Ralph Peters Proposes an “Atlantic Strategic Network”

The Autumn issue of Parameters is up, and has several good things in it. It has an article by Ralph Peters, who is always worth reading, for the force of his rhetoric as well as the merits of his ideas, some of which are offbeat, but never less than interesting. Peters makes a bunch of points, in his inimitable fashion, though a little more haphazardly than usual. But, let’s go ahead and hang onto his stirrup-strap as he charges ahead. You can either read my many quotes and pithy commentary below, or just go read the article.

First, Peters tells us, policy-makers give up too easily on Africa and South America, because they are too Eurocentric, even racist, and set in their ways. He then proposes a new Atlantic entity, whose outlines remain blurry even on repeated re-reading:

Nor is this about forging a neo-classical American empire. Rather, it’s about creating strategic partnerships to supercede our waning relations with continental Europe and about structuring alternatives to an over reliance on the states, populations, and markets of East Asia. Although the United States, where all the relevant cultures converge, would be the most powerful member of an Afro-Latin-Anglo-American web of alliances, this would be a new kind of informal, democratic network, based on shared interests, aligning values, cultural fusion, and mutual advantage.

This proposal sounds pretty similar to Jim Bennett’s notion of a “Network Commonwealth”(discussed here):

Far from a centralizing federation, the best form of association is what I call a “network commonwealth”: a linked series of cooperative institutions, evolved from existing structures like trade agreements, defense alliances, and cooperative programs. Rather than despising the variable geometry principle, it would embrace it, forming coalitions of the willing to respond to emerging situations.

That’s Bennett. Notice how he is more concrete, focusing on existing institutions and building on those to create an articulated Anglosphere. Peters’ posited unifying elements for his proposed “community” are a lot more diffuse, maybe even imaginary. Institution-building for such a community is not even started, probably not even contemplated. Not yet, anyway. So Peters’ proposal is all very much a chalkboard exercise at this point.

Anyway, Peters goes on to invoke America’s frontier spirit to buttress his proposed “Southern” policy approach:

America always has done best on frontiers, from our own West through technological frontiers to our pioneering of the society of the future, in which gender, racial, and religious equality increasingly prevail (to the horror of our enemies, foreign and domestic). And the great human frontiers of the 21st century lie to our south.

I find that a bit of a stretch, actually.

Peters goes on to tell us that Old Europe is at odds with America in all kinds of ways, which is manifestly so, and that the Arab/Muslim world is going to be a hopeless basket case effectively forever, so we shouldn’t get our hopes up about anything good happening there:

Especially since 9/11, the deteriorating civilization of the Middle East has demanded our attention. But we must avoid a self-defeating strategic fixation on the Arab Muslim world and self-destructive states nearby. Any signs of progress in the Middle East will be welcome, but the region overall is fated to remain an inexhaustible source of disappointments.

Now that sounds pretty well-grounded in reality.

Peters also says that Asia (for reasons he leaves vague) is not going to be a big pay-off area for us, either. So, the USA, cooperating with Britain, should focus on developing Africa and South America. He makes a muted “Anglospherist” argument:

While the most oppressive and corrupt colonial powers of the 20th century, notably France, watch their influence fade in Africa (President Bush’s visit to Senegal was calculated to show the flag in a developing power vacuum), the British legacy has been profoundly different. The French, Belgians, and others left behind a system of corrupt economies in service to statist governments. The British left behind a belief in the rule of law, democracy, and human betterment. Despite the suffering and tribulations of black Africans in British colonies, the colonized learned to value the colonist’s ideals for his own country even as they despised and fought against the colonist himself. The vile Apartheid regime in South Africa and the white-supremacy policies of Ian Smith’s Rhodesia could not destroy the legacy of the missionary school’s lessons about the Magna Carta, elected parliaments, and fair play. Those colonized by the British kept more than the sport of cricket for themselves. They also kept a belief in constitutions.

