The Growth of the United States into the World’s Preponderant Power in the Second Half of the Twentieth Century Precluded the Involvement of Other Regional Powers in the Affairs of Latin America. Discuss with Reference to the European Economic Community

The end of the Second World War saw the United States consolidated in its position as the preponderant power in the Western World, with none but the Soviet Union able to come close to matching its economic, military or political might, nor its capabilities of global power projection. It would be natural, then, to assume that due to the increasing nature of its power, and the concurrently increasing universality of its interests, the United States would adopt more global policies, and seek both to control its allies and to curb its enemies more completely. Whilst this process came to fruition in the formation of NATO and the United Nations, as well as the larger united position of Western states against the socialist bloc, the second half of the twentieth century also saw a marked, but less noticed, attempt by the traditionally US-dominated countries of Latin America to become increasingly independent of their customary patron.

This desire to put some distance between Latin American development and dependency on the US coincided with the formation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1952, and the European Economic Community through the Treaty of Rome in 1957. It was through these two communities that the countries of Europe sought to unite themselves through a common interest in the most essential commodities in the manufacture of arms (coal and steel), with a view to making the cost of any future war between the main protagonists of the two recent wars far higher than any potential territorial gains.[1] This essay develops the hypothesis that European influence in the affairs of Latin American states, through a mutually reinforcing interest, became increasingly decisive throughout the period of the second half of the twentieth century from the formation of the European Economic Community in 1957, to its conversion into the European Union through the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. It must be remembered that although Europe may have represented an important opportunity for Latin America to diversify its foreign interests, the reverse could not be said to such an extent: some even go so far as to say that for many years, Europeans “almost completely ignored Latin America.”[2] Nor has this imbalance in the relationship changed dramatically over time.[3] Nonetheless, Europe’s eventual goal of becoming a truly global player meant that it needed to have a specific set of instruments and policies for Latin America.[4]It will be posited that the Monrovian tradition that had so successfully controlled the strategic gains interpreted in the external intervention of European states in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere in the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century, can be seen to have been nullified by the creation of the European Economic Community,[5] with this effect being reinforced and consolidated by the ensuing European role particularly in economic cooperation and conflict mediation in the second half of the twentieth century. However, it often remains difficult, particularly in this period, prior to the establishment of the European Union, to identify concerted, unified Community foreign policy, with individual states pursuing their own foreign policy agendas in the majority of cases.[6]The Community’s relations with Latin America will be looked at in terms of their ideological, geopolitical, and economic compatibilities, as well as the disparity between European groups that has facilitated close ties between the regions at a subnational level. Furthermore, the effects of conflict will be looked at: the Central American Crisis as well as the Falklands/Malvinas conflict, with only the latter being well-developed due to the constraints of this short essay.

Furthermore, interregional relations will be examined in terms of areas wherein Europe and the United States have convergent and divergent priorities, and the effects that these have. Finally, the interpretations of both Europe and Latin America will be looked at in terms of how a strengthened relationship benefits the two sides, with all of the above being explained within the context of both ascending European-Latin American relations, and descending US-Latin American relations in the period. The desire of Latin American states to come out from under the “shadow” of the United States was an inevitable driving force behind Latin American foreign as well as domestic policymaking in the second half of the twentieth century.[7] The role that the US had in dominating the domestic affairs of an entire continent was undeniable, and it was logical that the non-interventionist approach favoured by post-World War Europe would appeal strongly to the Latin American nations that had gone from one patron to another, never really knowing freedom, even after gaining independence. Moreover, their preference for living side by side with even the most radically different states, seeking to resolve differences through compromise rather than confrontation, revealed a somewhat more realistic and compatible approach to interregional relations than their North American counterparts.[8]

The United States, lacking this “war guilt” and seeing itself as having saved the day in both World Wars, was able to proceed uninhibited throughout the second half of the twentieth century and develop its unilateralist, revisionist, quasi-imperialist foreign policy, as seen in its interventions in Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Iran and Kosovo to name but a few.A different approach was taken on the whole by the European states, favouring their approach of a “global civilian power,” presenting itself as an alternative to the US interventionist approach.[9] For example, it engaged in the initiation of a series of Inter-Parliamentary conferences with the Latin American legislatures which continues to this day, through the Declaration of Buenos Aires.[10] Not only did this facilitate conversation between the regions on matters of trade and cooperation; it also allowed the European representatives to stress the importance of democratic developments in the region and human rights issues. It should be noted here that these processes were not purely undertaken on the initiative of the European states; Latin American states were clearly aware of the ability they had to play European-US rivalries off of one another through increased links with the former. An example of this would be the Brazilian nuclear deal signed between Brazil and West Germany, which exemplified a consciousness for the first time of the ability of Latin American states to garner some bargaining power with Washington, something which had not been possible prior to this point.[11]

