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Cold war defense treaty under fire in Latin America

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• A version of this post ran on the author's blog, bloggingsbyboz.com. The views expressed are the author's own.

Four ALBA countries, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela announced they are formally pulling out of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR or Rio Pact). The treaty, signed in 1947, is a cold war relic. It says an attack against any country in the hemisphere will be treated as an attack against all. Similar to NATO's Article 5, it's a collective defense mechanism meant to deter a Soviet invasion.
 
Of course, the Soviet Union is long gone. Today, there is little threat of a military attack from a country outside this hemisphere against one inside this hemisphere. My first reaction to the TIAR announcement was to joke about it. The Russians aren't going to invade Nicaragua and the North Koreans aren't going to launch a ballistic missile at Bolivia because the deterrent threat of TIAR is being removed. Mexico pulled out of TIAR in 2002 due to its dispute with the US over the Iraq war and the lack of a collective defense treaty appears the least of Mexico's military and security concerns today.
 
The withdrawal from the treaty by the ALBA countries is symbolic. The Rio Pact is one of the founding documents of the modern inter-American system, coming from a time period in which the US was far more dominant over the region than it is now. The countries withdrawing are looking to rewrite inter-American relations as well as weaken or destroy the institutions of the current regional system that do not benefit their current leadership.

Even if you disagree with the motives of Bolivian President Morales and his allies, it's not wrong to think that TIAR is an anachronism. Collective defense in the 21st century must mean something very different than what it meant as World War II ended and the cold war began. TIAR may be symbolically important to the history of inter-American relations, but it's questionable whether it's relevant to the threats that are faced today.
 
If Brazil is hit by a Chinese cyber attack, do other countries in the hemisphere respond? If the US is bombed by Iranian-backed terrorists, what does Latin America do? The honest answer is that if some unlikely military threat scenario were to occur in this hemisphere, the regional response would be based on modern political will and diplomacy, not the language of a treaty that's 65 years old and gathering dust.
 
So is TIAR worth keeping around? Sure. The concept of collective defense is a good one to have in this hemisphere. TIAR has symbolic value that the hemisphere is united against common threats, even if the specifics of the treaty haven't been used much. But it wouldn't be the end of the world if TIAR fell apart or other countries withdrew. Every country in the hemisphere should work with their neighbors to prepare for modern threats whether or not an old-fashion treaty is in place.

– James Bosworth is a freelance writer and consultant who runs Bloggings by Boz.


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