The South American Union of Nations (UNASUR) has been the most important institutional framework for political dialogue on security matters in the subcontinent for the 20th Century. Ever since their creation in 2008, UNASUR and it’s Defense Council (SADC) quickly prompted several analyses regarding its promises and positive results within their first years. Nonetheless, since 2014 both institutions are quickly becoming obsolescent. The purpose of the article UNASUR, Brazil, and the South American defence cooperation: A decade later penned by Vaz, Fuccille and Rezende and published in the special issue International Security and Defense – Taking stock of Brazil’s changes of the Revista Brasileira de Relações Internacionais (Volume 60 – N. 2) is to explain why such new and promising institutions quickly changed their relevance within the South American political scenario.
The fact that the SADC embraced consensus as a primary criterion for decision making and being destituted of binding decision-making powers were perceived as important potential constraints if regional stability were severely undermined and regional action were deemed an imperative. If, on the one hand, those choices reflect a pragmatic assessment of the political conditions that should be acknowledged and met to allow the very existence of the SADC, on the other, they introduce a very restricted view of potential situations and forms through which it is entitled to act, which confirms its vocation for a dialogue forum and not for a decision-making and operative body.
The article suggests the changes on the political landscape South America has experienced since 2014 have directly affected the SADC and its potential dialogue and operative functions. Our hypothesis is that this is a result of both the change on the regional balance of power and the lack of domestic political willingness from local governments, especially from the Brazilian government, to advance the SADC institutional operations.
Our article suggests the change of the relevance countries put on UNASUR and the SADC might be the result of the change on the regional balance of power constraints after the beginning of the Brazilian economic and political crises from 2014 on. Regional structural changes were followed by domestic political turnarounds on the regional security and defense cooperation prospects, as both political and ideological cleavages between new governments in key countries like Argentina, Brazil, Peru and their respective predecessors plus the predominantly inward looking perspectives of others like Colombia, Bolivia and Ecuador contribute directly to deepen conceptual cleavages and political gaps regarding a regional security and defense agenda.
The key argument to explain such changes rely on the analysis of the Brazilian role towards UNASUR and the SADC. As a former regional hegemon candidate, from 2008 to 2013, Brazil’s role was quintessential for the creation and positive results of such regional institutionalizations. Nevertheless, the emergence of the Brazilian economic and political crises in 2014 led to a quick political retrenchment, inducing UNASUR and the SADC to institutional and political weaknesses.
This argument takes into account not only the degree of political willingness of national governments in fostering regional security and defense cooperation; it also envisages the political and economic conditions in which policy priorities in those realms – and the importance to be granted to regional cooperation in them- are defined at national levels. The worsening of economic conditions in most of South America’s countries has had not only a great impact on security and defense budgets but on the willingness of governments, especially the Brazilian one, to foster collective initiatives thus favouring the focus on bilateral efforts on specific and more prominent security issues at that level.
To test these hypotheses, the first section of the article presents the theoretical tools to explain regional defense and security cooperation from an offensive realist approach. This section also suggests how structural constraints lead to domestic political responses as from the neoclassical realist approach. The second section presents a brief review of the assessments of the performance of the SADC, as the third section focuses on the agenda of the SADC and the fourth provides an analysis of the factors arising from national political contexts, focusing on Brazil, that restrict the incentives for stronger regional defense cooperation in South America.
Up to the final writing of the article and of this text, UNASUR has been without the appointment of a Secretary General for nearly eight months. Although the institution remains headless, the SADC keeps operative. Nonetheless, without political guidance, the Council is becoming more and more militarised, raising a yellow alert on civil and military relationships in a region where the interference of the military in political affairs if far from a matter from the past. That is why it’s imperative to deepen our studies on how the most important security arrangements of the 21st century in South America have changed their identity so quickly, before their 10th anniversary.
Read the article
Vaz, Alcides Costa, Fuccille, Alexandre, & Rezende, Lucas Pereira. (2017). UNASUR, Brazil, and the South American defence cooperation: A decade later. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(2), e012. Epub January 18, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201700212
Alcides Vaz is a Professor at the International Relations Institute at the University of Brasilia (IRI/UnB) and President of the Brazilian Defense Studies Association (ABED). E-mail: email@example.com
Alexandre Fuccille is a Professor of International Relations at the São Paulo State University (UNESP) and at the San Tiago Dantas IR Graduate Program (PPGRI STD), and former president of the Brazilian Defense Studies Association (ABED). E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucas Pereira Rezende is a Professor of International Relations at the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and Chief-Editor of the Brazilian Defense Studies Journal (RBED). E-mail: email@example.com
How to cite this note