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Volume 57 / Social Sciences

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS: GENERAL


G. POPE ATKINS, Research Fellow, Institute of Latin American Studies, University of Texas at Austin, and Professor Emeritus of Political Science, United States Naval Academy


RESEARCH AND WRITING on Latin American and Caribbean international relations during the biennium reflect the continuing, accelerated, and cumulative changes in both the global and Latin American regional systems, as well as the State and non-state actors' responses to them. As the contours of the "post-Cold War era" have become clearer, and related research trends fairly well established, it seems an appropriate time to evaluate current analysis of the region's international relations. The comments that follow update judgments made in previous HLAS volumes about events in Latin America and related scholarship.

In general, the works reviewed demonstrate vigorous and extensive analysis, but are nonetheless fragmented in conceptual and disciplinary terms. The volume of work remains high and the scope broad in terms of issues addressed and multidisciplinary contributions. While international relations scholarship in Latin American studies has been, and seems to remain, highly interdisciplinary, the abiding problem of grouping works within some organizing framework for analysis continues to be difficult. This difficulty is a reflection of changing global circumstances and the associated phenomena and issues, and is analogous to the problem facing policymakers themselves.

Identifying the current era as “post-Cold War” reflects an understanding that previously utilized analytic and policy constructs are no longer valid; however, it detracts from a recognition that in Latin America certain important trends already were underway. As established patterns of global confrontation ended, Latin America was entering a new era characterized by the region’s shift from authoritarian governments and State-dominated economies, the relative success of the Central American peace process, and the rise of drug trafficking as an international security issue, among other events. With these elements providing a basis for analysis, scholars have created more complex analytical tools, thus spurring further investigation and inquiry.

The new international model had a particularly significant impact on inter-American relations. Persistent problems whose resolution no longer depended on US Cold War security standards quickly became top priorities for Latin American states. They turned their attention toward democratic development, human rights, State governance, civil-military relations, demilitarization, corruption, crime, and insurgency; economic integration, trade, investment, and debt; immigration and refugees; illicit drug traffic and its social, economic, and political complexities; the degradation of the physical environment and the achievement of “sustainable development;” and arms control and the clandestine arms trade. Latin American states recognized these international issues as essentially extensions of their domestic concerns.

Dominant themes in the foreign policy analysis of Latin American states have been influenced by the difficult processes and mixed results of democratic and economic recovery and reform. In terms of foreign policy orientations, elected governments reconstituted regional collaboration in an effort called concertación (a concept going beyond mere policy "cooperation" to aspire to "harmonization"). In the wake of the isolation and isolationism of their military regimes, these governments wanted to be active participants in the evolving international system. They sought to maintain and expand relations with other States, international organizations, and nonstate actors. A multi-authored treatment of changing Latin American policy frameworks describes this new attitude (item bi 96001561).

Analysts of the US have paid particular attention to the impact of the Cold War’s conclusion on policy-making. US decision makers abandoned their preoccupation with minimizing hostile foreign intrusions into the Americas and sought to define new policy goals. The Bush Administration adopted multilateralism and an economic focus, and acknowledged the essentiality of Latin American democracy; the Clinton Administration followed suit, making democracy and economics coequal components. Drug traffic presented special difficulties, seeming to replace the Central American conflict as the intractable problem compromising multilateralism and allowing "ends justifying means" calculations and activities. Military interventions in Panama (1989) and Haiti (1994) demonstrated the continued willingness of the US to act, in certain circumstances, as police officer of the Caribbean, whether unilaterally or with multilateral cover.

Several senior US scholars have made major contributions to US policies. John Martz orchestrates a group of leading analysts who provide significant critiques of U.S. policy in the context of a dramatically changing Latin America and the evolving post-Cold War period (item bi 96017085). In longer historical terms, Peter Smith provides an interdisciplinary "interpretive history" which seeks "to offer a conceptual framework for the comprehension of changing patterns of inter-American relations over a span of nearly two centuries," based on substantial evidence (item bi 97015401). Adding another major book to his long list of distinguished contributions, Frederick Pike offers a detailed examination of the Good Neighbor Policy (1933-45) and its continuing impact (item bi 97010964). David Dent edited a handbook that admirably satisfies an important need to explore policy-making structures in the US and Latin America (item bi 95001677).

Canada's increased activity in Latin America is notable. During the latter 1980s, Canada played a significant role in the Central American peace process, and in 1990 it became a full member of the OAS. A number of good academic treatments of Canada's new inter-American policies appeared and have been noted in previous volumes of the HLAS. Added to the list this biennium is Rochlin's book, a chronicle and analysis of the evolution of Canada's foreign policy toward Latin America emphasizing the period of expanded involvement (item bi 96001547).

