Around 40 heads of state and 60 diplomatic delegations from countries of the European Union (EU), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), met during the weekend of January 26 in Santiago, Chile. The EU-CELAC summit focused on increasing trade ties between the two blocs while promoting sustainable development and protecting the environment.
Whereas the future of European economies remains uncertain due to the enormous amount of ongoing problems with several of its member countries, the economies of Latin America and the Caribbean continue to boom. However, not everything is perfect among CELAC members and the real underlying question is not the future of EU-CELAC relations but whether CELAC will be able to maintain unity between the new organization’s over 30 members during the coming years.
In addition, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his intent to hold a referendum regarding British membership in the EU by 2018 at the latest. What more, Scotland will hold a referendum regarding a possibleScottish independence from the UK in 2014. These challenges mean that the EU and its members will likely face many dramatic challenges in the near future.
Conversely, Latin America and the Caribbean have been enjoying an economic boom over the last decade, where countries like Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Peru have become economic powerhouses. As a result of economic growth, vast natural resources and a growing productive workforce, CELAC has increasingly attracted trade and investments from the international community. For example, the U.S. is looking to create an ambitious intercontinental free trade area, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would include Australia, Singapore as well as Latin American nations like Mexico, Chile and Peru. In addition,Latin American trade with China has continued to grow. Finally, Latin America has also approached Middle Eastern markets, as exemplified by the Third summit between the Arab World and South America held in Peru. In light of recent positive regional economic developments in the Western Hemisphere, it was no surprise that Europe strove to portray itself as an attractive trade partner in Santiago.
EU-CELAC Summit: What keeps it together?
The ideological basis for CELAC is a desire for both greater regional integration and further independence from Washington’s hegemony in the region. However, it is debatable whether the new organization will remain united in the coming years due to the differences between its members in terms of national interests and objectives. Moreover, it is noteworthy to mention that Cuba has become the head role of CELAC’s rotating leadership. This sends a clear message to Washington that the rest of the Americas want Havana to be more integrated into the inter-American system.
It will be interesting to see how the White House will behave towards the region during Obama’s second presidential term. The new administration has already received multilateral diplomatic pressure during the2012 Summit of the Americas in Colombiafrom several states who wanted Cuba to attend, contrary to the wishes of Washington. The next summit is scheduled to be held in Panama in 2015. It is expected that similar pressure on Washington to allow for Havana’s presence in such regional forums will only increase in the coming years.
Nevertheless, while Cuba is an issue that is commonly raised whenever there are talks about hemispheric integration, it is not a critical issue for nations that may have other, more immediate diplomatic concerns and which may prove to be more divisive among CELAC states. Some of the more consequential issues which have affected the region in recent years include: The border dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, as well as Colombia’s discomfort stemming from a ruling by the International Court of Justice over a maritime border dispute with Nicaragua. In addition, Bolivia continues to demand a territorial corridor linking it to the sea that would transverse Chile; Bolivian President Evo Morales has declared that he wants his country to have sea access by 2025.
Even the EU-CELAC summit sparked controversy as Paraguay did not attend the high level meeting. (The Chilean government said Asuncion chose not to attend while the Paraguayans said they were not invited). Paraguay has been isolated from regional groups like UNASUR and MERCOSUR sinceformer President Fernando Lugowas controversially removed from office last June 2012. Besides the Paraguay issue, the EU-CELAC summit also demonstrated the divide among some CELAC nations regarding commerce, as countries like Peru, Mexico and Chile were aiming to receive more investments from Europe. Meanwhile, ALBA nations like Venezuela protested the addition of paragraphs in the summit’s final declaration that called for the “legal certainty” of European investments. In other words, CELAC’s most foreboding challenge in the coming years will be to maintain unity among its members.
The upcomingMarch referendum on the Falklands/Malvinas islandswill be a test to see if CELAC members can remain as a cohesive unit around an issue that isn’t based in anti-U.S. sentiments. It will be critical for Argentina to gain the support of CELAC in its protest of the referendum, as Buenos Aires contests the control of the islands with London.
The EU-CELAC summit culminated with the predictable resolutions andagreements to improve cooperationbetween both regions, particularly regarding trade. CELAC has arguably emerged as the next great economic powerhouse, but the key to its diplomatic weight will be the extent to which the group can remain as a single bloc in its dealings with the rest of the world. While at first glance CELAC may appear united, the truth is that there may not be much “glue” to hold this massive new multinational agency together in the long run.
