A Security Partnership with Mercosur

Posted in Latin America | 25-Oct-07 | Author: Christian Rieck

Nestor Kirchner and Hugo Chavez. "Venezuela's claim to regional importance signals an attempt to instrumentalize and politicize Mercosur."
Nestor Kirchner and Hugo Chavez. "Venezuela's claim to regional importance signals an attempt to instrumentalize and politicize Mercosur."
Abstract:

The international appreciation of Brazil and other “anchor countries” is the overdue recognition of the new geo-political and geo-economic configurations in an ever more multipolar world. Major emerging countries play an important role in ever more policy areas, far beyond their regions – and far beyond the mere economic realm. In this context, a democratic, peaceful, economically prosperous Latin America enjoying the rule of law would be a natural partner for Europe and Germany. There, the importance of Mercosur has continuously grown, as it lives through a phase of enlargement, deepening and politization.

However, the “strategic partnership” has to be taken seriously, especially in “hard” policy areas. This partnership would be “strategic” because it would not run from one conflict to the next, blindly following the short-sightedness of the daily political agenda, but because it would seek to foster a long-term relationship with an emerging and peaceful region. With the economic and security partnership outlined below, the Southern Cone could be made into a true ally, one with which the West could confront many future challenges. Latin America can become an exporter of stability and peace.

Whither Mercosur?

The relanzamiento of the year 2000 was supposed to restart Mercosur after the integration fatigue that had gripped the union in the late 1990s and led to the enlargement, deepening and politization of the past two years. Is Mercosur therefore still a “free trade area”, a “customs union” or is it already a “social project”, an embodiment of a “shared destiny”? 15 years after its foundation Mercosur has entered a new phase of activity, but there still exists a large quantity of exceptions in the rules governing the free trade area that serve to protect national production and impede the free flow of goods. The Southern Common Market (Mercado Común del Sur) between Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay and now also Venezuela can thus be described as an “imperfect customs union”.

Yet since its foundation, Mercosur has reached beyond a mere free trade area. Apart from the obvious macroeconomic aims (enlargement of national markets, support of the technical and scientific development of the member states) the aims of integration in the preamble of the founding treaty of Asunción included, even in 1991, the “adequate insertion of the member states into the international system of the great economic blocs” as well as the “creation of an ever closer union between their peoples”, analogous to the famed “ever closer union” of the European Union.

The treaty thus allows for an ever stronger social dimension of Mercosur that is to be realized by a variety of new instruments: the new parliament of Mercosur with its “human rights mandate” to observe the situation of human rights and to protect democracy in the member states, regional structural funds in the form of international infrastructure projects in order to integrate those countries more strongly in the field of critical infrastructure (energy, gas, telecommunications, transport) and regional cohesion funds in the form of the newly created convergence program in order to lessen the economic differences between the members, as well as the “Bank of the South”, a new regional development bank that has been created to support “the development of all countries of South America” better than (and without the conditionality of) comparable institutions (dominated by the West). This new phase of inward-looking need not collide with the concept of “open regionalism”. Rather regional integration in Latin America can renew itself and have long-lasting effects only through successes in concrete fields of integration. The fiercest discussions concerning the direction and the aims of Mercosur therefore exist among its member states themselves. The politization of the integration project is thus an answer to a series of conflicts within Mercosur.

Venezuela’s accession and Mercosur’s politization

Mercosur’s regeneration is also due to the new (relative) political homogeneity in the Southern Cone, a development that is embedded in the wider context of Latin America’s “drift to the left”: three of the four old members are governed by left-leaning presidents. Without doubt, Venezuela’s accession has further politicized the project and brought to the union a systemic competition that oscillates between the two poles of “democracy” and “revolution”. The old members have subjected themselves to the democracy clause of the Treaty of Asunción and thus to liberal democracy and its institutions, while the new member Venezuela – even if it does not want to bring the “Bolivarian revolution” to Mercosur itself – aims at weakening the democratic consensus by committing the old members to its own path of social redistribution and at the same time codifying the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs. Bolivarianism’s claim to regional importance signals an attempt to instrumentalize Mercosur while trying to make the economic union into a political project through a “Bolivarian agenda”. The human rights mandate of the new Mercosur parliament will definitely lead to future tensions in this regard.

