key question about the defence of the American hemisphere is: what is the
threat? In the past, the Americas faced a relatively well-defined threat that
the average American could understand (1). Today that threat has become
infinitely more complex and more difficult to define." That was Professor
Lewis Arthur Tambs, diplomat, historian, professor at Arizona State University
and the author of a report on the future of the Americas, summarised in nine
points — the nine Ds — the guiding principles for the hemisphere's security
before 11 September. (They are defence, drugs, demography, debt,
deindustrialisation, populist post-cold war democracy, destabilisation,
deforestation and the decline of the United States (2).
is no T in this alphabet of security — terrorism is classified under drugs,
narcoterrorism being "the alliance between terrorist organisations, drug
traffickers and organised crime, a deadly symbiosis destroying the vital
elements of western civilisation". But the war against drugs occupies a
central place, for the Clinton administration was accused of failing to keep its
promises to eradicate drug trafficking. Populist democracy refers to the
Venezuelan government of President Hugo Chávez, and demography to the risk to
the US from migration (the most recent US census underlines the growth in the
Hispanic population, 58% in 10 years, more than 35m people).
understand this definition of US security, we must start with the post-cold war
disappearance of the "communist threat". After the fall of the
dictatorships in the 1980s, the return to democracy was accompanied by a
short-lived stability as political openness and the market economy raised hopes.
But since the 1990s free-market democracy has declined, social crises have
worsened and instability returned.
and financial crises — Mexico in 1995, Brazil and Ecuador in 1999, Argentina
now — have had disastrous consequences and social and political conditions
caused protests. These include big demonstrations by peasants in Bolivia, an
uprising by the indigenous population in Ecuador and the toppling of President
Fernando de la Rua in Argentina (see article by Carlos Gabetta). Civil
war in Colombia threatens to destabilise the whole region while the Chávez
government irritates Washington. Although the US is not threatened militarily by
an enemy power, these troubles renewed security concerns.
as "non-traditional transnational threats", terrorism, drug
trafficking, mass migration and environmental degradation are the new enemy. The
political and economic instability that has served historically to legitimise
intervention by the US and other countries is re-emerging as a potential threat
to regional security, according to US researchers Joseph Tulchin and Ralph
Espach (3). This is especially the case now the war against Colombian
insurgents, who control almost half Colombian territory, looks likely to spread
to Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador and Brazil, heightening tension and bringing more
troops to the borders. The sources say US policy towards Colombia is to extend
is becoming urgent for the US to respond to these non-traditional threats now
that the House of Representatives has approved the Trade Promotion Authority
("fast track") and that the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is
being established. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
finds a close relationship between the construction of the FTAA and a new
"security architecture in the Americas" (4). It reports that economic
change has been more rapid than change in security, provoking a rise in violence
from populations who survive illegally.
the countries of the Americas are considered too weak to meet that challenge
alone, they must develop a coherent defence policy for the hemisphere, defining
the aims and institutions necessary to strengthen inter-American security. The
events of 11 September should help by speeding the reforms, already started, to
continental institutions created at the start of the cold war. Ten days after
the Twin Towers fell, there was an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of
American States (OAS) to discuss a response, at which the Argentine foreign
minister said: "The Inter-American Mutual Assistance Treaty (TIAR) is fully
in force and up to date. It allows us to discuss the rules and create a
political framework for any military response."
words surprised. All the countries in the hemisphere (except Cuba) belong to the
Treaty, which dates to 1947. It has not been invoked since the Falklands war
between Britain and Argentina in 1982, when Washington refused to implement it
and backed London, showing contempt for the letter of the treaty, which states
that an attack on one member must be considered an attack on them all. (Similar
to Article 5 of the Nato treaty.) By coincidence, a few days before the 11
September attacks, Mexican president Vicente Fox had described the TIAR as out
of date and useless.
Argentine reference to the TIAR was nevertheless approved unanimously by the
foreign ministers convened by Brazilian president Fernando Enrique Cardoso; the
governments of the continent believed the attacks of 11 September were a threat
to the family of the Americas and the hemisphere's security.
