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

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

Authored by Dr. Max G. Manwaring.

March 2004

38 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The author identifies the strategic-political challenge of effective sovereignty and security, with a focus on nontraditional threats. He recommends that leaders rethink the problem of nontraditional threats and develop the conceptual and strategic-political multilateral responses necessary to deal effectively with them. Piecemeal tactical-operational level responses to nontraditional threats and actors must be supplemented by broader political-strategic efforts. Additionally, cooperative national and international efforts designed to inhibit and reverse the processes of state failure must supplement military and law-enforcement emphasis on the attrition of individual "narco-terrorists." The author's recommendations constitute no easy task. However, if the United States and the other countries of the Western Hemisphere ignore what is happening in Latin America, the expansion of terrorism, "lawless areas," and general instability easily could destroy the democracy, free market economies, and prosperity that has been achieved in recent years. In turn, that would profoundly affect the health of the U.S. economy--and the concomitant power to act in the global security arena.


This monograph begins with a discussion of sovereignty and then considers national security threats with reference to two different levels of analysis. The first 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 clarifies 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 defined 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 flows, debilitating refugee flows, 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.

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