Further to this ideological compatibility, the importance of geopolitical factors must not be omitted. Grabendorff highlights the distinction between traditional, North-South relationships, and what he terms “diagonal” relationships. The first would refer to US dominance of Latin America, as well as Western European dominance of the Middle East and Africa, and finally the Japanese dominance of South East Asia, with the second referring to relatively new relations between the likes of Western Europe and South East Asia (through, for example, the ASEM), and Western Europe and Latin America. For three reasons, these new relationships offered a more positive future than traditional interregional relations. The first, simply, was that due to these relations being new, there was less bad history between the regions. This enabled The EEC to deal with Latin American countries through episodes such as the Central American crises with no overarching agenda spilt over from past centuries. Secondly, the sheer distance between the two regions means not only that there are no common borders between the regions implying the possibility of cross-border skirmishes, but it also brings with it an overwhelming dissuasion as regards the potential for use of force, increasing significantly the cost of conducting any military action.[12] The case of the Falklands/Malvinas conflict is an obvious exception, but this will be discussed later on. From its inception, the European Economic Community has perceived close linkages between economic development and interdependence and political stability. Using the springboard of peace through economic dependence within Europe, it became increasingly apparent that the European model could be exported to other regions, and that benefits could be derived for both parties through the signing of trade agreements. It was with this in mind that the grupo de latinoamérica (GRULA) meetings were started, and trade agreements signed with Argentina (1971), Uruguay (1973), Brazil (1973) and Mexico (1975) were signed.[13] GRULA’s success, as an ad hoc group, is brought into question though, and it is the Rio Group that has become the privileged representative of the region, since its inception in 1986.[14]

Despite the unity with which it has thus far been suggested that European states were able to conduct their external relations with Latin America, it must be underscored that subnational actors seldom agreed entirely on the best means to seek to develop relations between Europe and Latin America. At least until the onset of the third wave of democratisation/redemocratisation and the rescinding of the power of authoritarian governments form the 1980s onwards, it is true that a framework of peaceful means was invariably adopted. Nonetheless, it has been noted that conservative groups within Europe tended to see authoritarian governments in Latin America as an acceptable vehicle for achieving economic growth, whilst more progressive groups saw change in the short-term as the only basis for long-term development in the region.[15] Through this dichotomy of interests in Europe, Latin America became an area of experimentation for political, social and economic development strategies, and a series of substate interregional relationships were created. Although these relationships were formed principally with German groups (until the entry of Spain and Portugal into the Community in 1986, and the initiation of hispanismo democrático),[16] they were also formed with other member states, leading to the creation of what Grabendorff refers to as the “European Connection”, whereby cooperation was fomented between political parties, trade unions, churches, pressure groups and even scientific institutions.[17] In the period being examined, two distinct, but intimately similar processes stand out as having exemplified a change in the perceptions that European states both as a whole, represented by the EEC, and individually. The first refers to the role that the EEC played in the Central American crisis, manifested through the Nicaraguan and Salvadoran revolutions, the second to the Falklands/Malvinas conflict.

Europe’s part in both the Nicaraguan and the Salvadoran revolutions was an important step in the political aspirations of the Community. With the original six members having expanded to include the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark, the economic status and political clout of the group of nine was sufficient that its potential for power projection of a global nature was far more realistic than could have been hoped for at the signing of the ECSC. These conflicts represented the first real opportunity for joint European action in Latin America, as identified by Frères.[18] A united European stance was presented vis-à-vis both of the Central American revolutions, resulting in the moderation of the US position, a role that was particularly important in Nicaragua, given the tough American stance on the Sandinistas.[19] Sanahuja identifies the understanding that Europe had for the social injustices and lack of democracy, unclouded by purely geopolitical considerations, which resulted in their support for the Sandinistas’ cause.[20] The role of the OAS should be mentioned here, following as it did the wishes of the US. For this reason it lost legitimacy, and became less used in times of crisis. Due to this, and the fact that the OAS excluded the European Community, the Central Americans went to the United Nations instead of the OAS during this crisis.[21]

