Reordering Regional Security in Latin America

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

In the wake of the Cold War, regional democratization and economic liberalization were supposed to usher in an opportunity to build a common hemispheric security agenda, designed to unite the United States and Latin America in collaboration against the “new” security threats posed by organized crime and violent nonstate actors. Two decades later, the threats remain much the same, yet the hemispheric security agenda has fragmented, replaced in part by projects designed to build specifically South American regional institutions. As some scholars predicted, heterogeneous threat perceptions across the region, differences over democratization, and tensions over the effects of free trade and market liberalization have confounded the effort to build a hemispheric security agenda. Yet the efforts by former President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela to radically transform the regional security order by building a Bolivarian alliance of states as an explicit counterweight to U.S. power have also fallen short. Instead, Brazil’s ascent as a global economic power and the growing prosperity of the region as a whole has created an opportunity for Brazil to organize new mid-range political institutions, embodied in the Union of South American States (UNASUR), that exclude the United States yet pursue a consensual security agenda. This emerging regional order is designed by Brazil to secure its leadership in South America and allow it to choose when and where to involve the United States in managing regional crises. Yet, Brazil is finding that the very obstacles that confounded hemispheric security collaboration after the Cold War still endure in South America, limiting the effectiveness of the emerging regional security order.