The purpose of the book and the five questions informing investigation

The purpose of this book is to make sense of the increased presence of external, especially non-traditional. powers in Latin America, and it does so in two ways. First, all the authors discuss five key questions about the recent surge of non-traditional powers in Latin America with reference to a specific case study: (1) why this surge has happened; (2) when it took place; (3) where it is mostly felt geographically and thematically; (4) what is the Latin American perspective; and (5) what are the actual results. This part of the conceptual framework is essentially driven by an empirical concern, which is to investigate and establish facts in order to gather the evidence needed for further theoretical discussion. Second, throughout the chapters—particularly in this Introduction and in the Conclusion—the volume also has a theoretical concern. It aims to reflect on whether conventional International Relations (IR) theory provides the necessary tools to interpret this surge, or if more recent strands such as neo-extractivism and South-South cooperation are preferable and actually offer genuinely alternative and innovative readings. This topic will be discussed later in the Introduction and resumed in the Conclusion. Attention now turns to the five questions informing each chapter and the book in general.

Why has this surge happened?

The central question is why did this surge happen? Why, at some point, did countries with limited or no relations to one another decide to intensify their political links? In addition, why did countries and/or companies decide to upscale their economic undertakings in any given region? This activism may be due to economic reasons. Countries may seek new suppliers of resources, new trade destinations, new providers of imports, or indeed new outlets for— or sources of—investments. Especially in the case of Latin America, but also in Africa, this surge of international activity has readily been attributed to the commodities boom of the early 2000s. This study intends to scratch the surface and go further to explore other explanations. Most chapters will suggest that ‘extractivism’ has played a role but that this is only part of the story.

Alternatively, there may be political reasons behind this rapprochement between Latin America and non-traditional partners. These reasons may include a strategic repositioning of the country; the need to attract political support for a leader’s cause or regime; an anti-hegemonic coalition building or a more nuanced soft-balancing (Paul 2005) to check the rise of another country; or it may be designed to achieve ideological affinity. All these motives may have domestic or even individual roots. These may include a new orientation in political economy, or a personal vision of international affairs adopted by a new political or economic leadership. Motives can also stem from international calculations, such as pressure from peers or markets, the need for diversification or to exploit opportunities, fluctuations in prices, or the availability of sought-after goods and services. In each case, there are two, or more, sides to the story: a Latin American side; an external power side; and possibly a third party entering the calculations of the others to upgrade their relations. While this book mainly takes the perspective of the external powers, it also emphasizes the Latin American perspective, role and interest in each case study and considers systemic factors and the role of other involved players too.

When did it happen?

Once it has been established why a certain phenomenon has taken place, the almost natural follow-up question is why at that point in time? Why not earlier or later? What correlations between events taking place in different parts of the world or affecting several regions or countries can be identified? The why and when questions are strictly connected (Solomon 2014). Still, it is important, insofar as it may be possible, to determine when a given phenomenon has happened or started. This is not only so that a correct historical chronology may be obtained but also to facilitate credible political analysis and explanation (Horn et al. 2016). If one is to assess the results of a given phenomenon, one has to allow a reasonable length of time to elapse for the phenomenon to display its effects. So, when have non-traditional (and/or traditional) external partners started to show an interest in Latin America? When have they upscaled their political or economic operations? Has that coincided with any major national or international episodes? Has this activism occurred in waves? Gradually? Suddenly? Does it appear to be a lasting or purely contingent feature of Latin American international relations?

6 Gian Luca Gardini

Where is it mostly felt?

A third crucial question concerns where this surge is mostly felt. The new presence of international partners is not necessarily evenly distributed across Latin America (OECD 2002; Behre Dolbear Group 2015). International partners may show a propensity towards certain productive sectors, and therefore to certain geographic areas. For instance, the need for ores and metals or energy products and therefore investment in the mining sector and the extractive industries can target those countries that are more richly endowed with these assets, but also those with better regulatory frameworks or, paradoxically, weaker ones. Commercial deals and related investments may target coastal areas and or infrastructure projects. Certain societal sectors may benefit while others may lose importance. The traditional international trade exchange pattern of Latin America has been the exportation of commodities in return for manufactured products, technology and capital. Have non-traditional partners significantly altered this dynamic or do they replicate similar patterns? Are just a few Latin American countries involved in this surge? Or is it a continent-wide phenomenon? So, in which areas, countries, sub-regions and productive or societal sectors is the presence of external partners most felt in Latin America?

What is the Latin American perspective?

Too often in the past, foreign relations have been perceived as exploitation or unfair deals for Latin America (Galeano 1997). Is the wave of non-traditional partners’ activities any different? What is the Latin American side of the story? What does Latin America expect from these new relations? Is it managing them differently to before? Has Latin America taken the initiative? If so, in which cases, for what reasons and with what expectations? Are these new relations with non-traditional external partners more symmetric compared with those with the United States, Europe or even China (the latter is now a crucial partner and a unique case of rapid penetration into Latin America)? Ultimately, the point here is whether or not there is something specifically Latin American in these new relations, so that Latin America can advance its own agenda and interests. Furthermore, is Latin America proactive in these new relations or has it just switched from one form of dependency to another? One may also wonder whether ‘Latin America’ in this context actually means something truly regional or whether it has simply been put forward by and for the benefit of one or more major Latin American players.

What are the actual results and how can we measure them?

Finally, one may wonder what the actual and tangible result is of the presence of these new extra-hemispheric powers. One may also ask which indicators are truly appropriate for this kind of appraisal. Is this presence really significant? To what extent and with what limits? Is it beneficial for Latin America and to what degree? Is there evidence of a match between the declared purposes of the relationship and its results? Do these relations represent a win-win situation? Do they promote a more balanced international system or do they reproduce on a smaller scale already established asymmetrical relations? These new partnerships can be read as opportunities for emancipation but they may also pose further challenges in terms of dependency or ‘sub-imperial’ interactions (Bond 2016).

 
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