Defense Cooperation: The South American Experience *

By Onuki, Janina | Brazilian Political Science Review, January 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

Defense Cooperation: The South American Experience *


Onuki, Janina, Brazilian Political Science Review


Defense Cooperation: The South American Experience· (Rezende, Lucas Pereira. Sobe e Desce: Explicando a Cooperafăo em Defesa na América do Sul. Brasilia: Universidade de Brasilia, 2015)

One of the main challenges for theories of international relations and trade policy is the 'security dilemma'. International security and national defense are central issues in the area of international relations; they have always been variables related to the anarchic nature of the international system, associated with the prevalence of distrust in the relationship among states. For this reason, the classic academic debate between the neorealists' and the neo-institutionalists' contrasting views has basically revolved around the quest to overcome instability, while looking for alternatives that could create space for cooperation, precisely to avoid any return to Hobbesian anarchy.

The dilemma concerns how to create state-to-state cooperation in the security and defense field. Unlike a contract in other areas such as trade, the environment, or human rights - where the premise of cooperation justifies the creation of international regimes - the area of defense and security has an element that precedes the discussion of the regime: overcoming distrust (Jervis, 1978). Given a history marked predominantly by the balance of power between great powers - known for competition, relative gains and individual protection of countries - the tendency has been to turn to arms for protection, and for this reason cooperation has always been treated with caution.

The changes in the structure of the international system brought about by the end of the Cold War, in parallel with an alteration in the perception of threats, require another kind of defense policy and introduce new challenges for researchers in the 21st century. These challenges lie in defense diplomacy, and in the possibility of creating security communities that are formed around a common threat or community-based regional leadership. This is the case of South America, the object of study of Rezende's book.

Seen from the perspective of a middle/rising power that has had a moderately revisionist foreign policy in recent years, the asymmetries of the international order inevitably affect Brazil's regional cooperation in defense.

Lucas Pereira Rezende begins his book by asking two questions that are pivotal within the international relations' academic debate: 1) why, after all, do states cooperate? And, more specifically, 2) why do states cooperate in defense matters? These questions represent a major theoretical challenge in the international context, concerning great powers and medium-size countries. In order to answer them, the author offers an overview of IR theories and proposes a theoretical model based on a combination of different theories, which might help to explain the countries' option for increasing defense cooperation.

The process of regional integration in South America had been put on hold until quite recently. Firstly, because of the lack of progress in intergovernmental negotiations; secondly, due to uncertainties about the priority accorded to said process; and thirdly, because of the emphasis given to the commercial sphere in the last few years. However, the dialogue amongst countries of the region has made considerable advances since then. This has meant an expansion of the community to other South American countries, which in turn led to the creation of the Union of South American Countries (Unasur) in 2008, thus institutionalizing an environment that - probably due to the presence of Andean countries - makes the heightened concern with regional security more evident.

Rezende's book, based on his extensive and very thorough doctoral research, explains how defense cooperation in South America went through many ups and downs and has only been consolidated in the last few years. It is an innovative endeavor, both from the theoretical point of view, as it makes use of different methodologies - such as offensive realism, liberal institutionalism and constructivism - and from the empirical point of view, as it brings a set of relevant information obtained from documentary research and quantitative information on countries' investment in the area of defense, in addition to interview data on the process of foreign policy decision-making. …

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