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America's Backyard


America's Backyard

A 1912 newspaper cartoon highlighting America's influence in protecting neighboring countries in its "backyard" from European colonial expansion in the century following the Monroe Doctrine.

America's backyard is a concept often used in political science and international relations contexts to refer to the sphere of influence of the United States.

Somewhat analogous to the Russian concept of near abroad (Russian: ближнее зарубежье, blizhneye zarubezhye), America's backyard is used to refer to the USA's traditional areas of dominance, especially Latin America.
The term has recently been prominent in popular media with reference to threats to US national security (including Russian military exercises and Middle Eastern terrorism) used to contrast such threats at home with those on traditional fronts in Europe or the Middle East. America's Backyard is also used on occasion to refer to national parks and public lands in the US, as well as the American heartland more generally.

"Backyard" versus "near abroad"

Drawing on the use of the term backyard to refer to the surrounding area or neighborhood in which one resides, "America's backyard" has been referred to as the area within which the United States, as the "homeowner", has asserted some proprietary right or sought to limit outside influence.[1] Conversely, "America's Backyard" is referred to the area within which actions by enemy or competing powers might be feared or seen as provocative.[2] This has much in common with the Russian near abroad, used primarily in reference to the former Soviet Bloc countries; "near Abroad" signified that "Russia [claimed] rights in the region that transcend traditional diplomatic conventions".[3]

There are differences between the terms, in the that "near abroad" for Russia referred to countries which had previously been in political union with Russia until the fall of the Soviet Union (and after independence were initially part of the closely tied Commonwealth of Independent States), whereas the Central and South American countries considered part of America's backyard have never been politically tied to the United States (with the exception of Panama). In addition, "America's backyard" has been used in a domestic context to refer to national parks and other open land, whereas "near abroad" refers solely to foreign (though proximate) areas and cannot be used in a public land context.

Central and South America

The term "America's Backyard" started in reference to Central and South America. "America's Backyard" is about the United States' traditional area of dominance and major sphere of influence, which was Central and South America for a long time.

The Monroe Doctrine

During the early 19th century, many Spanish colonies in Latin America were trying to take advantage of the failing Spanish empire and were trying to gain their independence from Spain. However, during the early 1820s, Spain was on the verge of restoration.[4] The United States and Great Britain did not want Spain to gain any power back in Latin America because they wanted those colonies to become independent. Simon Bolivar was a leader in the fight for independence. He greatly admired the USA and in turn was supported by the USA . With those colonies independent, they could trade in a mutually beneficial way with the United States and Great Britain and not be restricted by mercantilistic Spain which wanted to benefit its home economy at the expense of the South Americans. In light of all of this, President James Monroe proposed the Monroe Doctrine on December 2, 1823. The Doctrine stated that any further efforts by European countries to colonize land or interfere with states in the Americas would be viewed by the United States of America as acts of aggression requiring US intervention and asserted that the Western Hemisphere was not to be further colonized by European countries, and that the United States would not interfere with existing European colonies nor in the internal concerns of European countries. Since the United States at the time was not known as a powerful country, the Doctrine was not internationally taken seriously, however, since Great Britain agreed with it no countries challenged it.

The term "America's backyard" was then coined during this time as a reference to Latin America. The United States supported the Spanish colonies' independence because they wanted Spain and other European countries to be out of the Western Hemisphere, or in other words, out of "America's Backyard".

Latin America as America's backyard

Since the establishment of the United States, international relations have been of political concern in securing the nation’s developed democracy and influential power. With Latin America in near proximity to the US, the neighboring continent has been labeled as “America’s Backyard.” In attempts to further economic development, the US government has exercised many strategies towards Latin America, especially over the past half century, including the Alliance for Progress.

The examination and analysis of relations between Latin America and the US over the course of history has increased in recent years. The declassification of official documents concerning Latin America by the Clinton administration allowed for more public information on the matter. In result, the public has been increasingly exposed to a much larger array of perspective and information on America’s backyard and the United States’ role in Latin America.

