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Security Issues in Latin America: Experience of UNASUR

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  • October 29, 2012

    Chair: Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani
    Keynote Address: H.E. Mr Javier Paulinich, Ambassador of Peru to India

    In order to explore ways for India to strengthen its ties with the South American region and forge greater engagement at the diplomatic level, the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) organised a conference on “Security Issues in Latin America: Experience of UNASUR.” The main participants of the conference included ambassadors from various Latin American and Caribbean countries along with academic experts and former Indian diplomats. This conference aimed to understand the process of regional integration that is underway in South America through the workings of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) as well as ponder on the institutional mechanisms available at the hands of UNASUR to tackle the multiple security challenges in the region. The outcome of the conference was the important recognition amongst the participants that both India and South American countries can derive lessons from each other on democracy and social inclusion.

    The UNASUR, being the newest regional integration project in South America, has displayed tremendous promise in developing mechanisms for amicable resolution of conflicts in the region. It was established in December 2004 as an intergovernmental union integrating the existing customs union MERCOSUR and the Andean Community of Nations and came into existence formally in 2008 when the UNASUR Constitutive Treaty was signed in Brazil. It has set for itself an ambitious agenda of achieving a unified passport, parliament and eventually a single currency. UNASUR is structured around four main organs, namely the Council of Heads of State and Government, Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Council of Delegates and the General Secretariat. Apart from these organs, it has nine Sectoral/Ministerial councils dealing with issues like social development, health, education, and drug trafficking. One of the key sectoral councils of UNASUR pertains to defence and in recent years this council has realised the necessity of creating a regional military doctrine. To this end, UNASUR created the think-tank Defence Strategic Studies Center (CEED) in May, 2011. To further the process of integration in the defence sphere, Peru will host a summit for Heads of State and Governments of UNASUR to discuss the “Protocol of Peace and Security Cooperation”, on November 30, 2012. However, the defence council would not be a NATO-like alliance. Instead, it will be a cooperative security arrangement with forward looking agendas such as multilateral military cooperation, promotion of confidence and security building measures, and fostering defence industry exchanges.

    As mentioned by one of the discussants, in its short history UNASUR has attained a good deal of legitimacy as a result of some important achievements including its key role in mediating the Colombia-Venezuela diplomatic crisis in 2010, creating a heightened UNASUR Fund of US$100 million, limiting defence expenditures, reducing crime, integrating energy and financial systems, and by handling constitutional crises in Ecuador and Paraguay. Drawing a comparison between UNASUR, SAARC and BIMSTEC, one panellist pointed out that the progress in forging regional integration in South Asia has been relatively slow and should draw upon the experience of UNASUR in promoting regional integration in South America.

    It was also pointed out during the course of the conference that it was noteworthy to see countries in Latin America coming together to form overlapping regional and sub-regional alliances, a prime example being UNASUR among others like the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and MERCOSUR. There has been a tangential movement on the Pacific Coast between Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Mexico to form the Pacific Alliance. These trends have generated immense interest in India to understand the dynamics of Latin American integration by identifying the key drivers of the process.

    One of the key speakers of the conference shed light on the fact that UNASUR was the first and most holistic undertaking in the political history of South America, with an exciting agenda of dealing with social, political, economic, cultural, and technology related issues. He highlighted some fundamental facts about the South American region, stating that six of the South American countries belong to the Mega diverse category. He believed that the idea behind UNASUR was to come together and forge ties in the most innovative ways by drawing on the progress made by the 12 UNASUR countries and take decisions by consensus. He stated that UNASUR can be utilised to make South America a region of peace and security. For this, the South American nations would need to approach regional issues from a non-ideological standpoint, particularly in the economic sphere. One of its key priorities is to promote citizen participation among others in the realm of socio-economic improvement. UNASUR has already established the Centre for the Study of Democracy in Lima, Peru to realise this objective. One of the main objectives that UNASUR countries aim to pursue on a priority basis is to achieve social inclusion and equality.

    Another discussant pointed out that the idea of South American integration existed even before the Cusco Declaration was signed in 2004. One of the most important aspects of South American integration, according to the discussant, pertains to that of physical integration - of connecting the two oceans of the Pacific and the Atlantic. Energy issues are therefore poised to play a very important role in enhancing this integration. The idea of non-ideological approach was also recognised to be essential in adding more substance to the integration process; the common willingness to work together in a pragmatic way already exists amongst the South American countries. In area of defence, a consolidation of the Non Use of Force doctrines by South American countries is one of the main tenets as evidenced by the fact that the region has not witnessed any major conflict in recent decades. Other important elements of common ground in the sphere of defence relate to the South American region being a nuclear weapons-free zone, its drive to deter external threats collectively, deterrence coordination and integration of defence industries. However, a caveat in this regard is that the defence council in UNASUR is still in its infancy and will have to be given the benefit of time to achieve maturity in order to act as a rallying force on defence issues. Further, South American countries are still away from maintaining common military forces.

    A number of other issues were also flagged during the conference. References were made to the failure of the European Union (EU), usually considered the exemplar of regional integration, as far as financial issues are concerned. It was pointed out that even though there is a definite change in the mindset of elites in South American countries, as they are more willing to give a chance to principles of liberal democracy, it is indeed not a dramatic change. Also, UNASUR being a new project in regional integration will have to undergo a long process of evolution before it can claim to be successful without any degree of scepticism. The trend of hegemonic decline in the region is encouraging. But concerns were raised about indications of a new brand of Southern geopolitics brewing in the region that could turn UNASUR into a test case for Brazilian leadership.

    While South American nations sometimes perceive major powers as external threats to their region, they also recognise the need to harness comparative advantages of respective countries. The US involvement in the region is bound to persist as it continues to attract migrants from Latin America. With respect to India, the South American countries believe there is tremendous scope for cooperation in areas such as non traditional security, maritime security and social cohesion. The panellists recognised that though the mechanism of decision making by consensus in a region as diverse as South America is a difficult task, the willingness to come together to forge a unified force is unmistakable. The possibility of establishing a regional peacekeeping force however was considered premature for the moment.

    (Prepared by Sneha Bhura, Intern at IDSA)


    10:00h -10:05h: Welcome Remarks, Dr. Arvind Gupta, DG IDSA
    10:05h - 10:10h: Opening Remarks, Ambassador Deepak Bhojwani, Chair
    10:10h - 10:25h: Remarks, H.E. Mr. Javier Paulinich, Ambassador of Peru to India (Pro Tempore President of UNASUR)
    10:25h- 11:15h: Remarks, UNASUR Ambassadors/Experts (5 Min. each)
    11:15h- 11:30h: Tea
    11:30h - 13:00h: Interactive Session
    13:00h: Lunch