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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What is the South American Defense Council?

On a March 2008 visit to Washington, Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim announced an intention to create a South American Defense Council (SADC), a body “based on the principles of non-intervention, sovereignty and territoriality.” Jobim then toured the region to get support for the SADC initiative.

Despite doubts that countries like Venezuela and Colombia could agree on common defense and security goals, the Council’s creation was approved in December 2008, in an extraordinary summit in Brazil, where the Statute of the UNASUR SADC was signed.

The Statute defines the Council’s main aims as:

1. Consolidating South America as a zone of peace, a base for democratic stability and the integral development of our peoples, and a contribution to world peace.

2. Creating a South American identity in defense issues, incorporating the subregional and national characteristics that strengthen unity between Latin America and the Caribbean.

3. Generating consensus to strengthen regional cooperation on defense issues.

The SADC is made up of the defense ministers of UNASUR’s 12 country members, who carry out annual ordinary meetings. (UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations, is a regional cooperation body founded in 2008, the result of a process that began in 2004.) The Council has an executive body, made of the region’s vice-ministers of defense. The Presidency, charged with coordinating its activities, is exercised by the country that holds UNASUR’s pro tempore presidency – currently, Ecuador.

So far, there have been only two ordinary meetings of the SADC. The first, held in Chile, produced the Santiago de Chile Declaration (March 2009), which introduced several initiatives: to foster cooperation in defense issues; to overcome differences in military expenditure; to become a dialogue platform for conflicts between its members; and to coordinate every nation’s external security. The Declaration introduced a 2009-2010 Action Plan, based on four elements: defense policies and military cooperation; humanitarian actions and peace operations; defense industry and technology; and military education and training.

The IX Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (CDMA), a regional dialogue process begun with heavy U.S. support in 1995, will take place in Bolivia in November. It will be interesting to note whether South American defense ministries elect to use the SADC framework to coordinate their positions at the CDMA. There is a possibility that, at the meeting, the SADC countries will propose transparency standards for defense expenditure and defense budgets — an issue of ever greater importance amid ever greater concerns about rising regional arms purchases.

As one of its goals in the “defense policies” area, the 2009-2010 Action Plan seeks greater sharing information about defense expenditures and economic indicators of defense. As a result, an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense of UNASUR took place on November 27, 2009. Participants signed a resolution establishing security and confidence-building measures (CBMs), with specific implementation measures and guarantees:

1.Exchange of information and transparency in defense systems. This includes the
creation of a network for:

  • the exchange of information regarding defense policies;
  • information on military forces: troops, weapons and equipment;
  • setting up an Information Bank of the UNASUR countries to register the transfer and procurement of equipment and conventional weapons;
  • A confidential mechanism of “notification and registration before UNASUR of the full text of the intraregional and extra-regional cooperation agreements in matters of defense and security once these are approved.” This goal appears to address the fears and tension created after the news about a defense agreement between Colombia and the United States were leaked to the press.

2.Exchange of information and transparency on defense expenditures. This includes initiatives “to report on defense expenditures from the previous fiscal year” and “to send the defense budgets of the last 5 years to the South American Defense Council on a gradual basis.”

3.Exchange of information and transparency about military maneuvers and exercises.

  • “a. to notify in advance, the bordering member countries and UNASUR about any intended military maneuvers, deployments or exercises at the borders, in a timely fashion … including the number of troops, location in respect to the borders, nature and amount of equipment to be used;”
  • “b. to notify UNASUR about the development of joint military exercises, whether with regional or extra-regional countries;” 
  • “d. to establish communication mechanisms between military forces in the borders with the purpose of coordinating and informing about their activities.”

4. Interestingly, in the section on “Measures in the Field of Security,” the resolution reiterates the member countries’ “most vehement rejection of all ruptures of constitutional and democratic law and any attempt of coup d’état,” and “their determination not to recognize governments that emerge from coups d’état or that alter the constitutional law.” This is a clear reference to Honduras.

