Evan Ellis has an article in Strategic Insights exhorting U.S. policy makers to pay greater strategic attention to Latin America in the context of the encroachment of extrahemispheric actors, especially China and Russia.
The rise of China and its projection onto the global stage, coupled with Russia’s increasingly bold reassertion of its imperial ambitions, increases the undesirable possibility of a serious conflict between the United States, and one or both of these actors. Yet, while strategists regularly ponder the political and military dimensions of how such conflicts could play out in Asia, it is unthinkable that a power with global political, economic, and military ties, such as Russia or China, would allow the United States to engage it in its own region without taking the fight to the U.S. “backyard” as well.
He emphasizes that we should not overreact or impose a new Cold War mentality, but once you get this ball rolling, those results are almost inevitable.
In the short term, the greatest need regarding U.S. security in the Western Hemisphere is not more money, but different thinking. It is difficult to identify a senior U.S. policymaker or prominent analyst who analyzes Latin America and the Caribbean with the strategic analysis that luminaries such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft apply to Asia, the Middle East, or Europe. Indeed, it is difficult to identify a major recent essay done by Kissinger, Brzezinski, or Scowcroft themselves focused on Latin America and the Caribbean.
I actually think this is good. Nothing good ever came from Henry Kissinger paying attention to Latin America. I don't see how we benefit much from shifting our thinking toward potential extrahemispheric threats, in large part because I think they pose less threat than often portrayed.
Vigilance is useful. But there is a big difference between advocating for vigilance (which has been my stance with regard to Russia, China, et al) and thinking about them primarily in threat terms, which is what I take from this (anyone can feel free to correct me if they didn't get that feeling from the article). There are many in Congress chomping at the bit to see Latin America in threat terms, and this would give them a platform that would be almost entirely bad for U.S. interests. It would likely involve unnecessarily antagonizing governments.
If U.S. policy makers are in a room and need to make some sort of quick decision on Latin America, I want their instinct to be caution. If their instinct is threat-based, I think there is more likelihood that we see an exaggerated response that ultimately produces unintended consequences that work out poorly for the United States.