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The 2016 Latin American Studies Association conference is right around the corner, and I am looking forward to participating. This year, I will be giving a paper called “The United States and Latin America Decline of power or decline in interest?” on a panel on Sunday at 2:30. The panel, organized by Laura MacDonald of Carleton, is called “The Role of External Actors in Post-Hegemonic Latin America.” My paper (abstract below) sort of starts with asking, “how ‘post-hegemonic’ is the Western Hemisphere?” I am also discussant on a panel Sunday evening on “Contentious political issues in contemporary inter-American affairs: from (non)insurgency to international security and trade policymaking,” which includes my friend and superb young scholar Mariano Bertucci of Tulane.
Abstract: It is commonly asserted that the United States no longer holds the dominant position it once did in Latin America. This decline is credited to several factors: a global decline in U.S. power, lower levels of U.S. attention to the region, the entrance of new extra-hemispheric challengers, and more “assertive” Latin American leaders. This paper seeks to test these claims of U.S. decline. First, using a variety of metrics, it will ask whether U.S. power in the hemisphere has declined relative to regional and extra-regional actors. It assesses recent, frequently cited U.S. struggles to exert influence Latin America—that is, relational power—in comparison to the more distant past. The paper concludes that U.S. decline has too often been assumed instead of demonstrated, that when evidence has been provided it has often been anecdotal, and that this evidence actually demonstrates significant continuities. U.S. decline, both relative to extra-hemispheric powers and in regards to states within the region has been overstated, in part because of a tendency to exaggerate U.S. power in the past, a focus on changes, and an underestimation of the continued depth of U.S. military, economic, structural, and ideational power in the region. There have been real changes in the geographic concentration and nature of U.S. power, as well as in the economic role of China. However, these changes are often outweighed by the continuities of relationships that are still defined by asymmetry.
I have just learned that the Harry Truman Library Institute has awarded me a travel and research grant to support archival work at the Truman Presidential Library. My work there will focus on the creation of the inter-American system after World War II. I am particularly interested in debates around democracy, sovereignty/intervention, and international organization. The archives there will complement the work that I am doing in Rio de Janeiro this summer (supported by the British Academy/Leverhulme Trust), work I did last fall in Washington, and archival research done previously in Mexico City while a visiting professor at CIDE.
Here are a couple paragraphs from the application that give a sense of the project:
“The creation of the modern inter-American system, particularly the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), has usually been explained as an effect of U.S. regional hegemony. On the one hand, this is understandable. The United States, in the closing stages and immediate aftermath of the Second World War, was at the apex of its relative power. In the Western Hemisphere, it had achieved the near-unanimous cooperation of Latin American states with the Allied war effort—with the exception of Argentina. The inter-American system solidified this state of affairs, while also serving to bring the reluctant Argentines into line.
“This project adopts a more multifaceted approach to regionalism. U.S. power and leadership were certainly crucial to the development of the regional system. However, during the creation of the post-war regional institutions, Latin American states—often led by Mexico and Brazil—sought to create a system that provided them an important forum and offered the possibility of greater influence. President Truman recognized those countries’ importance, paying each a visit in 1947, as well as hosting their leaders in Washington.”
The project ties into a couple medium-term article projects, including one with Max Paul Friedman. Eventually, it will all be part of a big book project that looks at Brazilian and Mexican policies toward regionalism and regional organizations over several decades.
Many thanks to the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, which have recently decided to support my future research with a “small research grant.” It might not be big money in terms of the UK academic grant world, but it is big to me. The grant will support two trips to Brazil (one to Rio and one to Brasilia) for archival research over the next 18 months. In the nearer-term, the research will contribute to an article project that I am working on with the exceptionally talented historian Max Paul Friedman, as well as to an early theoretical piece on the interplay between middle power foreign policy strategies and the development of regional organization. In the longer term, this research forms part of a book project that explores the historical trajectories of Brazil’s and Mexico’s approaches to regionalism in the Americas starting from the late days of the Second World War until the present. I started work on the Mexican side while at CIDE, and I worked in the State Department archives during my last couple months in Washington.
For anyone who might be interested, my project description is available below the jump.
While we are still waiting for the first hardcover copies of Latin America Confronts the United States: Asymmetry and Influence, the Kindle version is now available from Amazon. You can also download a sample of the book for free to your Kindle or any other device that runs the Kindle Reader program.
The Amazon site also features more information about the book, including some advance reviews from some of the top scholars of U.S.-Latin American relations: Philip Brenner, Abraham F. Lowenthal, and Richard Feinberg. Check it out!
Eric Helleiner, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014)
Having passed their seventieth anniversaries, the institutions created in the New Hampshire town of Bretton Woods remain at the heart of the global economy. The slew of criticism aimed at the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in recent years only underscores their relevance, even as many critics argue the organizations are out of touch with the world’s shifting balance of economic power. Criticisms continue that the IMF sacrifices the fate of the world’s poor on the altar of failed macroeconomic policy models.
Many have traced both these flaws—inadequate attention to development and U.S. and European dominance—back to the organizations’ founding. Crudely summarized, the most frequent account of Bretton Woods emphasizes the leading roles of the U.S. official Harry Dexter White and British economist John Maynard Keynes. While the two advanced somewhat different plans, both focused overwhelmingly on the IMF, which prioritized monetary stability among high-income countries. The World Bank—then limited to the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)—was intended to address Europe’s post-war problems. Development was tacked on as an afterthought. White and Keynes hashed out the details. The United States, at the height of its power and increasingly the world’s financial capital, won most of the battles and thus drew up the plans for the post-war economic order.
This rough version is pretty firmly ensconced. It is also consonant with more recent criticisms of the Fund and Bank. That makes Eric Helleiner’s carefully researched account all the more interesting. Helleiner convincingly makes two overarching points, 1) a number of developing countries—particularly in Latin America—played important roles in the creation of the Bretton Woods institutions during the Second World War; 2) Latin American officials and their counterparts in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration were much more focused on development that is commonly thought. These negotiations, Helleiner argues, have been viewed through the lens of what came later, when the more conservative Truman and Eisenhower administrations pushed for greater orthodoxy.
My first book, Latin America Confronts the United States: Asymmetry and Influence is now available for pre-order through Cambridge University Press. It has a cover design, too! The book is due out in November–so why not do your holiday shopping now? (Don’t all families do hard-cover academic book exchanges?)
Here is the summary from Cambridge:
“Latin America Confronts the United States offers a new perspective on US-Latin America relations. Drawing on research in six countries, the book examines how Latin American leaders are able to overcome power asymmetries to influence US foreign policy. The book provides in-depth explorations of key moments in post-World War II inter-American relations – foreign economic policy before the Alliance for Progress, the negotiation of the Panama Canal Treaties, the expansion of trade through NAFTA, and the growth of counternarcotics in Plan Colombia. The new evidence challenges earlier, US-centric explanations of these momentous events. Though differences in power were fundamental to each of these cases, relative weakness did not prevent Latin American leaders from aggressively pursuing their interests vis-à-vis the United States. Drawing on studies of foreign policy and international relations, the book examines how Latin American leaders achieved this influence – and why they sometimes failed.”