▲Satellite imagery of the Jordan River [NASA].
ANALYSIS / Marina Díaz Escudero
Water is an essential natural resource, not only for individual survival on Earth, but also for nation-states and their welfare; having an effect on partner-economic development, trade, health and population productivity.
As a natural determinant of power, its accessibility must be considered by states in their policies on national security; "hydropolitics" being the branch of study for this phenomenon. Although it has been, and continues to be, a major source of inter-state conflict, it is an arena in which cooperation and diplomacy between rival countries can set the ground for further political agreements, effectively leading to more stable and peaceful relations.
On the other hand, when water is used as a natural border or must be shared between various countries, concurrent cooperation between all of them is essential to find an effective and non-violent way to approach the resource. Otherwise, an overlapping of different, and potentially contradictory, bilateral agreements may lead to frictions. If one of the concerned countries is not present in negotiations, as some historical events suggest (e.g. 1992 multilateral negotiations in Moscow, where Lebanon and Syria where not present), this will always constitute an obstacle for regional stability.
Moreover, although 71% of the Earth����s surface is covered by water, factors such as economic interests, climate change, and explosive population growth are also challenging the sustainable distribution of water sources among countries. The future effects of this scarcity in the region will demand consistent political action in the long-term and current leaders should bear it in mind.
Water availability and conflict in the MENA region
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is known as an arid and semi-arid region, with only 1% of the world's renewable water resources. On average, water availability is only 1,200 cubic meters, around six times less than the worldwide average of 7,000 cubic meters.
As global temperatures rise, more frequent and severe droughts will take place in the region and this will make countries which already have partner-economic rivalries more prone to go to war with each other. According to the World Resources Institute, thirteen of the thirty three states that will suffer from worse water scarcity in the twenty-first century will be Middle Eastern countries.
To quote the findings of the National Intelligence Council (NIC) report, Global Trends: Paradox of Progress, more than thirty countries - nearly half of them in the Middle East - will experience extremely high water stress by 2035, increasing economic, social, and political tensions.
Although claims to the land were and are the main motives for much of the current conflict, water, as part of the contested territories, has always been considered as a primary asset to be won in conflict. In fact, recognition of the importance of water lent the term, the "War over Water", to conflicts in the region, and control over the resource constitutes a significant advantage.
Despite there being several water bodies in the Middle East (Nile, Euphrates, Tigris...), the Jordan River basin is one of the most significant ones today in terms of its influence on current conflicts. The Jordan River Basin is a 223 km long river with an upper course from its sources up to the Galilee Sea, and a lower one, from the latter to the Dead Sea. Territories such as Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank are situated to its West, while Syria and Jordan border it to the East. Water scarcity in the Jordan watershed comes from many different factors, but the existence of cultural, religious and historical differences between the riparian countries (situated on the banks of the river) has led to a centuries-long mismanagement of the source.
Tensions between Zionism and the Arab world on regards to the Jordan River became noticeable in the 1950s, when most Arab countries rejected the Johnston Plan that aimed at dividing the water by constructing a number of dams and canals on the different tributaries of the river. The plan was based on an earlier one commissioned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) and was accepted by the water technical committees of the five riparian countries. Nevertheless, the Arab League didn't give the go-ahead and even hardened its position after the Suez Crisis.
In spite of this, Jordan and Israel decided to abide by their allocations and developed two projects, the Israeli National Water Carrier (to transport water from the north to the center and south) and Jordan's East Ghor Main Canal (King Abdullah Canal). In retaliation and with severe consequences, Arab states reunited in an Arab Summit (1964) and decided to divert Jordan's headwaters to the Yarmouk river (for the Syrian Arab Republic and Jordan), depriving Israel of 35% of its Water Carrier capacity.
This provocation led to a series of military clashes and prompted Israel's attack on Arab construction projects; a move that would help precipitate the 1967 Six-Day War, according to some analysts. As a result of the war, Israel gained control of the waters of the West Bank (formely Jordan-annexed in the 1948 war and today still controlled by the Israeli Civil Administration) and the Sea of Galilee (today constituting about 60% of the country's fresh water).
Later, in 1995, by the Article 40 of the Oslo II political agreement, [...] Israel recognized Palestinian water rights in the West Bank and established the Joint Water Committee to manage and develop new supplies and to investigate illegal water withdrawals. Nevertheless, the loss of control over water in the West Bank has never been accepted by neighbouring Arab countries as, despite the agreement, much of the water coming from it is still directly given to Israeli consumers (and only a smaller fraction to Palestinians living under their control).
Role of water in Syrian-Israeli hostilities
Hostilities have been covering the diary of Syrian-Israeli relationships ever since the Armistice Agreements signed by Israel with each of the four neighbouring Arab countries in 1949. This is compounded by the fact that there is seldom mutual agreement with resolutions proposed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
The Golan Heights, a rocky plateau in south-western Syria, was taken away by Israel in the aftermath of the Six-Day War and is still considered an Israeli-occupied territory. In 1974 the Agreement on Disengagement was signed, ending the Yom Kippur War and resulting in the formation of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), a buffer zone separating the Israeli portion of the Golan Heights and the rest of Syria. Although Israel kept most of the Golan Heights territory, in 1981 it unilaterally passed the Golan Heights Law to impose its jurisdiction and administration on the occupied territory (refusing to call it "annexation"). These laws did not receive international recognition and were declared void by the UNSC.
The fact that Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in April 2016 in a weekly cabinet meeting that "the Golan Heights will remain forever in Israeli hands" has once again triggered the rejection of UNSC's members, who have declared that the status of the Heights "remains unchanged".
Rainwater catchment in the Golan Heights feeds into the Jordan River and nowadays provides a third of Israel's water supply. Although "Syria has built several dams in the Yarmouk river sub-basin, which is part of the Jordan River basin", the Golan Heights are likely to remain an important thorn in future Israeli-Syrian relations.
Map of the Jordan River Basin [Palestinian Authority].
Water as a casus belli between Lebanon and Israel
In March 2002, Lebanon decided to divert part of the Hasbani (a major tributary of the Jordan upper course) to supply the Lebanese Wazzani village. Ariel Sharon, the former Prime Minister of Israel, said that the issue could easily become a "casus belli". According to Israel, Lebanon should have made consultations before pumping any water from the Springs, but both the Lebanese government and Hezbollah (a Shi'a militant group) condemned the idea.
The Wazzani project, according to Lebanon, only aimed to redevelop the south by extracting a limited amount of water from the Hasbani; 300 MCM per year (they drew 7 MCM by the time). The actual conflict with Israel began when Lebanon started constructing the pumping station very close to the Israeli border.