The Falklands/Malvinas conflict of 1982 presented an entirely different situation for Europe: the first real test of its unity. The legitimacy of the UK’s claim to the islands is not a question that can be tackled here, the UK had in fact been trying to resolve the situation and come to an agreement with Argentina for at least the past seventeen years, but independence was not an option, and concessions were hard to reach with the Argentine government;[22][23] rather the effects of the Argentine invasion of internationally recognised British sovereign soil will be examined. The conflict served first as a reminder both to the UK and to the wider European audience that Latin American authoritarian regimes were not necessarily as predictable as had previously been believed.[24] The reaction of European states was more encouraging however. The solidarity contained within the joint embargo issued by European states, despite the obvious regression in relations implied for its duration and beyond, represented a milestone in European political alignment. Although retaliatory embargoes were not adopted by Latin American states, their leaders did make the gesture of suspending the GRULA talks, marking a brief rift between the regions.[25] Furthermore, the apparent North-South element of the conflict, with the US this time falling more on the side of Britain and Europe, led some at the time to come to the conclusion that this would have lasting effects on the interpretation Latin American governments had on partnership with Western Europe.[26][27] Others point to the lifting of the European embargo on Argentina in June 1982 as signalling that even very shortly after the end of the conflict, relations were moving in the right direction once again.[28] It should be noted though, that despite repeated attempts by successive presidents of the European Commission, it took some time for Argentina to agree to the full normalisation of economic and commercial relations.[29]Perhaps as an independently motivated decision, but more likely as a result of the deterioration of relations as a consequence of the conflict, the EEC also extended the extra-community facilities (limited as they were), to Latin America, signalling an amelioration in relations that might not even have come about without the conflict.

It was not just the European Economic Community as a whole that used this opportunity to enhance its links with Latin America: the UK used this chance to seek to diversify its interests in Latin America, with the beginning of its move away from a traditional post-imperialist favouritism toward colonies and commonwealth countries, toward appealing to other countries for closer political relations, particularly with countries that had not been fully supportive of Argentina during the conflict, notably Mexico, Chile and Brazil.[30] Furthermore, despite maintaining an understandably firm position from then on concerning the sovereignty of the Islands, Britain was quick to publicly announce its intentions to rebuild its relations with Argentina.[31] The conflict signalled the duality of the EEC, acting both as individual countries with strategic priorities of their own, and also as a whole, seeking to develop its global politico-economic role. The convergence of European-Latin American relations can on a very simple level be attributed purely to a shift in the ideological compatibility of Latin America and the United States in the post-War world order, resulting in an opportunity for new actors to come in, which Europe duly seized.[32] However, there were still several key areas in which European and US interests in fact did not lead to confrontation, meaning that an intensification of European interest in Latin America was not always considered to be a zero sum process vis-à-vis US-Latin American relations. On the one hand there were ex-colonial issues, particularly of France and the UK which, on the whole, the US respected. Areas of common interest included the avoidance of the socialisation of Latin American states, the prevention of regional and internal instability attendant on interstate or intrastate violence, and the guarantee of economic cooperation with Latin American states through the support of free market economies in the region.[33]However, even within these fields of agreement, a level of disagreement emerges when the question of how to achieve these goals is addressed. For example, Europe was in principle against the socialisation of Latin American nations, but would have reacted far less angrily than the US to the emergence of a peaceful socialist state not aligned with the Soviet Union. Furthermore, Europe’s approach to regional stability was a far more patient one, with short-term volatility being acceptable if the outcome was expected to take the form of long-term stability, whereas the prevailing US policy at the time, with its anti-communist paranoia, led policymakers to view even short-term instability as increasing the risk of “another Cuba.” It is difficult to assess what risk Cuba ever did really present to the US though, and consequently it may not have been so disastrous for a socialist government to take root in Nicaragua, for example. Lastly, it should be highlighted that a certain accommodation was in fact reached between the US and Europe as regards the two actors’ principal areas of interest within Latin America. The US for its part was most interested in Central America and the Caribbean, due to them having valuable oil reserves and a greater geopolitical significance for it, and Europe focused its efforts on the Southern Cone and Brazil.[34]

