In the records of United States–Latin American diplomacy, the centuries-old Monroe Doctrine and Platt Amendment remain powerful symbols of the US's high-handed, unilateral and interventionist tendencies—as well as of its propensity to justify those actions with lofty rhetoric. When US Secretary of State John Kerry declared in 2013 that ‘the era of the Monroe Doctrine is over’, his audience at the Organization of American States understood his point—whether or not they were inclined to believe him. In a remarkable and thoughtful book, Juan Pablo Scarfi examines what he calls the ‘hidden history’ of international law in the Americas in the early twentieth century. International law was a field where power was exercised and contested. Although, the US's meteoric international rise was marked by armed interventions and gunboat diplomacy in the circum-Caribbean, it also used international law to ‘support and legitimize imperial and missionary projects’. Scarfi's account—which combines international and intellectual history—focuses on the ideas, careers and interactions of several prominent international lawyers and diplomats, as well as the institution that brought them together. The American Institute of International Law (AIIL) emerged from the initiative of Elihu Root and James Scott, but it thrived in great part thanks to backing from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Perhaps due to the contrast between the AIIL and military interventions, the institute enjoyed Latin American support for much of its history. While Scarfi sees the AIIL as hampered by US-centrism, calling it a ‘Pan American legal network of hegemonic interactions, a US-led space’ (p. 47), it laid the groundwork for increasing Latin American contestation in the legal sphere. The US international legal project, often connected to a multi-faceted pan-Americanism, gained the support of many Latin American jurists, especially up until the mid-1920s, but not without some disagreements. Latin Americans reinterpreted the Monroe Doctrine as a multilateral and hemispheric legal principle, contrary to US President Theodore Roosevelt's defensive, unilateral and political conception of it. While numerous historians have, for decades, noted Latin American ambivalence about the Monroe Doctrine, Scarfi makes a particular contribution through his exploration of its intersection with American international law. He divides contesting interpretations along four dimensions: intervention vs non-intervention; unilateral vs multilateral; political vs international legal; and national vs hemispheric (p. 59). Prominent jurists including the Chilean Alejandro Alvarez even defended the pro-intervention Platt Amendment for its supposed progressive and civilizing influence on Cuba. Later, Alvarez would advance the inclusion of early articulations of human rights and humanitarian intervention in the creation of a distinct body of international law for the Americas. Latin American diplomacy is known for its legal emphasis, and particularly for its adherence to principles of sovereign equality and non-intervention. Scholars including Kathryn Sikkink and Mary Ann Glendon have illustrated Latin Americans' central roles in the formation of regional and global human rights norms and institutions. Provocatively, Scarfi argues that this Latin American legal tradition was built on top of a US-led ‘missionary’ network and thus incorporates US influence—even when it was ostensibly opposing the US. Scarfi especially credits the weakening of US unilateral interventionism to Argentine jurist and foreign minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas. Though a member of the AIIL board, Saavedra Lamas felt no compunctions about working outside its framework to promote a South America-led solution to South American conflicts. This took the shape of the 1933 Anti-War Treaty, which connected the promotion of peace with absolute non-intervention and sovereign equality. Support for the treaty and its principles helped shift the balance from US-led pan-Americanism in favour of a multilateral and nominally egalitarian basis for international relations in the Americas. In a sense, Saavedra Lamas was pushing on an open door, as the US had already started moving away from armed intervention under President Herbert Hoover due to the rising diplomatic and military costs of protracted occupations. From the vantage point of some of the Latin American jurists whom Scarfi profiles, John Kerry's denunciation of the Monroe Doctrine would have had a touch of irony. The speech was given in the Carnegie-funded Pan American Union building, to an audience from a multilateral body that some of those diplomats aspired to shape through their reinterpretations of Monroe. Ultimately, it was not the end of intervention which signalled the demise of the Monroe Doctrine—as Kerry intended to convey—but the US turn to globalism, which undermined support for the distinct basis of US–Latin American international relations and American international law that Alvarez and others favoured. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
International Affairs – Oxford University Press
Published: Jan 1, 2018
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