Academic journal article Military Review

The Top Seven Myths of U.S. Defense Policy toward the Americas

Academic journal article Military Review

The Top Seven Myths of U.S. Defense Policy toward the Americas

Article excerpt


RECENT DISCUSSIONS AND commentaries on U.S. defense policy in the Americas have created a number of myths regarding the Obama administration's approach to the region and a series of inaccuracies that require clarification. (1) This article makes clear the rationale and purpose of U.S. defense policy in the Western Hemisphere and highlights some of the inconsistencies, mischaracterizations, and fallacies of the arguments that inform these myths.

Myth One: The United States is inattentive to the Americas

The first myth is the notion that the Obama administration takes the Americas for granted by paying it insufficient attention, a charge frequently heard from commentators on hemispheric relations. (2) Such accusations, however, are factually inaccurate. Indeed, the very fact that the United States is developing a new tone and new relationships by moving away from the Manichean and "one-size fits all" policies of old is a sign that the administration is giving ample attention to the region. High-level visits are one indicator: President Obama met with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico while still president-elect, traveled to Mexico on two occasions, and hosted Mexico's first couple in his administration's second state visit, highlighting the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship; President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil was one of the first foreign leaders to meet with the President in the Oval Office; the President also received then Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and then Colombian President Alvaro Uribe; Vice President Joe Biden visited Chile and Costa Rica; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates have both recently toured the region, as have the secretaries of Commerce and Transportation, and the Attorney General. In short, President Obama, cabinet officials, and sub-cabinet officials are in frequent contact with their counterparts in the Americas as we partner to improve collaboration in areas of mutual interest.

Many of the charges of inattention stem from the fact that this administration has not developed a catchy slogan or cookie-cutter approach to the region; there is no "Good Neighbor Policy," "Alliance for Progress," "Free Trade Area of the Americas," or "Monroe Doctrine" to which one can easily point. The lack of a slogan, however, does not indicate a lack of strategy. The President's nuanced approach tends to tailor policies to the distinct characteristics of individual countries and their relations with the United States. Flexibility is increasingly important because the Western Hemisphere is a dynamic and constantly evolving region that has changed considerably in recent decades. The administration recognizes that the challenges and nature of U.S. relations with countries such as Brazil and Chile are fundamentally different than those present in relationships with countries such as Mexico and Colombia and each therefore requires a unique approach. Similarly, the security challenges of the Caribbean and Central America and its geographic proximity to the United States are another example of the need for tailored policies. As a result, the umbrella approaches that characterized past U.S. policy are no longer appropriate. In fact, they can be counterproductive.

Strategically targeted engagement is the most appropriate course of action in the Americas, and indeed, for U.S. foreign policy as a whole in the 21st century. As the 2010 National Security Strategy notes, the United States will continue to rely on close friends and allies to collectively ensure global security, but this alone is not sufficient. The United States will also work to cultivate deeper partnerships with new "key centers of influence," "emerging nations," and even "hostile nations" because of our conviction that "our own interests are bound to the interests of those beyond our borders." (3) In the regional security space, the United States pursues policies such as the Merida Initiative, the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative, bilateral working groups, and Defense Cooperation Agreements such as those signed with Brazil and Colombia. …

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