June the OAS general assembly failed to reach agreement on adopting the
inter-American democratic charter, which "legitimises a right to
interfere". It was adopted by acclamation and without debate at the OAS
assembly in Lima in September, although there are serious reservations about
some of its articles. Intended to "preserve and strengthen representative
democracy", in particular against attempted coups, the charter's rules are
ambiguous enough to allow a right to interfere in any member country.
the government of a member state considers that "its democratic political
institutional process or its legitimate exercise of power is at risk, it may
request assistance from the secretary general or the permanent council for the
strengthening and preservation of its democratic system". The OAS permanent
council may then "adopt measures for the preservation of the democratic
system or its strengthening" and, if it finds that system has been
"altered", it may "adopt the decisions it deems
appropriate", "including the undertaking of diplomatic
initiatives." The word including is vague. Who says what an
"alteration of the constitutional regime" really means?
Noriega, the US permanent representative to the OAS, has stressed that
"resolutions approved by the OAS are not rhetoric; they provide the
framework for action. They represent legislation that sets policy for the OAS
member governments" (5). But who has the power to take decisions in an
organisation that has just demonstrated its alignment with the US hyperpower?
Clinton's assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, Peter
Romero, called in 2000 for the creation of a special OAS anti-crisis fund, a
"preventive diplomacy" mechanism that could be used in Argentina to
prevent social explosions leading to an institutional crisis. That was not the
first time the idea of formalising a regional intervention mechanism, a support
group of friendly countries to deal with crises, had appeared on the agenda. But
previous attempts to set up such a fund had failed.
OAS's military arm, the inter-American defence board, regrets that "the
lack of a well-defined and consistent legal framework to regulate the actions
carried out by the multinational contingency forces in the Hemisphere hampers
the participation by the member states when a situation requires it and
encourages reluctance to join these missions" (6). A multilateral force has
now been proposed to fight against terrorism with the agreement of the Argentine
government, the US's non-Nato ally, which, before its fall, declared itself
willing to take part in military action.
main concern, the establishment of collective defence mechanisms for
multinational operations, as part of its strategy for the region, involves a
permanent expansion of multilateral security organisations. Apart from the
inter-American defence board, there is the committee for hemispheric security,
set up in 1995. Since 1995, the defence ministerial of the Americas (DMA) has
met twice a year; according to former US Secretary of State for Defence William
Cohen, it is designed to strengthen personal relations and create a consensus
for crisis management. The chiefs of staff of the armed forces also meet
regularly. In 1999, the OAS assembly set up the inter-American committee against
terrorism (CICTE) to devise a structure to assist all OAS member states.
America's strategists think these bodies are not constraining enough to make up
for the supposed weakness of the OAS security framework: fearing the power of
the US, the countries of Latin America are unwilling to sacrifice their national
priorities for regional gains (7). There is resistance to the
transnationalisation of armies and military operations and the construction of
collective defence s. But the idea is gaining ground. US officers are clever at
gaining the support of their colleagues in the rest of the continent, and some
of the military see this as a way of modernising equipment and making their
units more professional.
June 2000 Brazil signed Protocol 505 to receive arms and equipment. In exchange,
the US may enter Brazilian bases and take possession of the Alcantara satellite
launching base, having "absolute control of it". No Brazilian will be
allowed to enter without the prior agreement of the Pentagon (8). There was
outrage at this, because neither the Brazilian parliament's foreign affairs
committee nor its defence committee were informed. The sale of F-16 fighter
aircraft to Chile is part of the same plan. It allowed Ricardo Lagos's
government to placate a vociferous army and satisfy the US arms industry, a
powerful lobby with the Bush administration.
a region where feelings run high because of its geopolitical importance and its
oil reserves, the Puebla-Panama Plan (PPP) will bring together all the countries
of Central America and the southeast of Mexico. This explains the creation of
Mexican anti-terrorist units (given the proximity of Chiapas). It also explains
why the Mexican government has refused to grant the Zapatistas any autonomy,
since financial capital expects to control strategic resources unhindered. The
southern border of this trade corridor, between Mexico and Guatemala, will be
militarised to control migration. Mexico's purchases of military equipment have
grown by 300% (9) and, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research
Institute (SIPRI), Latin American countries' arms expenditure has grown by 59%
since the 1980s.
unpopular, more multilateral military exercises are now being held, and the US
army's southern command (Southcom) operates, often secretly, on principles
decided in regional meetings. Presented as a change in doctrine, this US
multilateralism has two purposes. The first is to cut costs: as Patrice M Franko
says, the US needs to conserve its defence resources, and conducting training
exercises with 32 countries would be too expensive (10). The second is to spread
risks and share losses while extending the US presence and retaining unilateral
control of decisions. "For Washington, multilateralism means asking allies
for a blank cheque, letting them do the dirty work and putting in machinery to
interfere in their affairs," says a Brazilian.