The United States (US) decided to establish a State Department water expert in order to assess the situation "and cool tempers" but in 2006, during the Lebanon war, the pumping station and other infrastructures, such as an underground water diversion pipe which run Letani river water to many villages, were destroyed.
Although Israeli-Lebanese tensions have continued due to other issues, such as spying, natural gas control and border incidents, water source domination has been a significant contributor to conflict between the two states.
Inter-Arab conflicts on water allocation
Some inter-Arab conflicts on regards to water distribution have also taken place, but they are small-scale and low level ones. In 1987, an agreement was signed between Jordan and Syria which allowed the latter to build twenty five dams with a limited capacity in the Yarmouk River. Later on it was proved that Syria had been violating the pact by constructing more dams than permitted: in 2014 it had already constructed forty two of them. New bilateral agreements were signed in 2001, 2003 and 2004, but repeated violations of these agreements by Syria in terms of water-allocation became unsustainable for Jordan. Most recently (2012), former Jordan's water minister Hazim El Naser stressed the necessity "to end violations of the water-sharing accords".
Although these are low-level tensions, they could quickly escalate into a regional conflict between Jordan, Syria and Israel, as a decrease of water from the Yarmouk released by Syria to Jordan may prevent Jordan to comply with its commitments towards Israel.
Regional cooperation: from multilateralism to bilateralism
Since the beginning of the last century, attempts to achieve multilateral cooperation and a basin-wide agreement between the five co-riparian countries have been hindered by regional political conflict. Boundary definition, choices about decision-making arrangements, and issues of accountability, together with other political divisions, can help explain the creation of subwatershed communities of interest instead of a major watershed agreement between all neighbour countries.
The Israeli-Palestine peace process begun in 1991 with the Conference in Madrid, attended by all riparians: Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Co-sponsored by the US and the Soviet Union as representatives of the international community, it addressed several regional issues, such as environment, arms control, economic development and, of course, water distribution (in fact, water rights became one of the trickiest areas of discussion).
In 1992, multilateral negotiations about regional cooperation continued in Moscow but this time they were only attended by Israel, the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation and the international community; Syria and Lebanon were not present. "After the failed Johnston plan, external efforts to achieve a multilateral agreement through cooperation on water sources were attempted by the Centre for Environmental Studies and Resource Management (CESAR) [...] As Syria and Lebanon did not want to participate in a process involving Israel, (it) ran parallel processes for Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan on the one hand, and Syria and Lebanon on the other hand".
As a matter of fact, bilateral instruments grew in importance and two treaties, between Israel and Jordan/Palestine respectively, were signed: The Treaty of Peace between The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and The State of Israel (1994) and The Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (Oslo II, 1995). Discussions about water use and joint water management played an important role and were included in the annexes.
In 1996, the Trilateral Declaration on Principles for Cooperation on Water-Related Matters and New and Additional Water Resources was signed by Israel, Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and in 2003 the first two initiated a plan called Roadmap for Peace which included the revival of cooperation on regional issues like water.
Although Israel and Syria started some negotiations to solve the Golan Heights' problem in 2008, after the break out of the Syrian civil war distrust between both actors has increased, leaving the most important thorn in multilateral regional negotatiations still unsolved. Nevertheless, "a new government in Syria after the end of the war may provide new opportunities for improved bi- and ultimately multilateral cooperation," says the FAO. The previous year (2007) Jordan and the Syrian Arab Republic also signed some agreements "in regard to shared water in the Yarmouk river basin".
Role of Non-Governmental Organizations
Civil society has also been an important platform for resource-management discussions between riparian countries.
Middle Eastern rhetoric, according to the BBC, "often portrays the issue of water as an existential, zero-sum conflict - casting either Israel as a malevolent sponge sucking up Arab water resources, or the implacably hostile Arabs as threatening Israel's very existence by denying life-giving water".
For this reason, in 2010, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME, also called EcoPeace Middle East) stressed the importance of replacing this win-lose approach for a compromising perspective of mutual gains for all. In this way, their proposals don't "include quantitative water allocations, but the implementation of a joint institutional structure that is continuously tasked with peaceful conflict resolution over water resources; [...] defining water rights not as the access to a certain water quantity, but as a broader bundle of rights and duties to access and use the available water and to uphold quality and quantity standards".
Through "The Good Water Neighbors" project (2001), the NGO tried to raise awareness about the negative consequences of leaving this issue unmanaged and reiterated its willingness to strengthen "institutional capacities for collaboration in the region". According to the staff, Israel, Jordan and Palestine could develop a certain interdependence, focused on water (Israel to Jordan/Palestine) and solar-generated electricity (Jordan to Palestine/Israel), in order to facilitate the powering of desalination plants and produce more cleanwater for sale.
The use of this type of political support for transboundary cooperation, based on water access but focused on solving less cultural and sensitive problems (like environmental sustainability), as a means to opening up avenues for dialogue on other political issues, could be the key for a lasting peace in the region.
According to Gidon Brombert, co-founder and Israeli director of FoEME, adopting "healthy interdependencies is a powerful way to promote regional water and energy stability as a foundation for long-lasting peace between our people".
A testament to the success of these initiatives is the fact that Jordan and Israel scored 56.67 under the Water Cooperation Quotient (WCQ) 2017, which means that there is currently zero risk of a water-related war between both states (50 is the minimum score for this to apply).
Final key points and conclusions
There is no doubt that water issues have been a key discussion point between riparian countries in the Jordan River watershed since the late nineteenth century, and rightly so, as the only way to achieve a long-lasting peace in the region is to accept that water management is an integral part of political discourse and decisions. Not only because it is an essential factor in the conflicts that arise between states, but because agreements on other political matters could be furthered through the establishment of sound agreements in the hydropolitical arena.
In other words, a "baby-step" approach to politics should be applied: peaceful discussions on this and other matters leveraged to talk about other sources of conflict and utilized to improve political relations between two parties. The Korean conflict is a good example: although both Koreas are far from agreeing with regards to their political outlook, they have been able to cooperate in other fields, such as the Winter Olympic games. Communication during the games was used to subtly suggest avenues for a political reapproachment, which now seems to be progressing satisfactorily.
As for multilateral-bilateral conditions of negotiations, it is important to take into account the fact that the Jordan River basin, mainly due to its geological condition as a watershed, has to be shared by several different countries, five to be exact. This may seem obvious but clearly many actors don't see its implications.
Understandably, it is very difficult for a state to manage various bilateral agreements concerning the same asset with countries that are mutually at odds with one another. Their contents can overlap, creating contradictions and making the achievement of a general arrangement not only disorganised, but also challenging. Notwithstanding, a multilaterally agreed distribution of the basin's water - taking into account the necessities of all riparians simultaneously, could more easily pave the way for further cooperation on other, pressing, political issues.
