The Transformation of Diplomacy
How to Save the State Department
The substantive and procedural problems of Latin American development are hard enough. Harder still is the inseparable task of understanding the social and psychological problems well enough to begin coping with them. With Latin America, we do not have any significant difficulties in formulating goals. The 1961 Charter of Punta del Este, the lines of action agreed on by the Presidents at Punta del Este in 1967, the economic and social principles of the revised Charter of the Organization of American States-indeed the constitutions of the other American states-all support this assertion. The difficulties begin thereafter, when operations start to go forward. The problems are various, and their origins are distributed. Most of the impediments that are fairly attributable to the United States arise from that short-haul practicality all too often, and incorrectly, called "pragmatism."
Frequently, in Latin America, development operations have been impeded by emotional responses. Neither we, who want to help, nor they, who want help, understand very much about the psycho-political nature of these difficulties. The fact is that the difficulties are related to attitudes not yet scientifically identified. Traditional assumptions and classic models still govern the execution of mutual assistance.
We do justice to ourselves and a favor to our neighbors when we insist that the reasons for Latin America's problems are mostly in Latin America. We can, however, accomplish little by preaching to others, especially about problems that are emotional. These comments, then, focus on what North Americans need to understand about the nature of our own influence and its interaction with change to the south of us.
Most of us in the United States see ourselves as a large but well-motivated nation, richer than our neighbors but with no wish to exploit them, moderately successful in tackling our own immense problems and puzzled that others do not go about solving theirs in a more purposeful way. This image only slightly overlaps with what many Latin Americans see. For them, we are a giant with an unfair proportion of all the good things in the world except natural resources, in which Latin America is supposed to be equally rich. Many are frustrated, envious and ashamed. The United States must have had unfair advantages-how else to account for the contrast? From there, it is easy and psychologically comforting to pass to belief in an exploitative plot. This is assisted by some pages of history and conspicuous U.S. presence in certain events, even without theoretical support from parties boosting a Soviet or Red Chinese line.
This image has some strange manifestations. The United States is, for example, sometimes accused-almost in the same breath-of being excessively naïve and of running a fantastically efficient scheme to dominate Latin America. The naïveté charge may merely reflect the correct belief that we do not know as much as the Latins about their own societies. But the plot theory is difficult to dismiss with broad hints that escapism has never yet solved any country's development problems, even though we may believe that no more attention is deserved.
A related dualism characterizes widely held attitudes about "nonintervention," which cause resistance to useful forms of collective action. History and North American military preponderance, of course, have a good deal to do with Latin American chariness of regional organizations. But how do we explain the phenomena of our being blamed when we abstain from activity because of this resistance? A Brazilian student, for example, recently accused the United States of: (1) slyly keeping his vast country weak by obstructing growth of its "greatest natural resource" through campaigning for birth control (which we have not), and (2) failing to "do anything" about Brazil's inability to meet the social needs of its expanding population.
Perhaps all concerned would be helped toward better understanding of such problems if we knew more about the nature of our operational influence in Latin America. To get this knowledge is more difficult than it sounds. Not enough research has been done; much of what has been done is done without "inside" knowledge of what the operations have been in fact. Conventional patterns of analysis ("nationalism," diplomatic history, formal structures of institutions) have prevailed here. In Latin America, even this much has hardly been undertaken. True, many episodic assertions about the operation of U.S. influence are useful, even obvious; but their sum is elusive. It is very easy to pass from platitudes to blunders without pausing for insight.
Our operational influence as to development is, in the first place, marginal. In terms of economics, we rarely offer more than a minor input as compared to the sum of local investment, including those negotiated in connection with our dollar assistance. Our inputs have come to be sporadic. We are uncertain from year to year, both as to absolute amounts available and restrictions on use. A reasonably continuous marginal economic influence, as any economist knows, can be vastly important when properly directed over a span of time. None the less, even with continuity, what is marginal remains marginal and the foreigner's operating influence remains foreign. The same is true for political and social development.
