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Security in the Americas: Neither Evolution nor Devolution--Impasse

Authored by Dr. Max G. Manwaring. | March 2004

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SUMMARY

This monograph begins with a discussion of sovereignty and then considers national security threats with reference to two different levels of analysis. The fi rst is the traditional-legal versus a more realistic contemporary level of analysis; second, the operational, strategic, and political levels of analysis. The traditional concept tends to focus attention on the tactical-operational levels of activity; the more contemporary notion broadens analysis to more strategic-political concerns.

In these strategic-political terms, it is useful to outline the circular linkage among and between security, stability, development, democracy, and sovereignty. This linkage clarifi es the interdependence of these elements, and provides beginning points from which to develop the strategic-political vision necessary for success against the most likely current and future security challenges and threats at the international, national, and intra-national levels. In that context, two case studies are examined: Colombia over the past 40 to 50 years, and the ?New War? in Central America; toward an understanding of how Colombia, Central America, and their U.S. ally have dealt with nontraditional threats to national security, stability, and sovereignty in their respective situations. The Central American case focuses on the traditional versus the more modern approach, and the Colombian case centers on the tactical versus the strategic approach to the problem. These cases further illustrate that instability, and the people who create and/or exploit it, are tactical-operational threats in their own right. But, the ultimate political-strategic threat to more general hemispheric and global security and sovereignty is that of state failure.

The author concludes with the argument that a broadened concept of threat to national security and sovereignty is meaningful and important. This is particularly crucial for those governments in the Western Hemisphere?and elsewhere?that do not discern any serious security issues, or proverbial clouds, on their traditionally defi ned peaceful horizons. Ample evidence indicates that nontraditional security problems can take nation-states to a process that ends in failing or failed state status?as examples, dysfunctional states, criminal states, narco-states, rogue states, and new ?peoples? democracies.? Moreover, it is important to note that failing and failed states tend not to (1) buy U.S. and other Western-made products; (2) be interested in developing democratic and free market institutions and human rights; and, (3) cooperate on shared problems such as illegal drugs, illicit arms fl ows, debilitating refugee fl ows, and potentially dangerous environmental problems (e.g., water scarcity). In short, failing and failed states tend to linger, and go from bad to worse. The longer they persist, the more they and their problems endanger global peace and security.

INTRODUCTION

Contemporary security and stability are fragile in the Western Hemisphere. As a corollary, an insecure and unstable hemisphere threatens regional national security and sovereignty, regional economic and socio-political development, U.S. security, and, ultimately, global stability. Those challenges or threats are exacerbated by ?spill-over? problems from the crisis generated by Colombia?s three wars (i.e., narco-terrorism, insurgency, and paramilitary vigilantism), and by global terrorism. These threats are gaining credence, as it is generally recognized that Colombia is a paradigm of the failing state that has enormous implications for the prosperity, stability, democracy, and peace of the Western Hemisphere.1

Nevertheless, two sticking-points arise in the hemispheric security dialogue regarding risks for Colombia and the world around it?and what the United States and the region can do cooperatively to deal with them. First, general agreement appears to exist that there is a need to go beyond U.S.-mandated, myopic, ad hoc, piecemeal, tactical-operational, and primarily military solutions to the so-called ?drug war? and/or ?narco-terrorism.? Moreover, Latin American countries perceive that the United States is going its own way in the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT), and is oblivious to the more strategic nonmilitary problems in Latin America and the Caribbean that spawn illegal drug traffi cking, terrorism, and myriad human and other destabilizers leading to crime, corruption, violence, and confl ict. Thus, a tendency to reject U.S. domination, and leadership and solutions exists.2

The second sticking-point is that no consensus on the ?threat? has emerged. The security dialogue indicates strong consensus on a strategic vision of peace, stability, security, prosperity, and civil society for the entire Western Hemisphere. But, with no agreement on the threat, there can be no agreement on a unifi ed ends-ways-means policy and strategy that could contribute directly to achieving that strategic vision. The problem of threat appears to revolve around the levels of analysis issue. The legal-traditional level of analysis defi nes national security and sovereignty in relatively narrow military terms. Generally it involves the protection of the ?nation? against conventional military aggression by another country. A nontraditional and more realistic concept of threat goes beyond conventional external aggression to the protection of national security and sovereignty against internal and nonstate destabilizers.3