Last but not least, it is important not to forget about policies related to other regional affairs, and their potential effect on water management. Climate change, for instance, will certainly affect water availability in the MENA region and the Jordan River basin, easily disrupting and modifying past and future agreements on the resource's allocation and distribution. Attention should also be paid to interest groups and to the economic situation of the countries involved in the negotiations, as these will be determinant in states' decisions about the implementation of certain future projects.
The Fleet was restored in 2008 due to the geopolitical alliances of Venezuela
Of the US naval forces, the most often in the news have been the Sixth Fleet (Mediterranean) and the Seventh Fleet (Persian Gulf). The Fourth Fleet usually goes unnoticed. In fact, it is hardly staffed and when it needs ships it must borrow them from other units. However, its restoration in 2008, after its deactivation in 1950, indicates that Washington does not want to neglect security in the Caribbean in the face of the movements of Russia and China.
▲The US S Dwight D. Eisenhower arriving at Mayport, Florida, in 2010 [US Navy].
The Fourth Fleet is part of the United States Southern Command. It is located in Mayport, Florida, and its area of operations are the waters surrounding Central and South America. The ships currently based at Mayport do not strictly belong to the base and as of today they do not have any forward deployed ships in South America. The staff stationed at the fleet is about 160 personnel and a mixture of military, federal civilians and contractors. As part of the US Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO) they work at the shared headquarters and the commander of the Southern Command is also commander of the Fourth Fleet, currently the Rear Admiral Sean S. Buck.
It was originally established in 1943, during Second World War, to protect the US against Axis surface raiders, blockade runners, and submarines. After the war ended in 1945, the FOURTHFLT was only kept active until 1950. At that moment its area of operations was handed over to the Second Fleet, which had just been established to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The FOURTHFLT's operations in the Second Fleet were not yet complete.
The Fourth Fleet was reactivated in 2008, during the presidency of George W. Bush, as a way of monitoring possible threats coming from the anti-US sentiment fueled by the then president of Venezuela, Hugo Chávez. During this time Venezuela was receiving loans from Russia, money which was destined to arms purchases and military development. Later on that year, Venezuela performed a joint naval exercise with Russia in the Caribbean Sea as a way to show support for Russian intentions of growing its geopolitical presence as a counterbalance to US power.
The fact that Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador had a similar ideology to Venezuela gave Washington reasons to reestablish the fleet as a reminder that they were still the sole military power in the Western Hemisphere. Although the territory of US was not threatened, preventing any threat to the free access to the Panama Canal has been a permanent assignment for the South Command. In the last years Russia has sought to expand its military footprint in the Americas, through particular dealings with Cuba and Nicaragua, whereas China has increased its investments in the area for the Panama Canal.
According to the mission statement on the USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT's website, the US Fourth Fleet "employs maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations in order to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and build enduring partnerships that foster regional security in the USSOUTHCOM Area of Responsibility."As mentioned previously, when ships and other equipment are assigned to SOUTHCOM and the Fourth Fleet, they are provided by other Navy commands with wider geographic responsibilities far from the American homeland.
The FOURTHFLT has three main lines of action: Maritime Security Operations, Security Cooperation Activities and Contingency Operations.
-As for its Maritime Security Operations, it currently provides maritime forces to Joint Interagency Task Force South(JIATF South) in support of Operation MARTILLO. The JIATF South "conducts detection and monitoring (D&M) operations throughout their Joint Operating Area to facilitate the interdiction of illicit trafficking in support of national and partner nation security". It uses the resources of the Fourth Fleet or temporarily employs other assets, like the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group or individual ships from other fleets such as the Norfolk, VA-based Fleet Forces Command or the Third Fleet, headquartered in San Diego, California. For its part, the Operation MARTILLO mainly aims to combat international drug trafficking, enhance regional security, and promote peace, stability and prosperity throughout Central and South America. As part of the Operation MARTILLO, in a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard the USS Vandegrift successfully stopped in 2014 a suspicious vessel off the coast of Central America. Security personnel found almost two thousand pounds of cocaine. More recently, in January 2015, the USS Gary and the US Coast Guard successfully seized more than 1.6 metric tons of cocaine from a go-fast vessel. However, the absence of dedicated Fourth Fleet assets demonstrates that its counternarcotics missions are a lower priority for the US Navy than other operations, although they are significantly less demanding, operationally speaking.
-Regarding Security Cooperation Activities, its two main premiere partner nation engagement events are Exercises UNITAS and PANAMAX. UNITAS was conceived in 1959 and first performed in 1960. It is an annual exercise and its purpose is to demonstrate US commitment to the region and to the value of the strong relationships with its partners. PANAMAX dates back to 2003 and it has become one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world. It is primarily focused on ensuring the defense of the Panama Canal, one of the most strategically and economically crucial pieces of infrastructure in the world.
-Finally, the Fleet is always ready to conduct Contingency Operations: basically humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The US Navy's hospital ship regularly travels throughout the Caribbean and Central America area to provide humanitarian support. As part of the program Continuing Promise 2015, the Comfort visited a total of 11 countries, from Guatemala to Dominica, carrying out procedures like general surgery, ophthalmological surgery, veterinary services and public health training. This was the Comfort's fourth trip as part of the Continuing Promise initiative. According to SOUTHCOM, the vessel previously participated in the mission's 2007, 2009 and 2011 incarnations.
Objectives met at reasonable cost
As an integrated part of the Southern Command, the Fourth Fleet has supported SOUTHCOM when dealing with major operations such as the response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. The FOURTHFLT served as the Navy Component Commander during the Operation Unified Response which was the Navy's largest ever contingency response in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
In regards to budgetary implications, spokesperson Ruiz claims SOUTHCOM does not exclusively rely on the US Navy "for maritime resources to accomplish important missions [...] Other important interagency partners, such as the US Coast Guard and US Customs and Border Protection also provide key sea and air platforms and forces to support those missions. Therefore we are looking at a good counterbalance of expense-reward."
In addition to developing effective humanitarian actions, at a limited economic cost, the Fourth Fleet does not fail to fulfill its purpose of helping the United States have a significant presence in the Western Hemisphere in the eyes of the Latin American and Caribbean States, and also of superpowers such as Russia and China.
1. The Second Fleet itself was deactivated in 2011 and reestablished in 2018.
REICH, Simon and DOMBROWSKI, Peter. The End of Grand Strategy. US Maritime Operations In the 21st Century. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY, 2017. p. 144.
The Fleet was restored in 2008 due to Venezuela's geopolitical alliances.
