A few weeks ago I wrote about the possibility for a new U.S.-Latin America relationship to develop out of the growing number of immigrants and citizens with Latin American heritage in the United States. Using the evolution of the U.S.-European relationship as a blueprint, I concluded that,
Overall, the strategic and demographic conditions exist for a new U.S.-Latin America relationship to develop. Washington needs allies for what is likely to be a prolonged competition with China, and a rising Latin America with many prospering, democratic countries could be a valuable military, economic, and diplomatic partner now and in the future. Of course not every country in Latin America would currently be receptive to such a relationship, either because they dislike the United States or because they fear taking sides in the U.S.-China struggle, but with enough patience and diplomatic skill, Washington could slowly turn the region into an active partner equal to or greater than Europe in strategic importance.
Now that I am done tooting my own horn, it is becoming more clear by the day that the U.S. needs to develop a strategy to see this relationship take root. In particular, one part of any strategy should be a new policy of inclusiveness so as to embrace the increasing number of countries that want closer ties with the U.S. and the West and to encourage other, more-hesitant countries to follow suit.
The latest example of such behavior comes from Colombia’s request to join NATO, which was rejected because it lies outside the geographic area of the alliance. The problem isn’t necessarily that Colombia is being denied membership to NATO (although the question of NATO’s relevance without further expansion in membership and mission is a topic of hot debate), but that absent membership in NATO and similar Western organizations, the formal appeals for closer ties from Latin American (and Asian) countries have few other places to be institutionalized at a similarly high-end level. Yes, desiring countries can develop strong bilateral ties with individual Western countries, but this is no substitute for the broad-based multilateral cooperation that NATO provides. And while NATO has a “Global Partners” program that allows non-European states to develop a relationship with the alliance, it still keeps them outside of the protections and decision-making process of the organization; it keeps them as, at best, second-class partners.
This is problematic because NATO is the flagship military institution of the West. In conjunction with other exclusive groups like the OECD and G8, it represents the capabilities of Western power and joining its membership list signifies ascent into a truly select club of countries. Yet while Colombia is in the process of joining the OECD (the second Latin American country to do so, after Chile), it will never be able to join NATO, thus leaving it forever cut off from full participation in the West regardless of how badly it wants to be a member.
This bring me back to my original point: Washington needs a strategy to address the problem of partner nations that want full membership in the West but are being kept out by flawed membership criteria. The easiest option would be to simply drop the geographic requirement for NATO membership. Other possibilities include combining institutions like the OECD and NATO or creating versions of NATO in Latin America and Asia, with the United States acting as the hub and transfer center for all Western cooperation. All of these options have their pros and cons, but regardless of what course Washington takes, something needs to done if the West is to expand and remain a vibrant beacon of possibility in the 21st century.