Cold war defense treaty under fire in Latin America

The treaty says an attack against any country in the hemisphere will be treated as an attack against all. The withdrawal of four countries is symbolic of regional power shifts, writes a blogger.

• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

Four ALBA countries, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela announced they are formally pulling out of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR or Rio Pact). The treaty, signed in 1947, is a cold war relic. It says an attack against any country in the hemisphere will be treated as an attack against all. Similar to NATO's Article 5, it's a collective defense mechanism meant to deter a Soviet invasion.
 
Of course, the Soviet Union is long gone. Today, there is little threat of a military attack from a country outside this hemisphere against one inside this hemisphere. My first reaction to the TIAR announcement was to joke about it. The Russians aren't going to invade Nicaragua and the North Koreans aren't going to launch a ballistic missile at Bolivia because the deterrent threat of TIAR is being removed. Mexico pulled out of TIAR in 2002 due to its dispute with the US over the Iraq war and the lack of a collective defense treaty appears the least of Mexico's military and security concerns today.
 
The withdrawal from the treaty by the ALBA countries is symbolic. The Rio Pact is one of the founding documents of the modern inter-American system, coming from a time period in which the US was far more dominant over the region than it is now. The countries withdrawing are looking to rewrite inter-American relations as well as weaken or destroy the institutions of the current regional system that do not benefit their current leadership.

Even if you disagree with the motives of Bolivian President Morales and his allies, it's not wrong to think that TIAR is an anachronism. Collective defense in the 21st century must mean something very different than what it meant as World War II ended and the cold war began. TIAR may be symbolically important to the history of inter-American relations, but it's questionable whether it's relevant to the threats that are faced today.
 
If Brazil is hit by a Chinese cyber attack, do other countries in the hemisphere respond? If the US is bombed by Iranian-backed terrorists, what does Latin America do? The honest answer is that if some unlikely military threat scenario were to occur in this hemisphere, the regional response would be based on modern political will and diplomacy, not the language of a treaty that's 65 years old and gathering dust.
 
So is TIAR worth keeping around? Sure. The concept of collective defense is a good one to have in this hemisphere. TIAR has symbolic value that the hemisphere is united against common threats, even if the specifics of the treaty haven't been used much. But it wouldn't be the end of the world if TIAR fell apart or other countries withdrew. Every country in the hemisphere should work with their neighbors to prepare for modern threats whether or not an old-fashion treaty is in place.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.