The Visegrad countries (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) and the Mercosur nations (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) are two regions depicting differences and similarities.
Quoting former President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, both regions are on the two ends of the ‘Euro-American civilization’.
In the past years, both have embarked on the path to democracy. It meant the shift from communism to democracy in Central Europe and from authoritarianism to democracy in the Southern Cone of the Americas.
The economic changes also show a common feature. In the Visegrad countries it was the passage from a socialist economy to capitalism while the Mercosur abandoned populist policies. Privatizations, deregulation, openness and foreign investment have taken place in the ‘90s in both regions of the world.
On the outset of the XXI century, electoral trends show a similar direction. While in the ‘90s the countries in the two world regions were ruled by center-right forces, at the beginning of the XXI century power has shifted to social-democratic coalitions in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, recording a similar event in Brazil and Argentina.
The most relevant difference lied on the fact that Central European nations have succeeded in attaining a full integration into the so-called ‘Euro-American’ civilization by joining NATO in the field of security and the European Union (EU) on the political and economic fronts.
In the social field, economic changes were introducted in the Visegrad countries with a higher degree of social equality than in the Southern one, where poverty and inequality levels are higher.
But beyond this general considerations, at the dawn of the XXI century, the challenge posed by the integration of both regions into the field of international security also features a series of similarities and differences assessed below.
II. COMMON FRAMEWORK FOR TWO REGIONS.
The fact that today the United States accounts for 43% of the world’s military spending means the country is the only military-strategic superpower in the world.
This ongoing trend is bound to prevail at least in the middle term.
The EU summit held in June in Greece highlighted the efforts to encourage an approach to the United States for one and the limitations encountered to reach a common defense policy for another.
The document unveiled at the Summit about the threats to security in the European continent -drafted by Spanish Javier Solana- depicts a clear coincidence with the new security doctrine announced by the Bush administration last year as the United Stated and the EU fully agree on the fact that terrorism, proliferation and rogue states are the most dangerous menaces.
Assuming the common threats -it must be noted that in late June both the EU as well as the UN backed the US policy towards Iran- the difference lies on the fact that the European approach considers ‘preventative action’ instead of ‘preventative attack’ and places greater emphasis on the importance of multilateral mechanisms.
But within the EU it is not easy to advance towards a common defense policy. While the purpose of building a European defense system outside NATO has been stated, the concrete achievements so far are very limited.
The reality is that three countries out of the twenty-five composing the EU -fifteen full members and ten on their way to obtain membership- account for three fourths of the continent’s military spending: Germany, France and Great Britain.
In this way, they acquire greater influence and interest in the discussion of defense matters.
As for the United States, the appointment of the new Army Chief of Staff entails an unprecedented change in the past decades as an expert in special forces has been designated for the post.
It is a clear order by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, who had countless clashes in recent months with the Pentagon’s traditional structure, which supported the previous Army Chief of Staff.
The military success obtained in the campaign against Iraq allowed Rumsfeld to make this change, which attaches greater priority to light forces in detriment to the regular military organizations.
Quickness and flexibility prevail over planning and certainty.
Outside the Western world, while the Anglo-American coalition is deployed in Iraq -and will be for the next ten years- the need to send reinforcements becomes apparent. The process of organization for the new Iraqi armed and security forces will take some time and require the deployment of the American and British forces in the months ahead.
Likewise, the introduction of contingents in peace forces -troops from twenty different countries are already involved- will require several months until the currently deployed troops be replaced. Meanwhile discussions still hinge around what role the UN will play in the Iraqi post-war conflict.
As regards Asia, the agreement between India and China on the Tibet entails a major step for the strategic distension in this part of the world, where nuclear weapons ownership on the part of Pakistan first and the first of the countries abovementioned constitutes a threat for regional security. But the Palestinian-Israeli conflict protracts without many possibilities to arrive at a lasting peace.
Lastly, the conflict over nuclear development in North Korea is at the top of the US agenda and constitutes a common threat to China and Japan.
In the case of the Mercosur, the fact that the two terrorist attacks claiming the highest toll of the ‘90s were launched in Argentina from 1992 to 1994 was early evidence of the globalization of this phenomenon, which would acquire global scale as from 11 September 2001.