Other outside actors rekindled their interests and activities in Latin America and represented significant regional competition for the US. The European Union (and within the EU, Spain in particular) is of special importance. In 1991, the EU began to hold formal annual foreign ministry meetings with the Rio Group to discuss a wide range of subjects in addition to the central trade and investment issues; in December 1995 the EU signed an agreement with Mercosur opening free trade possibilities followed by accords with the Andean Community, Mexico, and Chile. Additionally, the EU continued its practice, begun during the peace process of high-level meetings with Central Americans. Within the significant body of work on Europe and Latin America, the publications of the Institute for European-Latin American Relations in Madrid are especially noteworthy for their analysis of European policies and points-of-view on the spectrum of Latin American and Caribbean issues. One of the Institute’s recent contributions concerns the political economy of current foreign investment in the region (item bi 96170567).

Another characteristic of the current international era is the revival of international governmental organizations on all levels, with concomitant academic interest. Latin American and Caribbean governments revitalized their regional and subregional associations and their participation in the Inter-American System and United Nations. Latin American and Caribbean economic integration arrangements were animated, first as a function of concertación and further by the prospect of free trade with the US, which Latin American nations hedged by broadening their arrangements beyond the Western Hemisphere. Concertación also energized the region-wide political associations; the Latin American Economic System (SELA) restored its role as policy analyst and advocate, and the Rio Group emerged as a dynamic voice on a broad agenda of issues.

The formal Inter-American System had a significant, if ambiguous, renewal. The important participation of the OAS in the Central American peace process reversed much of its two-decade decline, with subsequent action and reform facilitated by a more positive Latin American nationalism, the United States' return to multilateralism, and Canada's new commitment to hemispheric affairs. Analysts cautioned that the new opportunities were tempered by the well-known political, financial, and administrative obstacles attendant to intergovernmental organizations, as well as the continuing reality of asymmetrical inter-American power relations. In any event, a general inter-American consensus emerged that the nature of the issues required a multilateral resolution and depended on favorable political and economic contexts within Latin America and the Caribbean. Thus democratic development and economic reform constituted the guiding norms in hemispheric relations; in fact, they were declared national and international security matters. Pope Atkins published an extensive reference guide to the evolution, institutions, purposes, policies, events, and personalities of the system (item bi 97003920).

The United Nations for the first time became overtly and actively involved in inter-American conflict resolution, breaking the established precedent of deferring to the Inter-American System on matters of peace and security. At the invitation of the Central American presidents, it became deeply involved in Central American peace operations, and developed a with the OAS a division of labor and resources between the two organizations. The UN was also involved with the Haiti crisis and continues as the sponsor of the international peacekeeping mission in that country. If this direct UN presence in matters of inter-American peace and security is sustained, it represents a historic new role for the organization.

Students of international relations have reemphasized concepts of globalization and transnationalization - and debated their precise meanings. In the Latin American context, globalization may be seen as a process of an outward expansion of relations with different characteristics at various system levels - that is, as a series of regional responses to global economic, political, and social change. These responses occur in the context of Latin American democratization. Even as the international system has become more interdependent globally, it has simultaneously been increasingly defined by regions. Latin American regional and intraregional units have, in recent years, actually increased their cohesion. Transnationalization accompanies globalization, while elevating the prominence of nonstate actors and intensifying their activities. Thus, elements of transnational phenomena merge with interstate relations and also as evolve in a largely autonomous manner. Multinational corporations, political party organizations, labor associations, nongovernmental organizations, churches, communications and entertainment media, educational institutions, immigrants and refugees, tourists, artists, athletes, and others, as well as drug traffickers and other criminal elements, engage in a myriad of activities flowing across state boundaries creating their own economic, political, social, and cultural patterns. These linkages are not new, but in the early 1980s they increased rapidly and today seem unabated. The burgeoning phenomena require, and surely will receive, considerably more scholarly attention from several academic disciplines.

The enduring question of State sovereignty in Latin American international relations resurfaced in the new-era setting. If States cannot alone surmount the interstate and transnational problems, and if resolving them requires multilateral action, then the new meaning of international security requires a redefinition of sovereignty. Latin American and Caribbean states have acquiesced to a limited degree, but the majority remain particularly sensitive to anything that might legitimate US military force. Tom Farer edited an important, timely collection of essays in which distinguished experts tackle the conceptual and policy issues surrounding the key debate in inter-American action: sovereignty versus collective action for democracy (item bi 96021334).


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