5. Under “Compliance and Verification,” the resolution proposes “to develop a voluntary mechanism of visits to military facilities with the purpose of promoting exchange of information and experiences related to border control strategies, methods and policies.”

6. Finally, UNASUR deems it important “to invite the government of the United States of America to a dialogue in relation to the strategic matters of defense, peace, security and development.” This meeting has not happened yet.

Following up on this, regional leaders at the second ordinary meeting of the SDC, in May 2010, approved the Declaration of Guayaquil. This document:

1. “Approved the procedures to implement the confidence-building and security measures”
agreed at earlier meetings.

2. Set up a working group, led by Argentina, Chile and Peru, “to develop a methodology to address technical and design elements of the system for measuring defense expenses in our countries … in order to promote the issue of transparency in defense expenses.”

Although we have yet to see concrete, tangible results of these declarations and action plans, it is worth highlighting the coherence and continuity in the objectives that the SADC is following. This generates expectations of success for the SADC in defense and security matters in South America and the rest of the hemisphere.

This is especially important considering political tensions in the Andean region, which have had so far some military, defense and regional security implications. The SADC at least generates a space for debate and dialogue between the countries of this sub-region, particularly Colombia and Venezuela. The upcoming IX CDMA in November will most certainly present a good opportunity for the SADC to prove the utility of its existence and work. We hope it does so.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

UNASUR selects its first secretary general

On Tuesday, heads of state from South America met in Buenos Aires, Argentina for a summit meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Many topics were discussed at the summit, including the election of its first secretary general, Arizona's controversial immigration law, Argentina's right to the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), and Paraguay's fight against the leftist guerrilla group, the Paraguayan People's Army (EPP).

Colombian President Álvaro Uribe did not attend the summit, and was represented by Foreign Minister Jamie Bermúdez, who urged UNASUR to focus on export restrictions, the movement of people, and nations meddling in internal affairs of other countries. "One can see that we are very worried about the way in which we should tackle the world from UNASUR, when one suspects, intuits, and sees that we have internal difficulties that need to be resolved among brother nations," he said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also urged UNASUR countries to "put aside their 'ideological positions' in order for the budding regional bloc to move forward."

UNASUR's first secretary general
One of the first items on the agenda at the UNASUR summit was its unanimous consent to name ex-President of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner, to be UNASUR's first secretary general "in hopes that the 12-nation UNASUR group can consolidate into a regional force for unity, development and democracy-building," according to the Washington Post.

UNASUR's founding treaty states that the secretary general must focus solely on regional matters during the two-year term, and not on national politics. However, Kirchner, who was president of Argentina from 2003 to 2007, is currently a Congressman in Argentina's lower house and has "all but declared" his intention to run in Argentina's presidential elections next year to succeed his wife, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. In order to carry out his obligations as secretary general of UNASUR, Kirchner will have to resign from or ask for a leave of absence from his position in Congress.

One point of contention at the summit was Honduras. Many of the South American leaders said they would boycott the upcoming Latin American-European Union summit in Spain if Honduran President Porfirio Lobo attends. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa noted that many of UNASUR's member states, not including Colombia and Peru, are still uneasy about Lobo, who was elected to replace ousted President Manuel Zelaya. According to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, "If Spain officially invites Lobo, Brazil is not going. Lobo has not given any indication that he wants to change anything in relation to Zelaya's amnesty."

Arizona, Falkland Islands, and Paraguay

In various declarations, the South American leaders expressed their condemnation of Arizona's new immigration law, confirmed the rights of Argentina to the Falkland Islands, and manifested their solidarity with the government of Paraguay, stating their "total and absolute support for the constitutional government of Fernando Lugo" in its "fight against the criminal violence that affects five departments in the country," referring to the Paraguayan People's Army's (EPP) activities in northern Paraguay.

According to the declaration, Arizona's immigration law opens the door to the "discretional detention of people based on racial, ethnic, phenotypic, language and migratory status reasons under the questionable concept of ‘reasonable doubt.'" An Argentine government press release also states that the law "constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights."

