Media Center



November 9, 1994 - Washington, DC

"One of the most complex challenges for the international system is the organization of collective action. Today, we are faced with a growing number of problems that escape national grasp and have regional, if not global implications. These situations can not be resolved without coordinated action by the international community."

First I would like to thank the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and the Center for Latin Studies for the occasion to address you tonight. I have had the opportunity to spend some time here at Georgetown trying to learn about the art and science of leadership.
Perhaps I did not learn my lessons well, but I came away from that experience with a very deep admiration for the quality of education and of the academic work of Georgetown University. You are privileged to be a part of one of the best universities in the United States. There is no doubt that you are attending one of the leading schools in international relations.
You have invited me to speak about the future of the inter-American system. This invitation is in itself revealing because it suggests that you believe that there could be a future for the oldest multilateral agency in the international system. Unfortunately, there are those who do not share this optimism.
For many in Washington and other capital cities, the Organization of American States is merely a relic of the past, a stage for Latin American debate. These stereotypes are not only unfair, but reflect a narrow vision and a lack of understanding about the dynamics of international relations. In fact, there probably has never been a better time for the development of the inter-American system. This is what I want to explore with you tonight.
To speak about the future of the inter-American system one must have a vision. One must believe in the ideal of a common destiny. Because of this belief, when I set about to prepare for tonight my initial instinct was to craft a passionate presentation about my ideas about hemispheric integration, continental unity and the role the OAS could play in all of this.
However, my years in politics have taught me that the most perfect visions and the purest ideals are worthless unless they are deeply rooted in a clear and pragmatic understanding of political realities. Tonight, I am speaking of international and hemispheric politics. That is why I would like to begin with a conceptual overview of the OAS as a multilateral actor within the international system.
One of the most complex challenges for the international system is the organization of collective action. Today, we are faced with a growing number of problems that escape national grasp and have regional, if not global implications. These situations can not be resolved without coordinated action by the international community. Unfortunately, what is obvious in theory is in reality difficult to implement.
International organizations are the most natural vehicles for collective action. Multilateral agencies are in essence, political bodies. As such, they reflect the distribution of power and the dynamics of the international system. No organization, no matter how perfect its char-ter, can escape international realities. Its reach and potential are sharply defined by the surrounding environment.
I don’t want to sound too deterministic, however, there is no doubt that multilateral organi-zations are the legitimate children of the international system within which they exist. Each crisis, each rupture, and restructuring of the international system introduces a new wave of international organizations as well as change in the existing institutions.
As many have noted, the more power in the international system is polarized and concentrated, the less room there is for collective action. During the decades of bipolarism, the East-West confrontation allowed for a minimal margin of multilateral action. In a "zero-sum" environment—such as the Cold War—there is no room for the "positive sum" game of multilateral politics.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the strategic confrontation between communism and capitalism, the international system has become more open, power has become more dispersed, new actors have entered the scene, and interests have become more diverse. This atmosphere of greater pluralism facilitates internationalism, multilateralism, and collective action.
The dynamic I have just described is most obvious in the evolution that the United Nations has experienced over the last decade. At the beginning of the 1980s, in the days of Star Wars and of the Contras, the United Nations was perceived by the United States as a useless bureaucracy serving the interests only of the Communists and the Third World. The U.S. tried to impose a slow death by withdrawing from its agencies and failing to pay its dues.
All this changed with the arrival of Gorbachev and the slow breakdown of the Soviet Bloc. With the emergence of a new world order, multilateralism was reborn like a rising phoenix.
Who could have believed it? The United States and its allies defeated Sadam Hussein with the blessing of the United Nations and the active support of all the great powers, including the ex-Soviet Union.
What this means is that in a more pluralistic international system, such as the one in which we live today, there is a clear preference for collective action over unilateral action. This is one of the reasons why I believe the objective conditions are being created for the strengthening of multilateralism in the Americas. This is an opportunity we can not miss.
