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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Regional Mechanisms and International Security in Latin America
Edited Olga Pellicer

(Tokyo: United Nations University Press, 1998)
158pp. Pb.: 11.50; ISBN 92-808-0967-9.



Olga Pellicer's edited volume Regional Mechanisms and International Security in Latin America brings together noted specialists who deal with four major themes related to the contemporary Interamerican security environment: defining security in Latin America, regional mechanisms and international security, a case study of the UN's role in Central America, and Latin American perspectives on UN action. The volume's main contribution is its sophisticated discussion of the changing nature of Interamerican security. By recognizing processes of globalization, interdependence, and the significance of the end of the Cold War, the volume successfully shows how new security threats have been combined and superimposed upon the old ones. Crime, drug-trafficking, ethnic conflict, human insecurity, and severe socio-economic inequalities are identified by authors as replacing sovereignty-based notions of security. The work makes clear that the multiplication in definitions of security has proceeded differently in Central and South America, given disparities in the size, economic status, and capabilities of distinct countries. However, the contributors perhaps overstate the extent to which so-called "new" threats to security are new, and the extent to which the old ones have disappeared. Many of the so-called new threats were historically subsumed under the more visible and seemingly pressing issue of the threat of communism. They were dealt with as they are now: by a multiplicity of actors in an ad-hoc way. Also, while it would be pleasant to consign traditional inter-state conflict to the dustbin of history, one should bear in mind that rarely have nations gone to war in the region. The continent's recent peace is not that radical a departure from the historical Interamerican experience. That said, the book does raise some very interesting propositions concerning the varying definitions of security in the region, which have profound significance for hemispheric foreign policies.

While the book provides an excellent analysis of the problem, it is weaker in proposing concrete measures to enhance security. Contributors correctly underscore the necessity of building upon already-existent regional security mechanisms, as opposed to building comprehensive new ones from the bottom up. Many chapters make general recommendations concerning the need to "coordinate policies," "build trust," "engage in regional cooperation," and for institutions to "renew themselves." However, all but a few of the chapters lack specificity in terms of how precisely these goals can be achieved (the Puchala and Blachman chapter does the best job). While the book is a strong contribution in terms of diagnosis of the problems, the context of Interamerican security, and the outlines of general strategy to remedy these problems, we are left wondering what concretely should be the course of treatment for Interamerican security dilemmas.


Peter Siavelis,
Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina




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