Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Pushback" against U.S. in Latin America

A recent Wash. Post story (h/t: Open Source Geopolitics) about the closing next year of a U.S. air base in Manta, Ecuador contains the following passage:

In the waning days of the Bush administration, governments in Latin America are rejecting many U.S.-funded programs, particularly anti-narcotics efforts.... In Venezuela, anti-drug officials say, cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has deteriorated sharply. In Bolivia, coca farmers decided in June to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development from part of the country amid accusations that it was conspiring against President Evo Morales. The pushback resonates well politically in many parts of Latin America, where U.S. policies are often seen as security-obsessed Cold War vestiges or bitter economic pills forced down the throats of unwilling governments.

The story of the Manta air base is one in which soft balancing and hard cash come together. Among other things, a joint $6 billion Venezuelan-Ecuadoran oil refinery announced by Hugo Chavez and Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa means that the money injected by the U.S. base in Manta is no longer so important to Ecuador.

The Manta air base, which employs 450 U.S. Air Force personnel and contractors, will close in November 2009. Its main mission has been to conduct surveillance flights aiming to interdict seaborne drug trafficking. The closing of the base, on balance, seems to be a good thing. My impression is that, generally speaking, the U.S. military/drug-war footprint in Latin America has cost more than it's worth. The U.S. does not need and should not have more than 700 military bases scattered over the world. Some of them no doubt perform essential strategic missions, but the majority probably should be closed. They perpetuate the image and reality of American 'empire'. Alexander Cooley has argued that the U.S. should maintain bases in "mature democracies" but not in non-democratic countries (see A. Cooley, "Base Politics," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2005; he also has a recent book on the subject). However, one should also ask whether a given base is really serving a valuable purpose, regardless of where it is located.


Nick said...

Both Van Evera and Desh discuss basing in developing countries and argue that ultimately it is a waste of resources for the US and morally objectionable additionally. But they come at the issue from a defensive realist position. Defensive realists were also against the Iraq war and it still occurred. American foreign policy is more imperial than realist in character, and overseas basing increases US power projection and its ability to dissuade potential peer competitors and regional hegemons.

LFC said...

Certain bases increase power projection capabilities, but not all bases do -- the one in Ecuador that's the subject of this post really had nothing to do with power projection. Nor do all existing bases discourage potential regional hegemons and peer competitors, of which there really aren't any (Chavez's dreams notwithstanding) in Latin America anyway. So even in 'imperial' terms, many of the bases may not be doing very much.
It's true that some advocates of offshore balancing are defensive realists of one sort or other (e.g. Layne, Walt, etc.), and I agree that U.S. foreign policy, even under an Obama administration (if it occurs) probably will not go sharply in that direction.

Anonymous said...

Leaving aside for the moment what the US should do, I think the Latin American reaction is a product of the unipolar moment we are in. With no competitor around to make it look good, the power of the US is coming under greater scrutiny (Gaddis) It is true that Bush et. al have hastened this with their disregard to multilateralism, but is also a structural issue.

LFC said...

Yes, I think there's something to that. (Though one could get into a lengthy, fairly pointless debate about whether the int'l system is currently unipolar, multipolar, or "nonpolar".)