The impasse generated by these sticking points is complicated further by a general desire in the Latin American and Caribbean communities to devolve the responsibility for hemispheric security and security cooperation to the Organization of American States (OAS). That is logical because it is well-understood that today?s security and stability requirements call for a coordinated and cooperative multilateral application of national civilian and military instruments of power. The OAS can provide a moral position and structural framework from which member states can operate together when necessary and separately when desired. Yet, the OAS is not known for its interest in security matters, or the speed with which it deals with them.4

One reason for this lack of movement is that, without a consensus on the threat and the ways and means of dealing with it, an additional major complication to the threat issue exists. That is, most OAS member nations are reluctant to take the broadened ?realist? defi nition of national security to its logical conclusion and correspondingly broaden the role of the military to a controversial unilateral and multilateral protection of peoples and governments. This is a serious civil-military relations issue in much of Latin America, because a well-founded concern is that some military institutions of the region might revert to past practices of acting as parallel and autonomous political actors superior to the civil political power. As a consequence, the hemispheric security cooperation concept remains at an impasse, and the countries of the hemisphere continue to deal with it?if at all?separately.5

Thus, this monograph begins with a discussion of sovereignty (i.e., the supreme power over a body politic), and then of national security threats with reference to two different levels of analysis. First, the traditional-legal versus a more realistic contemporary level of analysis; and, second, the operational, strategic, and political levels of analysis. Interestingly and importantly, the traditional concept tends to focus attention on the tactical-operational levels of activity, and the more contemporary notion broadens analysis to more strategic-political concerns.6

In these strategic-political terms, it is useful to outline the circular linkage among security, stability, development, democracy, and sovereignty. This linkage will clarify the interdependence of these elements, and will provide beginning points from which to develop the strategic-political vision necessary for success against the most likely current and future security challenges at the international, national, and intra-national levels. In that context, the author examines two case studies: Colombia over the past 40 to 50 years, and the ?New War? in Central America. He intends to illustrate how Colombia, Central America, and their U.S. ally have dealt with nontraditional threats to national security, stability, and sovereignty in their respective situations. The Central American case will focus on the traditional versus the more modern approach, and the Colombian case will center on the tactical versus the strategic approach to the problem. Additionally, these cases further defi ne the ultimate contemporary threat to more general hemispheric security and effective sovereignty.

The monograph concludes with the argument that a broadened concept of threat to national security and sovereignty is meaningful and important. That, in turn, leads to a call for a paradigm change. This is particularly important for those governments in the Western Hemisphere?and elsewhere?that do not discern any serious security issues, or clouds, on their peaceful horizons. These realities of the contemporary and future global security environments call for civilian and military leaders to reexamine the problems of threat, cooperative civil-military relations, and effective sovereignty before they resolve themselves. Ample evidence demonstrates that nontraditional security problems can lead nation-states to failing or failed state status;7 as examples, dysfunctional states, criminal states, narco-states, rogue states, and new ?peoples? democracies.?

CONCLUSION

Implementing the conceptual change and regeneration implied in this call for a paradigm shift will not be easy. That will, nevertheless, be far less demanding and costly in political, military, monetary, and ethical terms than to continue a traditional, generally military, tactical-operational level crisis management approach to contemporary global security. And, importantly, the alternative cannot be acceptable. This is not simple idealism. It is a marriage of (North) American pragmatism and realpolitik that provides a viable foundation for national, regional, and global stability and wellbeing.

ENDNOTES

1. Consensus statement from the Conference on ?Building Regional Security Cooperation in the Western Hemisphere,? co-sponsored by the North-South Center of the University of Miami and the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College, in Miami, FL, March 1-2, 2003.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid. Also see Organization of American States, Draft Declaration on Security in the Americas, approved by the Permanent Council, October 22, 2003.

5. Ibid.

6. As an example of this discussion, see Amos A. Jordan, William J. Taylor, Jr., and Michael J. Mazarr, American National Security, 5th ed., Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999, pp. 3-46; and Sam C. Sarkesian, U.S. National Security: Policymakers, Processes, and Politics, Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1989, pp. 7-8. Also, these terms are developed in Lars Schoultz, National Security and United States Policy toward Latin America, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 24-25, 143-330; and Frank N. Trager and Philip S. Kronenberg, eds., National Security and American Society, Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1973, p. 47.

7. Daniel C. Esty, et. al., ?The State Failure Project: Early Warning Research for U.S. Foreign Policy Planning,? in John L. Davies and Ted Robert Gurr, eds., Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crisis Early Warning Systems, New York: Rowman & Littlefi eld, 1998.