Of the U.S. naval forces, the Sixth and Seventh Fleets - based in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf, respectively - are the ones that have traditionally been most in the news. The Fourth Fleet usually goes unnoticed. In fact, it barely has staff, and when it needs ships it must borrow them from other units. However, its restoration in 2008, after having been deactivated in 1950, indicates that Washington does not want to neglect security in the Caribbean in the face of Russia and China's moves.
▲The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower arriving in 2010 at Mayport, Florida [US Navy].
article / Dania del Carmen[English version].
The Fourth Fleet is part of the U.S. Southern Command. It is located in Mayport, Florida, and its area of operations are the waters off Central and South America. The ships based in Mayport do not strictly belong to the base and none are currently deployed in the waters of the region. The staff stationed in the fleet is approximately 160 people, including military, federal civilians and contractors. They work out of the U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO) headquarters. The Southern Command commander is also commander of the Fourth Fleet, currently Rear Admiral Sean S. Buck.
It was originally established in 1943, during World War II, to protect the U.S. from German naval actions, both surface attacks, blockade operations and submarine raids. After the war ended in 1945, the FOURTHFLT remained active until 1950. At that time, its area of operations was turned over to the Second Fleet, which had just been established to support the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The FOURTHFLT's operations were then transferred to the Second Fleet.
The Fourth Fleet was reactivated in 2008, during George W. Bush's presidency, as a reaction to possible threats stemming from anti-U.S. sentiment promoted by then Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. During that time, Venezuela received loans from Russia for the purchase of arms and for the Venezuelan military development . In 2008 Venezuela conducted a joint naval exercise with Russia in the Caribbean as a way of supporting Russian intentions to increase its geopolitical presence, as a counterweight to the power of the United States.
The fact that Nicaragua, Bolivia and Ecuador had an ideology similar to that of Venezuela reinforced Washington's conviction to reactivate the fleet, as a reminder that the US maintained its interest in being the only military power in the Western Hemisphere. Although US territory could hardly be threatened, preventing any status risk to the free access to the Panama Canal has been a permanent task for the Southern Command. In recent years, Russia has sought to expand its military presence in the Americas, through particular relations with Cuba and Nicaragua, while China has increased its investments in the Panama Canal area .
As stated on the USNAVSO/FOURTHFLT website at its section of "mission statement", the Fourth Fleet "employs maritime forces in cooperative maritime security operations to maintain access, enhance interoperability, and establish enduring partnerships that advance regional security in the area of USSOUTHCOM's responsibility." As mentioned, when ships and other equipment are assigned to SOUTHCOM and the Fourth Fleet, they are provided by other U.S. Navy commands with broader geographic responsibilities based in other parts of the world.
The FOURTHFLT has three main lines of action: maritime security operations, security cooperation activities and contingency operations.
-In terms of its maritime security operations, it currently provides maritime forces to Interagency Task Force South(JIATF South) in support of Operation HAMMER. JIATF South "conducts detection and monitoring (D&M) operations throughout its joint operational area to facilitate interdiction of illicit trafficking in support of national and partner nation security." It utilizes the resources of the Fourth Fleet or temporarily employs other assets, such as the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group or individual ships from other fleets such as Norfolk, VA Fleet Forces Command or the Third Fleet, based in San Diego, California. Operation MARTILLO is primarily aimed at combating international drug trafficking, improving regional security and promote peace, stability and prosperity in Central and South America. As part of Operation MARTILLO, in a joint operation with the U.S. Coast Guard, the USS Vandegrift stopped a suspicious vessel off the coast of Central America in 2014. The staff security found nearly two thousand pounds of cocaine. More recently, in January 2015, the USS Gary and the U.S. Coast Guard seized more than 1.6 tons of cocaine from a fast vessel. However, the absence of dedicated Fourth Fleet assets demonstrates that its counternarcotics missions are a lower priority for the U.S. Navy, even though they are significantly less demanding, operationally.
-In terms of security cooperation activities, the two main events of participation with other nations are the UNITAS and PANAMAX exercises. UNITAS was conceived in 1959 and was first conducted in 1960. It is an annual exercise whose purpose is to demonstrate U.S. commitment to the region and to maintaining strong relationships with its partners. PANAMAX dates back to 2003 and has become one of the largest multinational training exercises in the world. It is primarily focused on securing the defense of the Panama Canal, one of the world's most strategic and economically important infrastructure assets.
Finally, the Fleet is always ready to conduct contingency operations: basically attendance humanitarian and financial aid disaster relief. The U.S. Navy hospital ship regularly travels throughout the area Caribbean and Central America to provide humanitarian support. In the framework of the Continuing Promise 2015 program, the Comfort visited a total of 11 countries, from Guatemala to Dominica, performing procedures such as general surgery, ophthalmic surgery, veterinary services and training in public health. The ship previously participated in the 2007, 2009 and 2011 programs.
Objectives met at reasonable cost
As an integrated part of Southern Command, the Fourth Fleet has been active in major humanitarian operations, such as the response to the earthquake in Haiti in January 2010. FOURTHFLT had naval command in Operation Unified Response, which was the largest contingency response in attendance humanitarian and financial aid disasters.
The budget for those missions does not rely solely on the Navy, as a Southern Command spokesperson stated, but there is also a contribution of resources from "other U.S. entities, such as the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection, which also provide platforms and forces, both maritime and air, which are core topic in support of those missions. So, we are looking for a good counterbalance of expense-reward."
purpose In addition to developing effective humanitarian actions, at a limited economic cost, the Fourth Fleet also fulfills the purpose of ensuring that the United States has a significant military presence in the Western Hemisphere in the eyes of the Latin American and Caribbean states, as well as superpowers such as Russia and China.
1. The Second Fleet was deactivated in 2011 and reestablished in 2018.
REICH, Simon and DOMBROWSKI, Peter. The End of Grand Strategy. US Maritime Operations In the 21st Century. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY, 2017. p. 144.
WORKING PAPER / N. Moreno, A. Puigrefagut, I. Yárnoz
The fundamental characteristic of the external action of the European Union (EU) in recent years has been the use of the so-called soft power. This soft power has made the Union a key actor for the development of a large part of the world's regions. The last decades the EU has participated in a considerable amount of projects in the economic, cultural and political fields in order to fulfil the article 2 of its founding Treaty and thus promote their values and interests and contribute to peace, security and sustainable development of the globe through solidarity and respect for all peoples. Nevertheless, EU's interventions in different regions of the world have not been free of objections that have placed in the spotlight a possible direct attack by the Union to the external States' national sovereignties, thus creating a principle of neo-colonialism by the EU.
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[Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski, The End of Grand Strategy. US Maritime Operations In the 21st Century. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY, 2017. 238 pages]
REVIEW / Emili J. Blasco[English version].
