johnson Doctrine

By Rabe, Stephen G. | Presidential Studies Quarterly, March 2006 | Go to article overview

The Johnson Doctrine


Rabe, Stephen G., Presidential Studies Quarterly


As over 20,000 combat-ready U.S. troops landed in the Dominican Republic in late April and early May of 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson explained in a televised broadcast that "the American nations cannot, must not, and will not permit the establishment of another Communist government in the Western Hemisphere." (1) In his May 2, 1965 address to the nation, the president pronounced his Johnson Doctrine--the United States would act to block a Communist takeover of a Latin American republic. President Johnson had seemingly established a new and sweeping principle of U.S. foreign policy. The containment and defeat of the international Communist movement mattered more than adhering to the legal niceties of hemispheric affairs. Although Johnson emphasized the multilateral nature of the concern about communism in the Dominican Republic, the invasion was a unilateral action. The United States justified its decision to the Organization of American States (OAS) after military action had begun. The military intervention violated Article 15 of the charter of the OAS (1948), which prohibited any state from intervening "directly, or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state." The invasion also violated the nonintervention pledge that had been the fundamental component of the Good Neighbor policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt. And the invasion undermined the hemispheric partnership envisioned in President John F. Kennedy's socioeconomic development program, the Alliance for Progress (Rabe 1985, 95).

Although the 1965 intervention in the Dominican Republic represented the first overt U.S. military intervention in a Latin American nation in over thirty years, neither the intervention nor the pronouncement of the Johnson Doctrine marked a signal departure in the history of inter-American relations. Since the late nineteenth century, the United States has maintained a sphere of influence within the Western Hemisphere, for it has exercised predominant influence in the region and limited the freedom of action of Latin American nations. The United States has tried to maintain peace and order, exclude foreign (European) influences, expand U.S. trade and investment, and shape Latin America's development. The Johnson Doctrine easily falls within the parameters of those traditional regional objectives.

Modern U.S. policy toward Latin America can be divided into five distinct periods. From 1895 to 1901, the United States established its supremacy or hegemony in the Western Hemisphere. From 1901 to 1933, under the aegis of the Platt Amendment (1901) and the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine (1904), the United States repeatedly intervened militarily in the affairs of Mexico and Caribbean and Central American nations. From 1933 to 1945, with its Good Neighbor policy, the United States renounced the right of intervention in Latin America but expected Latin Americans to accept U.S. leadership. After World War II, the United States interpreted its relations with its southern neighbors through the prism of the Cold War and the U.S. confrontation with the Soviet Union. Since 1989-1991, in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. policy makers have worried less about foreign influences in the Western Hemisphere and focused on issues such as trade, immigration, and the illegal narcotics trade.

Historians point to the Venezuelan Boundary Crisis of 1895 as the beginning of the modern history of U.S. relations with Latin America. The United States demanded that the United Kingdom, the world's preeminent power, submit to binding arbitration the disputed boundary between Venezuela and British Guiana. The resolution of the long-standing boundary dispute gave Venezuela control over the mouth of the Orinoco River. But the Grover Cleveland administration did not act on behalf of Venezuela. The United States, now a dynamic industrial power, wanted to force the United Kingdom to accept U. …

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