In a system characterized by strategic confrontation, that external and internal legitimacy of unilateral action is born of the necessity to survive, of the urgent need to prevail over the enemy. In a pluralistic and balanced world, unilateralism enjoys less acceptance by the domestic constituencies as well as by the international community. It was for good reason that the Bush Administration spent an enormous amount of time and effort in securing the support and approval of the U.N. Security Council for Desert Storm. And more recently, the Clinton Administration rightly sought the international endorsement of the Haiti operation.
It is no longer that easy today to act around the world without the consent of the international community and without the legitimacy of a multilateral mandate. Therein lies one of the most important foundations upon which to broaden the scope and reach of international organizations. It is not that we naively believe that the OAS or the United Nations have the ability to stop a country set upon acting in its own perceived national interests. However, it is a fact that in today’s world, there is more power in these organizations to act effectively.
In the past, nuclear power and the risk of retaliation prevented foolish actions. In the same way today, political rejection by the international community, the potential for multilateral sanctions or punitive actions contribute to the maintenance of order.
The point I want to stress is that today, multilateral organizations can exercise a great deal of influence in international events. They can serve to legitimize as well as to arbitrate what is acceptable for the international community. This regained clout broadens the horizons of international organizations. It can be used to promote collective action and solidarity.
There is another common sense reason why the world is moving toward multilateralism. Collective action is more affordable, more cost-effective, and more efficient than unilateralism, both in economic and political terms. In the absence of strategic threats, there is very little incentive or political will to expend economic, political, and human resources in order to guarantee peace, balance, and order in the international system. Peoples and governments prefer to invest in growth and jobs rather than policing the world.
One of the unavoidable consequences in a more secure and less belligerent world is a greater degree of isolationism. And the best way to defeat this isolationism without any domestic political implications is through multilateralism. Sharing burdens and distributing the re-sponsibilities in a broad way seems to be the purpose of the principal international actors.
Paradoxically, the more countries are isolated, the more effective action is required from international organizations. What I am saying is, effective multilateral action today is highly feasible and cost-effective for member states of our organizations. We should take advan-tage of this asset.
Let me focus now on the OAS. The primary responsibility of the Organization is political action to defend, promote and develop democracy. Until recently, the commitment to democracy was more a matter of doctrine and words than of action. The fact that the Organization was also a victim of the unilateralism of the Cold War and of the lack of trust arising from a long history of "big stick" politics in the Hemisphere, prevented the OAS from effectively fulfilling its true mandate. With the end of the Cold War, the re-establishment of popularly elected governments in the Americas, and more pro-active decisions—such as the Santiago Commitment, the Declaration of Managua and the Washington Protocol—a new era of opportunity has begun at the Organization.
The role played by the OAS in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru and Suriname, just to mention a few examples, demonstrates the enormous potential for collective initiative. But OAS action on this front can be even more energetic and ambitious.
Crises that sweep away institutions and democratic principles are perhaps the Organization’s most complex challenge. In a crisis situation, it has never been easy for the OAS to strike the proper balance between the concerns of national sovereignty and the need to protect democracy and peace in the region.
Paradoxically, at times an overly zealous determination to safeguard the principle of non-intervention begets paralysis, diminishing the chances for the OAS to effectively manage and solve problems. Inaction strengthens non-democratic forces. It also invites outsiders— such as the UN Security Council—to take charge. This amounts to a relinquishment of our right to solve our own problems in our Hemisphere.
In the past, the OAS was used to legitimize unilateralism rather than to spur collective action; to counterbalance US power rather than to solve Hemispheric problems. But the time has come, and as we discussed previously, the circumstances are ripe to generate confidence and a renewed spirit of cooperation enabling the OAS to forge a true consensus for action.