In the period under consideration, we able to discern a confluence of interests in certain aspects of the European-Latin American relationship, but more clear are the distinctions in priorities for the two parties. On the one hand, Europe’s focus lay in the development of democratic practices. That is to say that where a change in political system was expected in a country, it was able to support counter-elites. It was also hoped that through increased cooperation between the two regions, the development of a democratic perspective would ensue. It was, essentially, hoped that the pluralistic bias of Western European political philosophy would be accepted by those receiving European support and eventually become ingrained in Latin American political psychology.[35] This was of course particularly promoted by two new members of the Community, Spain and Portugal, who insisted upon entering in 1986 that a clause be added to their entry agreement stipulating the importance developing interregional relations with Latin America. It should also be added here that these two countries were largely responsible for the increases in aid to Latin America that were seen after their accession to the Community, which had been negligible until this point, as particularly evident in the absence of European assistance during the debt crisis:[36] a problem that was noted even at the time, but never acted upon.[37] Spain, for example, has consistently provided Latin America with 50% of its official development assistance since joining.[38]On the other hand, Latin America’s perceived gains from the relationship, other than increased prosperity through trade, were two-fold. Firstly, it hoped to find a way out of the vicious circle between civilian and military governments that had plagued the region for so long, and hindered long-term development strategies no end. Secondly, it hoped that, in the same way that the US had trained Latin American militaries to make stronger armies and military governments, perhaps the ‘technocratisation’ of the politicians and labour leaders would result in more civil competence and stronger civilian governments.[39] It might not quite be the case that the political affinities of Europe and Latin America make the two natural allies in the third millennium, as asserted by Luigi Boselli back in the 1980s.[40]

As has been demonstrated in the course of this essay, links between the two regions grew increasingly strong throughout the second half of the twentieth century, up until the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht, as a result of numerous factors of compatibility. These can, largely, be grouped into ideological, geopolitical, economic and domestic political factors. Furthermore, it has been added that the prevailing tendency in Latin American politics was to attempt to broaden the external relations of the region, moving away from sole dependence on the United States. In terms of the relationship established with the European Economic Community, this relationship manifested both the aforementioned broadening on Latin America’s part, and the growing role of a united Europe on a global level.Since the Treaty of Maastricht, and the creation of the European Union as a manifestly political entity as well as an economic one, links have been reinforced between the two regions, leaving us with much more to celebrate in the 1990s and beyond than Grabendorff’s grim prediction of Europe’s historical role in Latin America.[41]

Europe’s role as the world’s leading donor to the region also reinforces the importance of the relationship.[42] Furthermore, through the Rio Summit of 1999 and subsequent meetings at the highest level, as well as ongoing talks between the Union and Brazil, MERCOSUR and Mexico to name but a few, it would appear that the two regions seem destined to maintain a significant relationship, though not one of an all-encompassing mutual importance. Economically, Latin America stands through the future development of the relationship to have increased options, and Europe extended possibilities. Politically, Europe is able to make use of its cultural, linguistic and religious affinity in offering a variety of ideological concepts and participatory solutions to social problems, whilst Latin America, through the non-compulsory aspect of European help, is able to choose which, if any, fit her needs and aspirations.[43]

Bibliography

-Council of Europe, Democracy and Democratisation: A Dialogue Between Europe and Latin America, Council of Europe, 2-5 June 1986, Strasbourg, France.

-Durán, Esperanza, European Interests in Latin America, Chatham House Papers (28), London, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, 1985.

-Foreign Affairs Committee, Falkland Islands: Observations by Her Majesty’s Government, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1985.

-Frères, Christian, The European Union as a Global “Civilian Power,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 2, Special issue – The EU and Latin America: Changing Relations, Summer 2000, pp. 63-85.

-Grabendorff, Wolf – European Community Relations with Latin America, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 29, No. 4, (Winter 1987-1988), pp.69-87.

-Grabendorff, Wolf, “The United States and Western Europe: Competition or Co-operation in Latin America”, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 58, No. 4 (Autumn, 1982), pp.625-637.

-Grabendorff, Wolf and Roett, Riordan, Latin America, Western Europe and the United States: Reevaluating the Atlantic Triangle, New York, Praeger, 1985.

-Jenkins, Peter, Mrs. Thatcher’s Revolution, London, Jonathan Cope Ltd., 1987.

