UNASUR Moving Forward with Its Integration Efforts

According to reports from a ceremony in Quito, Ecuador, the 12 countries that make up the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) are moving forward with their plans to create an alternative to the “Organization of American States and any other group lobbied from North America.” One of the main goals of UNASUR is to reach a point of European Union (EU)-style political integration. It appears that UNASUR members are continuing their progress toward that goal by working toward transparency on military spending.

The 12 UNASUR members have agreed to share information on their military spending as a step toward political and military transparency. UNASUR members claim that they have no differences strong enough over which to fight. While I am not sure this is more than wishful thinking, it has been a while since border tensions, trade protectionism, or harsh rhetoric have boiled over into actual armed conflict. I find this interesting because South America’s history is rife with nationalistic sentiment that has led to many border squabbles and even full-scale wars. However, I must admit that in this respect, the region has been quite calm as of late.

Regardless of the lack of armed conflict, UNASUR members, independently, still boast defense budgets in the billions of dollars to upgrade and modernize their equipment and increase the size of their ranks. Those doing the spending claim that the expenditures are justified and aimed at economic and social development. They also assert that they need to protect their economic livelihood (commodities and natural resources), fight the never-ending War on Drugs, and deal with immigration and human trafficking. Migration is becoming a larger issue as the global recession continues to drive migrants from poorer South American countries to Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in search of work. As UNASUR members confront this and other issues that come with the more interconnected world they live in, they are working toward full-scale integration to prevent wasteful and unwanted spending and avoid military imbalances that might spark a regional arms race. As explained by Argentine Defense Minister Arturo Puricelli, “[UNASUR members] are working for an integrated defense, for cooperation in defense for the whole of our South America.”

According to Ecuadorean Defense Minister Miguel Carvajal, the information sharing helps to build confidence and trust among UNASUR members. Up until January of this year, only half of UNASUR members had contributed their military spending data from 2006 to 2010. Now that the effort for full-scale integration has begun in earnest, Alfredo Forti, head of the UNASUR Strategic Studies Center, reports that all UNASUR members have now submitted their data. Once all of the data is compiled it will be put into a full report that will be presented at a meeting next month in Paraguay.

This is just one step along the road toward full-scale, European Union (EU)-style integration and UNASUR members still have a long way to go. Although I am surprised they have not been deterred by the recent, well-document struggles of the EU, I am happy to see them moving forward with their goal. If UNASUR proves to be successful it could prove to be a model for a larger and more inclusive integration effort that encompasses all of the Americas.

– Max Rava

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