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Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Pact)

United States foreign policy following World War II, particularly after 1948, was based upon the principle of containment. Alliances were created which it was hoped would form a protective shield against Soviet and Chinese Communist expansion in Europe and Asia. Besides NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), there was CENTO (Central Treaty Organization), SEATO (Southeast Asia Treaty Organization), and the Rio Pact. To carry out this policy of containment, the United States maintained a large permanent military force all over the world. Twice, in Korea and Vietnam, the nation would engage in war as part of this containment policy.

The 1947 Rio Pact was designed as military hemispheric defensive measuresto preclude meddling from any extra-regional powers. At the founding convention of the United Nations in the spring of 1945, the Latin American delegates decided not to surrender the Pan American Union (PAU) powers for collective action to the new United Nations. In consequence the right of "regional self-defense" was written into article 51 of the UN charter. The treaty of reciprocal assistance, known as the Rio Pact, signed by all Pan American Union member states at Rio de Janeiro in April 1947, was the first binding treaty, in contrast with previous "agreements" or "resolutions" of prewar inter-American conferences. On their face, this represented a multilateral approach instead of a US-driven, Monroe Doctrine style, unilateral one.

The Rio Pact works just fine -- because it doesn't do anything. The Rio Pact is a paper alliance that has fallen into disuse. Peru is a Rio Treaty ally, which, as alliances go, is something of a charade; France is a NATO ally, which is a very serious alliance. Peru hasn't mattered much in international relations; France has mattered a lot.

Defense of sovereignty and the national honor are strong traditions throughout the Americas. The region's history, as recently as the 1980s, provides example after example of tension and conflict between neighboring states over disputed territorial boundaries, the possession of islands, or the use of common waterways. Neither the hemisphere's collective-security treaty, the Rio Pact, nor the pressures of Cold War security concerns had much of an effect on these historic national rivalries. In fact, when the Rio Pact was invoked by Argentina in its 1982 war with Britain over the Falklands-Malvinas Islands, it proved ineffective in rallying diplomatic and military support.

Tensions over boundaries have eased somewhat in the 1990s as domestic political and economic transformations have taken hold in the region. Although old enmities retain their symbolic importance and timeworn suspicions persist, most are gradually becoming rhetorical. What most elected leaders in the Americas fear most is social conflict within their borders. The most serious threats to national stability, even in the U.S. and Canada, are generated by domestic violence and common crime, which are increasingly intertwined with international drug trafficking, ethnic divisions, poverty, and unresponsive political systems.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:44:56 ZULU