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The Americas: no more 'Father knows best'

In Western civilizations the dream of continental integration is a timeless but an elusive one. Regional unity, either in Europe or in the Americas, proved for centuries to be beyond grasp. Sooner or later, though, every generation rediscovers the vision of an integrated region, both as an effective counter- balance to the dangers to international peace which flow from exaggerated nationalism and a means whereby sovereign states, as they better coordinate their policies with others, actually enhance their own capacities and well-being.

Within our lifetime Western Europe learned this lesson well, through endowing first the Coal and Steel Community and then the European Community with supranational authority and responsibilities. Over the debris of nationalism run amok, a new European region arose, inspired by a contagious spirit of transnational integration. In turn, stimulated by europe's renaissance, the world economy grew at double the rate of any period previously known to history, even during the so-called "golden age" of capitalism from 1894 to 1913.

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Within the Western Hemisphere, the postwar tides also brought regional and subregional integration, mainly on economic rather than on political lines, with the formation of such ventures as the Latin American Free Trade Association, the Central American Common Market, the Andean Pact, and the Caribbean's CARICOM. These integrating tendencies helped trade within Latin America to increase strongly from 9 percent of the regional total in 1960 in 18 percent in recent years.

Latin America currently ranks on the same economic and social levels as did Europe in 1950. Yet its development remains but partially tapped. The petroleum resources of the area are twice those of the United States and four times greater than Europe's. Perhaps less than one-fourth of the region's potential for food production has been realized. And both a quantitative and qualitative explosion in regional trade, human resource development, and industrial production are immediately on the horizon for a Latin America with its projected 600 million persons by the year 2000.

With these brilliant prospects before it we can speak of the American region as being on the threshold of a new "golden age." However, will Latin America come to play the pivotal role for stimulating the world economy which this moment of history presses upon it?

Responses of the European Community and of North America could prove crucial to answering this question. Rampant tides of world protectionism must be constrained in the industrialized societies. As well, new formulas for opening world markets and for financing Latin American development -- through a more balanced mix of public and private financing -- must be discovered. At this juncture the United States and Canada might determine whether they wish to form a genuine partnership in the Americas with Latin America on the basis of full equality among equals rather than to continue living on the residue of past and largely outmoded "father knows best" arrangements.

Why is it important to state these two truths so baldly at this moment? Essentially, because the world is sitting on the edge of a political and economic abyss, as indicated by a wide range of tragic events on the perimeter of the Middle East. This situation requires that the Western Hemisphere reexamine its own strengths, its potential for pushing towards continental economic self-sufficiency, and the reasons why it remains, at least in relations between states, one of the few global regions where interstate peace has been the norm since 1945 rather than the exception.

Once this reexamination is made in a searching, thorough, and honest manner, the achievements of the American nations as they work together become apparent. However, this is just a beginning. If the work of the past and present is not to become unravelled within the inter-American system, the United States and Latin America must find new ways to modernize and update their long relationship. If this is not done, the United States may well find that it lacks the understanding and support of its closest neighbors as it grapples with the major new dangers on the world stage.

Were this to turn out to be the case, both the cause of world peace and of inter-American friendship would suffer.


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