Warning: This analysis may contain spoilers for people who haven’t read the books that make up A Song of Ice and Fire
A Song of Ice and Fire, a series of books set in a fictional world crafted by George R.R. Martin has become very popular after its adaptation as a HBO TV series entitledGame of Thrones(GoT). The books have become appealing to international relations (IR) scholars as they touch on theoretical concepts like realism and idealism, as well as issues like the success (or lack thereof) of autocratic governments and the role of women in politics in different societies. In this commentary, we will dig a little deeper, focusing on the alliance system integral not only to Martin’s fictional world but also to real-world state behavior.
The Rising IR/Fiction Sub Genre of Studies
It is noteworthy to mention that in recent years, it has become increasingly popular for IR and security scholars to carry out serious analyses of fictional TV shows and movies. For example, the renowned journalForeign Affairshas published articles analyzing the sociopolitical dimensions of the TV showsHomelandandBoardwalk Empire.Additionally, Tufts University professor Daniel Drezner has published a book entitledTheories of International Politics and Zombies, discussing how IR theories such as realism or idealism could be applied if hordes of zombies appeared in the real world.Even the controversial movieZero Dark Thirty, which portrays the hunt for Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, was analyzed by General Michael V. Hayden, CIA director from 2006 to 2009.Furthermore, in commentary published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (a Latin America-oriented think tank in Washington DC) this author discussed water politics and the possibility of a military coup in Bolivia, as portrayed in the not-so fictional world of the James Bond movieQuantum of Solace.Regarding Martin’s world, the popularity of the books and the TV show prompted it to be featured in articles in bothForeign AffairsandForeign Policy.
It is apparent that crossover analysis of IR issues and how they’re portrayed in fictional worlds are likely to continue, and it may only be a matter of time before a university offers some type of minor concentration on IR/Fiction studies, particularly as there are already universities that offer courses that discuss Hollywood productions and real world politics. If this happens, an analysis of theGame of Thronesseries would likely to be found in any course syllabi. While George R.R. Martin’s fictional world offers numerous opportunities to analyze the finer points of IR theory, space constraints will limit us to discussing just a few.
The Realistically Fictional Shifting Alliance System
Throughout the history and ongoing events of theA Song of Ice and Firebook series (including the War of Five Kings, which is where the TV series roughly begins) a constant theme is the shifting alliances of Kings as well as the heads of major and minor Houses (Westeros, the island-continent where most of the events take place is based around essentially a feudalistic and monarchical type of government), particularly once internal warfare for the throne starts. We will briefly summarize some of the major issues/players in Martin’s saga (warning, this will contain spoilers), and then we will carry out an analysis and comparison of the alliance system in Westeros and the real world.
1. Policy Making as a One-Man Show:An important player in the book series is the House Frey, under the control of Lord Walder Frey. Once the House Stark begins its rebellion against the Iron Throne (the holder of which governs the entire island), the importance of the Freys is stressed because of two reasons; the large size of their army and their control of a set of two castles (known as the Twins), including a key bridge which the rebel army of Rob Stark must cross in order to continue his march South. Frey ultimately betrays the Starks inA Storm of Swordsin favor of the ruling Iron Throne forces.
2.Does Having A Greater Common Enemy Turn Rivals Into Allies? Two contenders for the Iron Throne during the War of Five Kings are Robert’s brothers, Stannis and Renly Baratheon, each leading their own army. While common sense may dictate that both brothers should join against a common enemy (namely Geoffrey Baratheon, who occupies the Iron Throne, and his powerful allies, the House Lannister), the two brothers, both greedy for the throne, are ready to go to war with each other. Additionally, there is also the war between members of the Night’s Watch, a military order that guards a gigantic ice Wall in the frozen north of Westeros, and the people that live beyond the wall, including a self-proclaimed King Beyond the Wall are his army of “Freemen”, who want to cross the wall and enter Westeros. Nevertheless, the major security threat for both the Watch and the “freemen” are not each other, but the “Others” (people that have come back to life in azombiesqueway) that are awakening and taking over the lands to the north of the island continent. A critical motivation for the freemen’s attack on the Wall is to migrate south so they can escape from these zombie-monsters.
