Redefining U.S. Hemispheric Interests: A Bold Naval Agenda for the Twenty-First Century

By Gonzalez, Edmundo | Naval War College Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Redefining U.S. Hemispheric Interests: A Bold Naval Agenda for the Twenty-First Century


Gonzalez, Edmundo, Naval War College Review


THIS PAPER MAKES THE FOLLOWING ARGUMENTS. First, the end of the Cold War coincided with an explosive growth in U.S.-Latin American trade, making it imperative for the United States to pay much greater attention to Latin America and its economic and political problems. Second, the best way to address some of those problems is to create a hemisphere-wide "Free Trade Area of the Americas." Third, as part of the process of enhancing hemispheric security and promoting stability, the United States should support the further development of Latin American naval capabilities, so that they can carry out some of the hemispheric security functions performed today by the U.S. Navy, thus freeing the latter to use its stretched resources in other parts of the world.

Through a geopolitical overview of the area and an analysis of the political, economic, and hemispheric security interests of the United States in this region, we will assess the suitability of the United States supporting the development of Latin American naval powers in order to protect and enhance common goals and interests. Due to the extensive scope of the topic, we will center the discussion on the major Latin American countries, suggesting which countries or areas require blue-water, green-water, or brown-water navies, and which countries are the most promising candidates for U.S. support in enhancing their naval capabilities.

We will take the unusual approach of looking at U.S. regional interests through Latin American eyes; that is, the author will try to position himself as a U.S. citizen,but one having personal experience of the Southern Hemisphere. Finally, we will demonstrate that each Latin American country faces a different set of circumstances, in an attempt to change the American perception that the region south of the Rio Grande can be analyzed as a single package.1

Geopolitical Vision

After the Second World War, and with the decline ofthe old colonial empires, the United States assumed undisputed leadership of the West. Its main postwar threats came from the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China (PRC); therefore, the main efforts of the United States were centered in Eurasia. Consequently, as noted by a Chilean expert, "it was necessary for the United States to design a strategy that established a wall around those two hostile powers. That strategy, which was based on the Geopolitics School, founded by the American geopolitician Nicholas Spykman (1893-1944), constituted the basis of U.S. foreign policy for over five decades."2 The strategy adopted by the United States during the Cold War also rested upon a liberal-democratic political system, a free market economy, and military alliances with key regional powers.

Spykman's ideas still remain an important element in the design and structure of U.S. national security strategy toward Eurasia. Spykman, contesting the Eurasian heartland theory of Halford Mackinder, asserted, "Who controls the Rimland controls Eurasia;who controls Eurasia will control the world destiny."3 In his vision, "the Rimland consisted of Western Europe, the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and the Pacific coast of Russia. This list makes evident the relationship between geopolitical theory and the agreements and defense compromises assumed by successive U.S. administrations during the Cold War."4

Therefore,it can be no surprise that Latin America today is not a high priority in U.S. interests. The region is far away from, and not central to, the "Rimland," even though Latin America is in close geographic proximity to the United States. However, the underlying conditions are now quite different from what they were in the Cold War. The Institute for National Strategic Studies of the U.S. National Defense University has concluded that "given the expansion and consolidation of the European Community and the growing global reach of East Asian economies [i. …

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