Guest Author: Integrated deterrence vs. Zone of Peace in South America

In Latin America, “national security” has justified military dictatorships and the repression of supposed unarmed domestic political enemies for decades. In democracy, this notion has favored the corporate autonomy of the Armed Forces. Eliminating it is a crucial challenge for the region.


By Augusto Varas


Integrated deterrence

This ambiguous notion appeared in the 2022 National Security Strategy of the United States, with the name of “Integrated deterrence”[1] and was launched at the XV South American Defense Conference (Ecuador, September 14th to 15th, 2022). At that gathering, the head of the U.S. Southern Command stated that “integrated deterrence is not military-centric; rather, it deliberately combines the vast capabilities and specialties that reside in military and non-military government agencies, allies and partners, the private sector, academic institutions and non-governmental organizations.” She went on to define the two central issues of the conference: “the first problem is the environmental insecurity caused by destructive non-state and state actors such as transnational criminal organizations and Chinese state companies, the largest offender in illegal fishing. The second problem is outer space, cyber and information security. Transnational criminal organizations are infiltrating computer systems and China and Russia are destabilizing the region, empowering authoritarianism, and undermining democratic principles.” She concluded by affirming that the “South American Defense Conference is the physical manifestation of integrated deterrence.”[2]

With this “national security 2.0”, incorporated into the Brasilia Declaration of the XV Conference of Defense Ministers of the Americas (Brasilia 25th to 29th July, 2022), the parties agreed to coordinate on fields as far removed from the use of military force as: “6. The preservation of the environment; 8. Supporting civilian organizations with humanitarian aid and disaster response; 15. Prevention of illegal fishing, poaching of wild animals and illegal mineral and forest exploitation; 14. Transnational organized crime (Chile and Argentina presented their reservation); and 23. Migratory flows.” [Chile, Peru and Argentina expressed reserve].

This distorted professional role of the military in the hemisphere must be overridden by a contemporary vision of regional peace, institutionalized multilaterally.

A South American Zone of Peace

The creation of a South American Zone of Peace is made possible by negative incentives such as:

  • The growing extra-regional military presence, such as United States military bases, the provision of arms by Russia, Iran, Turkey and China, and the installation, under Chinese military control, of the satellite base in Neuquén. These developments have effectively incorporated the region into international political-strategic tensions.

  • The Argentine and Brazilian safeguards regarding the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Treaty of Tlatelolco), to carry out nuclear explosions for peaceful purposes and, recently, Brazil’s talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency to use nuclear fuel in a submarine, have rekindled the topic of nuclear disarmament in the region.

On the flipside, there are also positive incentives in the region:

  • Argentina and Brazil relaunched the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone (August 17th, 2022) to boost cooperation and defense in the region. And at the 6th South Pacific Defense Ministers Meeting (October 8th, 2021) Australia, Chile, France, Fiji, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Tonga (Japan as an observer) agreed to contribute to a more secure South Pacific[3]. The South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Rarotonga) complements the above.

  • There are a number of regional peace agreements: transparency in the acquisition of conventional weapons; non-use and testing of nuclear, biological, chemical and cluster munitions; on seabeds; Antarctica; outer space; environmental modification; anti-personnel mines; and mutual trust measures[4], all of which would enable progress towards a comprehensive zone of peace regime[5].

  • The twenty regional declarations supporting the creation of a South American Zone of Peace has recently integrated the recommendation made by the Secretary General of the United Nations in “Our Common Agenda” (2021), to “intensify United Nations support to […] joint peace-building efforts”; President Gabriel Boric’s programmatic proposal to create a Zone of Peace in South America; and president Alberto Fernández’s reflection about Latin America as a zone of peace at the last meeting of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC for its acronym in Spanish).

This prospect of multilateral regional cooperation would enable the region to override the antidemocratic “national security 2.0” or integrated deterrence, providing the appropriate criteria to eliminate the corporate autonomy of the Armed Forces and strengthen a military modernization that projects the Armed Forces in contemporary strategic-political spaces, thus contributing to the strengthening of national defense.

About the Author

Augusto Varas holds a PhD in Sociology from Washington University (St. Louis). He has been a researcher and director of the Area of International and Military Relations at FLACSO-Chile, adviser to the Ministry General Secretariat of the Presidency (1990-1992), representative of the Ford Foundation in the Andean Region and the Southern Cone and professor. He is currently Co-chair of the Advisory Council of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Advisor to the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF) and Chairman of the Board of the Equitas Foundation (Chile).


[1] The White House, National Security Strategy, Washington D.C., October 2022, p.22.

[2] Opening remarjs  SOUTHDEC 2022, General Laura Richardson, 14th September 2022, Quito, Ecuador. https://ec.usembassy.gov/remarks-gen-laura-richardson-commander-of-u-s-southern-command-at-south-american-defense-conference-southdec/ His claim about China and Russia destabilizing democracies in the region has been deemed untenable because “(T)he causes of political polarization and democratic decline in the West are overwhelmingly national and cannot be seriously addressed by confrontation with Russia and China.” in”Lieven, Anatol, “This is why there is no ‘China-Russia alliance”, Responsible Statecraft, November 10, 2022.

[3] A topic considered crucial for several decades now:. Cfr.: Varas, Augusto, 1987. “Percepciones estratégicas del Pacífico Sur”. Estudios Internacionales, 20(80), pp.506–519.

[4] Lahera,  Eugenio y Ortúzar, Marcelo, “Gasto militar y el desarrollo en América Latina”. Revista de la CEPAL,  Número 65, August, 1998; y CEPAL, “Metodología estandarizada común para la medición de los Gastos de Defensa”. November 2001.

[5] Portales C., Carlos,“Seguridad compartida en América Latina: desafío del siglo XXI”. Presentation at the seminar  "Cooperación para la Paz: América del Sur en el siglo XXI", Instituto Peruano de Relaciones Internacionales (IPRI) y Programa de Estudios Conjuntos sobre las Relaciones Internacionales de América Latina (RIAL), Lima, September 14-16,  1988, p.19.

Countries / regions: Newsletter

Department/Section: Newsletter


Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung en Colombia

Calle 71 N° 11-90
Bogotá DC - Colombia

+57 (1) 347 3077

Síguenos en

Canal de Youtube

volver arriba