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Latin America must create a permanent forum for security

guerrillagirl.jpgIt does not make sense to think that the national interests safeguard can be guaranteed with measures that have exclusively national jurisdiction. Colombia will not be successful against FARC if its members find refuge on the other side of the border (which does not exempt Bogotá from having to ask Ecuador for complete forgiveness). Latin America will only achieve domestic and foreign security with a common and coordinated effort. Here is how.

(From Madrid) THE CRISIS PROVOKED BY COLOMBIA’S DECISION to defend its domestic security with an attack on the FARC rebel group outside of its borders (in this case on Ecuadorian soil) brings to the table Latin America’s imperative need to update its concepts of security (domestic and foreign) and sovereignty, and make significant strides towards the institutionalization of mechanisms that ensure a greater integration in said sphere, just like what has been achieved in the economic and political fields.

“The continent lacks multilateral forums in which to define and implement concrete measures that involve military means and guarantee a shared security”Independent of the fact that it is obvious that disputes among States should not be resolved with gunshots, it is no less significant that we similarly cannot allow sovereign States to systematically close their eyes to (at the very least) the use of their territory by insurgent groups attempting to overthrow democratic governments or, in the case of the narcotraffickers, undermine their very foundations.

Up to what point does this practice (giving refuge to rebel groups, which is how the Organization of American States [1] (OAS) views FARC) not also represent a violation of the sovereignty and integrity of another neighboring State that is attempting to combat that terrorist threat through democratic means?

OBSOLETE CRITERIA

The root of the problem lies in the fact that Latin America, in spite of the economic advances and progressive consolidation of the democratic regimes that it has experienced in the last few years, continues to operate on antiquated criteria with respect to security and sovereignty. “Nobody disputes that FARC was on Ecuadorian soil, but the fact that Quito’s authorities lack the technological means to effectively control their borders does not serve as a valid excuse” On one hand, the majority of its governments agree with the criterion that nowadays security must be understood as something global and shared (broad security) and, as such, assume their responsibilities when it comes time to actively export it through participation in UN peace missions in places as close or far away as Haiti, the Balkans and even the Middle East.

However, and although it might seem rather curious, they do not share that very criterion when they talk about threats and risks at the regional level. The Latin American continent lacks multilateral forums in which to converse and define and implement concrete measures that involve military means and guarantee a shared security (domestic and foreign), whether it be against narcotraffickers or guerrilla groups.

It does not make sense to continue thinking that the national interests safeguard can be guaranteed with effective measures whose jurisdiction remains exclusively within the national territory of one state. Criminals and terrorists operate across borders and, in order to be effective, the governmental responses must also be multinational in nature, without the need to be taken under the wing of the United States or any other outside player. The institutional solution must be genuinely Latin American; its political maturity requires and allows for it.

A COMMON PROBLEM

“The modernization of the Armed Forces is not only a question of material, but also one of doctrine and strategy” In the current case, Columbia will not have any possibility of success against the rebel groups if, when in pursuit, the rebels find refuge in sanctuaries located on the other side of the border, where they can rest and stock up on provisions. As such, the responsibility also falls on the neighboring countries. Nobody disputes that FARC was on Ecuadorian soil (which does not exempt Bogotá from having to ask for complete forgiveness), but the fact that Quito’s authorities, as they have admitted, lack the technological means to effectively control their borders, does not serve as a valid excuse either.

“In view of the appearance of crises, the responses are almost always bilateral, repeating traditional relations more than making the effort to search for more imaginative solutions” Let’s be sincere: this is a problem that affects nearly all of the country’s within (or outside of; let’s think about Old Europe) the region, especially the biggest ones that now find themselves immersed in costly programs designed to provide vigilance over their remote regions (Brazil and the Amazon, to give an example).

However, this still does not justify the fact that President Uribe’s government had not found a forum or more diplomatic way to present their irrefutable proof that FARC had been using foreign territory, despite recognizing Colombia’s special situation as the only Latin American country engaged in open war, and the enormous effort that that involves.

ALMOST ALWAYS BILATERAL RESPONSES

Latin America was a pioneering continent in that it authored some of the most important disarmament agreements in the Cold War era, and organizations like Mercosur have made advancements in the drafting of concrete measures to control, for example, the trafficking of short arms. Nonetheless, the region lacks an appropriate forum in which to foster strictly military collaboration. “It is very important that the continent’s three giants (Brazil, Argentina and Mexico) decline to take sides, so as not fuel the creation of blocs around Uribe or Hugo Chavez”

The modernization of the Armed Forces is not only a question of material, but also one of doctrine and strategy. Meetings between the Ministers of Defense are not sufficient anymore. From its very inception, the OSA has self-excluded itself from this duty, and the Inter-American Defense Board [2], which could have filled the resulting hole, has been relegated, perhaps by the presence of the United States and the fear of some that it could use it as an undercover instrument of influence.

In view of the appearance of crises like the current one, this forces the responses to be almost always bilateral, repeating traditional relations more than making the effort to search for more imaginative solutions. For example, Chile would have to support its strategic ally Ecuador, while also supporting Peru and Colombia.

FACING THE STRUCTURAL DEFICIENCIES

Regarding the current confrontation between Bogotá and Caracas, it is very important that the continent’s three giants (Brazil, Argentina and Mexico) decline to take sides, so as not fuel the creation of blocs around Uribe or Hugo Chavez. Fortunately, the crisis has unfolded serenely, and none of the three has opted for routes that could have aggravated the already difficult in itself situation. Latin America must create a permanent forum for security. Brazil, perhaps the only country that can head such a forum at this time, has proposed the creation of a South American Council for Defense, which still remains to be further defined”

Argentina, which is close to Venezuela because of its energy necessities, can and must play the role of mediator. Similarly, as the region’s principal power, Brazil needs to counter any bellicose act with its moral and political influence, and call for maximum respect for each State’s rights, precisely now that economic growth should translate into a general improvement in the quality of life of all Latin Americans. In turn, Mexico must take on the complex role of explaining to Washington that it is better that it keep a safe distance and not give in to the temptation of adding a military dimension to its political problem with Chavez.

The OSA has given a short-term response to the crisis between Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela: to reduce the tension and set up an impartial commission to investigate all of the problem’s dimensions. However, this does not avoid the structural deficiencies. Latin America must create a permanent forum for security. Brazil, perhaps the only country that can head such a forum at this time, has proposed the creation of a South American Council for Defense, which still remains to be further defined.

Whatever its creation might be like, the important thing is that advancements be made in its constitution and that there be assurance that it will not become a hollow and barely- operative organization. The security (domestic and foreign) of the Latin Americans will only be achieved with a common effort to face up to the problems at hand in a cooperative and coordinated manner. Colombia’s crisis is a call to attention to not postpone the practical creation of such a forum any longer.