The UNASUR bloc also reaffirmed its "firm support to the legitimate rights" of Argentina to the Falkland Islands and rejected the natural resource exploration that the United Kingdom is currently conducting "illegally" in the waters surrounding the islands.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Just the Facts Podcast: The week

Abigail and Adam review news from the week: Costa Rica's elections, the Colombian defense minister's visit, re-election in Colombia, and the UNASUR summit in Quito.

You can now subscribe to the "Just the Facts" podcast on iTunes. Thank you for listening.


Thursday, December 3, 2009

Unasur Summit in Quito

On Friday, November 27, defense and foreign ministers from the Union of South American Nations' Unasur member nations gathered in Quito, Ecuador to address growing regional tensions. Topics on the table included continuing concerns about the Colombia-U.S. military accord, which grants the United States access to seven Colombian military bases, growing tensions between Chile and Peru after Peru accused Chile of espionage, and deteriorating relations between Colombia and Venezuela.

One member nation was conspicuously absent from the meeting. Neither Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva nor Foreign Relations Minister Jaime Bermúdez were in attendance, having cancelled at the last minute. In their place, Bermúdez sent a letter explaining that the agreement with the U.S. contains the principle of "non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States." While Colombian Defense Minister Silva told Radio Caracol the same day that "the number one obligation of a defense minister is to avoid war at all costs; the second obligation is if some makes war against us, Colombia must face it and win, but we are in the first stage. ... [F]or the first time in decades, the defense ministry must study how to prepare to face a foreign threat." In response, Venezuelan Minister Maduro described Silva as a "crazy and irresponsible renegade, warmonger, who has begun to fire at Venezuela from Bogotá." and called Colombia's absence "inexcusable, a huge mistake and an act of contempt towards Unasur."

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also sent a letter to the members of Unasur, in an effort to assuage fears that the base agreement jeopardizes the sovereignty of countries in the region. The letter made it "absolutely clear" that the military deal between Bogotá and Washington would be carried out "with total respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the other countries."

Secretary Clinton's letter appeared to settle the fears of some member nations. The Brazilian minister, Celso Amorín, left the meeting at midday "optimistic. ... Above all there were advances on the issue that worried us the most, which was the formal guarantees," he said. While Ecuador's Foreign Minister Fander Falconí also expressed his satisfaction: "One of the best results of today's meeting has been to receive a text that plainly guarantees no extraterritorial intervention through this type of agreement."

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Maduro, however, was less satisfied, and underlined the need to turn "these written guarantees into realities, so that they do not become a joke, as happened in Honduras." Maduro said that the agreements resulting from the summit were indeed "a step forward, but still not sufficient."

Essentially no progress was made towards easing tensions between Colombia and Venezuela, or between Chile and Peru, though issues such as national sovereignty and nuclear power were discussed. Countries agreed to prohibit "the use or the threat of force, as well as any other type of military aggression or threats to the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the other member states," according to the final document of the summit, which Ecuadoran officials are still finalizing. The Unasur members also agreed on the need to create a communications network, an "information bank," that would increase the transparency of weapons transfers; however the final declaration stipulates that "Such a mechanism, at the request of [any state], will respect the principle of confidentiality."

Monday, August 31, 2009

Joint declaration from UNASUR meeting

Last Friday, the 12 heads of state of UNASUR member countries met in Bariloche, Argentina for a special meeting convened to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia military base agreement, among other topics. Many of the region's leaders took their turn speaking out against the agreement and the potential for an increased U.S. military presence in South America. However, the final declaration that all members signed did not officially condemn the proposal. Instead, it focused on expressing the need to respect the sovereignty of each nation in the region and strengthen peace throughout the region through confidence, cooperation and transparency.