3.Alliances by Small Players: BetweenA Storm of SwordsandA Dance With Dragons, Jon Snow, as commander of the Night’s Watch, enters into essentially unholy alliances with their historical nemesis, the freemen beyond the wall, as well as with King Stannis Baratheon, leader of one of the rebel factions that covets the Iron Throne. The reasoning behind Snow’s decisions comes out of pure desperation. Due to periodic attack by the freemen and the Others, the Night’s Watch is militarily weak. With just a few hundred men left, nearly none of the Night’s castles along the Wall remain fully functional.
In modern times, a government’s foreign policy is ideally formulated after a rational discussion by a head of state and close advisors, while taking into account a country’s national interests and geopolitical concerns. However, in several autocratic or semi-autocratic governments that continue to exist, a single leader can unilaterally decide on foreign policy decisions (akin to Lord Frey ruling over his plethora of children, all minor lords of the territory controlled by House Frey). For example, elements of the archetypal authoritarian leader and his foreign policy were visible in Libya’s foreign policy towards Sub-Saharan Africa, during the rule of long-time dictator Moammar Gaddafi.Additionally, autocratic leaders such as the ruling dynasty in North Korea or Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe have essentially imposed a self-isolation of their nations from the outside world, to the detriment of their respective citizens.
Furthermore, Walder Frey’s decision to switch alliances from the Starks to the Iron Throne is a good fictional example of similar decisions by real-world leaders. During wartime, it is not uncommon for governments to switch alliances if they feel the tides of war are turning and they prefer to be on the winning side. An example of this happened during World War I when Italy signed defense accords with the German and Austro-Hungarian empires. However, once the hostilities started, Italy remained neutral for the first months of the war. Rome ultimately entered it on May 1915, but on the side of the Allied Powers. Moreover, the Snow/Stannis and Snow/Freemen alliance is an example of defense pacts between small, militarily weak, nations with stronger ones; a standard tactic used throughout history. For instance, prior to World War I, weak European states like Belgium and Serbia entered into alliances with stronger states (such as the British, German or Russian empires), in a complex system of defense pacts in order to deter potential aggression.
Even in periods of peace, small states look for alliances in order to create strong military, economic or diplomatic blocs. For example, the Caribbean nations have united in a bloc known as CARICOM, with interesting integration-oriented judicial, trade and diplomatic initiatives.The group is particularly relevant in the Western Hemisphere when the Organization of the American States (OAS) is choosing a new secretary general. CARICOM nations are known for voting as a single bloc (they have 15 members), essentially making them “kingmakers” as whichever candidate the group supports will likely get elected.Moreover, Latin American nations have come together in recent years with the creation of organizations like CELAC and UNASUR to counter the U.S.’s historical continental influence. Again, integration, just like Jon Snow’s weak Watch allying itself with stronger entities, is an important tactic for small nations to become relevant and counter the influence of stronger states.
Finally, the real-world alliance system also denotes how states may enter into alliances with other actors who, for example, may have unlikable leaders or domestic policies. InA Song of Ice and Fire, Rob Stark and Jon Snow are portrayed as very likeable and honorable leaders who, because of geopolitical and geosecurity concerns, must enter into alliances with the Freys (with Walder Frey coming off as an old, dictatorial leader with a preference for significantly young wives), or Stannis (a ruthless leader). Certainly, in the real world, common enemies have made for strange bedfellows. During World War II the Allies joined together with Russia in order to fight Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers even though, before the war started Adolf Hitler and his government were perceived by the West as a barrier to the spread of Communism into Europe.
Moreover, national interests have caused nations to increase their relations with other governments that may have leaders known for corruption and human rights violations. For example, the U.S. styles itself as a beacon of democracy and freedom, but has in the past decades become allies with the likes of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein (against Iran), Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (for stability in the Middle East vis-à-vis Israel), Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov (to use Uzbek territory to transport supplies to Afghanistan),Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai (to bring stability to his country) and Peru’s Alberto Fujimori (to crack down on leftist-insurgents and drug traffickers in the Andean nation). The European Union has also maintained relations with Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, even after the 2005 Andijan Massacre,due to “hard-nosed EU and NATO interest in maintaining supply routes to Afghanistan, and in Uzbek energy reserves, which now take precedence.”
A Song of Ice and Fireand its TV adaptation,Game of Thrones,is replete with memorable situations and characters that make it a literary masterpiece, due to a complex and complete fictional world spawned from the mind of George R.R. Martin. For IR scholars and enthusiasts,A Song of Ice and Fireprovides plenty of material that can be compared to real world historical events and incidents, including, as we have briefly touched upon in this commentary, the complex system of alliances, served by national interests and decisions by autocratic leaders. Over the past century, the world has witnessed two World Wars, one Cold War, and a currently changing multipolar international order, which provide us with plenty of examples of shifting alliances and a plethora of scholarly analyses that explain the reasons behind them. Meanwhile, just like in the real world, the kings, queens and lords of the fictional world of Westeros and beyond are in an ever-changing system of alliances and defense pacts to protect their national and personal (often differing) interests.
