In South American integration literature there exists a puzzling divide between primary government sources and secondary analysis. On the one hand you have a series of regional declarations signed by the 12 presidents of South American nations stating their intent to form a new continental block. On the other hand you have a public that remains largely unconvinced and skeptical of the union’s long-term chances of success. The fundamental question seems to boil down to whether or not the nations of South America can overcome their traditional conflicts to achieve the goals of the new union.
While a review of the government generated literature is overwhelmingly positive, a similar review of non-governmental literature is at best neutral. Why is there such a difference between the two observed positions?
It is our opinion that regional integration in South America is, at its most basic level, a reaction to the demands of the changing world order. It is a process remarkably similar to that proposed by early social contract theories, like Thomas Hobbes’, that contend that the organization of men into larger groups is a rational response to outside threats. The decision to form these groups occurs when they realize that they are stronger when they work together than when they operate separately. While the majority of the literature is skeptical of the success of this process, we believe that in one form or another, the forces of integration will be sufficient to overcome the barriers of history.
From a strictly political perspective, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) already exists. In 2004 the 12 presidents of South American nations signed the Cusco Declaration inaugurating the South American Community of Nations (CSN) and in 2006 they changed its name to Unasur. The union includes all of the nations of the continent, has a combined population of 377 million, an internal market (PIB) of US$1.5 trillion (1.5 billón), and a total area of 17.6 million sq/km. The area includes 27 percent of the Earth’s fresh water, 70 percent of its known copper reserves, enough oil and natural gas to last the continent a century, the Amazon rain forest, the pampas, the Andes, and the worst income disparity on the planet.
Some of the broad goals of this new institution are to coordinate political and diplomatic efforts to increase international prestige, create a free trade area within Mercosur, the Andean Community (CAN), Chile, Guyana, and Surinam, to physically integrate the member nations through regional infrastructure projects that will focus primarily on transport, energy, and telecommunications, and finally, to achieve closer alignment of commercial and financial sectors to better optimize regional resources.
For a region plagued with internal conflict, weak national political institutions, and world’s worst income disparity, these goals seem ambitious. Various issues like the region’s historic conflicts and its inability to agree on such issues as national borders, communal trade tariffs within the existing subregional blocks of Mercosur and CAN, as well as the absence of the presidents of Paraguay, Uruguay, Ecuador and Argentina from the signing ceremony in Cusco are weak points.
Others are cautiously optimistic, pointing out the numerous areas of shared interests that the region could capitalize on in terms of integrated infrastructure and increased social connectivity, etc. Interestingly though, while critical opinion has focused on the feasibility of the union’s success very few authors have questioned the fundamental idea itself, i.e., whether it is a good idea to form a union in the first place.
In official documents the issue is presented as something akin to manifest destiny. Eduardo Duhalde, former president of Argentina and Presidente de la Comission de representantes permanents del Mercosur, has said that Unasur is the “dirección adoptado por la historia.” Rafael Bielsa, former Argentinean Minister of Foreign Relations called it the the unico porvenir común possible.” And Allan Wagner, secretario general de la Comunidad Andina says that “…la integración es un proceso historic. Todos nosotros somos de alguna manera actors circunstanciales de ese proceso.”
The philosophical underpinnings of this assumption, or what we are calling South American manifest destiny, follow the tenets of the theory of “New Regionalism” or “second generation regionalism.” This theory claims that greater regional integration helps individual nations meet the challenges of the multi-polar new world order. Regionalism studies focus on a middle layer of governance between the state and the global level that emerges out of processes of regional integration efforts.
According to Langenhove, et al., “[New Regionalism is] based on the idea that one cannot isolate trade and economy from the rest of society…” This stands in contrast to “Old Regionalism” or “first generation regionalism” which was primarily a process of economic integration that took place during the bipolar years of the Cold War. The inclusion of social justice issues in the new generation of regionalism is one of its great distinguishing characteristics and seems to be the result of social distortions that have accompanied globalization.
These challenges are an ever present part of the multilateral discussions between presidents and ministers in South America. While not always evidenced by their personal behavior, there seems to be a general consensus that the long-term strategic interest of every nation in the region is to unite. This sentiment is expressed in declarations, essays, opinions, and analysis. There seems to be no question that today’s predominantly neoliberal system is threatening the region’s traditional social systems and the national government’s ability to provide solutions to these problems.
To cite Langenhove again, “the paradox [of globalization] is that the ultimate policy authority of tackling global issues and problems still belongs to States, while the origin of the problems and solutions is located at trans-national level.” As these trans-national problems have put increasing pressure on regional governments, States have turned to their neighbors to create the critical mass they believe is necessary to meet these challenges, giving rise to the events we are witnessing today.
By Nathan Gill – Southern Affairs
 Declaración del Cusco sobre la Comunidad Sudamericana de Naciones. III Cumbre Presidencial Sudamericana. 8 Dec. 2004 Cusco, Peru.  Duhalde, Eduardo. Sudamérica y un Viejo sueño Clarin de Argentina. Buenos Aires 6 Dec. 2004.  Bielsa, Rafael. Nuestro destino sudamericano. Clarin de Argentina. Buenos Aires 8 Dec 2004.  Rojas R., Ingrid. Nos encontramos en la comunidad sudamericana: Entrevista con Allan Wagner Tizón, secretario general de la Comunidad Andina. El Mundo de Venezuela. Caracas 31 May 2006.  Van Langenhov, Luk, Isabella Torta, and Ana Cristina Costea. The Ascent of Regional Integration. Paper presented at the High-Level Symposium “Social Dimensions of Regional Integration. UNESCO, MERCOSUR, GASPP and UNU-CRIS. United Nations University, Comparative Regional Integration Studies Programme. Montevideo 21 to 23 Feb. 2006.  Langenhove et al. 2006: 2