South American Nations Form Regional Defense Council

Defense ministers from Venezuela and eleven other South American
nations formed the South American Defense Council Tuesday at a summit
in Chile. The council will be a diplomatic forum to diffuse regional
conflicts, among other things.

By James Suggett - Venezuelanalysis.com

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The Defense Ministers of the twelve UNASUR member nations in Santiago, Chile this week. (Marcelo Hernandez)
The Defense Ministers of the twelve UNASUR member nations in Santiago, Chile this week. (Marcelo Hernandez)
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Mérida, March 12th 2009 (Venezuelanalysis.com) -- Defense ministers from Venezuela and eleven other South American nations formed the South American Defense Council Tuesday at a summit in Chile. The council will be a diplomatic forum to diffuse regional conflicts, increase transparency in military expenditures, and to promote military cooperation for the fulfillment of regional security needs.

Chilean Defense Minister José Goñi said the new council will “give life to an alliance that strengthens mutual confidence through integration, dialogue, and cooperation in defense matters.”

A declaration signed by the ministers at the summit said the council aims to construct a “zone of peace” on the South American continent, and “a South American identity in defense matters that contributes to the strengthening of Latin American and Caribbean unity.”

The declaration also establishes a commitment by each member nation to respect the territorial sovereignty of other member nations, and to the protection of democratic systems of government.

The council will meet at least once per year, and among its tasks will be the identification of common security risks, including potential natural disasters, and to prepare a means of immediate consultation among regional security chiefs to plan joint responses.

The council will also build a network for sharing military knowledge, policies, and technological innovations. This includes linking up military training academies and founding a new “South American Center of Strategic Defense Studies.” And, the council will promote bi-lateral and multi-lateral investment in the region’s defense industries.

The new defense council is an arm of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), a political integration organization that began informally in 2004 and was formally constituted last May. Its member countries are Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Surinam y Guyana.

The United States is not included in the defense council, but the council discussed the possibility of the U.S. participating as an observer if the U.S. changes its policy toward Cuba.

“The entire international community is against the blockade and other arbitrary U.S.-imposed measures against Cuba,” said Venezuelan Vice President Ramón Carrizalez, who was recently appointed defense minister in accordance with a new law that separates military administration from operations.

Brazil, Latin America’s biggest arms producer, has been the most active promoter of the defense council over the past year. Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim went on a tour of South American countries and visited Washington, D.C. last year to promote the idea.

Jobim has consistently emphasized that the council does not propose a common army or any military operations against third parties, and should not be viewed as a southern equivalent of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Jobim’s tour came in the aftermath of Colombia’s attack on guerrilla rebels in Ecuadoran territory last March, which set off a regional diplomatic crisis and gave impetus to the idea of a regional defense council.

Upon joining UNASUR, Colombia at first declined membership in the defense council, but this week Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos signed the council’s founding document.

Nonetheless, Santos’s declaration last week that justified Colombia’s cross-border attacks on rebel adversaries indicates that Colombia’s civil conflict could become a regional security issue again in the near future.

The twelve ministers at the summit in Chile agreed to meet again in Quito, Ecuador, within half a year to evaluate the progress of the agreement signed Tuesday in Santiago.