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Vice President José Alencar. "Brazil works towards a deepened continental free trade…
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Vice President José Alencar. "Brazil works towards a deepened continental free trade area, not just as an arena for its own leadership ambitions in the region, but mainly as a tool to strengthen prosperity and democracy in the neighborhood – and thus protecting its own hard-won prosperity."
Bolivarianism is an expression of the prevalent disenchantment since the failure of the Washington Consensus with its “neoliberal” policies of the 1990s. It is Venezuela’s newfound missionary zeal emanating from President Chávez and his petrodiplomacy that makes it the engine of the regional social discourse. Venezuela has already threatened to reverse its accession to Mercosur if “the right wing” in the Brazilian Congress does not accept that Venezuela makes its own laws. This is evidence that Venezuela has no inclination to deal with criticism in a friendly and constructive manner – even in a tight-knit union of neighbors. Within Mercosur Chávez perceives a certain refusal to change. But he is not willing to accede to what he calls the “old” Mercosur. This points towards a new balance within Mercosur: apart from the „small“ and the „large members“ there now exists a middle-sized power, Venezuela, one with its own leadership ambitions within the bloc. Brazil’s policy of embracing Venezuela through informal channels (face-time between the two “left-wing” presidents) and formal institutions (the democracy clauses of the Treaty of Asunción as well as within the framework of the OAS) in exchange for economic privileges and the demonstrative closeness to the natural regional leading power (and former symbol of the Latin Left) is supposed to contribute to Venezuela’s moderation but proves to be a difficult balancing act indeed.

The politization of Mercosur away from the so-called “neoliberalism” – perceived, in fact, as being North American – opens up important opportunities for the EU and their member states. The receding US-American influence should not be reason for European schadenfreude, however, but rather for a new Grand Design of European interests and ideas for shaping a region that is both active and strategic. Germany, too, could be more visible in South America and its presence could be stronger, building on long-lasting and robust relations to the Latin American countries. To this end, however, Germany would have to frame the European integration more strongly as a project of peace, freedom and the rule of law that can offer some valuable lessons to Latin America while at the same time having specific differences that sets it apart from the sometimes forceful supremacy of the United States.

Since Mercosur is a European-inspired integration project (“peace through cooperation”) and has strong economic links to the EU (especially Spain and Germany), a security dialogue between the most important EU partners and the members of Mercosur could – via the Brazilian policy of embracing Venezuela – also lead to a certain influence on Venezuela. Domestically, the Chávez administration depends on the military, which has been assigned a central role in the country’s renewal. However, not even the EU will succeed in directly exerting influence on Venezuela – at least not anytime soon.

New developments in military and security cooperation

There is talk of deeper cooperation in the military field, for example by the possible creation of a South American Defense Council. On January 19, 2006, Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela have discussed the creation of such a “Defense Council for South America”, which these countries view as a milestone towards a future integration of their armed forces. They also established working-groups to deal with the questions of how to merge their defense, aerospace and naval industries. Even though anything concrete has yet to come from this declaration, Latin American integration is entering a new phase with these developments: one of South-South-cooperation in military matters.

Trust-building measures in the security realm between the democracies have existed for a long time, though – in the form of cooperation in the field during UN-missions, information exchanges between the intelligence services and armed forces as well as common exercises under the umbrella of OAS (and under US leadership). There is also a growing consensus that traditional security and defense are embedded in the context of complex economic and political asymmetries between the different countries in the region (poverty, hunger, the environment, human rights, democracy, the rule of law). Economic underdevelopment and political instability do have repercussions for hemispheric security – and, therefore, need to be addressed by all. Still, the political will for deeper integration (however feeble) beyond the previously practiced ad-hoc-cooperation is new – and comes in a context of rising defense budgets.

Even though the relations between the Latin American countries are somewhat strained because of the political and economic realignments described above – most notably the rise of a transnationally connected “revolutionary” Left and the new struggle for leadership in the region between Brazil and Venezuela, with Mexico and Argentina as skeptical onlookers on the sidelines – the rise in defense spending is not “confrontational” in the sense that military adventures between the countries are imminent. It does reflect a new political recognition, however, that, to become a “good global citizen” and to be accepted by the international community as a “constructive global power” (or even a regional one), military capabilities are indeed relevant. Since trust between the Latin American – or even the Mercosur – countries runs not as deep as, say, between members of the EU to include the most fundamental policy fields of security and defense, the paradigm shift away from territorial defense towards strategic intervention forces that can be deployed all over the world is, accordingly, not as marked. The richer countries are upgrading their special forces and training more units to be able to deliver stabilization services in post-conflict scenarios.

