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Calls to Invoke the Rio Pact - 2001-09-22


Brazil is the main proponent for re-activating the hemispheric mutual defense treaty known as the Rio Pact in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Representatives of the treaty's 23 signatories are meeting in Washington Friday to discuss actions to counter terrorism.

The Inter-American Reciprocal Assistance Treaty was signed in Rio de Janeiro in 1947 by the United States and 19 Latin American countries. The treaty was viewed as so important at the time that U.S. President Harry Truman traveled to Rio to sign the document.

The Rio Pact, which served as a model for NATO, provides for collective defense against aggression from outside the region. Clearly aimed at the Soviet Union, the Rio Pact became the cornerstone of hemispheric security during the Cold War and eventually 23 countries became members.

But its importance gradually faded, especially after the United States refused to invoke the treaty at the request of Argentina during the 1982 Falklands War and instead backed Britain in that conflict. The demise of the Soviet Union made the Rio Pact become even more irrelevant.

But the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States appears to have changed the situation. Brazilian international affairs expert, Eliezer Riso de Oliveira of the University of Campinas, says the Rio Pact has now been dusted off. "Until now, the treaty seemed destined to remain filed away in a desk somewhere, it was dead from disuse," he says. "But with the terrorist aggression against the United States, the treaty, which is very similar to NATO, was recalled, especially its provision which says an attack from outside the region against one state is an attack against all. So the Rio Treaty, which had been filed away and dead, has now come to life."

Brazil has been the main proponent for reviving the Rio Pact to counter the dangers posed by international terrorism. It successfully persuaded the Organization of American States on Wednesday to convene a meeting in Washington of the pact's 23 members to discuss anti-terrorism measures.

Even though the Rio Pact provides for collective military action, most analysts doubt military assistance will be among the measures adopted by the treaty members. Instead, political scientist Williams Goncalves of the University of Rio de Janeiro believes it is being reactivated as a way to show that Latin America supports any eventual U.S. military action. "Even though the treaty is by nature a military one, in this case its reactivation will be more for political purposes," Mr. Goncalves says. "This is because the United States is not facing a nation that has mobilized its military, the situation now has more to do with intervention than with conventional war. So invoking the Rio Pact has no use militarily but it is useful politically, to legitimize the U.S. action by providing the backing of the Latin American members."

The Brazilian move to reactivate the treaty was opposed by Mexico, which does not consider the Rio Pact an adequate mechanism to face the current threat. It notes that Canada and the countries of the English-speaking Caribbean are not members. Days before the September 11 attacks, Mexican President Vicente Fox in a speech to the OAS called the pact irrelevant and urged that it be dismantled.

But Brazil's lobbying on behalf of the treaty earned the country praise from the United States. The U.S. delegate to the OAS congratulated Brazil for its "bold and visionary leadership."

But some analysts believe Brazil needs to do more if it wants to assume a more effective leadership role in the hemisphere. Specialist Riso de Oliveira says Brazil should consider providing symbolic military assistance to the United States much as Argentina did during the 1991 Gulf War. He says if Argentina again volunteers military support, Brazil should do the same.

"Brazil lost a lot by not participating in the Gulf War. Even former Warsaw Pact countries like Poland provided medical teams in a symbolic important act," Mr. de Oliveira says. "Brazil needs to emerge from the attitude that has prevailed in recent times, to be strong in providing diplomatic support, to be strong in supporting disarmament negotiations, but pretending that the Brazilian armed forces do not exist."

For now, Brazil appears to have ruled this out. Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has said his government supports the United States, but that providing troops for any military action is not, as he put it, in Brazil's tradition.

Instead, the Cardoso administration may be considering hosting a Latin American summit to discuss terrorism in the hemisphere. The Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reports the summit could be held in Rio de Janeiro and deal with issues such as strengthening border controls and sharing intelligence information on suspected terrorist movements.

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