-Miller, Rory, Britain and Latin America in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, New York and Harlow, Essex, Longman, 1993.

-Montecinos, Verónica, Latin America and Europe: The Potential for Interregional Cooperation, IRELA Working Paper No. 30, Madrid, IRELA, 1991.

-Nuttall, Simon J.; European Political Co-operation Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1992.

-Perry, William and Wehner, Peter Eds., The Latin American Policies of U.S. Allies: Balancing Global Interests and Regional Concerns, New York, Praeger, 1985.

-Sanahuja, José Antonio, Renewing the San José Dialogue: The Future of Relations Between Central America and the European Union, London, Catholic Institute for International Relations, 1996.

-Smith, Peter H., Democracy in Latin America: Political Change in Comparative Perspective, New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005.



[1] Nuttall, Simon J.; European Political Co-operation; Clarendon Press, Oxford 1992, Page 31

[2] Council of Europe, Democracy and Democratisation: A Dialogue Between Europe and Latin America, Council of Europe, 2-5 June 1986, Strasbourg, France, p. 11.

[3] Durán, Esperanza, European Interests in Latin America, Chatham House Papers (28), Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd, London 1985, p. 2.

[4] Frères, Christian, The European Union as a Global “Civilian Power,” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol. 42, No. 2, Special issue – The EU and Latin America: Changing Relations, Summer 2000, p. 63.

[5] Grabendorff, Wolf, The United States and Western Europe: Competition or Co-operation in Latin America, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-), Vol. 58, No. 4 (Autumn, 1982), p.625.

[6] Montecinos, Verónica, Latin America and Europe: The Potential for Interregional Cooperation, IRELA Working Paper No. 30, Madrid, IRELA, 1991, p. 13.

[7] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe: Competition or Co-operation in Latin America, p. 625.

[8] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 626.

[9] Frères, p. 64.

[10] Durán, p. 14.

[11] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 631.

[12] Ibid, p. 626.

[13] Durán, p. 12.

[14] Montecinos, Verónica, Latin America and Europe: The Potential for Interregional Cooperation, IRELA Working Paper No. 30, Madrid, IRELA, 1991, p. 17.

[15] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 631.

[16] Montecinos, p. 12.

[17] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 631.

[18] Frères, p. 64.

[19] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 632.

[20] Sanahuja, José Antonio, Renewing the San José Dialogue: The Future of Relations Between Central America and the European Union, London, Catholic Institute for International Relations, 1996, p. 3.

[21] Smith, Peter H., Democracy in Latin America: Political Change in Comparative Perspective, New York and Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2005, p. 127.

[22] Perry, William and Wehner, Peter Eds., The Latin American Policies of U.S. Allies: Balancing Global Interests and Regional Concerns, New York, Praeger, 1985, p.32.

[23] Jenkins, Peter, Mrs. Thatcher’s Revolution, London, Jonathan Cope Ltd., 1987, p. 160.

[24] Miller, Rory, Britain and Latin America in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, New York and Harlow, Essex, Longman, 1993, p. 249.

[25] Durán, p. 13.

[26] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 632.

[27] Grabendorff, Wolf and Roett, Riordan, Latin America, Western Europe and the United States: Reevaluating the Atlantic Triangle, New York, Praeger, 1985, p. 224.

[28] Grabendorff and Riordan Roett, p. 225.

[29] Foreign Affairs Committee, Falkland Islands: Observations by Her Majesty’s Government, London, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1985, p. 7.

[30] Durán, p. 93.

[31] Foreign Affairs Committee, p. 3.

[32] Durán, p. 4.

[33] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 633.

[34] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 635.

[35] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 632.

[36] Montecinos, p. 19.

[37] Council of Europe, Democracy and Democratisation: A Dialogue Between Europe and Latin America, Council of Europe, 2-5 June 1986, Strasbourg, France, p. 19.

[38] Frères, p. 68.

[39] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 632.

[40] Grabendorff, Wolf – European Community Relations with Latin America, Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs, Vol 29, No 4, (Winter 1987-1988), p. 80.

[41] Grabendorff, EC Relations with Latin America, p. 81.

[42] Frères, p. 64.

[43] Grabendorff, The US and Western Europe, p. 632.

Written by: Marc Ducroquet-Lavin
Written at: University of Oxford
Written for: Laurence Whitehead

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