Recent popular publications offer a more detailed insight into the development of relations between the United States and Latin America. The course of history leads to the overall inquiry of whether the US should be perceived as a good neighbor or a big bad wolf. Most popularized is Grace Livingstone’s America’s Backyard: The United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror, which accounts the US strategy towards Latin America over the past half century, specifically revealing its intrinsic weaknesses and the profound ignorance and prejudice of US policymakers.[5] Though Livingstone admits to a negative bias—one that focuses on the negative aspects of US policy towards Latin America at the expense of the positive efforts, such as the Alliance for Progress—she claims that the history needs to be exposed.

Though Latin America is not the poorest area in the world, it is the most unequal; historically a small elite has controlled most of the wealth. The US has traditionally dealt with that elite, however repressive or reactionary it has been, because they controlled the government and market economy. The masses of poor often were illiterate, not Spanish speaking, lived a subsistence economy. These later facts help explain the Latin America’s uneven development. Livingstone expresses that even though in the US and Europe revolutionary upheaval or war has at times been the necessary precursor to change, the US government has acted as a counterweight to reform, regarding upheaval, mass protest (and of course revolution) as a threat to stability and therefore its own interests.[5]

"Backyard" beyond Latin America

The Middle East as a new American backyard

A number of European commentators have contended that US foreign policy in the Middle East has (intentionally or otherwise) had the effect of turning the Middle East into America's new "backyard": a new epicenter within which the US is trying to extert influence on political developments through regime change and political pressure which resembles past US actions in Latin America.[6][7]

Other nations' backyards

Both "backyard" and "near abroad" are increasingly used to refer to the immediate spheres of influence of other major powers, such as China and India.[8][9]

Other related uses

Public lands

National Geographic also uses the term 'America's Backyard' referring to the public lands of America. For instance, national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, urban parks, and urban gardens—USA public lands. Included in this mix are greenways and river ways, as well as historic landmarks and landscapes.[10] Public lands or 'America's Backyard' make up approximately one third of the United States.

Threats to the heartland

The idea of America's backyard - a place of security and tranquility, unlike lines of conflict elsewhere - has been used in reference to middle America. For example, after the Oklahoma City bombing, Americans were outspoken with their shock that this attack took place in a "Middle-American" town rather than one of America's well-known political or economical cities or abroad.[11] Many expressed surprise that such terrorism could happen in the very center of the United States, "deep in America's heartland."[12][13] Furthermore, "America's Backyard" has appeared interchangeably with "heartland" in the writings of a variety of journalists, authors, war veterans and bloggers.

See also


  1. ^ Jones, Matthew (2017). "America's backyard". Diplomacy & Statecraft 11 (1): 291–298.  
  2. ^ Bernd Debusmann (2008-09-17). "The Russian bear in America's backyard: Bernd Debusmann".  
  3. ^  
  4. ^ "Monroe Doctrine". Online Highway. 2010. Retrieved 2008-04-15. 
  5. ^ a b Livingstone, Grace (2009). America's backyard : the United States and Latin America from the Monroe Doctrine to the War on Terror. London; New York: Zed Books; Latin America Bureau; Distributed in the USA exclusively by Palgrave Macmillan.  
  6. ^ Alain Gresh (2007-11-03). "The United States’ new backyard".  
  7. ^ Peretz, Pauline (2009). "Philippe Droz-Vincent Vertiges de la puissance : le " moment américain " au Moyen-Orient Paris, La Découverte, 2007, 370 pages.". Critique internationale 44 (3): 165.  
  8. ^ Almaty (2010-01-28). "China in Central Asia: Riches in the near abroad".  
  9. ^ Tarique Niazi (2005-08-22). "China's foot in India's door".  
  10. ^ "Public Lands--America's Backyard".  
  11. ^ Johnson, David (1995). "Intensive International Hunt Is On, But for Whom". New York Times: 10. 
  12. ^ Alter, Jonathan (1995). "Jumping to Conclusions". Newsweek: 55. 
  13. ^ Deflem Mathieu (June 1995). "The Globalization Of Heartland Terror: International Dimensions Of The Oklahoma City Bombing.".  
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