But will full military integration really happen? Probably not. A complete integration of the armed forces into some utopian “Mercosur Army” will most certainly never materialize, but indeed there will be more and deeper security cooperation, as the idea of (and the military capabilities to secure) a common destiny gains further momentum. However, nothing will be rushed, as the countries involved are too proud to abandon their illusion of self-sufficiency in defense matters – including, notably, an array of national nuclear industries and now fuel cycles, a sector that would powerfully prove a true commitment to integration. Yet, there is growing recognition of a shared responsibility for the peripheries in the region. But in the end, as has been just said, military cooperation is a good opportunity to demonstrate to the world the willingness and ability to lead, both within Latin America and beyond.

Why we need a security partnership

"To be accepted by the international community as a “constructive global power” military capabilities are indeed relevant."
"To be accepted by the international community as a “constructive global power” military capabilities are indeed relevant."
Why do we need a security partnership? Making the Southern Cone nations (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay) contact countries of NATO would, beyond the desire of the North Atlantic countries for a stronger regionally diversified burden-sharing, also mean rewarding those countries for their hard-won levels of institutional stability. Furthermore, they are by far the strongest military actors in the region (Argentina has been a “major non-NATO-ally” of the United States since 1998) and even as such are relevant partners of any security dialog. Brazil has just been welcomed by the EU into its exclusive circle of “global powers”. Together with Mexico, it is now also one of the outreach-countries of the G8.

An intensive security dialog would create trust both between the two regions as well as within South America and would thus be a further contribution to peace and security that region. This could be a way of promoting the great military powers of the region to the status of real security partners who can be convinced – even though they already significantly contribute to United Nations missions – to further and more strongly contribute to wider-ranging stabilization efforts, e.g. in the fight against terrorism, to counterproliferation initiatives or more generally to NATO-missions (as was the case with SFOR). True burden-sharing can only work when a common basis of values and interests exists. Shared structures would help to formulate such a common agenda and would strengthen the multilateralism in the region.

However, such a security dialog will (have to) be a complex mixture between bi- and multilateral communication. On both sides, security and defense are highly sensitive policy areas that can only be influenced intergovernmentally. Such a security partnership would protect significant economic – and not just German – interests in the region, finally breathe life into the “strategic partnership” between the European Union and Latin America, reward the positive democratic developments especially in Mercosur and, not least, foster cooperation between the Latin American states themselves – in itself being an effective contribution to more transparency, predictability and trust in the region. Since such a dialog could play out predominantly on a technical level, it should not be a disproportionate financial burden for the ESDP-core group or for NATO.

The military capabilities in that (democratic) region – boosted by NATO/EU-support – could then confront future disintegration in its periphery more effectively than today, the stabilization costs in the case of a conflict would not have to be born by the West. These countries could then also be stronger partners of NATO in the context of its transformation towards a global security provider. NATO’s and its involved EU-members’ experience in the field of capacitation of multinational units for the African Union would also be of great value in Latin America. The important difference to the empowerment of the African units would be, however, that this NATO/EU-engagement would truly lead to intervention forces that can act preventively – and not to a “fire brigade”, stretched thin over a multitude of different conflict zones.

Germany can play a prominent role in this security dialog, since it does not bear any colonial burden in South America, is one of the most important and recognized foreign investors and has a considerable reputation also in the security field. Germany’s extensive experience with the multilateralization of military deployments could be of special importance in this context.

New allies for the West

The international appreciation of Brazil and other “anchor countries” is the overdue recognition of the new geo-political and geo-economic configurations in an ever more multipolar world, where international relations are being regionalized and therefore the power centers are multiplying. Major emerging countries play an important role in ever more policy areas, far beyond their regions – and far beyond the mere economic realm. They take on this role with a renewed self-image and also with a renewed self-consciousness.

In this context, a democratic, peaceful, economically prosperous Latin America enjoying the rule of law would be a natural partner for Europe and Germany. Both sides, the EU as well as Latin America, would gain an important partner on the international stage with which they share significant common values and interests: a more inclusive and fairer world trade regime, a stronger system of nuclear non-proliferation, and also the commitment to an effective multilateralism on the regional and global levels, especially under the shared umbrella of the United Nations. Only with this congruence of values and interests can a true burden-sharing be achieved. Even today, Latin America has, through its economic powerhouses, significant influence in the world and would be able to relieve the international community more effectively of the burdens of security and stabilization in its own region but also worldwide – and would be able to help avoid costly interventions for the developed world, including the EU and also an ever more internationally involved German military.