But then Peters takes an unexpected turn, and discusses engaging Spain and, surprisingly, Portugal as fellow “Atlantic” powers in the development of these regions. So the Hispanosphere and the Lusosphere will be joining the Anglosphere in this Southern Hemisphere strategy:

… with Spain vibrantly democratic and economically successful (for the first time in four centuries), Madrid has rediscovered its long-lost empire and seeks to engage it in emulation of Britain’s Commonwealth. In Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, Spain found a visionary. While his party may suffer because of his unpopular support for the war to depose Saddam Hussein, he did not let opinion polls dictate his actions. Aznar did what he believed to be necessary and right, not only in the sense of ridding the world of a dangerous dictator, but in recognizing that Spain’s greatest potential for market expansion and diplomatic influence lies in working constructively with the United States, its fellow Atlantic power, rather than slavishly following the dictates of continental states with profoundly divergent interests. Spanish investors have sunk billions into Latin America, and they are in for the long haul. They want cooperation, not confrontation, with the United States.

… Portugal’s small size and lack of strategic power paradoxically offer it recuperative advantages. Mozambique and Angola, for example, do not fear creeping recolonization from the Iberian Peninsula—they’re more concerned about South African “economic imperialism.” Portugal has a surprisingly laissez-faire relationship with its former colonies, where its cultural influence is still felt profoundly and welcomed. Should Portugal recognize its future where its past greatness lay, in Africa and South America, it could serve as an essential bridge between its former colonies and other states in the Atlantic strategic network.

(Peters brief comments on Spain are consistent with the very good article Spain’s Military-Strategic Outlook which appeared in Parameters in 1997. Spain appears to be playing its few strategic cards very well in recent years.)

Peters then offers an interesting view that South Africa is in fact in better shape than most people seem to think, and will be able to play a major role in the future development of Africa:

Consider, briefly, the most promising major country on the continent— South Africa. If you only read the statistics from afar—HIV-infection rate, 30 percent or higher; unemployment rate, 40 percent or higher; up to three million AIDS orphans; low levels of literacy; astronomical crime rates—you would conclude that South Africa is on the brink of becoming a failed state. The visitor, on the other hand, sees a coalescing multiracial society that has done an astonishing (if still imperfect) job of overcoming historical hatreds. Much of the infrastructure is world-class. The government is serious about fighting corruption, improving living conditions for the poor, and expanding educational opportunities. South African boardrooms are no longer populated only by white faces, and South African firms invest in the rest of the continent and beyond (earlier this year, for example, South African Breweries bought Miller Breweries in the United States, and SAB-Miller also has extensive investments in China). Elsewhere, some Africans fear South African “economic imperialism.” And the infamous “white flight” of the early days of majority rule has reversed itself, with emigres returning to South Africa from abroad.

Despite many grave challenges, South Africa appears programmed for success on a continental scale. Events still could derail the country’s future, but it now appears that South Africa, not Nigeria, is destined to become the continent’s leader and moral beacon. Indeed, any Africa policy that does not strive for close relations with South Africa as a fundamental objective could achieve only partial, localized successes.

Hmmm. I hope he is right. Maybe South Africa really can play the role of the Anglospheric lead country in reforming and reorganizing Sub-Saharan Africa. (I’d given up on the place, figuring it would eventually go the way of Tanzania and Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, straight into the crapper.)

The weirdest thing in this piece is Peters has all this nice stuff to say about Fidel Castro, whom he calls a “great visionary”. What? I’ll hold to my view that Castro is a worthless commie piece of shit who (I hope) will one day go the way of Ceausescu — shot like a rat at the dump.

Anyway, this essay is more a bunch of unfinished thoughts from Peters than a coherent proposal or even a linear argument. But it has some good stuff in it, based in part on his recent visits to several of the locales discussed.

The bottom-line is, I suppose, whether there really is enough potential in South America and Africa that America can or should reorient itself to focus on them more. I tend to think not. The money is still in bilateral trade with Europe and East Asia and the security threats are from the Middle East and a few other places, like North Korea. The incentives are not in place for any such major reorientation as Peters seems to be suggesting.

This piece is, truth be told, not in the same league as Peters’ many truly brilliant articles, like Stability, America’s Enemy, Our Soldiers, Their Cities or The New Warrior Class. His two books, Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World and Fighting for the Future: Will America Triumph?, which collect his essays, are both worth getting and reading.)

