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The History and Impact of Big Stick Diplomacy in Global Politics

“Big Stick Diplomacy” was a foreign policy strategy that was advocated by president Theodore Roosevelt during his time in office from 1901 to 1909. The diplomacy was based on the idea that the United States should use its military and economic power to promote its interests and influence in the world. This diplomacy was based on the principle of “Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick”. This meant that the United States should use diplomacy and negotiation to resolve conflicts and promote its interests, but it should also be prepared to use its military and economic power to enforce its policies if necessary. 

Separation of Panama from Colombia

Big Stick Diplomacy  was the United States intervention in the affairs of Panama in 1903. The United States supported the separation of Panama from Colombia, and helped to establish Panama as an independent nation. The US then negotiated a treaty with the new Panama government for the construction of the Panama canal.

Diplomacy is also used in the Caribbean and Central America, where the United States intervened in countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic to protect American interests and promote stability in the region. 

Criticism on Big Stick Policy

The big stick Policy  was widely criticised by other nations and by some Americans who saw it as a form of imperialism. They argued that the United States was using its power to interfere in the affairs of other countries and to impose its will on weaker nations. 


One of the main criticisms of imperialism is that it involves the domination and exploitation of weaker nations by more powerful ones. Critics argue that this form of control can lead to the suppression of local cultures, economies, and political systems. Countries like India, China, and many African nations have experienced the negative effects of imperialism in the past and have raised concerns about its impact on their societies.

1) India

During the period of Big Stick Policy, the United States pursued an aggressive foreign policy, asserting its influence and power in various parts of the world. Although India was not directly under the control of the United States, it was still impacted by the broader imperialistic tendencies of powerful nations. Under British rule, India was subjected to economic exploitation and the extraction of its resources. 

The British East India Company, which initially arrived in India for trade, gradually expanded its control and established a colonial administration. This led to the exploitation of India’s natural resources, such as cotton, tea, and indigo, for the benefit of the British Empire. The British implemented policies that undermined local industries and hindered India’s economic development. They imposed high tariffs on Indian goods, which made it difficult for Indian industries to compete in the global market. This resulted in the deindustrialization of India and the transformation of the country into a supplier of raw materials for British industries.

The social and cultural fabric of India was also impacted by imperialism. The British introduced Western education and institutions, which had a profound influence on Indian society. While this led to the spread of modern education, it also created a divide between the Western-educated elite and the masses. The British imposed their language, English, as the medium of administration and education, which further marginalised indigenous languages and cultures. India’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule was deeply influenced by the ideas of nationalism and anti-imperialism. 

Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru played instrumental roles in mobilising the Indian population against imperialism and advocating for self-determination. India finally gained independence in 1947, but the effects of imperialism continue to shape the country’s socio-economic and political landscape. The legacy of imperialism can be seen in the challenges India faces today, such as economic inequality, regional disparities, and the need for inclusive development.

2) China

The era of Big Stick Policy coincided with the decline of the King Dynasty in China. The king Dynasty faced internal challenges and external pressures from foreign powers, resulting in the loss of territory and control over important resources. This weakened China’s position and made it more susceptible to imperialistic interventions.

The effects of imperialism in China were wide-ranging. Western powers, including the United States, took advantage of China’s weakened state to extract resources and establish economic dominance. China’s economy was exploited, and its industries were undermined, leading to a loss of autonomy and economic dependence on foreign powers.

Culturally, China also faced challenges as Western influence began to permeate society. Missionaries and Western-educated individuals introduced new ideas and values, contributing to the transformation of traditional Chinese culture. This cultural impact, along with the imposition of unequal treaties and concessions, further fueled anti-imperialist sentiments among the Chinese population. China’s response to imperialism was multifaceted. The May Fourth Movement in 1919, for example, marked a significant turning point in China’s anti-imperialist struggle. 

It was a mass protest against the Treaty of Versailles, which failed to recognize China’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The movement galvanised Chinese nationalism and led to the emergence of new political ideologies, such as Marxism-Leninism, which played a crucial role in the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Historical Perspective on Big Stick Policy

During this time, the United States was emerging as a global power, and its leaders sought to expand its sphere of influence. The Monroe Doctrine, established in 1823, had already laid the foundation for American dominance in the Western Hemisphere by warning European powers against interfering in the affairs of the Americas. This Diplomacy built upon this doctrine and aimed to solidify American control over the region.

One of the key events that exemplified Big Stick Policy was the construction of the Panama Canal. The United States supported Panama’s independence from Colombia in 1903 and subsequently acquired the rights to build and operate the canal. This project not only facilitated trade and transportation but also demonstrated American power and influence in the region.

Diplomacy was the Roosevelt administration’s intervention in the Dominican Republic. In 1904, the Dominican government was facing significant economic challenges and was unable to repay its debts to European creditors. In response, President Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary, which stated that the United States had the right to intervene in Latin American countries to maintain stability and protect American interests.