The most eminent task of Western and thus of German politics remains to engage these new actors constructively, incorporate them according to their political, economic, military weight into the world system and advocate the strengthening of their position in the already codified international relations as well as within the international organizations – in short, to turn them into stakeholders of a global economic and political order whose rules and potentials make their international integration and their growing prosperity possible in the first place. Their economic rise shows that the emerging countries can play by the rules of this global game. Now they should be enlisted to participate in its further design and development.

"For Germany and the EU, an expanded Mercosur that, through its network of associations, presents itself today as a continental…
"For Germany and the EU, an expanded Mercosur that, through its network of associations, presents itself today as a continental union is indeed an ever more attractive partner." (Countries light-blue are full members, countries dark-blue are associates)
The West should therefore aim for a kind of burden-sharing that places more responsibility onto the shoulders of the emerging countries. The present organization of international relations, however, as a system of values, prosperity and peace confers not only stakes and rights unto the actors to participate in the jointly generated prosperity and the collectively organized security. It also places on them the burden of a variety of obligations to preserve and strengthen its respective regimes in the different policy areas, thus requiring a whole array of capable and cooperative actors – so that, in the end, ever more nations can participate in the promise of prosperity that this world order offers.

Where, as in the case of Brazil and the Mercosur, a basis of shared values exists, the new power of the emerging countries make them ideal allies of the West. However, this “strategic partnership” needs to be taken seriously, especially in “hard” policy areas. This partnership would be “strategic” because it would not run from one conflict to the next, blindly following the short-sightedness of the daily political agenda, but because it would seek to foster a long-term relationship with an emerging and peaceful region. With the economic and security partnership outlined below, a stable region like the Southern Cone could be made into a true ally, one with which the West could confront many future challenges. Exactly because Latin America is not militarily and politically preoccupied with itself, can it become an exporter of stability and peace. The emerging economies have become emerging powers.

Recommendations:
Why Mercosur is important and what we should do

From a German perspective, any “strategic partnership” has to serve Germany’s interests. On first sight, in Latin America these are purely economic: A trading nation such as Germany should always be interested in the diversification of its market presence and the internationalization of its supply chains into emerging regions. But trade can only grow in a context of security and stability, a context in which problems in the periphery of attractive emerging economies impact on the stability of those markets themselves. This is especially true for the potential instabilities in the Andes region. The Mercosur economies have a strong interest in a stable periphery and are watching the disintegration in the Andes with great concern.

For Germany and the EU, an expanded Mercosur that, through its network of associations, presents itself today as a continental union is indeed an ever more attractive partner. This is where Brazil plays an eminent role – not because it is the only but because it is the main pivotal player in the region. Brazil works towards a deepened continental free trade area, not just as an arena for its own leadership ambitions in the region, but mainly as a tool to strengthen prosperity and democracy in the neighborhood – and thus protecting its own hard-won prosperity. In Latin America neighbors have more political capital and enjoy more trust than external powers – including the United States, explaining why it acts so multilaterally in the region.

By intelligently engaging the Southern Cone in the fields of economic and security policy, Germany can, through and together with the EU, bind this region to herself as well as to the West more generally – and also build on a great “European bonus” ascribed to Germany in the region. Germany can and should take concrete measures within the framework of the “strategic partnership”:

  • Germany and the EU have to acknowledge Brazil’s new role in the region and reward it by making more effective use of their instruments of development cooperation, rule of law support, university cooperation, economic policy and technology transfer as well as military cooperation.
  • Economically, Mercosur can be associated with the EU through the planned free trade agreement that should finally be concluded. Furthermore, a “security partnership” with these countries could bring them into a closer orbit of NATO and also hasten the security integration among themselves.
  • A strengthened cooperation in the security field is not altruism, though. It is supposed to bring together the regional middle powers and enable them to stabilize their own periphery economically and militarily. This is how today’s NATO partners can avoid potential future stabilization costs in the region, while at the same time freeing Latin American capabilities for exporting stability to other world regions.

The European NATO heavyweights Germany, France and Great Britain are at the same time the ESDP core group and could make use of the affinity towards Europe that exists in the Southern Cone but also, to a lesser extent, in Latin America as a whole. Here, the NATO-EU-harmony could therefore be an advantage for any political dialog. Concrete measures could be:

  • Sharpening the common threat perception and mission philosophy, for the regional as well as the global level in order to formulate common strategies for an effective multilateralism.
  • Aiding the standardization of training and procurement in order to make Latin American capabilities more interoperable.
  • Supporting the creation and training of multinational brigades analogous to the ones of the African Union or the Eurocorps in order to create units that can be deployed anywhere in the world and are capable of effectively contributing to global security.

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