6 thoughts on “Ralph Peters Proposes an “Atlantic Strategic Network””

  1. I’m not so sure about Africa, it seems like the typecasting as “basketcase” is actually pretty accurate, not racist. But I agree 100% about Latin America and especially Mexico. We really need to refocus our efforts on these countries. Most South American countries seem on the brink of doing what their neighbor Chile has done if only they could just be nudged that little bit, and if Mexico could solve its many problems, the benefits to the US would be huge. Imagine if Mexico was basically a Spanish Canada? This should be one of our biggest priorities. Bush was focusing on Mexico before 9/11 but what was he focusing on other than amnesty? Amnesty doesn’t strike me as the answer. The answer is making Mexico a place that Mexicans don’t want to leave. NAFTA was probably the biggest and best step in that direction recently. I saw somewhere, maybe it was Victor Davis Hanson, said that all the Mexican immigration was delaying reforms in Mexico because all the people who want a better life just leave instead of agitating for reform. This strikes me as right.

  2. Damned good post, Steve. The frustrating thing is that the Mexicans, somewhat like the old saw about the Palestinians, ” never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The potential mutual benefits to the US and Mexico of a united front, or de facto alliance, fly off the page. Hell, just call it teamwork or close cooperation, if nothing else.

    NAFTA seemed a tentative step in that direction, but Mexico’s recent stance in the UN Security Council manuverings seemed a step back. We saw Mexico playing the role of Canada there, but unfortunately it was Canada in its frivolous European mode. Fox turned out to be a man of small vision, not a vigorous leader of a revved up Mexico…

    American integration into a hemispheric bloc seems more realistic to me than Bennett’s notion of an Anglosphere extending long into the future. Britain is eliding into a European something. Its direction may be slow and fitful, but that is it its direction. What Australia and NZ have to offer us as partners pales in comparison to what central and south America do.

    Perhaps only another generation is needed for all out southern neighbors to get past their traditional–but outdated–fears of Yanqui domination, and hopes for socialism, and regard for Europe as cultural pole star.

    We may come to be seen as the only game in town as they watch Europe decline into population/pension troubles, secularism, etc.

    The Chicago boys helped Chile out a lot. I don’t suppose an equivalent effort to assist the entire continent is realistic, but maybe just the increased contact will have a similar effect over time.


  3. Hmmmm….

    “What Australia and NZ have to offer us as partners pales in comparison to what central and south America do.” I disagree. They offer us orderly, law-abiding trading partners. The Spanish-speaking countries are nowhere near as valuable to us, other than as primary producers of oil, beef, etc.

    “Perhaps only another generation is needed for all out southern neighbors to get past their traditional–but outdated–fears of Yanqui domination, and hopes for socialism, and regard for Europe as cultural pole star.” No. What took 400 years to develop won’t change in a generation.

    Peters’ best idea is to encourage Spain and Portugal to look outward to their former colonies, and form communities akin to the emerging Anglosphere, and avoid the death-grip of the EU.

    All that said, the US should do what it can for South America and Africa. We just shouldn’t expect too much to come of it.

  4. Lex–I ask you to consider the following: The combined population of Australia and New Zealand is 24 million.

    The combined population of Latin America and the West Indies is 545 million.

    I know which market I would cultivate.

    Latin America and the West Indies are at our elbow. The distance from Miami to Sao Paulo is just over 4000 miles. The distance from San Franciso to Sydney is almost twice that.

    We may live in a fiber optic age of hesto-presto, but a mile is still a mile. It takes time and energy to exchange commodities–and expenditures of time and energy affect profit margins.

    Goods between the US and most of our southern neigbors can be transported by truck, or conceivably even railroad.

    The natural resources of Latin America and the West Indies are immense.

    That sort of strictly economic case could continue to be made, but I want to switch to a different one–the realm of the spirit.

    Both the US and Latin America are deeply religious, i.e. Christian. Unlike Britian, Canada, Oz, Nz, etc. Christianity remains a vital force all over our hemisphere. It is moribund in all of the so-called Anglosphere, except the US. Indeed, it has become an area of contention among English speakers. Nothing creeps out our fellow English speakers more than our Christianity. Any level of committment at all is dismissed as “fundamentalism.”

    Not only does North American Christianity not creep out Latin Americans, many of them –many, many, of them–have spent the last 25 years converting to a specifically North American variety of Christianity.

    Marxist, “Liberation” theology is dead south of our border. Neither traditional Catholicism nor the newer Evangelical strains of Christianity are staring death in the face.

