Theodore Roosevelt's approach to the subject of foreign affairs is best summed up by his famous slogan: "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Roosevelt's subtle, yet aggressive stance when it came to diplomacy and foreign policy during his presidency did much to raise the profile of the United States among the major world powers of the early 20th century. On the other hand, the imperialist tendencies of Roosevelt's approach to foreign affairs often had disastrous consequences for nations and governments that stood in his way.
The Roosevelt Corollary
Theodore Roosevelt was considerably aggressive in his approach to foreign affairs, particularly when it came to the subject of Latin America. In 1902, several European powers became involved in a dispute with the dictator of Venezuela, Cipriano Castro, over unpaid debts. Aggravated by Europe's direct involvement in Latin American affairs, Roosevelt sent a large American fleet to Venezuela to resolve the dispute by threatening war with Germany. This led to a compromise between European nations and Venezuela. This event also led to a shift in American foreign policy, known as the Roosevelt Corollary. The Corollary expanded upon the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 by adding that the United States reserves the right to use military force should European nations attempt to intervene in Latin American affairs.
During Roosevelt's involvement in the Spanish-American War as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, he became well aware of how difficult it was for ships to get around the tip of South America in order to meet up with fleets in Cuba. As president, one of Roosevelt's main foreign affairs initiatives was to construct an American-operated canal through South America so ships could travel across the continent instead of around it. Despite push back from the Colombian government, Roosevelt was able to spark a revolution in Panama, which led to the country's independence from Columbia and the signing of the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty of 1903. This treaty gave the United States perpetual control of a canal to be built through Panama. The canal is now ubiquitously known as the Panama Canal.
Relations With Cuba
Securing unilateral American relations with Cuba was a priority for Theodore Roosevelt throughout much of his career. As commander of the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt was able to emerge as a national hero after the Battle of San Juan Hill, which was a decisive turning point for American forces in Cuba. As president, Roosevelt became involved with Cuba by signing the Cuban-American Treaty of 1903. The treaty normalized relations with a newly independent Cuba and secured the lease of Cuban lands for American use. Military bases, such as the American military base at Guantanamo Bay, were established on these leased lands.
The Merits of Speaking Softly
Despite his constant turn to "big stick" diplomacy in order to expand American foreign influence, Roosevelt offered to act as the mediator of peace negotiations between Russia and Japan at the conclusion of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. Peace negotiations were hosted by Roosevelt and the U.S. Navy in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and led to an agreement between Russia and Japan over territorial claims.This subtle approach to resolving an intensely bloody dispute between the two foreign nations earned Roosevelt a Nobel Peace Prize in 1906. Roosevelt's success in mediating a resolution between the two nations also served to significantly raise the United States' diplomatic profile on the world stage.
- The Miller Center at the University of Virginia: American President: Theodore Roosevelt: Foreign Affairs
- Foreign Affairs: Theodore Roosevelt and the Prelude to 1914
- The Heritage Foundation: Remaking the World: Progressivism and American Foreign Policy
- U.S. Department of State: Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, 1904
- Virginia Western Community College: Theodore Roosevelt and the Panama Canal
- Yale Law School: Convention for the Construction of a Ship Canal (Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty), November 18, 1903
- Yale Law School: Agreement Between the United States and Cuba for the Lease of Lands for Coaling and Naval stations; February 23, 1903
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