Top 6 Key U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines

Monroe Doctrine
Jame Monroe and officials creating the Monroe doctrine.

Bettmann/Getty Images 

Foreign policy can be defined as the strategy a government uses to deal with other nations. James Monroe pronounced the first major presidential foreign policy doctrine for the newly created United States on December 2, 1823. In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt made a significant amendment to the Monroe Doctrine. While many other presidents announced overarching foreign policy goals, the term "presidential doctrine" refers to a more consistently applied foreign policy ideology. The four other presidential doctrines listed below were created by Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush.

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Monroe Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine was a significant statement of American foreign policy. In President James Monroe's seventh State of the Union address, he made it clear that America would not allow European colonies to further colonize in the Americas or interfere with independent states. As he stated:

"With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not ... and shall not interfere, but with the Governments ... whose independence we have ... acknowledged, we [would] view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing ... or controlling [them], by any European power ... as an unfriendly disposition toward the United States."

This policy has been used by many presidents over the years, most recently John F. Kennedy.

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Roosevelt's Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine

In 1904, Theodore Roosevelt issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that significantly altered America's foreign policy. Previously, the US stated that it would not allow for European colonization of Latin America.

Roosevelt's amendment went further stating that the US would act to help stabilize economic problems for struggling Latin American nations. As he stated:

"If a nation shows that it knows how to act with reasonable efficiency and decency in social and political matters, ... it need fear no interference from the United States. Chronic wrongdoing ... in the Western Hemisphere ... may force the United States ... to the exercise of an international police power."

This is the formulation of Roosevelt's "big stick diplomacy."

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Truman Doctrine

On March 12, 1947, President Harry Truman stated his Truman Doctrine in an address before Congress. Under this, the US promised to send money, equipment, or military force to countries that were threatened by and resisting communism.

Truman stated that the US should:

"Support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures."

This began the American policy of containment to try and stop the fall of countries to communism and to halt the expansion of Soviet influence.

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Carter Doctrine

On January 23, 1980, Jimmy Carter stated in a State of the Union Address:

"The Soviet Union is now attempting to consolidate a strategic position, therefore, that poses a grave threat to the free movement of Middle East oil."

To combat this, Carter stated that America would see "an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region ... as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." Therefore, military force would be used if necessary to protect American economic and national interests in the Persian Gulf.

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Reagan Doctrine

The Reagan Doctrine created by President Ronald Reagan was in effect from the 1980s until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It was a significant change in policy moving from simple containment to more direct assistance to those fighting against communist governments. The point of the doctrine was to provide military and financial support to guerilla forces such as the Contras in Nicaragua. Illegal involvement in these activities by certain administration officials led to the Iran-Contra Scandal. Nonetheless, many, including Margaret Thatcher credit the Reagan Doctrine with helping bring about the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Bush Doctrine

The Bush Doctrine is not one specific doctrine but a set of foreign policies that George W. Bush introduced during his eight years as president. These were in response to the tragic events of terrorism that occurred on September 11, 2001. Part of these policies is based on the belief that those who harbor terrorists should be treated the same as those who are terrorists themselves. Further, there is the idea of the preventive war such as the invasion of Iraq to stop those who might be future threats to the US. The term "Bush Doctrine" made front-page news when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was asked about it during an interview in 2008.

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Kelly, Martin. "Top 6 Key U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Kelly, Martin. (2023, April 5). Top 6 Key U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines. Retrieved from Kelly, Martin. "Top 6 Key U.S. Presidential Foreign Policy Doctrines." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 1, 2023).