The concept of Grand Strategy is not univocal. In its most abstract sense, used in the field of geopolitics, Grand Strategy refers to the geopolitical imperatives of a country and determines what a State must necessarily do to achieve its primary and fundamental purpose in its relationship with others, usually in terms of power. In a lesser degree of abstraction, Grand Strategy is understood as the principle that should govern the way a country confronts conflicts on the international stage. This is what, in the case of the United States, is usually called a Presidential Doctrine and aims to create a norm for the response, especially in the realm of military force, to the challenges and threats that could arise.
This second meaning, more concrete, is the one used in The End of Grand Strategy. Its authors do not question that there are geopolitical imperatives that should determine the action of the United States over time. What they reject is the intention of giving a unique strategic response to the variety of security risks facing the country. "Strategies have to be calibrated according to operational circumstances. They exist in the plural, not in a singular grand strategy," say Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski, who are professors at Rutgers University and at the Naval War College, respectively, and experts on defense issues.
For these authors, "the notion of a grand strategy entails the vain search for order and consistency in an ever-more complex world", "the very idea of a single, one-size-fits-all grand strategy has little utility in the twenty-first century. Indeed, it is often counterproductive."
Despite the unique doctrines sometimes invoked in some presidencies, in reality different strategic approaches coexist in the same mandate or there are even specific strategies that transcend presidencies. "America does not favor one dominant strategy, nor can it," warn Reich and Dombrowski.
"The concept of grand strategy is debated in Washington, academia, and the average in the 'singular' rather than the 'plural'. The implication is that there is one path to securing US interests in a complicated world. The debaters also tend to accept a fundamental premise: that the United States has a capacity to control events, and so it can afford to be inelastic in the face of a changing, and increasingly challenging, strategic environment," write the authors.
The book examines the US military operations so far this century, focusing on naval operations. As a maritime power, it is in this domain where the US action has greater strategic expression. The result of that examination is a list of six strategies, grouped into three types, that the United States has operated in "parallel" and "by necessity":
1. Hegemony. It relies on American global dominance: a) primacist forms are commonly associated with American unilateralism; in the twenty-first century it included a neoconservative nation-building variant (Iraq and Afghanistan); b) leadership strategy or "cooperative security" is a traditionally liberal coalition in which the United States assumes a primus inter pares role; it aims to secure greater legitimacy for American policies (military drills with Asian partners).
2. Sponsorship. It involves the provision of material and moral resources in support of policies largely advocated and initiated by other actors: a) formal strategies that are specifically authorized by international law and protocols (collaboration against pirates and terrorists); b) informal strategies that respond to the request of a looser coalition of states or policy entrepreneurs rather than being authorized by intergovernmental organizations (interceptions at the sea).
3. Retrenchment: a) isolationism wants to withdraw US forces from overseas instructions, reduce US alliance commitments and reassert American sovereignty through stricter border control (barrier against drug-trafficking from South America); b) restraint, which implies selective engagement or offshore balancing (Arctic).
The description of all these different actions shows that, in contrast to the theoretical approach seeking a unifying principle, in reality there are a variety of situations, as the military knows. "Military planners, by contrast, recognize that varied circumstances require a menu of strategic choices," say Reich and Dombrowski. "American policy, in practice, does not replicate any single strategy. It reflects all of them, with different strategic approaches applied, depending on circumstance."
The authors conclude that "if observers were to accept that no one grand strategy is capable of prescribing responses to the full of threats to American national security, they would necessarily recognize that the primary purpose of a grand strategy is only rhetorical-a statement of values and principles that lack operational utility." "By definition, the architectural design of any single, abstract strategy is relatively rigid if not indeed static-intellectually, conceptually, analytically, and organizationally. Yet that one grand strategy is expected to work in a context that demands enormous adaptability and that routinely punishes rigidity. (...) The military's leadership is far more aware that scholars or policymakers of that inherent problem."
Which are the benefits of a plurality of calibrated strategies? According to the authors, it underlines to the policymakers and the public the limits of the US power; it shows that the US is as well influenced by global forces that cannot completely domain, and it tempers the expectations about what the US military can achieve.
[Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski, The End of Grand Strategy. US Maritime Operations In the 21st Century. Cornell University Press. Ithaca, NY, 2017. 238 pages]
review / Emili J. Blasco [English version].
The concept of Grand Strategy is not univocal. In its most abstract sense, used in the field of geopolitics, the Grand Strategy refers to the geopolitical imperatives of a country and determines what a state must necessarily do to achieve its primary and fundamental purpose in its relationship with others, usually in terms of power. In a lesser Degree of abstraction, the Grand Strategy is understood as the principle that should govern the way in which a country faces conflicts in the international scenario. It is what, in the case of the United States, is often referred to as a President's Doctrine and aims to create a rule for the response, especially military, to be given to the challenges and threats that arise.
This second, more concrete sense is the one used in The End of Grand Strategy. Its authors do not question that there are geopolitical imperatives that should mark a particular U.S. action, constant over time, but rather that a single strategic response to the variety of security risks facing the country is intended. "Strategies must be calibrated from agreement with operational circumstances. They exist in the plural, not in a singular grand strategy," warn Simon Reich and Peter Dombrowski, professors at Rutgers University and the Naval War College, respectively, and both experts on defense issues.
For both authors, "the notion of a grand strategy is a vain search for order and coherence in an increasingly complex world", "the very idea of a single, all-purpose grand strategy is of little use in the 21st century. In fact, it is often counterproductive".
Despite the doctrines that are sometimes invoked in some presidencies, in reality different strategic approaches often coexist in the same mandate, or there are even specific strategies that transcend presidencies. "The United States does not favor a dominant strategy, nor can it," Reich and Dombrowski warn.
"The concept of grand strategy is discussion in Washington, in academia and in the media in the 'singular' rather than the 'plural.' The implication is that there is a way to secure U.S. interests in a complicated world. Those debating even tend to accept a fundamental premise: that the United States has the ability to control events, and thus can afford not to be el���stic in the face of a changing and increasingly challenging strategic environment," the two authors write.
The book examines US military operations so far this century, focusing on naval operations. As a maritime power, it is in that domain that US performance has the greatest strategic expression. The result of that examination is a list of six strategies, grouped into three types, that the US has operated in a "parallel" and "by necessity" fashion.
1. Hegemony. It is based on the global dominance of the United States: a) primatist forms are commonly associated with US unilateralism, which in the 21st century has included the neoconservative variant of nation building (Iraq and Afghanistan); b) leadership strategy or "cooperative security" is based on the traditional coalition in which the United States assumes the role of first among equals; it seeks to ensure greater legitimacy for US policies (military exercises with Asian partners).
