Latinamerica: Time for a New Monroe Doctrine?

Latinamerica: Time for a New Monroe Doctrine?

Global Review published an interview and two programmatic articles by Dr. Evan Ellis about Latinamerica. Dr. R. Evan Ellis is a research professor of Latin American Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, with a research focus on the region’s relationships with China and other non-Western Hemisphere actors. About the importance of Latinamerica for the USA he said:

„In the post-Cold War era, Latin America’s relative prosperity, lack of interstate conflict, and the absence of existential threats to the U.S. from the region (eg. nuclear weapons and major peer competitors) has meant that U.S. policymakers have focused their limited time and resources to a somewhat greater degree on other areas of the world: Asia, with its increasing importance in economic terms and associated prospects for conflict, Europe, with an increasingly aggressive Russia, and the Middle East and North Africa with the global terrorists threats presented by actors such as ISIS.  Nonetheless, no region of the world is more important in its contribution to U.S. prosperity and security, through its geographic and economic connectedness and ties of family than is Latin America.  The relative lack of time spent by US policymakers discussing the region should not be confused with a lack of interest in the prosperity or security of the region, but rather, a choice of emphasis by the present outgoing administration, in the face of exigencies that it has faced in multiple places abroad. “

Till now non-Western Hemisphere actors like China and Russia have growing, but not dangerous influence on the US American backyard. But this could change dramatically, if a conflict between Russia or China and the USA occurs. China and Russia could have interest to destabilize Latin and Central America, support antiamerican goverments, built military bases, etc. In his new article „Thinking strategically about Latin America and the Carribean“ Dr. Ellis is addressing this issue and demands that the USA is preventing Latin America to become a strategic threat for the USA. This should be done mostly by non-military means , by promotion of democratic, transparent institutions and Dr. Evan Ellis thinks that the USA would have a very good chance doing that given the cultural, ethnic, military and economic ties:

Leveraging the Opportunity of Latin America and Preventing it from Becoming a Strategic Threat.

The instruments for leveraging the strategic potential of Latin America and the Caribbean and preventing it from becoming a strategic threat to the United States are mostly non-military. They have to do with the strengthening of institutions, democracy, the rule of law, and equitable societies and political systems in which populist leaders cannot exploit the legitimate aspirations for a better life of the marginalized in order to further those leaders’ own wealth and power. Preventing Latin America from becoming a strategic threat involves maintaining a region of governments with transparency and checks and balances that can maintain healthy economic and political relationships with a variety of global partners, without becoming co-opted by anti-U.S. actors to sustain their own political survival.

The price of leveraging the region and preventing it from becoming a strategic threat to the United States is remarkably low, yet more than what U.S. policymakers have been willing to pay to date, absent compelling immediate threats.

Although U.S. behavior toward Latin America and the Caribbean in the past has created a complex legacy to navigate, overcoming resentments and suspicion of the United States that exists in some parts of the region can be achieved with sustained and sincere commitment on the basis of a respectful and equitable partnership. There will always be naysayers.

The number of Latin American business and military professionals who have attended U.S. institutions, and who have family in the United States is without equal among U.S. rivals, yet that is arguably underleveraged as an asset for building goodwill and partnerships.

From the point of view of military engagement, U.S. proximity and shared history with the region means that the United States has a legacy of working relationships with Latin American militaries and other groups on which to build. Indeed, the substantial proportion of Latinos in the United States and the U.S. Armed Forces means that there is not another region of the world in which the United States has similarly broad options to engage with its partners through shared language and ethnicity.

While extra-hemispheric actors like the Russians may have established substantial human ties and some residual goodwill during the Cold War, neither the Russians nor others, such as the Chinese or the Iranians, have the ability to engage the region through the shared bonds of language and culture that the United States is able to leverage.“

In our conversation I addressed the potential for a proxy conflict between China and the USA in Latinamerica, mostly Mexico if the USA and China got into a conflict in the Pacific about Taiwan, the South or East Chinese Sea.I wrote:

„Your article gives an strategic outlook for Latinamerica. However it is very diplomatic, quotes General Kelly (former South Command chief as Homesecurity chief) and Exxon Mobile CEO Rex Tillerson as new Secretary of State as the new hope and is silent about Trump´s devasting Latinamerica policy. I haven´t seen an US president that antagonizes Latinamericans more than Trump does. With his racist remarks on Latinamerican, mostly Mexican immgrants, his anti-NAFTA- and TPP rhetoric he is making a lot of enemies.Besides transnational organized crime and populist movements I think you should concentrate on two issues: First, the US-Mexican relations. If Trump is abandoning NAFTA and TPP, Mexico will automatically deepen its economic and political relations with China. As you quoted before, WWI-Germany once tried to make an alliance with Mexico against the USA (Zimmermann telegramm). This could also become reality, if in Mexico a populist leader would seize power and if the USA pushes the Taiwan issue too hard (compare Trump`s congratulation telephone call with the Taiwanese president and his questioning of the „One-China“policy). China could use Mexico as leverage against the USA in case of a conflict.Secondly the question is, what Trump will do about Cuba. Does he want to be the first US president who liberates Cuba from communism or does he just wait till the Cuban regime reforms and collapses?

Maybe a much needed analysis was how China could use Mexico in case of a conflict, especially if a sinomaerican conflict over Taiwan and the South Chinese Sea erupts. Which groups and which policy could an antiamerican, populist leader in Mexico in alliance with China use to destabilize the USA and Latinamerica. I think the following worst case scenario was possible:

1) Destabilizing the USA by nationalistic immigrant groups, drug cartells and Mexican and Latino gangs in urban centers.

