UNASUR Aims for Transparency Among Militaries of Member Nations

By Dialogo
December 17, 2012

LIMA, Peru — Military cooperation in South America could get a boost in the coming year if a series of projects on the drawing board works out as planned.
The South American Defense Council [Consejo de Defensa Suramericano] (CDS), set up in 2008 as part of the Quito-based Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), aims to enhance military coordination among UNASUR’s 12 member states.
“The CDS is a model for the other UNASUR councils,” said José Huerta, a retired Peruvian general who headed that country’s CDS delegation until mid-2012. “We have made concrete decisions that go beyond the lyrical declarations that tend to be produced at regional meetings.”
Andrés Acosta, another retired general from Peru, said he had his doubts about the CDS when asked to serve as its executive director.
“I was a skeptic, but I have been surprised by the willingness of member countries to make this work. My skepticism is now optimism,” he said following a meeting of defense ministers during the annual UNASUR summit, held Nov. 29-30 in Lima. One of the council’s key objectives in 2013, he said, will be to come up with a standard formula for measuring defense spending. UNASUR member nations have agreed to report military expenditures, but until now, each country has followed its own methodology, with varying degrees of transparency.
“One thing is a report on how much we are spending, another is providing details on exactly what that spending is for,” Acosta said. “This is where we are moving.”
That project will be complemented with the launch of a new Registry of South American Military Inventories in early 2013, with the system operational by 2014, said Acosta.

CEED: Promoting information ‘transparency’

A key component of transparency in military spending and inventories is the CDS-created Center for Strategic Defense Studies (CEED), based in Argentina and staffed by representatives from the armed forces of Unasur’s 12 members.
Presidents attending the Lima summit approved the formal operating statute for CEED. Huerta said the center, to be fully operational in January, is not meant to “establish military doctrine for the region, but to promote transparency of information and analyze threats and problems involving the defense sector that affect member countries.”
Not all countries agree on funding for CEED, however. Argentina is providing the headquarters and each country pays the salaries of its representatives, but Acosta said members must devise a payment system.
For the moment, the plan is for each country to provide CEED with an amount similar to what they contributed to Haiti after that country’s January 2010 earthquake. UNASUR itself donated $100 million for Haitian relief efforts and brokered a $200 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank on Haiti’s behalf.

Protocol aims to cut red tape in event of future natural disasters

Meanwhile, Peru is preparing the protocol for a unified CDS humanitarian response to future natural disasters. One contentious issue involves the need for militaries to secure permission to enter the airspace of another country; the protocol would eliminate this problem. UNASUR officials say it is loosely based on an agreement between Peru and Ecuador to remove landmines along their common border. Under the protocol now in place, Peru’s military may enter Ecuadorian airspace without getting prior permission in case the demining team is having an emergency.
UNASUR is poised to form a 10th council, this one focused on citizen security, justice and the fight against transnational crime, as well as a South American Defense College. That idea was proposed by Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim, and Brazil heads a working group within the CDS — one of 12 such groups within the council.
At the Lima meeting, Amorim said the college wouldn’t be a physical, bricks-and-mortar campus but rather a system of courses that could be offered throughout the region.
“The Brazilians will be organizing an ongoing forum to reflect on defense issues in South America,” said Acosta, though he and Huerta dismissed the notion that the CDS could replace the Inter-American Defense Board, which brings together nations throughout the hemisphere.
Acosta said regional groups like CDS could help “revitalize the Board, which is lacking a clear direction right now. I think the CDS is a good complement to the Board.”
Huerta said the CDS would not become a NATO-like institution because the council is inward-looking — focused on issues facing South America and how the armed forces of each country would tackle them either individually or jointly. He said it has consolidated a “first-generation” relationship of mutual trust and must now move to the next stage.
“We need a second-generation relationship, similar to the coordination among the armed forces in the European Union, which identifies common threats and works to address them while respecting the sovereignty of member states,” Huerta said.