The fact that our influence is marginal means that, over the short term, what we can accomplish is limited and spotty. There is, for example, typically very little our political influence can do to prevent military coups d'état. Ambassador John Bartlow Martin's book on the Dominican Republic[i] describes how, in a very small and nearby country, he went much farther in support of elected President Juan Bosch than would normally be productive. His efforts did not work. This does not mean that we should stop urging our neighbors to give their fragile democratic institutions a chance. (Successes, by the nature of things, will never be so well documented.) It does mean that we should not expect our short-term, discontinuous influence in Latin America to reflect our enormous strength. The paradox of destiny-control versus behavior-control seems old and obvious: we have the power, at one extreme, to remove almost any country from the map by means of a few nuclear weapons; but we could not, even if we wished, translate this into control over the country's routine actions. If this impresses any reader as self-evident, it might be added that life in the Department of State will become much easier when the point gets through to its usually critical constituents-Congressmen, editorial writers and even scholars.
The marginal nature of our influence also means, however, that its long- term cumulative effect can be very great-if it is exercised quietly, wisely and consistently. Our foreign affairs managers are always being called upon to "use influence vigorously" in order to effect some occurrence in Latin America. The call may occasionally be justified. More commonly it is a call to do something emotionally satisfying now at the expense of our long-term capacity to get a mutually acceptable solution. The origins of many current problems lie beyond rationality, and their treatment by diplomatic logic- let alone threats of force-may delay effective resolution dangerously.
The case of Latin American military expenditures could become an outstanding example of short-term satisfaction versus long-term accomplishment. Congress has, through directives having the force of law, tied development assistance to military austerity on the part of the recipient. The objective is admirable, and it is rather widely shared by foreign policy-makers in Latin American executive branches. But the tactics are deplorable. In the first place, Latin America is free to spend more money on sophisticated weapons from outside the hemisphere, if only to show the United States that no sermons on military budgets are needed from the holder of the world record. In the second place, the best available statistics show that Latin American defense expenditures have long been declining in relation to other government spending and now constitute a military burden lower than that of any other region in the world, with the possible exception of sub-Saharan Africa. There have been a few outstanding and well-publicized acquisitions of a relatively few pieces of expensive, modern military equipment, but there has been no arms race; and there will be none unless moderating influences within the hemisphere come to lose acceptance.
Parenthetically, it is not valid to argue that U.S. attempts to legislate arms control for Latin America are of assistance in preventing coups. Of all United States aid, military assistance is the most marginal as to amounts and the most restrained as to U.S. participation. Certainly it is not true that the United States is responsible for the continuance of military power in Latin America. The military establishments there (frequently states within states) are often directly imitative of the military systems of the great powers of the nineteenth century. Our military influence has sought to change that pattern, not always with conspicuous success. As things are today, in fragile political structures with vast popular nonparticipation-both of which factors we are trying to help change-uninformed, unarmed, uncertain citizenries can and do lose their elected governments to 1898 model rifles bought in Imperial Germany, not to Mach 2 jet aircraft.
The difference between the world roles of the United States and Latin America introduces additional distortions in our relationships. A newspaper in São Paulo covers U.S. Presidential elections as well as a paper in Chicago-but a Chicago paper gives Latin America almost no coverage unless there is a disaster or an expropriation. The Latin American who reads or listens to a transistor radio knows not only our official decisions but much detail of our decision-making processes. An intemperate speech, resolution or editorial can cause reverberations from the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, with the help of our own wire services. But it is rare for U.S. citizens to be aware of debates in Latin America about us. Although they are no more restrained, we do not know what they say of us, while even our rhetorical mimesis of an ephemeral past is taken seriously by newspaper-readers and transistor-listeners there.
Latin Americans listen continuously because we are so important to them, especially in matters of trade, capital flow and investments. They listen critically and apprehensively, often emotionally, not logically. Our communications pattern is not healthy. The United States has vast problems of tact and sensitivity to cope with until things get better in Latin America.
