Financial Advisor, Political Analyst and Jolly Globetrotter Alex Rosen on NATO in Latin America
In 1949, in a rushed response to the Soviet blockade of Berlin, a group of 12 countries formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. I first learned of NATO in eighth grade when Mr. Soroko pulled down the map of the Northern Hemisphere and pointed out the participants, all clustered around Western Europe and North America. It made sense.
The member countries formed a coalition that allowed for joint military bases within the region, multinational military exercises and an agreement that an attack upon one nation was an attack upon the entire coalition and would thus trigger a coalition-wide response.
Next we learned that Turkey and Greece eventually joined NATO. That too stood to reason. Though in retrospect the threat may have been overstated, at the time both countries feared the spreading tentacles of the Soviet Union. Any enemy of the Soviets was an ally of NATO and had to be protected at all costs, even if that ment protecting a country against its own citizens. So cue the thanksgiving music, prepare the gravy, and welcome aboard Turkey and Greece.
Later Spain joined and still I felt little need to object. Its Spain.
Sadly, however, by the time I reached the 10th grade, the Soviets had kicked in their cards; a fold that would seem to render NATO obsolete. After all, this was the end of history. But somewhere along the line someone didn’t quite get the message and NATO not only regained relevance, but it was able to pick up a number of former Eastern block countries and, in turn, to expand its hemispheric influence. Today there are 28 members spread all across Europe.
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So why is this relevant for Latin America? Last week President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia announced that his country is considering joining the club. NATO officials have categorically denied this possibility, but have not ruled out cooperation on joint exercises.
The very suggestion that Colombia could join NATO set off alarms throughout Latin America. Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua instantly condemned the mere speculation as a threat to regional stability, while other countries including Brazil eyed the story with caution. The befuddlement is understandable. NATO represented a political and military alliance to defend against the spread of Soviet communism, which was, at one point, a plausible threat.
While one who hopes to work in Washington is always hesitant to sound soft on the Soviets, I will go out on a limb and predict that the USSR will not infiltrate Colombia in the foreseeable future.
The NATO mandate was simple when the enemies were clear: Prevent the spread of communism. However the mandates have changed. Today Western countries embrace China as a most favored nation, while NATO turns it head to avoid confronting Syrian aggression along the border of Turkey, an alliance member. So what is the point?
Colombia as America’s backyard buddy.
Latin Americans tend to be too busy fighting crises at home to fight wars abroad. In the last 130 years, their has only been one cross-border war, fought between Paraguay and Bolivia. All other wars have been internal and, by many accounts, due to foreign meddling. So why then would Colombia wish to join an alliance committed to defense?
As Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have increasingly opposed US involvement in Latin America in favor of the quixotic notion of Bolivarian revolution, Bogotá has embraced a stronger military relationship with Washington. Colombia invited US support on Plan Colombia, a heavy handed effort to uproot the cocaine industry. Later, in 2003, Colombia was the only South American nation to support the US led invasion of Iraq.
For Colombia, the close relationship results in windfall US investment and support in the Colombian military. The opportunity to have Washington foot the bill for Colombia’s own security is easy to understand. But at what expense to the region? NATO does not need a toehold in South America. Bolivia can barely keep the lights on, Ecuador is busy arresting journalists and Venezuela is selling the majority of its oil to the US.
Enough discord exists in the region without adding NATO to the fire. Colombia already is participating in joint military exercises with NATO. What benefit lies in consummating the relationship? Colombia may be a Catholic country and NATO a traditional suitor, but this is the 21st century: there is no need to sign empty vows before they bang artillery.
Alex Rosen has acted as Wealth Advisor with Veritas Wealth Advisors, LLC and as a Political Analyst with Fundacion Pensar in Argentina.