At the NATO Summit conducted in Prague on 20 November 2002, then President of the Czech Republic, Václav Havel, opened the meeting by analyzing the enemies of the alliance. He stated that ‘the enemy is today represented by a highly diffused, extremely dangerous evil: an evil which is hard to capture or even understand. Therefore, at this stage we should be aware that for the Alliance to fulfill its everyday mission, it must change fast and ostensibly’. While the concept refers to NATO, it also proves useful at global level because it synthesizes the nature and entity of the new threats to be faced.
The Visegrad countries are part of the NATO structure and this is a substantial difference with the Mercosur countries that are not part and cannot be part due to geographical reasons of the alliance.
This entails very different credibility levels in military terms as regards the US and its European traditional allies.
The experience of the communist occupation has created among the Central European public opinion a position that is more in favour of the United States than that recorded in the Southern Cone countries.
The recent conflict in Iraq showed deeply differing consensus among the governments and public opinions in the Visegrad and Mercosur nations. The former took a closer stance to the US than the latter.
The Central European countries are part of a western alliance in military terms - despite the differences that exist within the EU as regards the US policy aimed at confronting international terrorism- whereas Southern Cone countries are not part of it.
In South America, terrorism in Colombia first and insecurity in the Triple Border shared by Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay next constitute the central security problems in the region.
In 20 June, Brazilian President Lula held a historical, three-hour meeting with Bush along with ten ministers and State secretaries from both cabinets.
In some way, Brazil consecrated as the ‘key country’ in South America.
The Bush administration has returned to the Republican politics of 30 years ago, when Henry Kissinger -then Secretary of State- maintained that the United States should have a key partner in every region and subregion, on whom it could delegate problem-solving tasks.
But undertaking this role means Brazil must also adopt decisions in the strategic-military field.
It must be noted that in 21 June, the day after the meeting with Bush, President Lula ordered the deployment of the Brazilian armed forces along the border with Colombia and Peru in order to cooperate in patrolling the free flow of narcoterrorism.
In turn, Peruvian terrorist group Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) is gaining ground amid the political crisis affecting President Alejandro Toledo’s administration.
Brazil joins forces with the United States to combat the narcoguerrilla operating in Andean countries. However, it still refuses to label the FARCs as ‘terrorist’ as Washington and the EU have already done and the Colombian government demands.
Concerning the Triple Border, in the last week of June, the US Southern Command Chief reiterated that along the border shared by Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay there is an area little controlled by the State where terrorist-supporting structures are settled.
As the Colombian threat advances in the terrorist field, the Triple Border becomes a case of the so-called ‘rogue States’, where the absence of State power allowes for the sprawling of illegal organizations that set the bases for terrorism, narcotrafficking and organized crime.
In both cases the United States considers it a matter of regional funds for the global fight against international terrorism.
Against the framework of this policy, Washington requests Latin American countries the legal immunity for the nation’s military personnel according to a global policy underway that puts The Hague-based International Court of Justice into question.
Such immunity is required by the troops participating in the military exercises -as is the case with the multinational air practice expected to take place in Argentina in the months ahead with the participation of all the Southern Cone nations including Brazil plus the United States- but in the future this immunity will be used for troops that can operate, for instance in Colombia.
The truth is that in Latin America assymetries are overwhelming in the field of international security. Only one country of the continent’s 34 has 90% of the military spending in the continent.
IV. POSSIBILITIES FOR COMMON EXPERIENCES
But while differences are substantial, the globalized world today and the common threats to international security may give rise to many fields of convergence.
An example may be the Brigade composed by troops from Spain and four Central American countries operating in Iraq.
The Hispanic-American Plus Ultra Brigade is commanded by the head of special forces, General Alfredo Cardona Torres, and composed by a Battalion of the Spanish Legionary Brigade of Almería with 400 men; the ‘Cuscatlán’ Infantry Battalion from El Salvador with 415 men; another Infantry Battalion from Honduras with 365 and a fourth 300-men Battalion from the Dominican Republic, the ‘The Quisqueya Task Force’ and 111 sappers from Nicaragua. The total number of troops in the Brigade, including support units, will reach 2,500 soldiers. Over half are Spanish and the rest Central Americans.