If we can succeed in helping Latin America modernize, reform and believe in its success, we can expect many areas of U.S. influence to increase, even as our present tremendous preponderance declines. We are now so overwhelmingly present that we induce psychological attitudes of much moment. An outstanding example is the theme of U.S. "economic imperialism." The term jars our senses. We have always disliked formal colonialism, and we have not practiced it very much. (Were it otherwise, the political structure of the hemisphere would be quite different and there would be no Castro.)
To us, logically perhaps, "imperialism" requires either formal political structures or, at least, political control. Discounting the invective made of the term by certain "lackeys of socialism," there remains the feeling, widely held in Latin America, as by the New Left here, that "imperialism" includes the capacity and the determination, regardless of formal structures, to manipulate other groups against their will or their conception of their interests. Do we eschew this degree of involvement in Latin America? If I were to take all the responses of which I am aware, the conscious and the subconscious, I would have to admit that by self- restraint, idealism and tact, we could make a positive reply clearer than we have so far.
For some North Americans, the fact that the problem is psychological means it is "all in the head" and so can be ignored. Our American rationality is a great thing, but a therapist needs other qualifications.
We can get at least an idea of the dimensions of the problem by noting the tremendous impact in Latin America of Servan-Schreiber's "The American Challenge." It is a rational book about a somewhat irrational problem in Europe. In some Latin American countries, it has broken all postwar best- seller records. Despite the author's disclaimer of any intent to deal with Latin America, and his precise distinction between "challenge" and "threat," the book is widely accepted as a warning against North American "imperialism" through private-sector investments. (One hopes that some readers in this hemisphere have noted the similarity between Servan- Schreiber's positive prescription for Europeans and the goals of the Alliance for Progress.)
The fears aroused by U.S. businesses abroad present us with some unusually delicate decisions in foreign policy. We owe it to the interests of the entire hemisphere to promote foreign investment. At its best, it is an efficient vehicle of development; it transfers know-how and costs U.S. taxpayers little (although the Government assists in many ways and should look for others). Major new waves of U.S. investment in Latin America should nevertheless be accompanied by measures to lower its coefficient of friction. Such measures will require the attention of U.S. businessmen, their Latin American counterparts, Latin American governments and- emphatically-the United States Government. Private investments do not normally provide any short-term help for social development, and they must be paralleled by increasing amounts of bilateral and multilateral aid. Old Latin American hands live in dread of a proposal to "revivify" the Alliance for Progress by excluding public-sector assistance in favor of private investment. In reconstructed Europe, the new wave of private investment followed, rather than displaced, the Marshall Plan. A proposal to reverse this pattern in Latin America would be perfectly rational and perfectly disastrous.
We in the United States, then, may have a cultural block that hinders our understanding of the impact we have had on Latin America. It is no less true that Latin Americans rarely have a clear view of the meaning of U.S. development. On the one hand, they have historically looked upon this country as a model for emulation. Every developing nation could use a simple formula for success, and ours is an enticing one. We have accomplished certain things before any other country on earth, and for this reason alone we are bound to be studied even by enemies.
Moreover, the United States is traditionally friendly with Latin America; our economies are interdependent; we were born sharing many political precepts; and we all believe in a wide degree of diversity. Any objective scholar must agree that the United States has useful examples to offer. But he should understand their limitations.
We are successful in the United States because we have worked out a democratic, egalitarian and experimentalist society. Americans who work for the development of other nations come to realize just how successfully empirical we are at home, especially with respect to our social problems. Unfortunately, experimentalism is at once the best path to development and the hardest sort of mechanism to explain to others. To many Latin Americans, the North American way seems not science but nonscience. Ideological solutions, on the other hand, are splendidly satisfying to communicate-and quite frequently obstacles to development. We in the United States do not, of course, have any general ideology, except one of effective human dignity. It has not changed for a long time. But beyond this, we are fairly eclectic, although often thought otherwise: many Latin Americans visiting the United States for the first time are astonished to find that our nation is not classically laissez-faire-which we have not been for more than half a century, if indeed we ever were.
