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UNASUR to Develop Defense Doctrine

May 31, 2011

On May 26th & 27th, the Union of South American Countries (UNASUR) met in Buenos Aires to discuss the development of a regional military doctrine. One of the defining factors of this meeting was the overwhelming sentiment that UNASUR needs to define its own philosophies and ideologies, apart from those of the United States. The meeting resulted in the official launch of UNASUR’s new Defense Strategic Studies Center (CEED), a think tank on regional security issues and defense strategies that will be headquartered in Argentina, with leadership rotating to represent each of the member nations. The first leader of the CEED has not yet been named.

(Note: Areas shown in white are non-participating nations/territories.)

In general, UNASUR is comprised of the four current member nations of la Comunidad Andina (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia); the four member nations of Mercosur(Brasil, Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay); four countries unaffiliated with the two previously mentioned regional trade blocs (to include Venezuela, which left la Comunidad Andina in 2006 in hopes of joining Mercosur); and two permanent observers (Mexico and Panama). Nine of the twelve UNASUR member nations were represented by their defense ministers at Friday’s meeting of the South American Defense Council (CDS).

The CDS was established at the recommendation of Brasil and Venezuela, and then developed under the joint leadership of Brasil, Argentina, and Chile. They were clear from the very start that the CDS would not be an alliance like NATO, but rather a mechanism for partnership in the defense industry and for enhancing regional security. The basic idea is to provide for the regional common defense (so to speak) by establishing military cooperation. The CDS won’t be proactive, per se; hopefully, the more they talk and work together, the less likely nations outside the region will be to attack any of them.

At the meeting on Friday, the various defense ministers both directly and indirectly attacked the defense strategies of the US and European powers.

Brasilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim stated that until now, the region has lacked “una doctrina de Seguridad y Defensa de América del Sur para América del Sur” — a doctrine of security and defense of South America, and for South America.

Defense Minister of Bolivia María Chacón Rendón raised serious concerns about the “assassination” of Osama bin Laden that took place in Pakistan by US military forces. She stated that the mission constituted “un nefasto precedente de intervencionismo que afecta la soberanía” — a dangerous precedent of interventionism that affects the sovereignty [of other nations].

Javier Ponce, defense minister of Ecuador, advocated for a doctrine “decontaminated” of the fight against international terrorism, organized crime, and the drug trade — directives promoted by the major powers outside the region.

While he might have a point on international terrorism, the issues of organized crime and the drug trade are of vital importance to South American security. They both lead to regional terrorism (ie, the FARC). These three issues contribute greatly to regional instability, so while the defense of natural resources and dealing with climate change are important, the CEED runs the risk of chasing after irrelevance if it ignores organized crime and the drug trade.

There was also discussion of the fact that previous defense agreements had failed to help Argentina in the 1982 war for las Malvinas (the Falkland Islands). This is a sore spot for Argentina, but the point was brought up by Ecuador‘s Ponce. The U.S. declined to respond to Argentina’s 1982 invocation of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine after having invaded the islands to reclaim territory that had been “colonized” by Britain in the late 1830’s. (While the utter failure of the Argentine military to reconquer their old territory helped lead to the ultimate collapse of the military dictatorship–what self-respecting military can’t even win a war over a couple of islands inhabited primarily by sheep?–some porteños still responded by throwing rocks at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires.)

On another note, during his presentation at Americas Forum’s May 26th event “Legitimacy Lost? How 21st Century Socialism Subverts Democracy in Latin America” on Capitol Hill, Joel Hirst provided the following comparison between the military doctrines of the United States and the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA):

(Comparison chart courtesy of Joel Hirst)

It is important to note that Venezuela was one of the UNASUR member nations that initially proposed the CDS. The U.S. should follow the ideas, values, and tactics promoted by the CEED very closely; while forcing our ideals and military doctrines on our allies could prove to be counterproductive, preventing the spread of ALBA doctrine is of vital importance to our national security.

For more information on the CDS proceedings, check out these articles (en español) from EFE, Telam, and RPP, or the Bloggings by boz found here and here for analysis in English.

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