Under this policy, the United States assumed control of the Dominican Republic’s customs revenue and managed its finances. While this intervention was justified as a means to prevent European powers from intervening, it also showcased American dominance and influence over its neighbours. 

The Big Stick Policy was not without controversy. Critics argued that it was a form of imperialism and violated the principles of sovereignty and self-determination. The policy was seen as an assertion of American power at the expense of other nations’ autonomy. However, proponents of Big Stick Policy argued that it was necessary to protect American interests and maintain stability in the region. They believed that the United States had a responsibility to promote democracy, economic development, and security in the Western Hemisphere.

Over time, the approach of Big Stick Policy evolved and gave way to other foreign policy strategies. The United States began to adopt a more multilateral approach and focused on building alliances and partnerships rather than asserting unilateral power.

6 Factors Driving the Adoption of Big Stick Policy

In a rapidly changing global landscape , some nations are embracing the concept of big stick Policy as a means to assert power, protect national interests, and navigate the complexities of international relations. Here are 6 key factors driving the adoption of Big Stick Policy..

1) Ensuring National Security and Defense

One of the primary motivations behind adopting Big Stick Policy is to safeguard national security and defence. In an era marked by geopolitical tensions, emerging threats, and regional conflicts, nations are increasingly inclined to project strength to deter potential adversaries. The use of force and a formidable military presence can serve as a deterrent, ensuring the safety and sovereignty of a nation.

2) Protecting National Interests

In an interconnected world, nations are fiercely competing for resources, economic advantages, and geopolitical influence. Policy  allows countries to protect and advance their national interests. By employing a proactive and assertive approach, nations can secure access to vital resources, negotiate favourable trade agreements, and protect their economic and political investments abroad.

3) Asserting Influence and Power

In a multipolar world, where power dynamics are constantly shifting, nations are adopting this policy to assert their influence and maintain a prominent position on the global stage. By projecting strength and demonstrating a willingness to use force if necessary, countries can ensure their voices are heard, and their interests are taken seriously in international negotiations and decision-making processes.

4) Countering Rising Regional Powers

The rise of regional powers has prompted some nations to embrace Big Stick Policy as a response. As countries like China and Russia expand their influence and challenge the existing global order, other nations feel compelled to adopt a more assertive stance to counterbalance these emerging powers. Big Stick Policy allows them to protect their interests and maintain a balance of power in their respective regions.

5) Addressing Security Challenges and Terrorism

The persistent threat of terrorism and security challenges has also contributed to the adoption of Big Stick Policy. Nations recognize the need to take a proactive approach to combat terrorism, protect their citizens, and maintain stability. By employing a strong military presence and utilising force when necessary, countries can effectively respond to security threats and maintain law and order.

6) Demonstrating Resolve and Determination

In a complex world, adopting the Big Stick Policy demonstrates a nation’s resolve and determination to protect its interests and maintain a strong presence on the global stage.


Big Stick Policy is a bold and assertive approach where nations flex their military muscles to show their determination and protect their interests. People are adopting it because it’s like a strong warning sign to potential troublemakers, making them think twice before causing any trouble. 

This strategy combines the power of a strong military with diplomatic finesse to maintain peace and security. It’s an attractive approach because it allows countries to stand their ground and safeguard their sovereignty. By embracing Big Stick Policy, nations can assert their strength and ensure a safer world for everyone.


What is the Big Stick Policy all about?

Big Stick Policy is all about countries using their military power to show strength and protect their interests. It’s like waving a big stick to deter potential adversaries and maintain national security. The idea is to use a strong military presence as a deterrent against aggression.

Why do people adopt the Big Stick Diplomacy approach?

People adopt this approach because it sends a strong message to potential adversaries, deterring aggression and ensuring national security. By showcasing military might, countries aim to protect their interests and maintain peace through a combination of strength and diplomacy.

Does the Big Stick Diplomacy approach prioritise military power over diplomacy?

The Big Stick approach doesn’t prioritise military power over diplomacy. It combines both to maintain peace and protect national interests. Military strength is used to support diplomatic negotiations and deter aggression. It’s a balance between strength and diplomacy.

How does it contribute to maintaining peace?

By utilising force as a deterrence against aggression, Big Stick Policy helps to keep the peace. The idea is that by showcasing a strong military presence, potential adversaries are discouraged from engaging in hostile actions. This approach aims to prevent conflicts and promote stability, allowing for diplomatic negotiations to take place in a peaceful environment.

Can adopting the Big Stick Diplomacy approach lead to conflicts?

While Big Stick Diplomacy aims to deter aggression and maintain peace, there is a potential for conflict if not implemented carefully. The use of military power can inadvertently escalate tensions and provoke adversaries. 
It is crucial to balance military strength with diplomatic efforts to prevent misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Effective communication and skilled negotiation are essential to ensure that the approach does not inadvertently lead to conflict but rather serves as a means to promote stability and resolve disputes peacefully.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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