A translation of the final declaration is below:

A joint declaration of the special meeting of the Council of Leaders of UNASUR

San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina, August 28, 2009

The heads of state of the South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) together at an extra session on August 28, 2009 in San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina; Reaffirming our commitment to the principles of International Law in reference to relations of friendship and cooperation between States, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations; Recognizinge, equally, that military cooperation agreements must be strictly guided by the principles and intentions of the Charter of the United Nations and the fundamental principles of the Constitutional Treaty of UNASUR; Emphasizing that the unconditional respect of sovereignty, integrity and territorial sanctity of the States, the non-intervention in internal affairs and the self-determination of the people are essential for the consolidation of regional integration; Reiterating our will to consolidate South America into a zone of peace, fundamental for the integral development of our people and the preservation of their natural resources, through the prevention of conflicts, the peaceful solution of controversies and the abstention from reverting to threats or the use of force; Underlying UNASUR's vocation for the peaceful solution to controversies and the promotion of dialogue and consensus in topics of defense through the strengthening of cooperation, confidence and transparency;


To strengthen South America as a zone of peace, committing ourselves to establishing mechanisms for mutual confidence in defense and security, sustaining our decision to abstain ourselves from reverting to threats or the use of force against the territorial integrity of another UNASUR state.

To reaffirm our commitment to strengthen the fight and cooperation against terrorism and transnational organized crime and its related crimes: narcotrafficking, small and light arms trafficking, in addition to the rejection of the presence or action of illegal armed groups.

To reaffirm that the presence of foreign military forces cannot, with its means and resources linked to its own goals, threaten the sovereignty and integrity of any South American nation and as a consequence, the peace and security of the region.

To instruct their Ministers of Foreign Relations and Defense to hold an additional meeting, during the first 15 days of next September, so that in the pursuit of improved transparency they design the means to strengthen confidence and security in a way that is complementary to the pre-existing instruments of the OAS, including concrete mechanisms of implementation and guarantees for all applicable countries of the existing agreements with countries within and outside of the region; such as illegal arms trafficking, narcotrafficking and terrorism in compliance with the law of each country. These mechanisms must take into account the unconditional respect for sovereignty, integrity and territorial sanctity and non-intervention in the internal affairs of the States;

To instruct the South American Defense Council to analyze the text of the "South American Strategy. White Paper, Air Mobility Command" and carry out a verification of the situation on the borders and submit the resulting study to the Council of Heads of State with the goal of considering courses of action to follow.

To instruct the South American Council on the Fight against Narcotrafficking to develop urgently a Statute and Plan of Action with the objective of defining a South American strategy in the fight against illicit drug trafficking and strengthening the cooperation between specialized organisms from our countries.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

What could be discussed at the UNASUR meeting in Argentina

Presidents from 12 South American countries will gather tomorrow in Bariloche, Argentina for a meeting of UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. The meeting was initially convened earlier this month in order to discuss the pending U.S.-Colombia military base agreement that is worrying many of the continent's leaders, and the topic is still going to be the main point of discussion and perhaps contention. However, the meeting will most likely touch on several other topics that have not received as much recent media attention.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has already announced that if he is to attend the meeting (which has been confirmed), he will bring up issues such as foreign support for the FARC, illicit arms trafficking in the region, and military cooperation agreements between Colombia's neighbors and Russia.

Other issues that have received less media attention, especially in the United States, include the current rifts between Peru and Chile over providing Bolivia access to the Pacific Ocean and some leaders' concerns about a potential arms race brewing on the continent.

Here is a quick summary of each issue that could be brought up tomorrow in Argentina:

U.S.-Colombia base agreement

On July 15, Colombia's defense, interior and foreign relations ministers held a press conference to confirm reports that Colombia and the United States were negotiating an agreement that would give the United States authority to use seven military facilities in Colombia. The announcement was immediately followed by protests from many of Colombia's neighbors. Despite attempts by both the U.S. and Colombian governments to reassure the leaders of the region that this agreement will not result in activities outside of Colombia and will not lead to a "significant permanent increase in the U.S. military presence in Colombia," according to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, these concerns have not subsided.