vagueness of definitions is another cause for concern when the OAS wants to draw
up an inter-American convention to prevent and combat terrorism. Steven Monblatt,
the US diplomat who chairs the CICTE, notes that there are two terrorisms:
"indigenous terrorism, where a group's aspirations or political agenda are
restricted to one country, and groups with international links." When a
journalist remarked that it was hard to define terrorism universally, Monblatt
refused to distinguish between national and other terrorist groups. "We
don't look at the cause. We look at the action that's committed in the name of
the cause," he said.
who are the terrorists? In Brazil, the military has often described the Landless
Peasants' Movement (MST) as terrorist. In Mexico, the Zapatistas have been
accused. The CIA national intelligence council and the Chilean military research
centre have identified "a new challenge to internal security": the
indigenous threat, from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego (11).
20 September last year the inter-American defence board considered a scenario
where the extension of a conflict "could lead to a supra-regional war with
ethnic and religious dimensions". "I've told Hugo Chávez and the
Colombian guerrillas to watch out," said Darc Costa, coordinator of the
centre for strategic studies of the Brazilian war academy (12).
are moving fast. Pragmatic leaders are skilful at combining multilateral
diplomatic negotiations with bilateral trade agreements, while relying on local
allies to start practical work. Last year, the Argentines were surprised to find
that joint manoeuvres involving 1,300 men from nine countries (13), including
the US, were taking place on their territory in the presence of Colombian
exercise (Ejercicio Cabanas 2001) was in the Salta region, epicentre of
demonstrations led by piqueteros (unemployed people who set up
roadblocks). Sponsored and financed by the US, they were the largest-scale
manoeuvres in the region. More surprising was the scenario, an imaginary ethnic
conflict between the Independent Republic of Sudistan and the Free Federation of
Sudistan. A multinational UN force was deployed to restore peace, led jointly by
Southcom special forces chief, US General Reno Butler, and Argentine general
Jorge Alberto Olivera, commander of a brigade once led by former dictator Jorge
Olivera, "training battalions with a shared doctrine and common language
could serve the future formation of a coalition for a UN mission." But
Argentine deputy Torres Molina sees it in reality as "a rehearsal for
participation in a multinational force in Colombia". The Argentine
parliament, which alone can authorise foreign troops to enter the country, was
peace laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel, president of the Justice and Peace Service
(Serpaj), believes the US is pushing for "a remilitarisation of Latin
America in anticipation of a growing number of social conflicts connected with
the extension of free trade agreements". In September the inter-American
defence board report admitted as much when it referred to extreme poverty, the
rise of indigenous nationalist movements and increasing unemployment as
potential causes of instability and violence in the region.
special conference on security in Mexico in 2004 is expected to confirm the
board as the hemisphere's only military organisation, responsible for monitoring
the employment of multinational forces and ensuring effective linkage between
political and military authorities. That is what some call recolonisation.
* Lecturer at the university of Marne-la-Vallée
and the Institut des hautes études d'Amérique latine (IHEAL)
(1) This means the fight against
"communist subversion", which was used to justify support for
(2) James P Lucier, "Santa Fe IV
– Latinoamérica hoy", United States Senate Foreign Affairs Committee,
(3) Joseph Tulchin and Ralph Espach,
"A call for strategic thinking", in Latin America in the new
international system, Lynne Rienner Publishers, Boulder (US) and London,
(4) Toward a new security
architecture in the Americas. The strategic implications of the FTAA,
Patrice M Franko, The CSIS Press, Vol. XXII, No 3, Washington, 2000.
(5) Roger Noriega, "The Western
hemisphere alliance: the OAS and US interests", Heritage Foundation
Lecture, Washington, 20 November 2001.
(6) Inter-American Defence Board, Towards
a new hemispheric security system, Washington, 6 September 2001.
(7) See Patrice M Franko, op cit.
(8) "Menaces américaines sur la
base d'Alcantara au Brésil", Espaces Latinos, No 188, Lyon,
(9) Chiapas al dia, Ciepac,
Mexico City, 21 November 2001.
(10) Patrice M Franko, op cit.
(11) Edouard Bailby, Espaces latinos,
No 187, Lyon, October 2001.
(12) Pagina12.com.ar; 21 September
(13) Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador,
Paraguay, Uruguay, Bolivia, Argentina and the United States.