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CSIS: Latin America and the Caribbean in an Era of Strategic Competition (p. 4 - 11)

Latin America, like most other regions on earth, is finding itself becoming yet another arena of competition between the great powers, with the USA, China, and Russia all making inroads to expand or maintain influence. This report published by the Center for Strategic and International Studies delves into the history of American geopolitics in Latin America and links it to current events surrounding strategic competition with China and Russia. It also offers some strategic principles to guide continuing US engagement in the region. Today, we are covering pages 4 - 11 of this document. Find the full pdf here:

"With the advent of the Biden administration, it has become clear that the idea of focusing U.S. foreign policy on strategic competition enjoys widespread bipartisan support. U.S. statecraft is increasingly directed at the threats posed by powerful state rivals—especially China—as opposed to Salafi-Jihadist extremists and other non-state actors. Yet geopolitical rivalry is not simply something that happens “over there” in the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East. It also happens “over here,” within the Western Hemisphere.

Just as geopolitical competition is more the norm than the exception for the United States, historically, America has faced recurring threats from major-power rivals operating in Latin America. This pattern is repeating itself today, as the countries—China, Russia, and to a lesser extent, Iran—with which the United States is competing in overseas regions are, in turn, competing with the United States in its shared neighborhood. These challenges have not yet risen to the level of the Cold War-era threat posed by the Soviet-Cuban alliance or even the Nazi presence in many Latin American countries prior to World War II. But they are gradually calling core U.S. strategic interests in Latin America into question.

For roughly 200 years, the core U.S. interest in the region has been strategic denial— preventing powerful rivals from achieving strategic footholds in Latin America or otherwise significantly impairing U.S. influence and security in the hemisphere. The nature and severity of challenges to that objective have varied over time, as have the urgency and methods of the U.S. response. As the United States enters a new period of geopolitical rivalry, it must update its understanding of strategic denial to fit the facts on the ground.

This paper offers an intellectual starting point for that endeavor. It is intended to help the U.S. national security community think through the imperative of strategic denial and hemispheric defense in the twenty-first century.

First, we discuss the meaning and logic of strategic denial and how that policy has evolved over time. Second, we explain why the United States has sometimes been slow to respond to threats in the Western Hemisphere, and the blind spots that have hindered its ability to spot emerging threats in recent years. Third, we offer a detailed review of the activities that China, Russia, and Iran are undertaking in the Western Hemisphere and the specific challenges they pose to core U.S. interests. Fourth, we identify tipping points at which extra-hemispheric influence could seriously damage U.S. security and influence throughout the region. Finally, we briefly discuss several principles for a U.S. response.

These include: (1) Track extra-hemispheric influence more systematically. The U.S. government will need to comprehensively catalog great- power activity and presence in its shared neighborhood to avoid ad hoc responses to strategic challenges.

(2) Track vulnerabilities as well as strengths. The expansion of Chinese, Russian, and Iranian influence in Latin American and the Caribbean has not always been a popular phenomenon. Studying which aspects of these countries’ regional presence create diplomatic or soft-power vulnerabilities is a starting point for developing a more competitive response.

(3) Engage on security issues of greatest concern to local governments and peoples. The United States must present itself as the preferred partner to help countries in the Western Hemisphere address their security concerns. To do so, America must prioritize the most pressing security challenges of its partners—and understand that those challenges are quickly shifting.

(4)Counter the authoritarian playbook. Maintaining the largely democratic nature of the region and focusing on improving the quality of governance and political institutions can reduce the number of openings for rival influence. Do not make it all about China. There is no question that U.S. interest in Latin America and the Caribbean rises when perceptions of extra-hemispheric threats become more acute. But it is a mistake to convey the impression that Washington cares about the Western Hemisphere only because of the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian threats.

(5)Emphasize cost-effective means of competition. When resources are relatively scarce, the United States will need to find ways to increase the bang it receives for each buck. For example, International Military Education and Training (IMET) initiatives are an inexpensive means of building relationships with the next generation of Latin American military leaders—relationships that the United States is in growing danger of not having in the future.

(6) Leverage non-governmental advantages. The United States has deep cultural, political, and historical ties with its southern neighbors. Facilitating people-to- people diplomacy can be a cost-efficient way for the United States to strengthen its hemispheric relationships and limit the influence of its great-power rivals.

(7) Understand that you ultimately get what you pay for. A resource-poor approach to the region has inherent limitations. If the United States does not ultimately pursue a better-resourced, whole-of-government approach, it may once again have to make larger compensatory investments later when strategic challenges have become impossible to ignore. In the Western Hemisphere, the United States has an unfortunate tendency to downplay growing threats until they finally elicit a panicked response. The United States must get ahead of the curve by reframing strategic denial for an era in which great-power competition is likely to intensify in the years ahead."

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