UNASUR advances defence transparency and energy integration
By Ambassador Odeen Ishmael - Posted June 13th. 2012
After an extraordinary session of UNASUR's Foreign Ministers in Bogota, Colombia on June 11, the veteran Venezuelan politician and diplomat, Dr. Ali Rodriguez Araque, was officially installed as the new secretary general of the South American union. He will exercise this role for one year and succeeds Maria Emma Mejia of Colombia who served for the first year of the shared two-year term.
At their meeting, the Foreign Ministers adopted a number of new rules for the organisation and approved a US$19 million dollar budget for the next two years. They also confirmed that UNASUR's electoral council will mount its first mission to observe the Venezuelan presidential elections on October 8.
In preparation for his executive role in managing the continental body, Rodriguez on June 4, had earlier visited Asuncion, capital of Paraguay, where he met with Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, the current chairman of UNASUR. He later on the following day participated in the UNASUR Defence Council meeting in the Paraguayan capital.
Speaking to the media after his meeting with President Lugo, Rodriguez said that the nations of the region have to protect and capitalise on the resources they possess, such as water, river energy, minerals and biodiversity. These, he opined, will contribute to reduce the state of poverty for millions of South Americans.
UNASUR itself, under the executive leadership of Maria Emma Mejia, continued during the first half of 2012 in executing its work programme in pushing towards the objective of South American integration. This programme included important meetings covering defence and energy issues which were convened during this period.
Defence Council meeting
As a main aspect of the work agenda, the South American Defence Council, (comprising the continent's defence ministers) met in Quito, Ecuador, 10 May for the release of a report by UNASUR's Centre of Strategic Defence Studies (CEED) detailing each country's military spending for the period 2006-2010. The CEED supports the work of the South American Defence Council which encourages cooperation in regional security matters and transparency in military spending while providing assistance in peace missions and natural disasters.
The report reveals that during 2006-2010 UNASUR countries spent US$126 billion on defence. Actually, spending increased sharply, from $17.6 billion in 2006 to $33.2 billion in 2010.
Brazil, with the largest territorial space and population, headed the list, accounting for 43 percent of South America's spending total. Colombia was second, with 17 percent, and Venezuela third, accounting for 10.7 percent. They were followed by Chile (9), Argentina (8.3), Ecuador (4.5) and Peru (4).
According to CEED, the overall expenditure on defence in the region as percentage of GDP remains stable averaging 0.91 percent, thus placing South America's military spending well below other regions of the world.
Significantly, the report points out: "The evolution of UNASUR defence budgets does not register significant variations in the period analysed and does not enable to establish an armament tendency or a militarisation of the region."
Taking military budgets individually in 2010, Ecuador was the country which most invested in defence, 2.74 percent of GDP; followed by Colombia (1.89), Surinam (1.49), Bolivia (1.47), Chile (1.4), Guyana (1.31) and Uruguay (1.06). The rest of the countries were below 1 percent. According to the Venezuelan news website, Venezuelanalysis.com, in 2009 Venezuela spent 1.4 percent of GDP on defence.
Of the total expenditure, 58.7 percent of members' military spending was to pay personnel, 23.5 for operations, 17.3 for investment, and 0.5 for research.
In its analysis, the report shows that the average regional expenditure per person between 2006 and 2010 was US$67.4 and the number of soldiers to the civilian population was 3 to every thousand.
The act of sharing this military information was regarded as "historic" by secretary general Maria Emma Mejia, who posited that the report broke the myths of Latin American militarisation and that military spending is detrimental to social development. She declared: "This spending supports the security and safety of South American citizens…because we can attend to citizens with logistics and emergency services. It is a benefit for social peace."
Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patiño, who hosted the meeting, said it would always be important for member states share details of their defence spending in order to establish ties of mutual trust within the union.
Significantly, at the conclusion of the meeting, the representative of the UN General Secretary for Disarmament, Angela Klein - a guest participant - stated that the sharing of military spending information by UNASUR was "an exercise in transparency unseen in any other region of the world and a fundamental step in the construction of regional trust."
During the discussions, the defence ministers and other diplomatic representatives highlighted their intention to advance towards greater military integration through initiatives generating mutual trust, exchanging information and participating in joint military exercises.
They also reiterated the objective of continuing military integration and proposed the establishment of a Citizen Security Council to coordinate the fight against transnational and organised crime.
A follow-up meeting of the Defence Council, held on June 5 in Asuncion, Paraguay, formalised the report and presented an analysis of the CEED report widely regarded as a gesture of transparency and an expression of the new defence policy.
In Asuncion, the Council also addressed the situation of UNASUR's cooperation with Haiti. It regarded as positive the on-going aid but felt that UNASUR must draw up a timetable for its gradual military withdrawal from the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) without neglecting aid to the Caribbean nation.
General Catalino Roy Ortiz, Defence Minister of Paraguay, stressed the terms for the final withdrawal from Haiti will be based on the existing safe environment and lauded UNASUR's aid to the government and people of Haiti to guarantee safety and stability.
Third UNASUR Energy Council meeting
The third UNASUR Energy Council meeting took place on May 18 at the headquarters of state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela (Pdvsa), in Caracas. The Council agreed to create an ad hoc group, made up of appointees by UNASUR member states, to draw up proposals for a South American Energy Treaty and protect energy resources of the region. This group will work in coordination with experts in the energy sector and will present joint reports to the South American Energy Council.
The Energy Council agreed to ratify proposals by its group of energy experts to continue working in cooperation with the Latin American Energy Organisation (OLADE) in activities aimed at energy integration in the region.
The group of experts will also analyse the possibility of creating an investigations' institute of UNASUR, which is intended to boost participation of the best talents in matters of energy in the region, including student exchange, in order to enhance the region's technological training and development.
The same group will set up a committee to handle energy planning aimed at identifying structural energy projects in South America. The Energy Council also agreed to hold in Caracas a forum of state-run oil and gas companies before the next UNASUR summit.
Additionally, there will be a meeting of state-run electricity companies in Bogota, Colombia, in order to exchange experiences and boost "complementariness," as well as another of energy technology in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to boost technology-energy exchange among the member states.
The Energy Council reiterated the support and sovereign rights of member states to manage its natural resources, guaranteeing national energy security, as a public interest.
Other UNASUR Councils are due to meet during the second half of this year while there will be follow-up actions as agreed to by those which have already met. The UNASUR summit in Paraguay and the South American-Arab summit in Peru, both scheduled for the last quarter of this year, will also present their own special challenges. The new secretary general, Ali Rodriguez, certainly will find his tasks in managing all these activities very pressing, but based on his wide experience in public policy administration, including energy management, UNASUR countries will definitely bank on his enormous talent to direct the union's integration policies and programmes to the satisfaction all South American citizens.
Kuwait, 13 June 2012
Odeen Ishmael is Guyana's ambassador to the State of Kuwait. He writes extensively
on Latin American and Caribbean issues and is the author of several books
including The Democracy Perspective in the Americas. The views expressed
here are solely his own.]
(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer and not necessarily those of the Government of Guyana.)