Global Insider: UNASUR Defense Agencies Search for RelevanceBY THE EDITORS | 08 FEB 2012
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN: http://bit.ly/AqPhL4
Chile, Argentina, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay recently began to share information on national defense spending as part of a Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) initiative aimed at using transparency to maintain peace in the region. In an email interview, W. Alex Sanchez, a research fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, discussed UNASUR defense cooperation.
WPR: What are the current structures in place within UNASUR for defense cooperation? W. Alex Sanchez: UNASUR’s two main defense bodies are the Defense Council and the Defense Strategic Studies Center. The center, which was created in 2009, is based in Argentina -- not surprising given that it was proposed by Argentina’s then-minister of defense, Nilda Garre -- and will have a rotating leadership. It is standard for multinational agencies to have some kind of security-related wing. For instance, the Organization of American States has the Inter-American Defense Board, the Committee on Hemispheric Security and the Inter-American Defense College, founded in 1962 and probably one of the most obscure security-related agencies on the continent. So while these two UNASUR security agencies exist, the real question is how relevant they will be in the future.
WPR: What other plans are there for defense cooperation? Sanchez: There is no shortage of bilateral defense and cooperation agreements among UNASUR’s member states. For example, Peru and Colombia have signed numerous agreements aimed at improving monitoring of their border regions deep in the Amazon to tackle transnational crime, such as drug trafficking or the crossing of FARC insurgents into other countries. Regarding UNASUR, six members -- Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay -- have agreed to share information on defense expenditures. In addition, UNASUR Secretary-General Maria Emma Mejia has announced that a white book containing information about defense budgets in the region will be published during a security seminar in Quito this May. Moreover, UNASUR’s Defense Council met in November and approved an Action Plan for 2012, which touches on issues like defense cooperation, humanitarian missions and peacekeeping operations. There is even talk of creating a South American Observatory that will monitor drug-trafficking issues in the region.
WPR: What are the barriers to expanding defense and military cooperation among UNASUR members? Sanchez: The obvious issues are security tensions and disputes among member countries. For example, Peru and Chile have a maritime-border dispute that is currently being tried at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Additionally, situations sometimes arise that spiral out of control, like the 2008 incident in which Colombian forces attacked a FARC base in Ecuador without informing Quito first. This prompted Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez to send his army to the country’s border with Colombia, declaring that he would defend Ecuador’s sovereignty. While the initiatives by the aforementioned six countries are important, it is necessary to highlight that Brazil and Venezuela have not yet agreed to share information about their defense budgets. According to a recent report by the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, a Russian think tank, Venezuela was the eighth-biggest importer of military technology in the world in 2010, mostly from Russia. Combine that with Chávez’s sometimes belligerent declarations and initiatives, such as the 2008 incident with Colombia, and it is obvious that more transparency is needed from that country in particular.