Much progress has been made toward bringing the Hemisphere closer to the ideal of collective action. Democracy, once the exception, has become the rule. Statism and trade barriers have fallen, giving way to private initiative, economic and state reform, integration and increased openness. Those who fueled conflicts now wish to mend their ways and place human dignity above any political or ideological consideration.
At last, we share the same values and the same principles. Now, our collective task is to implement that vision and to create the instruments that will allow us to stay together and to guarantee that the specters of the past remain in their graves.
I am convinced, as I hope you are, that the OAS play a central role in consolidating what has already been achieved and in defeating the enemies of change.
However, without a strong and proactive inter-American system, without an indisputable mandate and effective tools for action, we will not be able to promote democracy, freedom, trade, growth and social progress. Ultimately, without the will, our aspirations today will only be a bright but short-lived moment in time.
The initiative of the President of the United States to invite the chief executives of the Americas to join the designing the future of the Hemisphere and define their common aims is the perfect occasion we are looking for. For the first time in the history of the Hemi-sphere, the democratic leaders of all of the Americas have the chance, together, to realize our collective dream.
To really take advantage of the positive trends in favor of multilateralism this cannot be just a Summit of words. The inter-American system cannot survive another episode of empty rhetoric and unfulfilled promises. This must be a Summit with a practical agenda, that establishes a policy framework, that launches initiatives, and assigns responsibilities.
In fact, this will be the best opportunity the OAS will have to transform itself into a mean-ingful, modern and active protagonist in building the future of the continent. Let me describe, in broad strokes, what could be the agenda and the mandate for the Organization of American States.
The principal responsibility of the OAS clearly is political action to defend, promote, and develop democracy. There should be no doubt that the major topic on the inter-American agenda at the close of the century is the strengthening of the democratic state in the Hemi-sphere. Hence, the Organization should play an increasingly comprehensive and ambitious role in three directions:
First, the OAS should play a direct role in handling conflicts that threaten democracy in the Hemisphere.
Second, the OAS should be enabled to anticipate and dismantle, as early as possible, pressures that eventually could undermine democratic institutions. Much suffering could have been avoided had these destructive forces been anticipated and political and diplomatic action taken, early on.
Third, the OAS should expand dramatically its activities aimed at strengthening democracy through institution-building, promotion of electoral transparency, and the nurturing of a democratic culture throughout the region.
If we do not complete the task of consolidating the hold of democracy throughout the entire Hemisphere, discussing the future of the inter-American system will be meaningless.
The Summit, to be successful, must be able to balance our eagerness to promote economic modernization with the demand of the people for political change, democratic participation, and the satisfaction of the basic needs of the forgotten of our Hemisphere.
In recent years, substantial progress has been made in the area of trade and investment. Apart from the many bilateral agreements concluded, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the G-3 agreement have been signed; MERCOSUR, the Andean Pact, CARICOM, and the Central American Common Market continue to become stronger. There are no less than 23 trade liberalization agreements throughout the whole region.
The Summit of the Americas has to directly address this new reality and create the conditions to maintain consistent progress in economic reform, trade liberalization and integration. To get there the Summit must, first of all, send a clear message with a strong voice, stating that free and equitable trade is what the people of the Americas want. The vision of an integrated Hemisphere must be strengthened in the Summit.
Also, it will be wise if the Summit approach to trade goes beyond the discussion of accession to NAFTA. What we really need to decipher is which is the best way to move ahead in the convergence of the multiple trade arrangements that have flourished in the Americas, including NAFTA. The OAS could certainly contribute in guiding and encouraging that process.
For many who hear me now claiming a new role for the OAS, my aspirations may indeed sound optimistic. I am aware of the skepticism the Organization awakens in those who lost faith many years ago. Let me tell them that I was not elected to manage the status quo.
The OAS is going to change. So, let me challenge you who are preparing to enter the foreign policy community of your country, to join us in the historic opportunity that lies ahead. What happens in the next few years will set the stage for your generation to lead. The OAS will rise to the occasion. By working together, we can make a difference.