Last fall, I had the opportunity to visit five countries in Latin America, where I interviewed officials and experts about the current state of the Bush administrationâ€™s military-to-military relations with the region. The result is â€œTaking â€˜Noâ€™ for an Answer,â€ a rather long â€“ but hopefully very readable and thought-provoking â€“ report. (It is available here as a 565KB PDF document.)
I focused on the impact of a controversial sanction in U.S. law: the â€œAmerican Servicemembersâ€™ Protection Act.â€ Congress passed this provision in 2002 to â€œprotectâ€ U.S. military personnel from the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court in The Hague. Part of the law cuts much military aid to governments that fail to sign bilateral immunity agreements promising not to extradite U.S. citizens to the Court.
In Latin America, this proved to be a blunder. Of twenty-one countries asked to sign immunity agreements in the region, twelve refused. When sanctions went into effect in mid-2003, these twelve countries â€“ among them several governments that Washington considers to be close friends â€“ saw their U.S. military aid cut back significantly.
Over the next few years, we heard lots of complaints from U.S. officialdom about the damage the sanctions were doing to U.S. relations with Latin America. The International Criminal Court sanctions, they argued, were forcing them to lose contact with a generation of officers who would someday lead their countriesâ€™ militaries. The cuts, they added, were taking place at a time when third countries â€“ especially China and Venezuela â€“ were increasing their own military engagement in the hemisphere.
Ultimately, the Bush administration found itself forced to â€œtake â€˜noâ€™ for an answerâ€ from its Latin American counterparts. In October 2006, they relented, allowing most of the frozen military aid to flow once again.
The American Servicemembersâ€™ Protection Act sanctions were unwise. But were their effects as grave as U.S. officials had warned? How much damage did they do to U.S. security relations â€“ and U.S. foreign policy goals â€“ in Latin America?
â€œTaking â€˜Noâ€™ for an Answerâ€ found that, in fact, overall aid to the punished countries increased during the sanctions period. Though the number of military trainees from these countries did decrease, the blow was cushioned by increased training through aid programs unaffected by the sanctions, including anti-drug and defense-budget programs.
Overall, I found that the U.S. sanctions were little-noticed in Latin America. The American Servicemembersâ€™ Protection Act was just one of several factors contributing to a historic distancing of relations between the United States and much of the region. Other factors included stagnating or falling overall aid levels in 2006-2008; other, unrelated U.S. sanctions; the arrival of governments whose foreign policy is more critical of Washington; and the U.S. governmentâ€™s increasingly tarnished image throughout the hemisphere.
This and much more is in the â€œTaking â€˜Noâ€™ for an Answerâ€ report, which was produced with generous support from the Open Society Institute. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.