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The refugee crisis continues at the United States’ southern border. Defensive barriers may provide temporary isolating protection. However, this is neither a siege to be held back nor an invasion to be repelled. It is simply about survival. Driven by political, economic and societal collapse from incipient failed states, the migration north from Latin America is a hemispheric crisis.

As an initial response to manage the migrant flood, military operations may be appropriate. Still, the mission of the military is defense and related support to protect the people, territory and interests of the U.S., not police work or humanitarian assistance. Former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis summed it up, “The Department of Defense’s enduring mission is to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation.” Throughout the last century the military and defense has been a key instrument of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, many military leaders now advocate for alliances that go beyond the battlefield. They acutely recognize that in the globalized 21st century, defense must be balanced within a broader, durable, strategic framework.

Smart power is such a balance, coordinating defense, diplomacy and development (3Ds) to achieve foreign policy goals at the lowest possible cost in terms of human, monetary and tangible resources. Currently, however, there is an imbalance of 3Ds: an overemphasis, extension and misapplication of defense, a concomitant leveraged diplomacy and an obsolete international development model, based on a 20th-century paradigm of reactive, ad-hoc aid and assistance.

In the 21st century international development must refocus toward building innovation ecosystems, with coordinated capacity building to simultaneously advance human capital, global networks, institutions and related infrastructure. The goal is to stabilize developing countries by accelerated economic diversification, leapfrogging from commodities (agriculture, petroleum, mining), over industrialization, directly to innovation. For Latin America this is not only important but urgent; decades of over-reliance on commodities and economic stagnation has putrefied into corruption, poverty, failed states and mass migration.

Unlike the zero-sum global struggle for raw resources, partnerships in innovation-based economic development are unlimited. With Latin America, possible partnerships in development could be health innovation with Brazil, agricultural innovation with Colombia, space technology with Argentina, benefiting the entire hemisphere, fostering opportunity, prosperity, stability and peace. A history lesson provides the policy precedent and rationale, a foundation upon which to build.

The Alliance for Progress of the 1960s was a synthesis of the wisdom of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the pragmatism of President John F. Kennedy. As a progressive, bipartisan U.S. policy initiative, the Alliance was initially conceptualized by Eisenhower and several Latin American leaders and subsequently launched by Kennedy, who understood that sustainable development in Latin America, as a bulwark against poverty, oppression and instability, required enduring hemispheric economic cooperation and partnership.

Kennedy’s speech in 1963 is prescient today, calling for a new Alliance built on the premise of a modern interconnected global economy that benefits all: “We are joined together in this Alliance as nations united by a common history and common values. And I look forward to the day when the people of Latin America will take their place beside the United States and Western Europe as citizens of industrialized and growing and increasingly abundant societies.”

Although Alliance programs were largely tangible infrastructure, agriculture and industrialization, a new Alliance for this century should focus on science, technology and innovation, connecting with the global knowledge economy wherein technology transfer and intellectual property transactions drive innovation markets. This will catalyze collaborations, access to research and development investment opportunities and capitalization across the hemisphere.

A new Alliance would likely be an effort greater than the Marshall Plan in the aftermath of World War II. Whereas the Marshall Plan involved physically rebuilding industrialized countries where the human capital, institutions and networks were largely intact, a new Alliance would require a massive and rapid reorientation, from a developing to a developed country innovation economic paradigm. Mobilization of human capital, the most important resource of every country as this century unfolds, is key.

It is time to reignite Kennedy’s vision. A balanced U.S. foreign policy must promote strategic partnerships and accelerate innovative development across Latin America. By building good will, addressing persistent problems and stabilizing the region, this will stem the flood of humanity north. In addition, such efforts will in the short term facilitate access to critical advances in health, agriculture, energy and IT — and in the longer term, cultivate creativity, invention, innovation and legal infrastructure, fostering diversified, interconnected economies to benefit the entire hemisphere.

Ryan J. O’Riordan is a student at University of New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce School of Law. Stanley P. Kowalski is a professor at the law school and director of its International Technology Transfer Institute.


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