2. sponsorship. It involves the provision of material and moral resources in support of policies basically advocated and initiated by other actors: a) formal strategies, which are specifically authorized by law and international protocols (partnership against pirates and terrorists); b) informal strategies, which respond to the request of a loose coalition of states or other entrepreneurs rather than being authorized by intergovernmental organizations (seizures at sea).
3. Entrenchment: a) isolationism wants to withdraw US forces from outside instructions , reduce US commitments in international alliances and reassure US control through strict border control (barrier against drug trafficking from South America); b) containment, which implies selective engagement or balancing from outside (Arctic).
The description of all these different actions demonstrates that, as opposed to the theoretical approach seeking a unifying principle, there is in fact a variety of situations, as the military knows. "Military planners, by contrast, recognize that a variety of circumstances requires a menu of strategic choices," say Reich and Dombrowski. "U.S. policy, at internship, does not replicate any single strategic one. It reflects all of them, with the application of different strategic approaches, depending on the circumstances."
The authors conclude that "if observers were to accept that no grand strategy is capable of prescribing responses to all threats to U.S. security, they would necessarily recognize that the primary purpose of a grand strategy is only rhetorical-a statement of values and principles that lacks operational utility." "By definition, the architectural design of any single, abstract strategy is relatively rigid, if not static in fact-intellectually, conceptually, analytically, and organizationally. And yet that single grand strategy is expected to work in a context that claims enormous adaptability and routinely punishes rigidity (...) Military leadership is far more aware than academics or policymakers of this inherent problem."
What are the benefits of a plurality of calibrated strategies? According to the authors, it underscores to policymakers and citizens the limits of US power, sample that the US is also influenced by global forces it cannot fully dominate, and tempers expectations about what US military power can achieve.
▲Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and President Donald Trump during a meeting in Washington in 2017 [White House].
ANALYSIS / Naomi Moreno
Saudi Arabia used to be the only country in the world that banned women from driving. This ban was one of the things that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was best known for to outsiders not otherwise familiar with the country's domestic politics, and has thus been a casus belli for activists demanding reforms in the kingdom. Last month, Saudi Arabia started issuing the first driver's licenses to women, putting into effect some of the changes promised by the infamous Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS) in his bid to modernize Saudi Arabian politics. The end of the ban further signals the beginning of a move to expand the rights of women in KSA, and builds on piecemeal developments that took place in the realm of women's rights in the kingdom prior to MBS' entrance to the political scene.
Thus, since 2012, Saudi Arabian women have been able to do sports as well as participate in the Olympic Games; in the 2016 Olympics, four Saudi women were allowed to travel to Rio de Janeiro to compete. Moreover, within the political realm, King Abdullah swore in the first 30 women to the shura council - Saudi Arabia's consultative council - in February 2013, and in the kingdom's 2015 municipal elections, women were able to vote and run for office for the first time. Finally, and highlighting the fact that economic dynamics have similarly played a role in driving progression in the kingdom, the Saudi stock exchange named the first female chairperson in its history - a 39-year-old Saudi woman named Sarah Al Suhaimi - last February.
Further, although KSA may be known to be one of the "worst countries to be a woman", the country has experienced a B breakthrough in the last 5 years and the abovementioned advances in women's rights, to name some, constitute a positive development. However, the most visible reforms have arguably been the work of MBS. The somewhat rash and unprecedented decision to end the ban on driving coincided with MBS' crackdown on ultra-conservative, Wahhabi clerics and the placing of several of the kingdom's richest and most influential men under house arrest, under the pretext of challenging corruption. In addition, under his leadership, the oil-rich kingdom is undergoing economic reforms to reduce the country's dependency on oil, in a bid to modernize the country's economy.
Nonetheless, despite the above mentioned reforms being classified by some as unprecedented, progressive leaps that are putting an end to oppression through challenging underlying ultra-conservatism traditions (as well as those that espouse them), a measure of distrust has arisen among Saudis and outsiders with regards the motivations underlying the as-of-yet seemingly limited reforms that have been introduced. While some perceive the crown prince's actions to be a genuine move towards reforming Saudi society, several indicators point to the possibility that MBS might have more practical reasons that are only tangentially related to progression for progression's sake. As the thinking goes, such decrees may have less to do with genuine reform, and more to do with improving an international image to deflect from some of the kingdom's more controversial practices, both at home and abroad. A number of factors drive this public skepticism.
Reasons for scepticism
The first relates to the fact that KSA is a country where an ultraconservative form of shari'a or Islamic law continues to constitute the primary legal framework. This legal framework is based on the Qur'an and Hadith, within which the public and many private aspects of everyday life are regulated. Unlike in other Muslim majority countries, where only selective elements of the shari'a are adopted, Wahhabism - which is identified by the Court of Strasbourg as a main source of terrorism - has necessitated the strict adherence to a fundamentalist interpretation of shari'a, one that draws from the stricter and more literal Hanbali school of jurisprudence. As such, music and the arts have been strictly controlled and censored. In addition, although the religious police (more commonly known as the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice) have had their authority curbed to a certain degree, they are still given the authority to enforce Islamic norms of conduct in public by observing suspects and forwarding their findings to the police.
In the past few years, the KSA has been pushing for a more national Wahhabism, one that is more modern in its outlook and suitable for the kingdom's image. Nevertheless, the Wahhabi clergy has been close to the Al Saud dynasty since the mid-18th century, offering it Islamic legitimacy in return for control over parts of the state, and a lavish religious infrastructure of mosques and universities. Therefore, Saudi clerics are pushing back significantly against democratization efforts. As a result, the continuing prevalence of a shari'a system of law raises questions about the ability of the kingdom to seriously democratize and reform to become moderate.
Secondly, and from a domestic point of view, Saudi Arabia is experiencing disharmony. Saudi citizens are not willing to live in a country where any political opposition is quelled by force, and punishments for crimes such as blasphemy, sorcery, and apostasy are gruesome and carried out publicly. This internal issue has thus embodied an identity crisis provoked mainly by the 2003 Iraq war, and reinforced by the events of the Arab Spring. Disillusionment, unemployment, religious and tribal splits, as well as human rights abuses and corruption among an ageing leadership have been among the main grievances of the Saudi people who are no longer as tolerant of oppression.
In an attempt to prevent the spill over of the Arab Spring fervor into the Kingdom, the government spent $130 billion in an attempt to offset domestic unrest. Nonetheless, these grants failed to satisfy the nearly 60 percent of the population under the age of twenty-one, which refused to settle. In fact, in 2016 protests broke out in Qatif, a city in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich, eastern provinces, which prompted Saudis to deploy additional security units to the region. In addition, in September of last year, Saudi authorities, arguing a battle against corruption and a crack down on extremism, arrested dozens of people, including prominent clerics. According to a veteran Saudi journalist, this was an absurd action as "there was nothing that called for such arrests". He argued that several among those arrested were not members of any political organization, but rather individuals with dissenting viewpoints to those held by the ruling family.
