Argentina’s Foreign Policy: Traditions

What are the relevant historic issues in Argentina’s foreign policy?

The historic conditions of Argentina’s foreign policy can be divided into three groups; strategic, economic, and political. Strategically, Argentina has been preoccupied with containing Brazil and Chiles’ influence in the southern cone, Perú in the Northwest, settling border conflicts with Chile, and regaining sovereignty of the Falkland/Malvinas, Georgias Sur, and Sandwich Sur islands from the United Kingdom.[5] Economically, Argentina has based their foreign policy on attracting foreign investment and finding markets for their export products. Politically, Argentina has taken an independent stance in international relations and fought for sovereign equality between nations.

Strategic Policy

Since the founding of the republic in the early 19th century Argentina’s foreign policy has consistently sought to define its territorial claims and become a leader in regional interstate politics. These two broad goals are still relevant to the government of Fernandez de Kirchner and provide a critical context for understanding current foreign policy. One of the most continuous aspects of Argentina’s strategic policy has been its willingness to use force in territorial disputes.[6] Argentina has threatened or used military force against Brazil on its north eastern borders, Chile in the southwest, Peru in the northwest and Great Britain in the south Atlantic. Argentina has supported foreign governments in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay to help provide an “extra-national” border between Brazil and Peru.[7] In Bolivia, Argentina supported Chile against the possibility of a united Peruvian-Bolivian nation in 1839, preferring an independent Bolivia to contain Lima’s influence in north-western Argentina and in 1943 it reportedly helped overthrow the Pro-Allied government of Gen. Peñaranda to maintain a “friendly” government in the context of Argentina’s position during World War II.

There also exists a historic rivalry between Argentina and Brazil. Between the years of 1825-1828 Argentina supported the Uruguayan independence movement of the “Immortal Thirty-Three” to contain Brazil’s influence in the Rio Platte basin. Then in 1844 the two became involved in the War of the Triple Alliance in Paraguay. In the 20th Century, efforts to contain Brazil’s power increased through the Second World War due to the military power imbalance created by US wartime aid to Brazil which led to an arms race between the two countries during the Cold War which Argentina eventually lost.[8]

The Falkland/Malvinas conflict is a good example of Argentina’s willingness to use both diplomatic and military tools to achieve strategic goals.[9] Argentina’s attempts to reclaim the islands are an interesting example of the options available to a modern nation state in the realm of international politics. After losing the initial battle in 1833, more than one hundred years passed before Argentina took up the issue again in international forums. They began by lodging a protest with the OAS and sponsoring the Panama Declaration of 1939 asserting its territorial claims over the islands.[10] When Argentina joined the UN in 1945 it reasserted its claims to the islands thus initiating another round in the territorial dispute on the international stage. In 1973 immediately upon joining the Non-Aligned Movement Argentina won the support of the majority of member countries condemning British sovereignty, when none of these diplomatic efforts achieved their desired results, Argentina invaded the islands in 1982.[11] Even after a total defeat that collapsed the military government, Argentina has continued to pursue sovereignty over the islands. The current government has resorted again to the broad diplomatic efforts of previous years using numerous international organizations and bilateral measures to pressure Great Britain into some sort of deal. However, civilian opposition to Argentine rule complicates Argentina’s legal position.[12] As a British diplomat said, “We believe it would be morally unacceptable to force [residents of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands] to change their government.”[13]

Finally, overlapping Argentinean, British, and Chilean claims in the Antarctic are another source of potential conflict in the South Atlantic. Given the generally accepted precedent of mineral and fishing rights up to a 200 mile (322 km) offshore area, these territorial disputes have the potential to resurface when scarce natural resources force these nations to exploit the area in the future.

Economic Foreign Policy

Economically, Argentina’s foreign policy can be subdivided into four periods roughly related to governing economic theories; comparative advantage, import substitution industrialization (ISI) neoliberalism, and the current ‘post-neoliberal populism.’ In all of these systems agricultural exports have played a fundamental role in the economy no matter which model was in vogue. Today they continue to account for 80 percent of the nation’s export earnings.[14] This has led to an oscillating love/hate relationship with Great Britain and later the United States. The stock market crash of 1929 and the global depression of the 1930s brought an end to the policy of comparative advantage and the beginning of the period of import substitution industrialization (ISI) as well as a political backlash that led to 40 years of closed economic industrialization.[15] President Juan Perón coined the phrase “Tercera Posición” in the 1940s to describe his economic foreign policy that rejected the pressures of both the capitalist and Marxist economic models of the post WWII and Cold war era. Instead of allying the country with either the USA or the USSR, he sought to industrialize the country while at the same time increase regional integration as a means of balancing the super-powers economic hegemony.[16] In 1946 Argentina signed bilateral economic agreements with Brazil over the free use of the Rio Uruguay; with Chile promoting economic, financial, and cultural relations; and with Bolivia promoting economic and commercial relations.[17] In the early 1950s Argentina began another cycle of bilateral treaty negotiations with neighboring countries. In 1953 Argentina signed bilateral economic agreements with Chile (Acta de Unión), Paraguay (Tratado de Unión Económica), Nicaragua (Convenio de Complementación con Nicaragua) and Ecuador (Acta de Unión Argentino-Ecuatoriana); all designed to coordinate development policies between the respective nations. In 1954 Argentina continued to pursue closer bilateral economic relations with its neighbors by signing the Convenio de Unión Economica with Bolivia and a series of exchange agreements with Colombia and Brasil.[18] On a multilateral basis Perón proposed the economic integration of Latin America at the 5th reunion of the UN ECLAC in April of 1953.

