VHeadline commentarist, Guyana's Ambassador to Venezuela, Dr. Odeen Ishmael writes: The first formal meeting of the South American Defense Council (SADC) convened on March 9-10 in Santiago de Chile with the main objective of consolidating South America as a "zone of peace" and a base for democratic stability and the comprehensive development of the continent. Surely, the formation and functioning of the SADC, while advancing continental integration, has boosted the impact and international importance of the relatively young Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
It was just nine months ago that the Brazilian idea of this Defense Council was introduced at the constituent summit of UNASUR; and in December 2008 its creation was approved by the heads of state of the continental organisation at their summit in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil.
The SADC meeting was chaired by Chilean Defense Minister Jose Goni whose country currently holds the rotating presidency of UNASUR. Attending were the ministers responsible for Defense and security matters in the other member states – Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, Uruguay and Venezuela.
From the beginning, Goni tempered speculation by insisting that the Defense Council would not create a military force as NATO, but would be an alliance "that strengthens the mutual trust through integration, dialogue and cooperation in matters of Defense" among the South American countries. This position was firmly emphasised nine months before by Brazil's Defense Minister Nelson Jobim who explained that the Council would serve as an internal conflict resolution platform as well as a medium to encourage multilateral defensive collaborations and consensus building.
In their final declaration, the ministers emphasised the historic nature of the meeting aimed at ensuring peace and democracy throughout the continent and the building of "a South American identity in Defense matters that contributes to the strengthening of Latin American and Caribbean unity." The document also presented a four-prong programme, the progress of which the ministers will examine when they meet in Ecuador in six month's time.
The first part of the programme deals with Defense policy which will involve the exchange of information on Defense policies and sharing details on expenditures and economic indicators relating to Defense. It will also apply preventive diplomacy by identifying risk factors and threats that may affect regional and global peace. In addition, the SADC will develop a system to articulate joint regional positions at multilateral Defense forums and maintain regular consultations to assess situations of immediate danger to peace in South America, in accordance with the Treaty of UNASUR.
The second aspect deals with military cooperation, humanitarian action and peace operations through which the SADC will plan a one-year joint action plan in case of a natural disaster or any serious catastrophe. In this respect, the Council will also develop an inventory of Defense capabilities that the member countries provide for humanitarian operations. This will also involve sharing experiences in the field of humanitarian action in order to establish mechanisms for immediate response in situations of natural disasters.
The third area of the Council's operation will direct attention at the Defense industry and its related technology. Through this, the Council will examine the Defense industry of member countries by identifying skills and areas of strategic partnership, to promote complementarity, research and technology transfer.
With regards to a training scheme which forms the fourth part of the strategy, the Council plans to develop a record of academies and schools in Defense studies and to create a South American network of training for Defense. This is expected to involve the exchange of experiences and the development of joint training courses. It also proposes exchange activities as well as teaching, accreditation, assessment of curricula, scholarships and recognition of qualifications among existing institutions. Further, a Centre for Strategic Studies in South American Defense will be established, and a working group led by Argentina, has been set up to prepare within the next two months the regulations governing the proposed institution.
Significantly, the SADC is not aimed at dealing with internal security matters; nevertheless, the ministers condemned confrontational internal groupings threatening state security – generally seen as an obvious reference to the FARC in Colombia. But the critical problem of drug trafficking, regarded as an internal police concern, received no attention at the Santiago meeting. However, considering the severe impact of this problem on security in all the member countries, it is likely that the Council will eventually have to examine this concern, especially in the light of the growing coordination between the military and police in combating this problem and other related criminal activities.
When the South American leaders established the Defense Council last December, they perceived that it would become an instrument to aid in the resolution of discords of a military nature on the continent. Even before the Santiago meeting was held, at least three antagonistic situations already existed. These included the continued strained relations between Ecuador and Colombia, a simmering arms race between Chile and Peru, and what some sections of the regional media described as "bellicose posturing" between Colombia and Venezuela. But now that all these countries, as allied members of the SADC, have agreed that the Council will be a diplomatic forum to diffuse regional conflicts, there is hope that the joint action plan will help to resolve these existing situations.Dr. Odeen Ishmael
(The writer is Guyana's ambassador to Venezuela. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.)