Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

Ask the Experts: The New Brazil and The Changing Hemisphere

Do traditional models of international relations apply in Latin America?

Arturo Sarukhan Answers:

Two trends have and will continue to impact our hemisphere, particularly in Mexico–U.S. relations.

First, classic paradigms of international relations offer little to comprehend the current dynamics of Mexico–U.S. relations. Our unique relationship no longer distinguishes between domestic politics and international policy issues, nor is it demarcated along those lines. Instead, it is  one that has become—paraphrasing Bayless Manning’s seminal work in the 1970s—truly “intermestic” (the fusion of international and domestic issues) in nature.

In each country, advancing the foreign policy agenda with the other requires addressing domestic politics and taking on domestic constituencies on the wide range of issues within each nation: water and the environment;  transnational organized crime; competitiveness and labor mobility; trade facilitation; and energy efficiency. If we don’t jointly engage in untying the Gordian knots of domestic politics and constituencies, the bilateral agenda will not gain traction.

Moreover, new actors have broken the monopoly in the articulation of foreign policy by our two executive branches—with mayors, governors, trade associations, universities, NGOs, and social media playing increasingly relevant roles in transborder interaction.

In order to better confront this paradigm, we have worked to move away from the traditional navel-gazing, chest-thumping and Westphalian reflexes of national sovereignty toward a relationship based on principles of co-responsibility and co-stakeholdership. This represents a sea change that will allow our countries to understand that bilateral cooperation can deliver common good on both sides.

With this new landscape has also come an unprecedented dialogue that has unbuckled the straitjacket of an agenda made up exclusively of bilateral issues. Mexico and the U.S. have been working together on global and regional issues, from climate change to nuclear nonproliferation. Deepening the footprint of engagement with the U.S. on a broad range of global issues allows Mexico to continue being a key player in developing a new rules-based international system. For a global “middle power” like Mexico, there are two ways to operate in the world: either you sit at the table or you are on the menu. Mexico has decided to sit at the table.  And sitting at the table comes with new international responsibilities.

Anne-Marie Slaughter Answers:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton often speaks of a paradox that defines our world: even though no nation can solve its fundamental problems on its own, common interest does little to guarantee common action. This reality of international relations in the twenty-first century is most apparent in Latin America. Conflict between states is no longer the primary threat. Most of the key challenges the region faces are transnational: lagging economic competitiveness; persistent inequality; climate change; threats to public health; drug trafficking; and violence. Solutions are impossible without concerted and coordinated action. It is not just a matter of action by governments. New actors—NGOs and civil society, multinational corporations, international institutions, even criminal cartels—are determining the course of the region. The problems and solutions require a dual perspective focused both on states and on societies—engaging traditional government and socioeconomic actors at the same time. Latin America is the perfect place to develop and implement policies that range beyond geopolitics and geoeconomics to develop methods that will allow states and societies in the Americas to engage more productively with the rest of the world.

Kurt G. Weyland Answers:

Academics have strong incentives to highlight novelty. Therefore, my claim that traditional theories of international relations do apply in Latin America may come as a surprise. Economic globalization, social modernization and political democratization have certainly brought important changes to the region’s international politics, including relations with the United States. But standard theories are nevertheless valuable, even for understanding recent developments.

Take the most traditional theory: realism. It argues that the distribution of power drives international relations. Strong countries want to control the fate of weaker nations, which in turn seek to augment their independence. These arguments continue to shed crucial light on international politics in the Western hemisphere. The clout of the U.S. has declined, but this “hovering giant” keeps exerting considerable influence in the region. Latin American countries have used the increase in their domestic power and foreign alliance options to gain greater room to maneuver. A clear case is Brazil’s rise, driven by a resurgent economy and efforts to find extra-hemispheric partners.

Realism also elucidates relations among Latin American countries, such as Brazil’s erstwhile rivalry with Argentina and its new efforts to contain the noisy protagonism of President Hugo Chávez’ Venezuela. Realism even explains fluctuations in countries’ international roles, such as Venezuela’s claims to regional leadership whenever the international price of oil—the country’s main resource—is exceptionally high, as in the mid-1970s and in recent years.

Of course, power rivalries in Latin America are driven more by economic clout than military hardware. War, realism’s main concern, has been rare—partly due to U.S. hegemony. Moreover, international norms and values limit the pursuit of power. Latin America’s international relations differ substantially from the naked European power politics that served as the prototype for realism. But with some adaptations, this traditional theory still offers essential insights into Latin America’s international relations.

Kevin P. Gallagher Answers:

Given that the global financial crisis is still in our midst, I will focus on models of international economic relations in Latin America. In this case, many Latin Americans have already begun to change their model— and for the better.

Since the economic crises that sacked Latin America in the early 1980s, the region’s primary model of foreign and domestic economic policy could be described as following the “Washington Consensus”—generally removing the role of the state in economic affairs. Latin American nations across the board limited the role of the state in economic affairs and signed numerous trade treaties that further deepened such reforms. By the turn of the century it was found that the benefits of this approach did not live up to expectations. By 1999, the growth rate of every nation in the hemisphere was lower than it had been between 1960 and 1980.

But the arrival of the twenty-first century brought positive change to the region, with most nations electing officials that were more pragmatic in terms of foreign and domestic economic policy. Two examples illustrate this: Brazil and Chile.

At home, Brazil increased minimum wages, leading to an uptick in formal employment, and its antipoverty program, the Bolsa Família, lifted many out of poverty. Brazil’s development bank has begun to retool and think about industrialization. And to maintain stability, Brazil has deployed capital controls. Chile established a stabilization fund to capture some of the windfall from high copper prices so that funds can be used for macroeconomic stabilization and poverty programs. The stabilization fund enabled Chile to deploy one of the largest stimulus programs in response to the economic crisis.

Rising commodity prices and the increasing influence of China gives Latin America new challenges for the coming decade. Brazil and Chile can serve as guides as the region starts to take institutions more seriously, rather than scrap them for unfettered markets.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
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