Américas Segurança e Defesa

Cooperation between defense practitioners in South America: interactions to build a regional strategic thinking for UNASUR, by Marina Vitelli

The South American Defense Council (SADC) has received a lot of attention from security and defense analysts, from both skeptical and enthusiastic perspectives. While the latter is based on the region’s significant record in terms of the peaceful resolution of disputes, the low level of tensions, and the early creation of mutual confidence measures, the former questions the SADC’s chances of success to achieve the creation of a regional defense identity. This unconvinced perspective has doubted the possibility that countries with different ideologies, security concerns and varying degrees of civil-military relations could ever reach a consensus on a single strategic concept.

A major of this literature analyzed the SADC using the security community concept founded by Karl Deutsch and further elaborated by Emanuel Adler and Michael Barnett. Those who evaluate the SADC with skepticism argue that security communities only form when country members share a common view on defense challenges and agree to act accordingly. This kind of advanced coordination of defense policies seems unlikely in view of a number of factors, particularly ideological heterogeneity. In short, Bolivarian countries, neoliberal ones and center-left nations would never find a common ground on such a fundamental matter.

The article The South American Defense Council: the Building of a Community of Practice for Regional Defense, published in the special issue of RBPI International Security and Defense – Taking stock of Brazil’s changes (Volume 60 – N. 2, 2017), addresses the issue of regional defense cooperation form the creation of the SADC by revisiting the security community concept to distinguish two components of these defense cooperation initiatives. After acknowledging that collective identities are often a byproduct rather than a prerequisite for the existence of a security community, Adler argued those institutions foster peaceful change – among other things – by allowing increased exchanges between states and societies, and by boosting a sense of we-ness inherent to collective identities. Specifically, institutions provide a routine for regular face-to-face interaction between state officials to solve technical, normative and practical matters, stimulating cooperative behavior.

In this way, on the one hand, collective identity regarding defense is achieved through high-level political and diplomatic concertation, but these types of arrangements also involve organizing regular interaction among defense practitioners. In order to better understand what kind of cooperation is going on inside SADC, and whether it can lead to a collective defense identity, the author suggests looking at the activities held by the organism in the second dimension, which proves to be more promising than the first one.

Therefore, the argument is that South America is at an early stage of security community construction, stressing the increased interaction among practitioners in spite of the weaknesses of high-level political concertation. Contrasting with previous research that emphasizes opportunities and challenges related to high-level political and diplomatic dimensions, focus is on the initial phase that consists in establishing regular transgovernmental defense agent relations, particularly, but not exclusively, between defense ministries. In short, as a result of analyzing official documents – such as meeting minutes and reports – the paper concludes that as a result of SADC activities, the diversity and quantity of practitioners interacting in South America has been significantly expanded, in a way that a practice community of regional defense as a contribution to the building of a security community appears to be forming.

To empirically support the argument, the author first describes the type of regular interaction – as well as the agents taking part in them – that takes place inside the organisms that form the SADC: its Council of Defense Ministers and, particularly, its Executive Body. Also, the creation of consultation councils and ad hoc groups, as well as the virtual communication system, are reviewed. Secondly, the author turns to one specific practice of great significance as far as identity building is concerned: seminar diplomacy. Since its creation, the SADC has consistently held ad hoc meetings called seminars, workshops or courses, which serve as mechanisms for the creation and diffusion of common meanings and cooperative solutions that build mutual trust and identification.

Additionally, the author shows that three types of activities in particular were responsible for the expansion of agents interacting: those related to the development of strategic thinking, teaching and learning, especially within the two subsidiary bodies of the SADC: its Center for Strategic Defense Studies (CEED) and the South American Defense School (ESUDE). On the one hand, the CEED is a research center, it works as a think tank that provides the SADC with a series of insights about the defense of South America with the aim of formulating, in the long run, regional strategic thinking. Differently, ESUDE is the institution responsible for circulating the knowledge generated by CEED – among other topics – in the form of training activities for civilians and the military defense practitioners. Other learning activities and discussions on strategic thinking are also reviewed in the paper.

As the article concludes, the author returns to theoretical assumptions in order to address the potential limitations of the community of practice that has begun to take form. First, the institutional and political weaknesses of regional defense ministries are addressed: the scenario of varying and insufficiently trained practitioners questions the very possibility of the true consolidation of a community of practice of regional defense in South America. Secondly, while different foreign policy orientations and strategic relations with extra regional powers do not threaten existing mechanism for political concertation and the peaceful diplomatic resolution of crises, a collective identity understood as a regionally agreed outlook on the role of defense for the common security interests of the region will require further politically supported dialogue, a type of policy coordination that seems doubtful in present times.

Read the article

Vitelli, Marina Gisela. (2017). The South American Defense Council: the Building of a Community of Practice for Regional Defense. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(2), e002. Epub November 09, 2017.

About the author

Marina Gisela Vitelli – Universidade Estadual Paulista, Programa de Pós-Graduação em Relações Internacionais, São Paulo – SP, Brazil(

How to cite this note

Cite this article as: Editoria, "Cooperation between defense practitioners in South America: interactions to build a regional strategic thinking for UNASUR, by Marina Vitelli," in Revista Mundorama, 14/11/2017,

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