After several decades of political instability the military took control of Argentina in 1976. They hoped to solve the problem of nearly half a century of political and social unrest by eliminating state intervention in the market as a means of de-politicizing the economy.[19] According to this logic, a free market, independent of political manipulation, would defuse social tensions by placing responsibility for income distribution in the invisible hands of the market as opposed to competing hands of politicians. This policy reached its zenith after the fall of the military dictatorship during the two terms of Peronist President Carlos Saul Menem (1989—1999) who strongly allied himself with the US and adopted a policy of “automatic alignment.”[20]

Political/Legal Foreign Policy

From a political/legal stand point Argentina has preferred to take an independent stance in international relations. Except for a period of alignment with Britain in the 19th and early 20th century and then a brief alignment with the United States (US) during the Menem years (1989-1999), Argentina has not allied itself with the great powers of the world, seeking instead to counter-balance these powers through international and regional pacts with smaller states.[21] Early in its history Argentine diplomats pioneered the international legal doctrine of equality and absolute sovereignty between all nations.[22] The tercera posición established by Perón in the 1940s and 1950s and during his third term in 1974 maintained this tradition. He maintained his neutrality during the Cold War and joined the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1973 as a rejection of the advances of both the USA and the USSR.[23]

Finally, the period between 2001 and the election of President Néstor Kirchner in 2003 was marked by a series of interim governments, massive social protest and an incoherent foreign economic policy. Nestor Kirchner assumed control of a bankrupt country, fraught with corruption and no public confidence in the political class. Since taking control, Kirchner has reverted to the classic pre-Menem Peronist populist economic policies that marked the preceding 50 years of life in Argentina.

By Nathan Gill – Southern Affairs

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[5] Finan, John. “Argentina.” In Latin American Foreign Policy: An Analysis. eds. Davis, Harold Eugene and Larman C. Wilson. Johns Hopkins U Press Baltimore: 1975: 262 – 264. [6] Ibid: 262. [7] Ibid: 264. [8] Ibid: 264 – 265. [9] The conflict includes the Falkland islands, Georgias South, and Sandwich South islands due to their strategic location near the Straits of Magellan and the marine resources found within their territorial waters in the southern Atlantic. The conflict dates back to the European discovery of the Americas and at various points has involved French, British, Spanish, and later Argentinean claims; the current dispute involves Britain and Argentina. Argentina claimed the islands when it achieved independence in 1816 under the right of uti possidetis. However the British invaded in 1833, took control of the island and expelled the Spanish/Argentinean colonies inhabiting the island. Since that time there has been a continued British military and civilian presence there. [10] Organization of American States Website 2006. [11] Consejo Argentino para las Relaciones Internacionales – C.A.R.I. Website. 2006. [12] According to the UN Declaration on decolonization, former colonies have the right to self-determination and the largely British population has repeatedly voted to remain part of the United Kingdom. Pittman, Howard T. “Geopolitics and Foreign Policy in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile.” in Latin American Foreign Policies: Global and Regional Dimensions. Eds. Ferris, Elizabeth G. and Jennie K. Westview Press. Lincoln. Boulder: 1981: 166 – 167. [13] The Economist. Falkland Islands: A new war of words. Buenos Aires. July 13, 2006. Accessed 26 Oct. 2006. [14] The Economist. Venezuela and Argentina: The Chávez play. Buenos Aires 26 Oct. 2006. Accessed on Oct. 26, 2006. [15] Bethell, Leslie, ed. Historia de América Latina vol. 15. Cambridge University Press, 1990. Trans. Crítica Barcelona: 1998: 3 – 4. [16] Vacs, Aldo C. “Argentina.” In Politics of Latin America: The Power Game. eds. Vanden, Harry E. and Gary Prevost. England: Oxford University Press: 2002: 406. [17] C.A.R.I. Website. 2006. [18] Ibid. [19] Ibid. [20] Rodríguez Yebra, Martín. “Kirchner Reorients Foreign Policy” La Nación de Buenos Aires. June 15, 2003. Republished in Accessed: Oct. 26, 2006. [21] Finan 1975: 266 – 267. [22] In 1868 Canciller Carlos Calvo proposed the “Calvo clause” arguing that foreign nationals did not have the right to seek diplomatic or military support from their home governments for the purposes of private debt collection. This was followed by the Drago Doctrine (named for Luis Drago) of 1902 that extended the Calvo Clause to foreign nations intervening in another country to force the payment of public debts. Finally in 1933, Canciller Saavedra drafted the Anti-War Treaty of Non-Agression and Conciliation and managed to obtain the signatures of Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay, and Uruguay. This firmly established Argentina’s tradition of anti-interventionist/anti-imperialist foreign policy that became typical of presidential administrations in the second half of the 20th century. Finan 1975: 266—277. [23] The Non-Aligned Movement is an international organization founded during the Cold War of countries not formally allied with or against any major power bloc. President Menem withdrew Argentina from the movement at the end of the Cold War, but interestingly, current President Kircher sent a delegation to the 14th International Summit held in Habana, Cuba in September, 2006 as “invited guests.”

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