These troops are located in the Iraqi province of Al Quadisiya, where the Brigade’s general squad is located and will report to the Commander of the Polish Division, General Andrzej Tuszkiewicz, who is settled in Al Hillal, 80 kilometres from Baghdad. The area harbours important Shiite pilgrimage centers. Apart from the protection of Iraq’s central oil pipeline, crossing the province, the Hispanic-Central American crowd will have to operate in highly-sensitive religious centers for the local population.
The Division reporting to the Polish command is composed by other two Brigades. One is under the command of said country with 2,300 soldiers and another Ukrainian, with 1,800 soldiers, also composed by Bulgarian, Rumanian, Hungarian, Lithuanian and Latvian units. Spain will be faced with the choice of replacing the Polish in the commands of the division as from January 2004.
The Hispanic-American contingent is also made up by fifty Civil Guard men, who also participate in the organization of the Iraqi Border Guard to total 1,300 men, most of them legionaries who are professional soldiers.
Troops were not dispatched on Russian aircraft -some weeks ago some 62 Spanish militaries composing a peace contingent were killed when the Russian plane carrying them crashed- but American C-5 Galaxy, C-141 Starlifter and C-17 Globermaster jets were used. Material was carried by ships from the Spanish Navy.
The Brigade settled in Kuwait on the US Camp Doha base and marched to Iraq from there. This military base served as the storage facility for the equipment used by the US to gear up the three Central American battalions.
Personnel will be replaced every four months on two grounds. First the mission’s roughness due to its nature and climate and second, averting the 15-day permits in national territory granted as from 6 months spent outside the country. The mission is assumed to last for years.
In 11 July, the Spanish Minister of Councils approved participation in the peace force in Iraq by setting a maximum of 1,300 soldiers while the Spanish Workers Socialist Party urged Head of Government José María Aznar to account for the participation before Congress, assuming a critical stance towards the decision.
However, this Brigade is not an isolated event but is part of a Spanish long-term policy aimed at setting up a permanent ‘Ibero-American’ military front to act on international conflicts.
This first experience of forces from Latin America, Central and Estern Europe under the command of one Visegrad nation’s division -Poland in this case- shows how globalization has enabled counties so distant as those in the Southern Cone of the Americas and Central Europe to share common situations, experiences and risks in the future.
The Visegrad and Mercosur have been and still are the furthest ends of the ‘Euro-American’ or ‘Western’ civilization. They are two different regions in the world due to the geographical location and historical processes they have lived in the past five centuries. In spite of that, the last two decades present similar processes both on the political and economic fronts.
Belonging to the west makes international security ‘threats’ a shared evil. Fundamentalist terrorism, proliferation and rogue states are threats affecting both Southern Cone as well as Visegrad countries.
But the substantial difference lies on the fact that while the Central European countries fully integrate into the NATO military structure, Southern Cone countries do not have a similar possibility. While common threats exist in both regions, the possibilities and committment to action are quite different.
In spite of that, reality shows that unexpected possibilities of cooperation and common situation may rise. An example may be the Plus Ultra Hispanic-Central American Brigade, which operates in Iraq as part of a division under Polish command also composed by other countries from Central and Eastern Europe.
In the future, the governments in both regions will be faced with a similar challenge as to the type of transformation their respective Armed Forces will have to confront and was well synthesized in Václav Havel’s mentioned speech at the NATO Summit held in Prague last year by saying that ‘a geared-up organization is required with fast and professional information processing capabilities; a group capable of immediate decision-making and, if necessary, prepared to stage battle with its perfectly-trained and always ready permanent rapid action forces; with specialized forces in the diverse armies capable of facing modern dangers such as terrorism and bacteriological, chemical and nuclear weapons. Although some may raise objections, at least part of the troops should not be limited to military functions but also engage in police-related actions.
Beyond their differences, the Visegrad and Mercosur nations are faced with the common challenge of generating military capabilities suitable to confront the new threats.
Rosendo Fraga is political analyst, journalist, historian and the Executive Director of political and social consulting firm Centro de Estudios Nueva Mayoría.
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