Questions like this are full of innuendos that complicate the issue. Such as: what of the Falklands War (1982), Argentina’s “Dirty War” (1976-1983), or the 1969 “Soccer War” between El Salvador and Honduras? Certainly, the Western Hemisphere (WH) has never been free of warfare, much less violence, as any history of the region will attest, not to mention today’s “border” issue. To answer the question, or to make it relevant, we need to “quantify” the precise meaning (“understanding”) of what we are seeking to discover.
To make the question relevant, comparisons are needed. The essential difference between the WH and other regions of the world is that in the other regions, war has, over time, defined the nature of their existence; in the WH it has been incidental, exceptional, and largely internal. Nor has any war or conflict changed the geopolitical composition of the WH since the independence movements of the early nineteenth century.
In all of the other regions, it has been exactly the opposite.
It is characteristic of the WH that the so-called “Soccer War” is often referred to as the “100 Hour War,” or that the Falklands War lasted two months, or that the Argentine “Dirty War (“Guerra Sucia”) was completely “internal.” Comparisons with Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, as primary cases, where war was/is “chronic” should reveal the distinctions that separate the WH from all other regions on earth.
Before the Franco-Prussian War (1870), French armies had marched into German territory on approximately thirty occasions, most recently by Napoleon Bonaparte. Prussia (and Otto von Bismarck) changed all that by invading France, occupying Paris, and forming a unified German state in 1871. A united Germany then turned the European “Balance of Power” completely around by invading France twice (1914, 1940) while starting two “world” wars in a row, both in succession the most destructive conflicts throughout all history.
Under Adolf Hitler, Germany first occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia and then invaded, in approximate order, Poland, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, Greece, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. For a full year, they bombed London and other British cities (1940-41) while finally declaring war on America, 3,000 miles away (December 11, 1941).
Could Argentina do anything like this?
The Second World War included an “Axis” that saw Germany allied with Imperial Japan and Fascist Italy, which stretched aggression throughout China and the Pacific, The Philippines and Southeast Asia, northern Africa, and throughout the Middle East.
American involvement in the Cold War saw both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and U.S.-Soviet strategic competition literally in every corner of the globe. The U.S. has intervened in Middle East countries on over twenty occasions, including Afghanistan and Iraq in “endless” wars, plus a “War on Terror” that has been in force since 2001. In the meantime, China has become both a nuclear, outer space, and geopolitical rival that has threatened the “world order” since the new century began.
Amidst all this global turmoil, the WH has been comparatively passive and tranquil. How did this happen?
While geopolitical realities, especially the Andes Mountains, explain some of the strategic “isolation” of the WH, the full story is centered upon American foreign policy in the region, going back to the Monroe Doctrine (1823), plus Teddy Roosevelt’s “corollary” to the Doctrine (1902) and the creation of the Panama Canal (1914).
In short, American foreign policy and the security concerns of the region explain most of the reasons that the WH has been spared the disastrous conflicts that have characterized almost all the rest of the political globe.
The immediate reasons for this began with Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and were originally called the “Good Neighbor Policy” (1933).
Through a series of military withdrawals and policy agreements, FDR enrolled all of Latin America behind the U.S. for both the oncoming world war and the subsequent Cold War. Moves were swift and timely.
Troops were withdrawn from earlier occupations. A multilateral non-intervention pledge was signed in Buenos Aires (1936). The Declaration of Lima (1938) pledged hemispheric solidarity should a new war occur. The Act of Panama (1939) declared the Western Hemisphere a neutral zone in the world war. The Havana Declaration (1940) defined the security of all states in the region together as one unit and announced the “no transfer” principle against any foreign intrusion. In September 1940, the U.S. began occupying British possessions in Bermuda and the Caribbean in exchange for U.S. naval destroyers. During the war, the U.S. signed bilateral treaties with sixteen regional countries for base rights and provided “lend-lease” aid to nineteen. In 1942, Washington enrolled both Canada and Mexico into the North American Joint Defense Board.
By the war’s end, the entire hemisphere (including pro-fascist Argentina) had been enrolled as a single strategic system unique to world political history. The Rio Treaty (1947) affirmed that an attack “upon one is an attack upon all” and led the next year to the formation of the Organization of American States (OAS), the most successful regional body in modern history.
As a country absorbed by an “isolationist” history and apparently absorbed equally with a “Liberal, Democratic” ideology, the United States has not neglected its responsibilities in protecting its immediate region (WH) from the trials and tribulations of world politics. Throughout the most recent Cold War and into the new century, only Cuba has seen fit to “defect” from the OAS system, and even they with their Soviet allies were unable to effect lasting change. As President Kennedy told the nation in the missile crisis (1962),
“It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
It’s called “security,” and the same was extended years earlier to western Europe. NATO, in retrospect, came a year after the OAS.