The Monroe Doctrine was set out by the USA’s President Monroe in 1823. In it he proclaimed that the ‘old’ European powers should no longer interfere in the affairs of the Americas. The doctrine was a response to a British suggestion that Britain and the USA should jointly warn off France and Spain from intervening in American affairs. The USA recognised the newly independent states of the Argentine, Chile, Colombia and, of course, Mexico. The USA also bought Florida from Spain, and warned Mexico, and Russia, off expansion in the Oregon country. Britain was in negotiations with the USA over announcing a joint doctrine, when anti-British sentiment in Washington prompted a unilateral declaration of the Monroe Doctrine.  Famously John Quincy Adams said: “It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly ... than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war.” This was open recognition that the Monroe Doctrine was only possible under the protection of the Royal Navy.  For most of the 19th century Pax Britannica enabled British commercial interests to flourish, led to the spread of the English language, Parliamentary democracy, British rules for commodity markets based on English common law, and even the Imperial system of weights and measures. Britain was not entirely altruistic: At the time Central and South America offered much larger markets for British goods than the USA, and over the next century Britain built an informal, economic empire in South America. Like many USA policies, then and now, the Monroe Doctrine was applied selectively. The Hollywood version of the Battle of El Alamo, in 1836, is well known, but the Texans went on to win their war of independence from Mexico.

By 1848 the USA had forced upon Mexico a treaty under which half a million square miles, which now form the present day states of California, Nevada, Utah and parts of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Wyoming, were ripped away. In 1898 the USA promoted a war in Cuba which led to its quasi-independence and by the beginning of the 20th Century President Roosevelt, while confirming the Monroe Doctrine, asserted the USA’s rights to intervene in Central American affairs. Soon the USA was actively intervening in all South American affairs, most notoriously in the overthrow of the democratically elected President Allende of Chile in the early 1970s. Meanwhile, the economies of South America, which once ranked alongside those of France and Germany, rose and fell. But times they are a-changin’ and, on the back of oil revenues, two countries in particular (Mexico and Venezuela) are in the ascendant. While President Chavez of Venezuela seems to be looking towards the past, with ambitions for a Cuba-style, centrally controlled quasi-Marxist state, President Calderon of Mexico is encouraging foreign investment. Calderon was recently reported as saying: “We are thinking all day, every day, how can we attract more investment to Mexico?” The Mexican way seems to be the right policy. While Venezuela is flush with dollars its economy is 50th or so measured by GDP, while Mexico is near to the top ten economies in the world. Mexico’s foreign policy is also becoming more extrovert. Traditionally, Mexico has been a moral influence in world affairs and has not sought to intervene nor, like Chavez’s Venezuela, to apply political or economic pressure. Now Mexico is displaying a more proactive policy too, and is considering a change to its constitution, which would, for example, allow Mexican armed forces to collaborate more fully with the UN. The Mexican Navy is well placed to benefit from these changes. With both Caribbean and Pacific coasts, Mexico’s waters are huge. The Mexican Navy has two main tasks: To protect offshore wells in the Mexican Gulf and, during hurricane relief, to give immediate help. The Mexican Navy consists of over 37,000 men and women (which makes it as big in personnel terms as today’s Royal Navy). It has over 300 vessels and is organised into two independent groups: The Gulf and Pacific forces, each with its own headquarters, a destroyer group, an auxiliary vessel group, a marine infantry group, and a Special Forces group. The Navy also has its own air arm, and other naval infrastructure extends to dockyards, which are significant in terms both of the Mexican economy and employment. Quietly, the Mexican Navy has been modernising: It is well-run and well-organised, has a close relationship with the USN, and has, as recently as October 2007, revealed ambitions for further modernisation. With a sound infrastructure and good organic growth, the Mexican Navy will be a player on the world stage, where it can truly fulfil a vital role in the international security system. And the recent deployment of a Mexican amphibious assault ship to supply disaster relief and humanitarian aid to citizens of the USA - at a time when Washington was finding it difficult to help its own people in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - was surely a foretaste of what is to come from an increasingly confident and capable fleet.

ARM Sonara, a new Durango Class Offshore Patrol Vessel.

Photo: ARM Sonora, a new Durango Class Offshore Patrol Vessel of Mexico’s fleet.

Photo: Mexican Navy. .