Among those arrested was Sheikh Salman al-Awdah, an influential cleric known for agitating for political change and for being a pro-Shari'a activist. Awdah's arrest, while potentially disguised as part of the kingdom's attempts to curb the influence of religious hardliners, is perhaps better understood in the context of the Qatar crisis. Thus, when KSA, with the support of a handful of other countries in the region, initiated a blockade of the small Gulf peninsula in June of last year, Awdah welcomed a report on his Twitter account suggesting that the then three-month-old row between Qatar and four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia may be resolved. The ensuing arrest of the Sheikh seems to confirm a suspicion that it was potentially related to his favoring the renormalization of relations with Qatar, as opposed to it being related to MBS' campaign to moderate Islam in the kingdom.
A third factor that calls into question the sincerity of the modernization campaign is economic. Although Saudi Arabia became a very wealthy country following the discovery of oil in the region, massive inequality between the various classes has grown since, as these resources remain to be controlled by a select few. As a result, nearly one fifth of the population continues to live in poverty, especially in the predominantly Shi'a South where, ironically, much of the oil reservoirs are located. In these areas, sewage runs in the streets, and only crumbs are spent to alleviate the plight of the poor. Further, youth opportunities in Saudi Arabia are few, which leaves much to be desire, and translates into occasional unrest. Thus, the lack of possibilities has led many young men to join various terrorist organizations in search of a new life.
Statement by MBS in a conference organized in Riyadh in October 2017 [KSA].
Vision 2030 and international image
In the context of the Saudi Vision 2030, the oil rich country is aiming to wean itself of its dependence on the natural resource which, despite its wealth generation capacity, has also been one of the main causes of the country's economic problems. KSA is facing an existential crisis that has led to a re-think of its long-standing practice of selling oil via fixed contracts. This is why Vision 2030 is so important. Seeking to regain better control over its economic and financial destiny, the kingdom has designed an ambitious economic restructuring plan, spearheaded by MBS. Vision 2030 constitutes a reform program that aims to upgrade the country's financial status by diversifying its economy in a world of low oil prices. Saudi Arabia thus needs overseas firms' investments, most notably in non-oil sectors, in order to develop this state-of-the-art approach. This being said, Vision 2030 inevitably implies reforms on simultaneous fronts that go beyond economic affairs. The action plan has come in at a time when the kingdom is not only dealing with oil earnings and lowering its reserves, but also expanding its regional role. As a result, becoming a more democratic country could attract foreign wealth to a country that has traditionally been viewed in a negative light due to its repressive human rights record.
This being said, Saudi Arabia also has a lot to do regarding its foreign policy in order to improve its international image. Despite this, the Saudi petition to push the US into a war with Iran has not ceased during recent years. Religious confrontation between the Sunni Saudi autocracy and Iran's Shi'a theocracy has characterized the geopolitical tensions that have existed in the region for decades. Riyadh has tried to circumvent criticism of its military intervention in the Yemen through capitalizing on the Trump administration's hostility towards Iran, and involving the US in its campaign; thus granting it a degree of legitimacy as an international alliance against the Houthis. Recently, MBS stated that Trump was the "best person at the right time" to confront Iran. Conveniently enough, Trump and the Republicans are now in charge of US' foreign affairs. Whereas the Obama administration, in its final months, suspended the sale of precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, the Trump administration has moved to reverse this in the context of the Yemeni conflict. In addition, in May of this year, just a month after MBS visited Washington in a meeting which included discussions regarding the Iran accords, the kingdom has heaped praise on president Trump following his decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
All things considered, 2018 may go down in history as the irreversible end of the absolute archaic Saudi monarchy. This implosion was necessitated by events, such as those previously mentioned, that Saudi rulers could no longer control or avoid. Hitherto, MBS seems to be fulfilling his father's wishes. He has hand-picked dutiful and like-minded princes and appointed them to powerful positions. As a result, MBS' actions suggest that the kingdom is turning over a new page in which a new generation of princes and technocrats will lead the breakthrough to a more moderate and democratic Saudi Arabia.
However, although MBS has declared that the KSA is moving towards changing existing guardianship laws, due to cultural differences among Saudi families, to date, women still need power of attorney from a male relative to acquire a car, and risk imprisonment should they disobey male guardians. In addition, this past month, at least 12 prominent women's rights activists who campaigned for women's driving rights just before the country lifted the ban were arrested. Although the lifting of the ban is now effective, 9 of these activists remain behind bars and are facing serious charges and long jail sentences. As such, women continue to face significant challenges in realizing basic rights, despite the positive average endorsement that MBS' lifting of the driving ban has received.
Although Saudi Arabia is making an effort in order to satisfy the public eye, it is with some degree of scepticism that one should approach the country's motivations. Taking into account Saudi Arabia's current state of affairs, these events suggest that the women's driving decree was an effort in order to improve the country's external image as well as an effort to deflect attention from a host of problematic internal and external affairs, such as the proxy warfare in the region, the arrest of dissidents and clerics this past September, and the Qatari diplomatic crisis, which recently "celebrated" its first anniversary. Allowing women to drive is a relatively trivial sacrifice for the kingdom to make and has triggered sufficient positive reverberations globally. Such baby steps are positive, and should be encouraged, yet overlook the fact that they only represent the tip of the iceberg.
As it stands, the lifting of the driving ban does not translate into a concrete shift in the prevailing legal and cultural mindsets that initially opposed it. Rather, it is an indirect approach to strengthen Saudi's power in economic and political terms. Yet, although women in Saudi Arabia may feel doubtful about the government's intentions, time remains to be their best ally. After decades of an ultraconservative approach to handling their rights, the country has reached awareness that it can no longer sustain its continued oppression of women; and this for economic reasons, but also as a result of global pressures that affect the success of the country's foreign policies which, by extension, also negatively impact on its interests.
The silver lining for Saudi woman is that, even if the issue of women's rights is being leveraged to secure the larger interests of the kingdom, it continues to represent a slow and steady progression to a future in which women may be granted more freedoms. The downside is that, so long as these rights are not grafted into a broader legal framework that secures them beyond the rule of a single individual - like MBS - women's rights (and human rights in general) will continue to be the temporary product of individual whim. Without an overhaul of the shari'a system that perpetuates regressive attitudes towards women, the best that can be hoped for is the continuation of internal and external pressures that coerce the Saudi leadership into exacting further reforms in the meantime. As with all things, time will tell.