This has touched only the high points of U.S. psycho-political influence in Latin America. We need to know far more. We need to explore in depth the consequences of conspicuous U.S. success as contrasted to Latin feelings of under-achievement. Universities must do serious work on attitude studies; and in order to do so, they must come to view foreign relations as a branch of human relations, not a chess game.
Latin America has not changed quite so fast as many U.S. observers expected. The supposedly seething peasantry has proven, in fact, to be quite conservative-so long as population pressures have left it enough land to scratch out a subsistence. The masses, instead of demanding "new solutions," have apparently been acquiescent when military coups have overthrown viable, constitutional régimes. In point of fact, when economic development has been vigorously pursued, it has sometimes been precisely through authoritarian methods that seem influenced by traditional Iberian (and behind them, Roman) models. If U.S. observers are sometimes puzzled, however, they need only look to the Marxists for a picture of utter bafflement.
Nevertheless, there have been important changes, though they have followed elusive patterns. The endemic political instability continues in cyclical, though probably diminishing, waves. Unconstitutional overthrows do not impress us as ideal mechanisms for change. But let us recognize them for what they are: almost institutionalized. It would be false to say that any nation's unwritten constitution allows the military to push out an elected president who is both reformist and viable, if problem-plagued. It would not be an exaggeration to say that, in the political mores of many Latin American states, the military is expected to intervene when civilian government becomes conspicuously unable to govern.
In any case, it would be a mistake to assume that the violent process of changing the guard, even though it looks traditional, is nowadays aimed at simply preventing deeper change-at "preserving the status quo," in the journalistic cliché. The new Latin military leaders do not consider themselves Trujillos bent on personal enrichment. (But, probably, neither did Trujillo when he started-nor Batista-nor Diaz.) Personal ambitions sometimes play a part and sometimes do not. (The same is true of leaders from the left.) Sometimes the military régimes have governed in such a way that the Latin American "establishments" have profited more than the masses, but so have almost all other régimes. The establishments have the know-how and the talent-including some let in from below-to defend themselves under varying circumstances.
Most, but not quite all, recent military régimes have reflected dissatisfaction with the ability of civilian governments to bring about "development." The people may have gone along because they hoped that the military could in fact do better. "Development," however, has often been defined in preponderantly economic terms, and it remains to be proven that régimes dominated by the military can lead to social and civic development.
In terms of their immediate political problems, some of the generals have perhaps been quite sensible in taking advantage of "the negative dynamism generated by an aggressive independence of the United States"-as it was put by Claudio Véliz in the October 1968 issue of this journal. To the extent that this aggressiveness is used to increase reliance on self-help, the results can only be good. But to the extent that foreign investors are frightened, needed transfers of capital and know-how are lost. If U.S. taxpayers become embittered about the effectiveness of our aid, the results will, again, be unfortunate.
While some of the Latin American military have been engaged in running governments, or dreaming of world-arena hardware, their real responsibility in society is shifting. In the near future, there will be new challenges from urban-not rural-violence. Moreover, the violence may seem unstructured, almost pointless, and therefore more difficult to understand and control. This may be taken as the lesson of student upheavals in countries as diverse as France, the United States, Japan and Mexico. There is undoubtedly an imitative effect at work, and one hopes that Latin America's security forces are thinking about how to react properly-which is not the same thing as physical adequacy.
There has been much euphoria about the phenomenon of violent social revolution in Latin America. In some circles, it is not possible to talk of revolution unless you mean violent revolution. Certain Latin American countries are said to be unable to make permanent progress because "they have not had their revolutions."
