The United States is a country of the Americas. Despite its deep British and European roots, US relations with its immediate neighbours to the north and the south, or with their imperial parent states, have deeply marked the evolution of United States foreign policy and affected in important ways its approach to the world. And as in other areas of the world, Washington has sought to use multilateralism in the Americas as a profitable approach to international affairs offering a number of advantages for the achievement of national aims. The first permanent multilateral organization of which the United States was a member was the Pan American Union, precursor of the Organization of American States. From the beginning of its membership the US sought specific national advantages from such a multinational forum, in particular in the areas of exclusion of European influence, legitimization of US policy, access to markets, and mobilization of hemispheric resources in the service of US aims.
At the same time, smaller states of the Americas have sought to use multilateralism and multinational institutions to restrain the influence of the United States and its behaviour in the western hemisphere. They have often hoped to use such forums to stop US initiatives which they saw as harmful, to anchor the principles of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states and the equality and sanctity of the nation-state, as well as to slow or halt US tendencies towards unilateralism in hemispheric matters.
The central argument of this chapter is that United States power, once established as predominant in the hemisphere, has been nothing short of decisive in the founding, nature, and functioning of the multilateral institutions in the Americas in which it has taken part. The examples of the Pan American Union (PAU)/Organization of American States (OAS) and of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will be used to show this state of affairs in play. The bulk of the chapter will deal with the OAS because of the lessons one can derive from the very long history of US membership. In another case, that of Mercado Común del Sur (Mercosur, or Common Market of the South), it will