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Risch: Monroe Doctrine Is Vital as Ever as China, Russia, Iran Exert Influence in Our Hemisphere

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, last week gave the keynote address at an event entitled “The Monroe Doctrine: An Evolving Legacy” hosted by the National Security Institute at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.


Risch’s full remarks can be read below:  

“As we all know, in 1823, President James Monroe asserted the right and interests of the United States to oppose foreign powers meddling in the Western Hemisphere – an idea that later became known as the Monroe Doctrine.

“At the time, there was fear of new European colonies in Latin America. Russia claimed territories in modern-day Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, and they seized a U.S. naval vessel off America’s shores.

“Monroe’s vision was that the Western Hemisphere was a totally different system of government and government relations than those systems that were in place in Europe. He thought we should not be caught up in the squabbles, disputes, and mercantilist entanglements of foreign powers outside the hemisphere – not a particularly unpopular or foreign idea at that time. The world obviously has become a bit smaller since then. Nonetheless, the thought process hasn’t changed a lot.  

“While two hundred years have passed and the hemisphere looks different, the need to reassert the Monroe Doctrine is more vital than ever. The sovereignty and national security of the United States and our neighbors are at stake.

“Today, China, Russia, and Iran aggressively exert influence in the Western Hemisphere and actually seek to control some countries. They conduct nefarious influence operations, bolster authoritarian regimes – aggressively I might add – including in Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Bolivia, and pursue military and gray zone activities, like money laundering and fleecing resources in the region. Unlike some incompetent regimes, they never miss an opportunity and are very aggressive.

“Iran, unchecked by the Biden Administration’s policies of appeasement, has expanded its global operations. Last year, two U.S.-sanctioned Iranian warships docked in Brazil, while Iran-backed Hezbollah and Hamas have expanded their networks across Latin America. Meanwhile, Venezuela has played a key role in helping Iran evade sanctions.

“The Iranian regime continues to acquire resources it needs to threaten United States interests both in the Western Hemisphere and around the globe. It is past time the Biden Administration change course and aggressively target Iranian assets. It would not be that tough to do – we urge them to do that almost daily. We get resistance all the time, but they have a different view of Iran than our side does.

“Russia has a record of deploying disinformation campaigns to destabilize our neighbors in the Hemisphere; and Russia has had more spies in Mexico than in any other country.

“Russia has pushed the creation of its own Spanish language TV, like Sputnik and RT. They have become commonplace in Latin America and have content-sharing agreements with TV stations in Venezuela and an Iranian-run, Spanish-language channel in the region.

“But Russia’s efforts aren’t just limited to disinformation. Russia has deployed troops, military aircraft, and naval vessels to Nicaragua, and has provided Venezuela with over $15 billion for military equipment, including Russian-made missile systems.

“Beyond all of that, the most substantial threat to U.S. interests in Latin America – as is the case in most places in the world – is China.

“China has displaced the United States as the top trading partner for almost every country in South America. Let me say that again, China has displaced the United States as the top trading partner for almost every country in South America. Today, China uses Mexico as a hub to exploit our trade agreements and flood American markets with Chinese products, like EVs, subsidized by the U.S. government.

“Across Latin America, China is extracting lithium and other critical minerals, which are key for its global military ambitions. Meanwhile, hundreds of Chinese vessels illegally fish our neighbors’ waters, stealing their resources and denying them economic revenue. These activities are a direct assault on their economies and their people. 

“Worse yet, China buys land in South America, builds sensitive military sites, and then declares the land off limits to the government where it is located. Through this and other means, China is undermining the sovereignty of our neighbors, and it is a powerful weapon against the United States.  

“China is investing in deep-water ports in places like Peru to link South America to Chinese ports. China has invested in 40 port construction projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.

“It has installed telecommunications networks that expose our neighbors to data and cybersecurity risks, and a network of military-controlled cyber and space facilities in Argentina, Bolivia, and elsewhere.

“China has set up illegal police stations in Chile, Ecuador, and across the region undermining the rule of law in these countries. And, Chinese military intelligence facilities in Cuba sit less than 100 miles from U.S. shores and in proximity to U.S. military bases.

“This means China is increasing its intelligence collection on the United States, and exerting more leverage over our partners. And it will get worse. As China continues to build its naval capacity, it will use these ports and other infrastructure to expand its military presence in our hemisphere. And make no mistake about it, China is very, very aggressive at expanding its naval capacity.

“We must prepare for scenarios where China uses these footholds to threaten the U.S. homeland or distract us during a military conflict in Asia.

“Against this backdrop, I’m extremely concerned by the weakness of President Biden’s open border policy. This policy has opened the door to our adversaries and allows them to weaponize the border against us. 

“Since 2021, 294 illegal aliens on the terrorist watchlist and thousands of special interest aliens from the Middle East have crossed the U.S. southern border. Nicaragua and Venezuela – two key allies of China, Russia, and Iran – actively facilitate this mass illegal migration.

“Additionally, China remains the single greatest source of fentanyl and synthetic opioid precursors to Mexican cartels. These opioids are coming across the border and killing over 100,000 Americans every year – and that is just what we know about. We must reassert control of our border, particularly as it comes to drug interdiction and unwanted persons of jurisdiction.

“Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the devastating situation in Haiti. The administration’s current ill-defined proposals to engage in the mess in Haiti would lead the United States into an open-ended conflict with no clear goals, procedures to use force, or metrics to measure success. The administration must explain how an international security mission would promote a path to a credible political arrangement and elections in Haiti.

“The failure to carry out the Monroe Doctrine has enabled our adversaries to endanger the peace and safety of the United States. Last year, I introduced a resolution to reaffirm the doctrine as an enduring principle of American foreign policy.

“In 1823, European imperial powers encroached on the Western Hemisphere and endangered the peace and security of the United States. Today, the threats from China, Russia, and Iran are no different. In the 21st century, the need to robustly reassert the Monroe Doctrine is as vital as ever before.

“In order to do so, we must secure our southern border, strengthen mutually beneficial relations with our neighbors, and aggressively deter foreign powers’ encroachment in our neighborhood. Failure to do so will leave the United States and our allies in the hemisphere more vulnerable and less sovereign.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity.