Security After September 11
Farid Kahhat, Centro de
Investigacion y Docencia Economicas, Mexico
The Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (IATRA) is the only security alliance in the Western hemisphere. Created in 1947 to fight inter-state conflicts within the region, the IATRA was one of the security alliances led by the United States as part of its Cold War strategy.
The concept of security underlying the IATRA is crystal clear: the ultimate goal of security policy is to guarantee the political survival of the State. Threats to the survival of the State are perceived, essentially, as external military threats, issuing from the regular armies of other States. Thus, military means are ideal for neutralizing those threats.
This is the concept of security that Mexico's newly elected President Vicente Fox questioned in a speech before the OAS on September 7, 2001. Fox stated that "in the new globalized system, national vulnerability does not come primarily from military considerations," given that the hemisphere does not currently face "an extra-continental enemy that obligates us to defend ourselves through military alliance." He proposed a series of issues that should constitute the new regional security agenda: poverty, defense of democracy and human rights, environmental protection, and fighting transnational organized crime. The corollary of this evaluation was that the IATRA should be eliminated, and replaced with a cooperative hemispheric system within the OAS.
The concept of security underlying that proposal is essentially different from the first one described above: for Fox, the ultimate goal of security policy is to guarantee the quality of life within the State, and not the State's mere political survival. Security threats are not necessarily external in nature, and if they are, they are not posed by other States, but rather by private transnational actors. Additionally, these are not necessarily military threats, nor do they jeopardize the territorial integrity of the State. Thus, military means are not always the most effective responses to these threats.
It is useful to place the Mexican proposal in context: in the last two decades, IATRA was not invoked during the only inter-State armed conflict in the region (between Peru and Ecuador in 1981 and 1995), and was simply ignored by the United States during the only armed conflict between a State in the region and a power outside the hemisphere
(Malvinas/Falkland Islands in 1982). Nevertheless, when New York and Washington were attacked by terrorists four days after Fox's speech, IATRA provisions calling upon members to come to the aid of an ally under attack were invoked for the first time in the Treaty's history. This raises the obvious question of whether the Mexican proposal should be reconsidered. Despite appearances, the answer is no.
First, nothing would have changed had the IATRA not existed on September 11. The countries of the region would have expressed their solidarity with the United States and recognized its right to self-defense anyway. In any case, the body that is truly competent to authorize the exercise of this right is the Security Council of the United Nations. Furthermore, with the exception perhaps of Mexico, the assistance that the hemisphere could have provided to the United States in this crisis would have been marginal with or without
IATRA. Finally, criticism that any State in the region might have of the military strategy adopted by the United States in response to the attacks would have been kept in reserve given that none of the States can influence this strategy and that, for the moment, the U.N. Security Council has kept a low profile. Public expression of those criticisms would constitute an unnecessary source of tension in bilateral relations.
The September 11 attacks are far from the type of security threat contemplated by the
IATRA: the aggressor is not a State, and the aggression is not a military attack in the strict sense. Although the U.S. has responded militarily, this is not a war in the conventional sense of the term. This is not only because of the extreme disparity of forces between the combatants, but also because, unlike a territorial conflict between States, it is not clear what it means to win a confrontation of this type. (Defeat the Afghan regime? Capture Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen? Undermine Al
Qaeda? Install a stable representative government in Afghanistan? All of these?) Since this is a presumed "war" against international terrorism, not only are the objectives imprecise, so too are the battle lines and the identities of the combatants. For example, intelligence information affirms that the Al Qaeda organization has a presence in dozens of countries. Does this mean that those countries are potential targets of U.S. military action? Perhaps the answer to this question is that only those countries with governments that support international terrorism will be targets. In that case, it is necessary to ask why Pakistan is not among those, given that the Pakistani government supported the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda until September 11, and it supports insurgent groups in Kashmir whose methods are within any conventional definition of terrorism (apart from judging the relative merits of the cause of independence).
In any case, the military response is only one of the components of an anti-terrorism strategy, and not necessarily the most important one. For example, if Latin America were exposed to concerted action to spread the anthrax microbe, the principal vulnerability of the region would not be its armed forces or its intelligence services, but the poor quality and coverage of its public health systems. Furthermore, although less spectacular than shrapnel fire, the European experience demonstrates that the coordination of efforts for interdiction and intelligence is usually a more efficient method than so-called smart bombs. And the example of Kashmir demonstrates that reality tends to be more complex than the proverbial hero/villain dichotomy of which the United States is so fond. There is a political background that can not be avoided if the goal is to truly solve the problem. The U.S. change of position on the Palestinian question after September 11 could indicate that that government is beginning to understand this lesson.
The case of Peru is a good example in this respect. While the Peruvian army confronted the Maoist insurgency with a strategy of indiscriminate repression, "Shining Path's" presence expanded like wildfire throughout the country. Only when the armed forces decided to build an alliance with peasant organizations did they succeed in isolating Shining Path in the countryside. Forced to flee to the cities, the leaders were captured by elite police intelligence units without shedding a drop of blood.
Finally, in the contemporary world, States that do not survive tend to perish by implosion, not through external aggression. For example, between 1998 and 1999 there were 54 wars in the world, 50 of which were civil wars. Even in some cases of international wars, inter-ethnic conflicts have been the cause or detonator (for example, between India and Pakistan or between Armenia and Azerbaijan).
Until now, Latin America has not experienced ethnic separatism, but it has not escaped other phenomena which by adversely affecting social welfare and the prospects for governability could eventually become threats to the capacity of the State to survive as a sovereign political entity. The symbiosis between political violence and
narco-trafficking that has the Colombian State in check is proof of that. So, while the FARC has existed as an insurgent group since the mid-70's, it becomes only a belligerent force in the strictest sense only when its ties with drug-trafficking provide access to an annual budget of hundreds of millions of dollars. Today Colombia is a country where the military, paramilitaries, drug traffickers and guerillas combine to undermine the authority and legitimacy of the state.
Although in retrospect they may have appeared inopportune, Vicente Fox's proposed changes in the agenda, as well as in the hemispheric security system itself, point in the appropriate direction. The changes Fox proposed represented a broad if largely implicit consensus in Latin America prior to September 11th, and nothing that has occurred since then should call into question this alternative perspective on security. Nonetheless, it is unclear whether it will be possible to return these proposals to the forefront of the Hemispheric agenda for the
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