27 June 2008

Unasur Defense Summit Unable To Reach Consensus

June 27, 2008 (Southern Affairs) -- One month ago the presidents of South America formally created the Union of South American Nations.

While no one was fooled by the momentary goodwill for very long, the proposal to create a South American Defense Council did raise heads. Well, those heads can go back to whatever it was they were doing earlier; South America has proved once again that it is all talk and no walk.

At the Defense Council Summit, held on June 23 and 24 in Santiago, Chile, representatives of all the South American nations except Colombia were unable to agree on any of the basic issues outlined in the Brazilian proposal. Some of the topics discussed included the sharing of best practices and past experiences, combined military exercises, and more cooperation in peacekeeping missions like the one in Haiti.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the summit was the fact that it was even called in the first place. Given the wide-spread and in some cases escalating conflicts that have prevented any real progress since integration talks began in 2000, it seemed too far-fetched to believe that a region where governments are still arguing over 19th century border wars would be willing to share military secrets.

Why then was the council proposed in the first place?

My best guess is that it was a mixture of wishful dreaming on the Brazilian military industrial complex's part and a jab at the US government's decision to reactivate the Fourth Fleet, a World War II era command structure responsible for U.S. Navy ships, aircraft and submarines operating in the Caribbean and the waters surrounding Central and South America.

If the presidents of South America thought that creating a defense council, with no short term possibilities of success, would somehow raise their international profile, this week's summit changed that assumption. Instead, the Council was so unimpressive it didn’t even receive news coverage in Santiago, the city where the summit was actually held.
Perhaps the most regrettable result of the summit's failure is that it reinforces the widely held notion that Latin America is too unstable to merit serious attention. This is not the case. 

Many Latin American countries are already serious global players and looking forward into the 21st century, the region will certainly play a major role in international relations because of its massive human and natural resources, to mention just two of its numerous virtues.

This summit is a sad reminder of the cheap rhetoric that has come to define South American politics. Leaders seem unable to realize that they are often the biggest roadblock to their own development. If they only meant what they said and did what they promised we would be on the verge of a real revolution. Until then we are left with Bolivarianism - not much of a substitute.