    This shared religion bodes well for shared public policies–both social and economic– over the long term. The two religious outlooks may not be a perfect match, but they match. Christianity and disdain for Christianity don’t match. Serious collisons are inevitable among people who define justice differently, at least beyond a certain limit of difference.

    The absolute worst thing that the Spanish speakers of Latin America could do would be to “form communities” with their former European colonizers. In fact, the absolute worst thing that Africans, Polynesians, or Mongolians could do would be to “form communities” or integrate their cultural and economic lives with Europe.

    Europe barely exists at all anymore except as a geographical term. It has been one wild oscillation after another for over 200 years. Time and again, anguish gives way to utopianism which gives way to anguish. Bizarre superstitions like Fascism and Communism arise out of psychic misery point to a glorious future, then collapse. All the presuppositions about spiritual realities that guided Europeans for millenia have been jettisoned, even reversed. In the 1950s human life, according to Europeans, was absurd and meaningless. By the 1980s that had become even more dreadful–life was simply a tooth-and-claw power struggle carried out by devious elites. Now the glorious vision phase is beginning anew with the EU.

    Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, have no life in Europe, but they do in our hemisphere, as, of course, does Christ. For Latin Americans to slip into an atmosphere where they breathed in Nietzcheism–in either its manic or depressive phase– rather than the bracing air of traditional Western thought would be disastrous. So would it be for anyone else.

    “The problem with socialism is socialism” goes the old saying, “the problem is capitalists is capitalists.” As Europe becomes more anti-Christian–let us be frank–even its capitalism will become a horror, just as its socialisms did.

    May Latin America be spared much entanglement with that.

    Beyond religion, Americans share a history of throwing off European domination. I’d like to see us build on that, our republican triumphs over despotism. American political thought is brilliant. For models of durable institutions–and for the presuppositions that underlie them–Latin Americans should keep their eyes focused on the US.

    The mutual benefits are awesome if we become a hemispheric bloc.

    People with shared linguistic histories will always have some links. Our literatures have given voice to our values, but why kid ourselves that Chaucer, Shakespeare and Milton continue to play that role for English speakers? They don’t. Nor does Cervantes for our southern neighbors.

    The embedded linguistic wisdom inherent in folk sayings, jokes, proverbs will, of course, continue in some sense to make English speakers recognizable to each other as once related. And so also with Spanish speakers.

    But a new marriage in our hemisphere between north and south would invigorate and safeguard both of us.

    The world isn’t new but potential alignments are, and I haven’t even touched on defense arrangements…

  5. George, I a few responses. First, I don’t think it is either/or. We can and should trade with anybody who has cash. But, I don’t the gross measures of numbers tells you much. A billion people who can’t get their act together are less valuabel neighbors and trading partners than 24 million people who are prosperous and orderly and reliable. Proximity is a non-issue, too, for reasons too lengthy to go into here. We’ll have to agree to disagree. On the issues of how religious Latin America is, I’m not sure how much difference it makes for these purposes. I am a devout Roman Catholic, as it happens, but I don’t see that Catholicism or the Catholic heritage in Latin America has much to do with whether or not Latin America will become a major economic player and hence trading partner in the foreseeable future. I don’t think their popular culture is much more morally pure than ours, for example. Mexican TV shows are on at every Mexican restaurant in Chicago, and they are clearly at least as vulgar as anything we’ve got. So any “moral decay” argument doesn’t go too far, either. It is interesting that your loathing for Europe so far exceeds my own more mild animosity. That is rare.

    Let me end up by making a sincere suggestion. I am happy to have your thoughtful comments on the blog. And I have seen your similar comments on Edge of England’s Sword. You have a strongly held and idiosyncratic point of view, and you write coherently and forcefully. You should start your own blog, which you apparently don’t have. Keep commenting, by all means. We are happy to have our ChicagoBoyz team of out-of-house backbenchers weigh in. But you may as well organize these ideas into more coherent essays, rather than be reactive to the posts of others, and post them yourself, and offer your commentary on the events of the day from your perspective, and explain the books you’ve read or whatever that lead you to think as you do. I’d read it. I won’t agree much, but that’s OK. Let 100 flowers bloom.

  6. Beyond the mutual economic benefits there are to paying more attention to Latin America, there are serious security benefits as well. If these states fail, we could have a lot of problems on our hands.

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