By Dylan Bokler, International Relations (USAL - UofG)
Argentina finds itself, at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century, in a difficult position at the international stage. With a future that is unclear, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and a global economic recession, Buenos Aires has little room for maneuver.
Since 2011, Argentina has been living a financial meltdown. Poverty has increased, its industrial and agricultural complex its old and unprepared for the challenges of the present, foreign investment has been declining thanks to political instability and the lack of legal certainty and its foreign debt has lead the country to be in the brink of total default several times.
During the last few decades, Argentina’s role in the international concert of nations has been one of self-isolation, attempts of collaboration and overall, the search for a never achieved autonomy. The changes between governments in matters of foreign policy are abrupt, it has been nearly impossible to maintain a similar path since 1983. Only the Malvinas sovereignty claim, with its nuances, and the support for international organizations such as the WTO, the ICC or UN agencies like UNESCO or the WHO has been a constant for the diplomats at the San Martin Palace.
The promises of regional integration, that were thought during the years of re-democratization, are vanished; Latin America is a complex network of neglected sub continental organizations that have not achieved the goals for what they have been created. The SELA, the Andean Community, ALADI, ALALC, CELAC, CARICOM, UNASUR, ALBA, PROSUR, the count goes on.
Argentina during the 80s strengthened its relationship with Brazil with the objective of preventing a military and nuclear conflict. The Alfonsin-Sarney bilateral talks were the ground from where the MERCOSUR was built, the aim was imitating the successful European integration process. But the goal of having a common market at the south of the America’s it isn’t a reality, for most specialist it’s only an imperfect customs union. Today the imbalance between large and small countries and the differences between more liberal and protectionist nations has led the MERCOSUR to a period of stagnation. The trade agreement with the European Union, in 2019 it was reached an agreement in principle, must be approved in the national parliaments of both regional organizations, already countries like Austria and Ireland expressed their preoccupation and distrust of its content demonstrating that the process it’s going to be long and difficult.
With a region divided and fragmented by political orientation, and different levels of integration desires, Argentina needs to be more pragmatic than never before. In a world that would face an important economic recession, where protectionist policies are being implemented in many countries, Argentina must take an intelligent approach to the way it conducts its position at the global stage. Buenos Aires needs dollars, for its foreign debt and for maintaining the important deficit the country is going to have after increasing public expenditure to expand its welfare state and strengthening the subsidies for the poorest citizens, nearly half of the population.
The need for foreign currency, a permanent problem for the modern Argentina, it’s also restricted by the trade war between the established world hegemon, the United States of American, and the rising power, China. Latin America has been always more connected to its northern neighbor, due to its shared history and cultural values, but the asiatic giant its expanding its global alliances and has become the most important trading partner, and investor, of most of the countries of the region.
China’s approach to the region was taken during a time when the United States was looking more to the pacific than to its south and Beijing has profited of this “distraction”, not only to buy raw materials for its growing population, but also to become an important energy, military and geopolitical ally for many Latin American nations. For example Argentina in 2015, during a state visit of the former president Cristina Kirchner, signed an agreement with China to cooperate on space activities, one year after the Beijing based CTLC (China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General) started to build a space station in the Province of Neuquén.
The inclusion of countries of our region to the One belt, One road initiative, and on international organizations promoted by Beijing, would present a dilemma for its leadership, a discussion that’s also happening in Europe where the decision to embark on the building of the 5G network by the technologic giant Huawei has been different among the members of the European Union.
Argentina, also, finds itself in a unique position. During the first decade of the 21st century, thanks to the large revenues generated by soybean exports, had more autonomy, in a way, to embark on an aggressive approach to the United states and Europe. With the effects of the 2008 crisis, the approach that was taken by the Argentinian government was of geopolitical continuity, in a world that was not the same as before. Even the desires for more regional integration, that in a way was supported by the good economic situation of the Latin-American countries, and to the (So- called) “Pink tide”, started to fade away after the crisis. Nevertheless, Argentina still pressed to confront with the west, in a time where the crisis in former allies such as Brazil and Venezuela suppressed their role in the subcontinent, and its economic isolation due to its conflict with the hold outs, holding hands with the Russia Federation and China.
Today, Argentina is not in the same situation as it was at the beginning of the century. The Pink House its more restrained if it wants to conduct a foreign policy based more on political and ideologic stances. Argentina needs the support of the west and the east, it needs to find multipolarity in a world that has become more polarized than ever before. As the third largest economy of the region, and the eight largest country in the world, with a land full of natural, material, and human resources, there is the need to rethink the way it approaches the world, with the objective to recover its centrality in Latin American diplomacy and to build a 21st century economic complex, as the largest software exporter of the region and the home of important technological companies ,such as Mercado Libre and Globant, the capacity exists.
The political elite of Argentina, most of the time, has looked to the world as a dichotomy: to be allies of the West or the East, to form trade partnerships with the south or the north, to promote our abilities as an agro-livestock economy or to build an industrial complex focused on internal consumption, to partner with China or the United States. Most of these dichotomies are false ones. There can be an intermediate way where we can have an intelligent relationship with both superpowers to build an economy not only centered on exporting raw materials but also software, services, and machines for farming.
There are excellent opportunities for building commercial links with the growing economies of Asia-Pacific, such as India, that its becoming an interesting market for Argentina, the countries that are part of ASEAN, where the whole MERCOSUR could find new partnerships, and the most important African nations such as Ethiopia, Angola, Mozambique and Nigeria, that would be among the most populated countries of the world, with a young work force, that would have the need not only for raw materials but also for manufactured goods.
The post pandemic world its not going to be much different from the world we have been living since the 2008 crisis, it would accelerate processes, there would be clear consequences but it would also create new opportunities at the same time. Argentina finds itself, once again, facing an economic crisis and a divided political environment, but the possibilities of having a sustainable growth exist. The answer could be not falling in false dichotomies and being committed to build an intelligent and pragmatic foreign policy to find new markets all over the world. There is the need to have an strategic mindset to reflect on the problems we face as a region and as a global community.
Jose de San Martin once said, “The conscience is the best and most impartial judge that a righteous man has”. We shall see if Argentina’s conscience in this world would follow the advice of one of its founding fathers.
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