The Foreign Policy of Peru offers a broad overview of Peruvian diplomatic history from 1821 to 1991. Using printed primary and secondary sources almost exclusively, the book’s 269 pages include a brief introduction and conclusion, ten chapters of text, an excellent 20-page bibliography, and a very good index. Seven chapters (143 pages) discuss events from the declaration of independence in 1821 to the election of Augusto Leguía in 1908; three (70 pages) deal with the period between 1908 and 1991.
The book logically focuses on Peru’s continuous boundary disputes with its neighbors, along with the the War of the Pacific, its precursor events, and its aftermath. Other important issues, such as the interplay of internal politics and foreign affairs; relations with Europe, Japan, and the United States; and international economic and military matters, are given inadequate treatment. Indeed, the book treats twentieth-century diplomatic history much too cavalierly, particularly the interwar and World War II years—the period of Ronald St. John’s particular expertise. Although the author provides a cogent synthesis of that very complex era, 20 pages seem insufficient for a discussion of the very important economic, political, and ideological events that helped shape Peru’s foreign relations for several decades.
The book’s major weaknesses, however, stem from the author’s tendency to overstate the importance of his work and deliver less than he promises. The book offers no major historical reinterpretation of Peruvian foreign policy, as the author claims; contains no “detailed analysis” of the forces that have helped shape Peru’s foreign policy since independence; and fails to show the Peruvian experience to be “a case study in the general issue area of Third World foreign policy (p. xi). It is difficult to achieve all the desired goals when the twentieth century is allotted a mere 70 pages.
Such criticism, however, is not intended to discourage readers. This work is a useful addition to the very scarce literature in English on Peruvian foreign policy. Indeed, this is the only work that offers both specialists and nonspecialists a handy guide to and explanation of Peru’s many disputes, treaties, agreements, and policies in a coherent, well-researched, and balanced fashion.