2) Inciting border conflicts,e.g. bombs against the US-Mexican fence/wall causing new illegal immigrant waves

3) Establishing a Chinese military base and a military built-up of the Mexican army with medium range missiles and other conventional weapons to deter an US intervention and building a parallel substructure for a prolonged guerilla war if the USA should intervene in Mexico–thereby drawing the USA in a longterm quagmire

4) Destabilize Central America, especially getting control of the Nicaragua/Panama channel

5) Look out for other antiamerican populists in Latinamerica to expand the strategic hinterland and the quagmire.

I want to speak about the three most important Latinamerican countries where the establishment of both parties failed: Mexico-the PRI and Fox`s liberal conservatives. Brasil–leftwinged socialdemocrats Lula and Roussef and now liberal conservative Temer who won´t survive very long. The Peronists in Argentine like Kirchner and now a neoliberal party which also won´t succeed. I think in all these three Latinamerican countries the next phase will be that there will be a Latinamerican Trump/Duterte.-against the old establishment. The USA is giving no perspective. George W. Bush´s panamerican freetrade zone hasn´t materialized, TPP is at the brink of collapse, Trump wants to abondon NAFTA.In my opinion in all these three countries a new nationalistic populist movement could arise with a new populist leader. And as the USA wants to abolish freetrade zones, China will fill the gap and be glad to see more antiamerican populists.

About Cuba: Maybe Putin and Trump make some sort of deal: Putin gets the Crimea, Trump Cuba. However, this would be seen by many other countries as betrayal by Putin who has to decide if Russia is a world power or a regional power.More unlikely.“

In his new article „Time for a call from the Venezulanian opposition to President-Elect Trump“ Dr. Ellis sees the opportunity, that under Trump and his new Secretary of State Tillerson Latinamerica will get more attention in the stratgic calculations of the USA as Tillerson has vast knowledge about Chinese and Russian economic interest and influence worldwide and in Latinamerica and that General Kelly who was former commander of the Southcommand of the US military would have more focus on Latinamerican affairs. This could be actually used in the Venezulanian conflict:

„For the chavistas, the nomination by President-Elect Trump of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State should further dampen their spirits. Mr. Tillerson arguably will bring to Foggy Bottom an in-depth understanding of the machinations of the Venezuelan government, which mistreated Exxon in the country for years, expropriated its assets, and violated its contractual rights, for which Exxon was awarded $1.6 billion in damages in 2014.

Official negotiations between Venezuela’s chavista regime and the opposition, mediated by the Vatican, are now on hold until the end of the Christmas holiday and scheduled to resume January 13, 2017, just a week before Donald Trump is inaugurated in the United States. The first week of January would be an ideal time for Donald Trump to take a friendly call from Henry Ramos Allup and others in Venezuela’s democratic opposition. As with Tsai Ing-wen’s call and China, the position of democracy in Venezuela will be strengthened if Venezuela’s President Maduro (and those who stay out of jail so long as he remains in power) returns to the bargaining table knowing that the incoming Trump administration is paying attention, and not entirely sure what he will do once he takes office.

While no one is talking about U.S. intervention in Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro must know that there are many fine places for a Trump Tower in Caracas.“

I raised the question what will happen in Venezuela if the conflict between the USA and China about Taiwan escalates:

A good question is what China will do about Venezuela. You once said that the most likely outcome in Venezuela was that the old Chavistas and their supporters in bureaucracy and milittary might drop Maduro, install a more moderate person and slightly reform the economic system.I yesterday read a comment in the Chinese Global Times saying, if the USA should sell weapons to Taiwan, China should sell and deliver weapons to all regimes and groups which are antiamerican.This would include Venezuela. The Chinese regime as Assad, Ghaddafi or Saddam Hussein will never let a democratic opposition seize power by reforms. We saw this at Tiananmen, we saw this in Lybia and we are seeing it in Aleppo and Syria.Therefore the Chinese could bolster and beef up the Venezulanian regime in order to crack down any opposition.

However. The question is if the USA wants to prevent non-Western Hemisphere actors like China and Russia becoming too influential in Latinamerica and posing a strategic threat in its backyard, if this doesn´t raise the question: „Time for a New Monroe Doctrine“? A Trump doctrine for Latinamerica? Unlikely, because Trump isn´t a fan of doctrines and strategic thinking and his „America first“isn´t an panamerican approach, but just the manifestation of a hegemonial USA which wants to oppress other national interests worldwide and in Latinamerica. Indeed, one can argue that the Monroe doctrine is grossly misstated and misunderstood in the region.At the time, as a former colony herself, just after the majority of Latin American wars of independence, the USA was actually standing in solidarity with the nations of the hemisphere against meddling by their former Colonial powers.

A future new Monroe doctrine could define the USA as the central partner for an panamerican cooperation in solidarity with nations and people of the hemisphere against meddling by future hegemonial powers or non-Western Hemisphere actors as China. But maybe many people perceive the USA as a hegemonial Yankee- and Gringo-power and Trump´s nationalistic „America first“and not „Americas first“ approach as hindrance for any cooperation. While Dr. Evan Ellis  proposes the democratization of Latinamerican countries and the promotion of democratic and transparent institutions in these countries as option, maybe Trump has a more militaristic, illiberal and undemocratic approach and promotes more new military dictatorships via the School of the Americas, coup d´etats, strong men as Duterte and rightwinged authotarian rulers. And a South Command military Kelly and a oligarchical Exxon-Tillerson might even support this tendency and not oppose it.Therefore such a new Monroe doctrine seems unlikely at the moment.

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