Last week, Brazilian President Lula da Silva invited President Obama to attend the meeting in Argentina in order to clear up any concerns or misunderstandings about the U.S.-Colombia deal, but Obama declined the invitation.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has also called for a continent-wide referendum on the proposed agreement, and announced that he will take his proposal to the UNASUR meeting.

Because the meeting in Argentina was convened as a result of this pending agreement, it will definitely hold center stage.

Venezuelan weapons found in the hands of the FARC

In July, Colombia announced that Swedish-made antitank rockets and launchers sold to the Venezuelan armed forces had been recovered from a FARC camp.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez immediately denied the allegations that his country was providing weapons to the guerrilla group, recalled his Ambassador from Colombia and froze diplomatic relations. Chávez later claimed that the weapons were reported missing from Venezuela's arsenal in 1995, nearly four years before his first presidential term began.

The information on the discovered weapons was released soon after Venezuela and other neighboring countries started to voice opposition to the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement, and President Chávez protested that the Colombian government was "trying to blackmail [Venezuela]" and use the information to justify intervention in his country.

Peru, Chile and Bolivia's access to the ocean

The Peruvian government hopes to bring up its concerns about what it calls an "agreement under the table" between Chile and Bolivia regarding Bolivia's desire for maritime access - a demand to which the Chilean government has responded that it does not need a third country intervening in bilateral relations between the two countries, let alone all of the members of UNASUR.

Peruvian President Alan Garcia argues that this is not just a bilateral issue, as the maritime access that could be granted to Bolivia was once Peruvian territory. According to Peruvian Foreign Minister José Antonia García Belaúnde, "any sovereign solution over (the Chilean border town) Arica, must be made by both Peru and Chile, and Peru has not been consulted about this subject."

Potential arms race in South America

Both Paraguay and Colombia have expressed a desire to discuss a whether or not an arms race is brewing in South America. Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo cites concerns regarding Bolivia's recent agreement with Russia to purchase $100 million worth of weapons and military equipment. And Colombian President Uribe - who himself has greatly increased Colombia's arms purchases - has expressed concerns over "Venezuela's Russian purchases and Brazil's plans to launch a nuclear submarine with France's help and to buy 36 modern fighter jets."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Increased U.S. military presence in Colombia discussed at UNASUR meeting

Today, South American leaders who are members of the Union of South American Nations, or UNASUR, met in Quito, Ecuador, where the discussion centered on the proposed agreement between the United States and Colombia to increase the presence of the U.S. military at seven Colombian bases.

However, because President Uribe was not present (he decided not to attend due to the increased tensions between Colombia and its neighboring countries resulting from the agreement with the United States), the leaders in attendance decided not to condemn the military agreement between Colombia and the United States in its final document.

This decision, however, does not mean that the South American leaders are happy with it. Instead, they decided that it would be better to resolve the new tension in the region through dialogue and debate - one in which Colombia and the United States would participate. Brazilian President Lula da Silva suggested that UNASUR ask for the U.S. government to clarify the proposal to allow the United States military to use Colombian bases. Lula noted that "people will have to hear things they don't like" during the discussion.

It is unclear when or if this proposed meeting will take place. Regardless, the discussion surrounding the increased presence of the U.S. military in the region will continue on August 24, when Defense Ministers from the UNASUR member countries will meet. As of now, Colombian Defense Minister Gabriel Silva is planning on attending the upcoming meeting.

Despite the decision to not condemn the Colombia-U.S. military agreement today, many of the region's presidents took the opportunity to speak out against it.

Here are some of the statements made during the meeting:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: "This is worrisome. Venezuela is preparing itself, because they have their sights on us."

and "The wind of war is starting to blow (in South America)."

Argentine President Cristina Fernández: The U.S. proposal is "a belligerent, unprecedented and unacceptable situation."

and "It is essential that we invite President Álvaro Uribe to a place where he does not feel that there is hostility, what needs to be removed are the excuses."

Bolivian President Evo Morales: "We have to avoid Colombia turning into an Israel."