Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Latin American Soft Balancing

Tom Long and Max Paul Friedman have an article in The National Interest based on an article they have forthcoming at International Security. They argue that Latin America has traditionally soft balanced against the United States. Ironically, a reaction based on concern about a threatening unipolar power actually helps that power by tempering it.

Though U.S. policy makers often bristle at international opposition, we find that soft balancing has benefited (or would have benefited) the United States in the long term. Taking multilateral opposition into account can steer the United States away from costly unilateral interventionist policies. Despite the worries of many scholars writing in the aftermath of the Iraq invasion, soft balancing need not lead to hard balancing. Because balancers respond to perceptions of increased threats to their interests from the leading state, the United States can take steps to diminish those fears. Therefore, soft balancingneed not lead to lesser U.S. influence.

Interesting stuff, and I look forward to seeing the article when it comes out. One question I have is about causation. For example:

At a series of Pan-American conferences, an increasingly large and coherent Latin American coalition demanded that the United States forswear its self-proclaimed right to intervene. In dramatic fashion, Franklin Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor Policy accepted this Latin American priority, even barring U.S. ambassadors from meddling in domestic affairs. Yielding to the demands of Latin American soft balancers helped produce a secure hemisphere mostly aligned with the Allies in World War II. 

For the Good Neighbor Policy, though, we might also advance a self-interest thesis based on the need to stop spending resources abroad (especially occupation) in the context of economic crisis. In other words, can soft balancing and U.S. self-interest dovetail? How might they interact?

Regardless, it is interesting to think about how Hugo Chávez's tireless efforts to soft balance the United States may well have led to policy shifts that improve the U.S. image.

Update: Tom Long sent me the link to the published article, which just came out, and says they do account for that dovetail. So I encourage you to take a look.


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