We can summarize the book series’ way of diplomacy and state behavior with two memorable quotes: “You may well have the better claim, but I have the larger army”and “In the game of thrones, even the humblest pieces can have wills of their own. Sometimes they refuse to make the moves you’ve planned for them.” Most of Martin’s fantasy world is based around realist-international relations theory, without much room for idealism, and with several parallels that can be made to real-world events.
W. Alex Sanchezis a Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) where he focuses on geopolitics, military and cyber security issues. He regularly appears in different media outlets like Al Jazeera, VOXXI, BBC, El Comercio (Peru), New Internationalist, among others. His analyses have appeared in numerous refereed journals including Small Wars and Insurgencies, Defence Studies, the Journal of Slavic Military Studies, European Security, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism and Cuban Affairs. Follow Alex on Twitterhere.
The author would like to thank Sierra Ramirez, a graduate student in International Affairs at American University, for her advice and suggestions in the drafting of this article and her extensive knowledge of the Game of Thrones saga.
For example, the New School in New York offers a class entitledHollywood and the World. (http://www.newschool.edu/ucc/courseDetail.aspx?id=NINT5171. In addition, Columbia College in Chicago offers a course entitledZombies in Popular Media, while the University of Arizona will now offer a minor concentration in Hip-Hop.
 There are two major reasons for Walder Frey’s betrayal of the Starks: A. He could see the tides of the war turning and decided to ally with the Iron Throne, and B. Because he was insulted that the rebellious Rob Stark (the King in the North) had married a girl instead of one of Frey’s daughters, as they both had previously agreed upon. While Lord Frey is supposedly loyal to the House of Stark, Walder Frey explains to Catelyn Stark (the matriarch of House Stark) during a meeting that he is upset that the Starks have shown nothing but contempt for him and his family over the years, specially by refusing to marry his kids to the Stark family.
Again, while it would make sense for the Watch and the freemen to unite against a common enemy, they first go to war with each other, and then there has to be a change in leadership (most of the Watch’s old guard as well as the King beyond the Wall are killed) for a shaky alliance to take place between two sides to unite against the monsters.
In addition, Snow believes if he does not enter into some kind of alliance with King Stannis, the monarch could simply take over the Watch’s castles and kill the Watch’s remaining members. It is worth to note that Snow held until the last possible moment from entering into alliances with either the freemen or Stannis, as he did not receive either soldiers or any other type of help from his brother, Rob Stark, and other military powerhouses in the kingdom. Real-world alliances by nations out of extreme necessity is a case-study in itself.
For a great analysis of Gaddafi’s African policies, see: Hussein Solomon and Gerrie Swart. “Libya’s Foreign Policy Flux.”African Affairs. July 2005. Vol. 104, Issue 416. P. 469-492.
The Venezuelan National Assembly has taken an expected, yet significant action, as it has granted President Hugo Chavez more time to recuperate from his cancer surgery (he’s been in a Cuban hospital since mid-December). Chavez’s inaugural ceremony was supposed to take place on Thursday, Jan. 10, after having been elected for a new presidential term (2013-2019) last October. Due to this evolving situation, a number of political analysts are questioning whetherchavismocan survive without Hugo Chavez, along with what will be the controversial president’s lasting legacy.
In respect to Latin American integration, Chavez’s goal was to become a 21stcentury version of his hero, Simon Bolivar, a 19thcentury South American liberator. Nevertheless, Chavez’s success record as a catalyst to bring the region together, and shield it from U.S. influence, has been mixed at best.
Hugo Chavez’s friends, allies and initiatives
The government organized the unusual show of support for the cancer-stricken leader on the streets on what was supposed to be his inauguration day. President Hugo Chavez is recovering in Cuba from complications from his cancer surgery. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
During Hugo Chavez’s fourteen-year presidential tenure, he managed to gain a number of political allies. A critical factor that attracted these powers was his rise to fame, not only in Venezuela, but also in countries rife with left-leaning governments, which personified the anti-Washington, pro-regional integration credo. Examples of such leaders include Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Cuba’s Castro brothers. With such allies, Chavez managed to create the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA),a loose alliance comprised of nationswhose heads of state share Chavez-like ideologies.
