The Center for Strategic and International Studies shares Carl Meacham analysis on why Latin America tries to be outside the eye of the storm.
To date, over 60 countries from every region of the world have declared themselves “coalition partners” committed to the goals of eliminating ISIL’s threat—every region, that is, except Latin America.
So why has Latin America kept quiet?
Q1: What is Latin America’s historical involvement in confrontations in the Middle East?
Latin American countries have frequently been at odds with the United States over its security agenda in the Middle East.
During the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, only El Salvador joined the coalition—though the support it provided was nonmilitary.
In 2003’s invasion in Iraq, the countries that openly supported the U.S. were: Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. And two of the closest U.S. allies in the region, Mexico and Chile, opposed the UN resolution and actively condemning the war.
Q2: Why are countries in Latin America skeptical of ISIL’s relevance to their own interests?
Latin American doesn’t have much of a foreign policy with the Middle Eastern, contrary to the U.S. that places security and stability in that region among its top priorities.
Latin American governments have been unable to justify military engagement in the Middle East.
Q3: What’s at stake for Latin America in this conflict?
Latin America is no stranger to terrorism, domestic, regional and international. Latin America has a long history dealing with the phenomenon.
Terrorists have used Latin America to raise resources and advance their causes. This is, perhaps, nowhere more apparent than in the Tri-Border Area (TBA), where Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay have historically struggled to combat lawlessness, corruption, and money laundering to the benefit of international terrorist groups.
And the region’s large and growing population of Arab descent is a factor, too. Some 15 million people from Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Chile alone self-identify as Arab—and this reality could, if not yet, impact regional policymaking.
Q4: So what can Latin America do to help, particularly given the region’s distaste for military intervention?
According to Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson, the U.S. government does not expect all governments—or, perhaps, any from Latin America—to contribute to the anti-ISIL effort through military action. But the governments can provide “invaluable” support by making a concerted effort to impede ISIL’s recruitment of foreign fighters.
Beyond such efforts, the region could support the fight against ISIL by working to cut off the organization’s access to financial resources and by providing the humanitarian assistance sorely needed for the millions affected by the conflict in the Middle East.