Contemporary United States security policy towards the Western Hemisphere has yet to achieve the level of strategic sophistication seen during the Cold War. Instead, much of our security orientation in the region has centered on narrow-bore, specific policy interests, namely countering drugs and terrorism, neither of which have improved the overall security of our partners in the hemisphere. In the meantime, physical security in the region continues to deteriorate. Crime and violence are rampant and transnational criminal organizations, drug traffickers, and domestic insurgencies continue to operate with impunity in many countries in the Hemisphere.
In short, U.S. security policy is not providing security for most of Latin America’s citizens.
U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere should be based on the common interests, which today include peace, security, economic prosperity, diplomatic cooperation, and the right of each country to choose its own inclusive political system–along with all the attendant human and political rights. This broader, more consensual conception of U.S. policy means that the U.S. needs to take a more holistic approach toward the region. Such an approach requires seeking cooperation with like-minded entities around the world (i.e. the whole of international society) based on our common interests. Among those interests must be security, but based on a broader concept of security than has usually been discussed, both in definition and implementation.
The new U.S. security policy should rest on the concept of “human security,” first defined in the UNDP’s 1994 Human Development Report. The UN defines human security in the broadest sense, encompassing security in the community, economy, environment, access to food, and in the personal and political realms. These concerns are universal and go beyond the traditional notion of state security to the individual and his or her concerns, upon which, ultimately, state security and peace are based. And despite ongoing debates about how extensively to define this new conception of security, from a policy perspective this more human, individualistic approach to security is easier to ensure. By its very nature the definition is preventative, rather than reactive, focusing on the root causes of insecurity rather than their symptoms—crime, humanitarian disasters, famine, war.
The definition also shifts who we work with in the name of security. It requires not just working with states but also through states and with non-state sectors (such as civil society, religious organizations, businesses, etc.) to improve their capacity and to develop government that can be more accountable in the creation and maintenance of peace and stability.
In practice this means that U.S. security policy in the Hemisphere should prioritize working with those governments of the region that share its interests in these areas and redirect its focus on protecting the individual. In this larger, cooperative venture, U.S. security agencies can best assist with community security and personal security. But this broader conception also requires traditional U.S. security agencies work with other institutions and actors as well—from local policemen through the legal and judicial systems.
Within the region, U.S. security assistance and cooperation with partner governments should fall into two categories. In the first, U.S. should focus on those countries that have significant security challenges—broadly defined, such as El Salvador and Honduras. Decades of economic growth and success in the security field have now created a second category for U.S. partnership: countries that now provide their own security assistance and cooperation beyond their borders, so-called security exporters, Colombia for example. These are countries that will need to increasingly step up to share the burden of hemispheric security and reinforce U.S. security policy.
It is also time for the U.S. and its partners to formally revisit and update the 2003 Declaration on Security in the Americas. Some progress has been made in the implementation of the Declaration, but according to the Department of State, there are still several member countries lagging behind in implementation. A brief survey of recent activities associated with the Organization of American States (OAS) Committee on Hemispheric Security illustrates a declining operational tempo over the last five years or so. Still, much of the Declaration’s initial charter remains incredibly relevant to the broader human security agenda, and emerging concerns over cyber threats and climate change, for example, warrant a revisit of the converging security challenges facing the region. Convening members states and the appropriate authorities to re-affirm and update the Declaration will serve to re-legitimate hemispheric commitment to the topic and jumpstart cooperation around the issue.
Finally, the U.S. and its partners in the region should continue to collaborate with development organizations, multilateral groups, other states and the global civil society community to work together on the multiple, inter-related dimensions of modern security. Only by doing so can the U.S. and the broader hemispheric community develop a modern, sophisticated framework for security to address the most vexing, collective threats to security in the hemisphere.
Brian Fonseca serves as the Director of the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy and an Adjunct Professor at the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center, both at Florida International University’s Green School.
Dr. Alex Crowther is a long-time Western Hemisphere security professional who works at the National Defense University. All comments reflect his personal opinion and do not reflect the policies of the NDU or the United States Government.