This hefty volume is disappointing. Its editors—the venerable Professor Harold Davis and his younger colleague at American University, Larman Wilson—deserve credit for having chosen a topic whose time has come, in terms of political and theoretical interest as well as in the vision of funding sources. But they cannot be praised for having done much in this book to advance or expand our understanding of the subject, nor even with having made a very significant contribution toward facilitating advances by others in this field.
Latin American Foreign Policies: An Analysis is not an analysis at all, but rather a series of brief and mostly descriptive essays on the foreign policies of the various states of Latin America. Most of the essays are reasonably literate and well-informed, but most lack any significant thesis, and they fail to add up to anything beyond a catalogue of enunciated policy statements and descriptive histories. The editors argue persuasively that the common tendency in Washington to view Latin America as a unit distorts reality, but this volume’s tendency to treat each of the sovereign states pretty much on its own terms and as equivalent units introduces an equally misleading bias.
By focusing on the foreign policies of the respective states, and by asking country specialists to prepare statements on them, Professors Davis and Wilson have inadvertently shaped a book which misses the central thrust of contemporary and prospective international relations in Latin America. Neither non-state actors (like multinational corporations) nor multilateral activities (like SELA) get the treatment their importance warrants. The dynamics of inter-American relations is mainly missed. Students and others would be better advised to read through the essays in Julio Cotier and Richard Fagen’s edited collection on Latin America and the United States and the essays by Riordan Roett and Roger Hansen in The Americas in a Changing World for better introductions to this field.
A good book is waiting to be written on Latin American foreign policies. It will deal with the emerging importance of resource diplomacy and commodity power in Latin America, and with the emergence of regional bargaining units. It will take up Latin America’s role in the larger “North/South” relationships likely to dominate international politics in the 1980s. It will consider the prospects for communal conflicts in Latin America and for outbursts of interstate violence in an area increasingly isolated from Great Power rivalries. It will analyze the emergence of Brazil as a major world actor, and the effects of Brazil’s growth on regional relationships. It will examine the ambitions and potentials of Venezuela, as a resource-rich actor with at least regional pretensions. And it will take up the changing relationships of Latin American states to the United States of America and to the countries of Europe, Asia, and the Third and Fourth Worlds.
The Davis-Wilson anthology helps make us aware of the need for such a book. It does not, I think, adequately fill the gap.