THE United States, Canada, and Mexico are harmonizing their economic interests to countervail the emerging Asian and European trading blocs and their webs of access barriers. But for economic integration to succeed in Latin America, elected governments must redefine the role their armed forces play in national life. Facing unprecedented economic constraints, the armed forces in Latin America must balance their traditional nationalist aspirations with collective-security interests. The process has begun in small ways.
Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, and Uruguay are participating in the United Nations peacekeeping force on the Iraq-Kuwait border. Brazil's President Fernando Collor will seek to renew bilateral military cooperation with the US when he visits Washington next month. The nuclear rivalry between Argentina and Brazil has been dampened by a treaty calling for safeguards and inspections. Negotiations to resolve boundary disputes between Chile and Bolivia, and Colombia and Venezuela are under way.
Without democracy, these developments would not be possible. But traditional military factions are adapting their tactics to the democratic landscape to shape political events.
Opposition to austerity economics in Argentina has spawned a new military-backed political party, the Fuerza Republicana, and pardoned conductors of the "dirty war" are grumbling again about the "enemy within." Although the Chilean army was a major perpetrator of state-sponsored terrorism, former junta leader and current army commander Gen. Augusto Pinochet seeks to dominate a newly created government anti-terrorist unit. Brazil's armed forces have conducted demonstrations in several cities demanding a b
igger defense budget.
BUT Latin America's military traditionalists ignore economic considerations. If the Bush administration's "Enterprise for the Americas" initiative is to succeed, Latin leaders must build support for the integration of their economies.
In an effort to undergird economic integration with productive civil-military relations, several Latin nations are debating the merits of a regional security alliance modeled along the lines of NATO, in which the US would play a role. Argentina's Foreign Minister Guido DiTella recently discussed new approaches to regional security with his counterpart Francisco Rezek in Brazil and with President Alberto Fujimori in Peru. Since the existing Inter-American Defense Board - an advisory committee of the Orga n
ization of American States - helped propagate the "national security doctrine" that fomented the military takeovers of the past, some Latin leaders believe a new security framework is needed to insure the consolidation of democracy.
As defense outlays drain funds from cash-strapped Latin governments, a regional security alliance can provide military burden-sharing that frees up funds for social welfare and economic development. Although Latin America's armed forces complain loudly about cutbacks, a recent study by former US Defense Secretary Robert McNamara reveals the extent to which sumptuous military budgets extract tribute from their societies; at 3 percent of the gross national product, Argentina's military budget is twice as l
arge as total government expenditures for education and health care.
Because the South Atlantic demarcates NATO's southern maritime boundary, a regional Latin security arrangement would complement US strategic interests. It could also provide a military forum for the discussion of such North-South issues as nuclear nonproliferation and arms control, and the transfer of advanced technology. But the bottom line is that Latin America's armed forces are more likely to support economic reform and hemispheric free trade with Washington as a military ally.
Developing a hemispheric trading zone will require member nations to integrate their armed forces in defense of the region. Joint efforts by several Latin governments and US advisers to end the low-intensity warfare related to the international narcotics trade is the first test of the new security paradigm.