WORKING PAPER / A. Palacios, M. Lamela, M. Biera[Spanish version].
The European Union (EU) has been especially damaged internally due to some disinformation campaigns, which have challenged its legislation and its very values. The different operations of disinformation alongside the communicative incapacity of the European Union's institutions have generated a feeling of alarm in Brussels. Just a year before the celebration of the elections to the European Parliament, Europe has concentrated a lot of its efforts in challenging the issue of disinformation, generating new strategies, challenges, objectives and workshops such as the Stratcom Task Force or the group of experts of the European Commission.
Download the document [pdf. 375K]
DOC. DE work / A. Palacios, M. Lamela, M. Biera[English version].
The European Union (EU) has been particularly damaged internally by disinformation campaigns that have challenged its legislation and its very values. The various disinformation operations and the EU institutions' inability to communicate have generated a sense of alarm in Brussels. Barely a year before the European Parliament elections, Europe has concentrated much of its efforts on tackling the disinformation challenge, generating new strategies and work groups such as the Stratcom Task Force or the European Commission's group of experts.
download the complete document [pdf. 381K]
After centuries of Caribbean orientation, the enclave accentuates its relationship with its neighbors on the mainland.
Two years ago, Suriname and Guyana became part of the South American soccer federation, leaving the North, Central American and Caribbean federation to which they belonged. It is a clear symbol of the change in geographical orientation that is taking place in this northeastern corner of South America, which, as in the case of soccer, sees the potential for a closer relationship with its southern neighbors.
article / Alba Redondo
As vestiges of the colonial past of the great European naval powers of the 17th century -England, Holland and France- we find in the northeast of South America the three Guianas: Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. In addition to the natural barriers that isolate the region and hinder its connection with the rest of the South American continent - it has a closer relationship with the Caribbean, although its Atlantic coast is outside that sea - there are also social, cultural and idiomatic barriers that complicate its integration into the continent.
Located in the northeast of the South American continent, the region was called Guayana or "land of many waters" by its original inhabitants, the Arawaks. The area borders Venezuela to the west and Brazil to the south, countries that also include lands that are part of the Guiana natural region. The humid terrain and coastline, dense with mangrove swamps and marshes, combine with the tropical climate of the interior, which is characterized by virgin forests, high plateaus and large mountain ranges such as the Guiana Shield. Its population, ranging from indigenous people to European descendants, is located in the coastal area and in the river valleys.
The Guianas are spoken of jointly not only because they form a common territory for the natives, but also because they were left out of the continental distribution made by the two great empires of the Iberian Peninsula. Being a territory not easily accessible from the rest of the continent, the lack of Spanish and Portuguese presence led other European powers of the time to seek to set foot there, in exploration campaigns carried out during the seventeenth century. British Guiana gained independence in 1970 and Dutch Guiana in 1975. French Guiana remains a department and an overseas region of France and, consequently, an outermost territory of the European Union in South America.
The three unknown
To the west of the region lies Guyana, officially known as the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. The country has a population of around 773,000 inhabitants, mostly located in Georgetown, its capital. Its official language is English, bequest from its colonial past. The Guyanese political-social reality is marked by the conflictive coexistence between the two great ethnic groups: the Afro-Guyanese and the Indo-Guyanese. Its internal politics is characterized by the bipartisanship between the PNC (People's National Congress) formed by the Afro-descendants concentrated in the urban centers; and the PPP (People Progressive Party), with greater influence in the rural zone, constituted by descendants of immigrants from India who arrived during the British Empire and who work in the sugar plantations.
Despite a recent increase in foreign investment, Guyana is the poorest country with the highest crime, violence and suicide rates on the continent. In addition, its international image is conditioned by its perception as area reference in the international distribution of cocaine and its high rate of corruption. However, the country's future points to its entry into the world's major oil powers after the finding of one of the largest oil and gas fields discovered in our decade.
Like Guyana, the political life of the Republic of Suriname is subject to a great ethno-cultural mosaic. The former Dutch colony, with its capital in Paramaribo, is the smallest and least populated country in South America, with only 163,821 inhabitants. After its independence in 1975, more than a third of the population emigrated to the metropolis (the Netherlands). This produced a major structural crisis due to the lack of human capital in the country. Suriname is made up of descendants from almost all continents: Africans, Indians, Chinese and Javanese, aborigines and Europeans. Its domestic policy is marked by the influence of Desiré Bouterse and by the democratic aspirations of the society. Regarding its foreign policy, Suriname is committed to a better control of its resource exports, mainly aluminum, and to a progressive integration in the regional and international sphere, in most cases, together with its neighboring country, Guyana.
Unlike the other two Guianas, French Guiana is not an independent country, but an overseas region of France, which is located more than 7,000 km from France. The capital of this territory is Cayenne. For a long time it was used by France as a penal colony. It has the highest homicide rate in the entire French-speaking territory and is known for its high level of crime. As a Gallic department , it is part of the European Union and home to the French Guiana Space Center, housing one of Europe's main satellite launching stations in Kourou. French Guiana is facing growing unemployment, lack of resources for Education and dissatisfaction among its population which has led to numerous protests.
Change of orientation
Due to the strong historical relationship with their respective metropolises and their late independence, there has traditionally been a significant barrier between the Guianas and South America. Geographically, they are cornered on the northern coast of South America, with difficulty in developing contacts to the south, due to the orography of the Guiana massif and the Amazon rainforest. But there have also been cultural and linguistic reasons that contributed to a rapprochement between this region and the western Caribbean, where England, Holland and France had -and still have in some cases- island possessions.
However, after a long period of relative isolation, with hardly any relations with their southern neighbors, the republics of Suriname and Guyana have begun to join the dynamics of economic and political integration in South America.
Traditionally, the two States have had a closer relationship with the Caribbean: both are full members of CARICOM, Georgetown being the headquarters of this community of Caribbean countries, and are part of the association of Caribbean States (ACS), with the peculiarity of the presence of French Guiana as an associate. In recent years, Suriname and Guyana have begun to look more towards the continent itself: they have participated in the creation of Unasur and are observer countries of Mercosur. Symbolic of this change of orientation was the entry in 2016 of these two countries into Conmebol, the South American soccer federation, leaving the North, Central American and Caribbean federation to which they belonged.
This closer relationship with its continental neighbors and participation in the South American integration process should serve to resolve some pending border issues, such as the dispute between Venezuela and Guyana: Caracas has historically claimed the territory between its border and the Essequibo River, which flows through the middle of Guyana. However, as other Latin American territorial disputes are being resolved in international courts, the Essequibo dispute threatens to perpetuate itself for the time being.