U.S. leaders once understood and accepted that strong powers would insist on a security zone and broad sphere of influence in their immediate geographic region. Indeed, as just a middling power, the United States boldly asserted such a policy with the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine in 1823. The key passage warned conservative European monarchies: “We should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety.”
Yet, U.S. policymakers now denounce as illegitimate similar bids to establish even modest security zones by other major powers. That point is especially evident in Washington’s conduct toward Russia.
The United States and its NATO allies officially repudiate even the concept of spheres of influence, contending that it has no place in the modern international system. Condoleezza Rice, President George W. Bush’s secretary of state, made that point explicitly in response to Moscow’s 2008 military intervention in Georgia. She scorned the notion of Russian primacy along the perimeter of the Russian Federation as the manifestation of “some archaic sphere of influence.” Secretary of State John Kerry expresses similar views. In November 2013, he even declared that “the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over.” Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the Kremlin’s unsubtle support for secessionist forces in eastern Ukraine, Kerry asserted that “you don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion” by invading a neighbor.