This is not the place to explore the intricacies of revolutionary theory, but it does seem that fans of violence have overlooked two points which might seem obvious to North Americans. First, while violent social revolution has undoubtedly led to modernization of some societies, even the classical cases are not patently more convincing than parallel cases of gradual revolution. (Compare the Soviet Union, France and Mexico with England, Scandinavia and the United States.) The second point is that, even ignoring its appalling human costs, violent revolution is too costly in time and money for today's Latin America. Violent revolution tears down quickly but rebuilds slowly, if at all. Many Latin American nations have large financial investments in modernization-investments that must not be wiped out. They have, moreover, demographic pressures that were not present in the classical cases. No nation with a population growth of 3 percent yearly can contemplate the luxury of time-out for three or four decades of violent social reorganization. To the charge that some non-revolutionary societies are "not working," one can only reply that violent revolution is almost certain not to work.
One is left with the conclusion that peaceful revolution for Latin America, roughly along the lines agreed to in the Charter of the Alliance for Progress, is Latin America's worst solution, except for all the others. The Alliance partners have achieved important economic and social successes in addition to the ideological success represented by agreement on goals. They have built structural and financial bases for the much more that remains to be done in the next phase.
There are, to be sure, new threats to development from both right and left in Latin America. It would be a mistake to underestimate them, and an equally serious mistake to interpret what is going on as a sign of past failure. The current polarization in Latin America is an undesirable but inevitable accompaniment of the modernization that the Alliance promised. The parallel with U.S. domestic politics may be useful: there was no talk of Black Power until there had been black progress.
At the risk of repetition, it should be stressed that the United States can take only a fraction of the credit for the changes, good and bad, in the rest of the hemisphere. The term "Alliance for Progress" means the total hemispheric effort described in the Charter, not just U.S. aid.
There is no plea here for a U.S. policy that is "realistic" in the sense of being conservative and unimaginative. Our policy for Latin America should be realistic in that we must always make an honest, orderly assessment of our means and then try very hard to do what we think we might be able to do. Trying hard will involve risks, but we cannot afford total caution. Even unsuccessful risks can create at least a useful dynamism. One might gather from some highly selective press and Congressional reports that our financial aid has been strewn around loosely, but it has in fact been subject to overcaution and overadministration. It is safer, in terms of public and Congressional opinion, to spend ten dollars on administration and accounting than it is to risk two on a project that may be too far out. Like respectable ladies on a swing of the Continent, we would rather pay for a guided tour than do it ourselves for half the price, risking the occasional bawdy hotel and padded bill.
An honest foreign policy means not kidding ourselves about some of the embarrassing decisions involved. If, for example, our policy is to support democratically elected governments-and it should be-we must nevertheless take a close look at what has happened when one of them falls. The new régime will always say that the old was victim of its own sins and inefficiency, and the accusation may be right: political hari-kari has not completely disappeared in Latin America. When a viable, reformist and democratic government has been pushed out, however-even by men who may be convinced they can do better-losses in the dynamic of development seem inevitable. Beyond these, what? We have, formally, two options.
The first is to deal with the new régime on some basis, but not necessarily very soon or enthusiastically. We should avoid the kind of sermonizing that is both pointless and open to accusations of intervention. We should not attempt to penalize the common people, although we might wish to ourselves that they had given greater signs of interest in the democratic process. But our scarce aid funds will always have to be divided on a basis of strict priorities, and we should not give the hemisphere reason to think that any régime can earn a high one by ignoring the goals of social and political development. Our sights should be fixed on the basic needs of people, including their needs for self-respect, dignity and confidence, despite their precarious political state. We should seek ways to help them without entrenching their self-appointed rulers-for example, by doing as much as these will tolerate through municipal and other local governmental entities.
Our second option is not to deal with the new régime, and this involves a strong possibility that all U.S. ties with the country will eventually be severed, while our diplomacy is almost powerless to do anything about it. More seriously, it forgets the people who will still be there, and in greater numbers, when golpistas go. True pragmatism-in the sense of adapting a long-range humanistic ideal to doing the best that can be done with the facts at hand-inclines one to the former course.
[i] "Overtaken by Events." Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966.