U.S. Security Strategy and “National” Interest in Latin America
Energy is clearly at the forefront of U.S. security and economic policy when one considers the pressure it exerts to liberalize the Latin American hydrocarbon market.
In the middle of December 2017, the Trump administration announced a new National Security Strategy (NSS). It was a series of premises and objectives based on the doctrine of political realism (as explicitly assumed in the document), oriented towards “reestablishing America’s position of power in the world”. It summarizes the goals to follow in order to protect “American interests” – which are the interests of a privileged and influential decision-making minority, though they seem to be presented as “the interests of the American people”.
It’s important to note that one of the characteristics of the Trump administration in terms of foreign policy is the gap between incendiary discourse, full of threats and vehement rhetoric, and its decision-making, which on occasion tends to minimize such positions – from the supposed punishment it was to inflict upon the Chinese, to the threat to immediately leave the North American Free Trade Agreement and its apparently “total” opposition to free trade – such that the NSS must also be read within the framework of this distance between statements and facts that has come to mold an uncertain and unpredictable foreign policy.
In general terms, the pillars of the NSS (protecting America’s “homeland”, people and way of life; promoting prosperity; preserving peace through strength; and promoting U.S. influence in the world) appear to pick up from previous governments (including part of the liberal creed associated with American values), but with a change in priorities, granting a greater leading role to the realist principles of power and peace through strength rather than favoring influence, which stands in contrast to the Obama administration and its soft power diplomacy – which in practice stemmed from multiple interventions and military solutions.
In the case of Latin America, the NSS outlines a few relevant points. The pillar referred to as homeland protection includes the urgent need for immigration reform in order to “strengthen border control and reestablish sovereignty”, while at the same time proposing to fight “transnational criminal organizations that weaken our allies and corrupt democratic institutions” in their country of origin in order to prevent them from reaching U.S. borders. The latter alludes to migration and drug trafficking, problems that can be resolved from the perspective of the Trump administration through, for example, enlarging the border wall with Mexico, but which in reality completely exceed border “control”: they are the result of an asymmetrical dynamic of subordination and criminality that stems from and is sustained by the alliances between the government and the private sector in the United States and the governments of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, which has been going on for decades and in recent years under the Merida Initiative and the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI).
Within the framework of the same pillar, but on a “less tangible” plan and in the vanguard of “new threats”, the Trump administration contemplates “redoubling efforts to protect our critical infrastructure and digital networks, given that new technologies and new adversaries create new vulnerabilities”. It should be noted that this has been a hot topic throughout 2017 in the region, as evidenced by the relationship between the Israeli State’s military industrial complex and that of the United States, and the enticing business propositions presented by Latin America in this regard, especially in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico.
As for U.S. prosperity (which basically refers to achieving a stable national economy), the document assures that “America will no longer tolerate chronic business abuses and will work towards economic relationships that are free, just and reciprocal”. This may be read superficially as an “antiglobalization” or “anti-neoliberalism” position, but decisions made by the Trump administration during 2017 do not support this reading, as has been previously noted. What is happening is that the U.S. continues to promote free trade and neoliberalism when it favors their “interests”, as demonstrated by the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) characterized by asymmetrical and abusive conditions. But in the Trump administration, this dynamic is more clearly visible as an essential component of “America First”.
On the one hand, the U.S. anticipates that it “will use its position of authority in the energy sector to guarantee that international markets remain open, and that the benefits of diversification and energy access encourage economic and national security”. So in terms of energy resources, the U.S. government will continue to seek open markets in apparent contradiction to its anti-FTA position. It is worth noting here that energy resources (together with strategic materials) have been a part of U.S. security strategy, especially since the Cold War, structuring both the development and the reach of the military industrial complex in order to guarantee access to said resources.
On the other hand, energy is clearly at the forefront of U.S. security and economic policy when one considers the pressure it exerts to liberalize the Latin American hydrocarbon market: from its permanent war against Venezuela, to its pressure for energy reform and dismantling PEMEX in Mexico, to the role played by the U.S. public/private sector in Brazil’s Car Wash (Lava Jato) scandal and the consequent breakdown of Brazil’s state enterprises, including Petrobras. Along these lines, the SSN insists that countries such as Cuba or Venezuela should implement economic reforms that guarantee “economic opportunities for all and improve governability”, which is to say, promote State privatization and shrinking the economic and social services, a key neoliberal premise (which the Trump administration supposedly wants to distance itself from).
By virtue of the SSN’s myriad inconsistencies, which are in continuity with the decision-making style that has taken place throughout 2017, on the one hand, uncertainty is further entrenched with respect to possible scenarios in the regions. What can be clearly seen is the continued impulse for economic and political policies to be anchored by an asymmetric and dependent dynamic which, will, as it has until now, be maintained or reconfigured in accordance with the interests of multinational corporations and the military industrial complex, which by definition appropriate the power to define “American interests”, and by extension those of Latin America.
Translated by Danica Jorden, 7 January 2018
- Silvina Romano and Aníbal García, CELAG
Original text in Spanish: http://www.celag.org/la-estrategia-seguridad-interes-nacional-eeuu-america-latina/
 Chomsky, N. (2003) Towards a New Cold War. New York: The New Press, p. 113.
 According to Walter Rostow (an icon of American liberalism), for example, American national interest “consists in mantaining a world contour for the U.S. within which American society can continue to develop (…) This definition (…) includes the country’s physical protection, while the protection of American territory is viewed essentially as something greater: the protection of a way of life…” (See: Rostow, W. (1962) Los Estados Unidos en la palestra mundial. Madrid: Tecnos, p.579).
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