ALBA officials claim the agency has been effective in respect to fostering commercial integration among its members. In 2009, the region created a virtual common currency to facilitate trade among its members, called the Sucre. Currently, the nations that have adopted this alternative currency are Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia and most recently Nicaragua. According to ALBA’s executive secretary, Amenothep Zambrano, integration initiatives have been a success. Zambrano arguedin a 2011 interviewthat for every $100 that ALBA states use for international commerce, between $10-20 is used for trade within the bloc.
In addition to ALBA, Chavez’s other major initiative was thecreation of PetroCaribe, an entity that provides Venezuelan oil to Caribbean nations. As the BBC explains, the appeal of this initiative is that “member countries are allowed to retain a part of their payment in the form of a very low interest loan repaid over a twenty five year period.” PetroCaribe has allowed Chavez to gain the respect and gratitude of several Caribbean member-states such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica as well as Trinidad and Tobago. Although PetroCaribe’s goals appear noble, analysts have argued that the nations receiving Venezuelan oil will become heavily indebted to the oil rich country in the long term.
Tensions and incidents
While working towards achieving great regional integration among Latin American states, Hugo Chavez’s presidency (so far), has arguably become better known for its incidents involving regional neighbors. For example, in 2008 Colombia’s then-president Alvaro Uribe, without notifying Quito, carried out a military raid against a camp of FARC insurgents in Ecuadorian territory. While the raid was ultimately successful (a high-ranking FARC leader was killed), the operation caused a diplomatic incident, as Ecuador claimed its sovereignty had been violated since it had not been informed of the operation. In an effort to defend his ally,Chavez deployed his armyto Colombia’s border, ready to declare war on Bogota. Fortunately the situation diffused itself and a war did not commence.
Furthermore, Chavez has been at odds with several fellow Latin American nations throughout this past decade, particularly with respect to Colombia’s Uribe Administration. In 2010, Hugo Chavez againdeployed his military to the border with Colombiaafter being accused by the Colombian government of harboring insurgents. Another incident with a neighboring nation occurred in 2007, when Venezuelan troops allegedly crossed into Guyana in an effort to blow up gold-mining dredges. Both countries have been at odds regarding a disputed territory for years.
Moreover, at the dawn of his presidency in 2001, Chavez was engaged in a diplomatic crisis with Peru, which was under the administration of interim President Valentin Paniagua. This incident was the result of Vladimiro Montesinos, a Peruvian intelligence chief and the right hand of Dictator Alberto Fujimori, who had fled to Venezuela in order to avoid capture by Peruvian authorities. Venezuelan authorities ultimately arrested and deported Montesinos back to Lima, but there has been a long-held belief that Chavez or someone in his inner circle had been actively harboring the Peruvian criminal for months.
A final example—although there are others—of the tensions between Chavez and neighboring governments, relates to the instance of Brazil’s Congress continuously blockingVenezuelan membership to the trading bloc MERCOSUR. After years of waiting, Venezuela finally gained membership in 2012. Chavez’s close ties with Brazilian Presidents Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff did not prevent the Brazilian legislative from blocking Caracas’ attempts to join the bloc for several years.
Hugo Chavez as Bolivar 2.0
Since his election in 1999, President Hugo Chavez has often referred to Simon Bolivar throughout his speeches. More than once, Chavez held Bolivar’s sword to show himself as his successor. But the Venezuelan leader has experienced limited success in uniting South America, let alone all of Latin America and the Caribbean. Chavez has utilized the wave of leftist governments that have took over the region throughout the last decade, and has managed to foster relationships with leaders such as Bolivia’s Morales and Ecuador’s Correa, which has allowed him to create entities such as ALBA and PetroCaribe.
In spite of this, the Venezuelan outspoken leader has what some would consider reckless behavior, resulting in clashes with other heads of state, particularly in the case of Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe. Should Chavez manage to fulfill another six-year presidential term, it will be interesting to see what form his foreign policies will take. It remains to be seen if Venezuela’s domestic circumstances will allow him to continue his aggressive foreign policy positions, including his use of oil as a diplomatic weapon. Chavez has attempted to amend the inter-American system by replacing long-standing U.S. influence with that of a greater Latin American authority and with Venezuela guiding the process. Despite his best efforts, Hugo Chavez has certainly remained determined to achieve his goal, and has been marginally successful.