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  Félix Peña

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An essential dimension in the development of Latin American regional cooperation.

by Félix Peña
December 2015

English translation: Isabel Romero Carranza


Recent meetings of think tanks on international relations show the growing importance these have for the region. They show how valuable is the relation between the capabilities for analysis and for action in order to achieve a more effective approach to the strategies for integration of Latin American countries in the international system.

The dynamics and complexity of the current international system can be observed, in particular, in those issues related with global and regional governance, whether in the conditions to achieve a reasonable level of peace and political stability in regional spaces, or in those which help increase the connectivity, compatibility and convergence of the various national political and economic systems. They can also be seen in the multiple scenarios of negotiations aimed at developing institutions and ground rules for global inter-regional and regional governance.

There is no single model to address the development of think-tanks oriented towards international action and working in a given country. However, some common features are present. Among them is the ability to include in their agendas the most relevant issues for the development of an international integration strategy of a country. Secondly, is to be able to connect the agendas of similar action-oriented think tanks in countries belonging to the same regional space. The third common feature is the development of common agendas between the interconnected think tanks.

It is also possible to see common elements in the working methods used. The first of these includes addressing the respective agendas with the participation of multiple stakeholders, who express diversity in terms of social roles, generations and visions of reality. A second element is that they focus their activity on the analysis of a few relevant issues of the current international agenda and that, due to their complexity, require to be viewed from multi-disciplinary perspectives. A third common element is that they seek to contribute with concrete ideas that may be useful for actions aimed at addressing relevant issues of the global and regional agenda.

Three recent meetings, where the issues relevant to Latin American countries and their insertion in the world were discussed, have revealed the advances in the area of action-oriented thinking at regional level.

The first of such meetings was the Third Latin American Encounter of Think Tanks, organized by the CIPPEC, the CARI, the FGV and the Program of Think Tanks and Civil Society of the University of Pennsylvania. It was held in Buenos Aires from November 11 to 13 of this year with the active participation of representatives from over twenty institutions in twelve Latin American countries (see the program on and on The topic of the impact of the global changes was present in one of the modules of the program entitled "A look at the new geopolitical scenario in Latin America."

The second meeting was the RIBEI V International Conference, organized by the Ibero-American Network of International Studies (RIBEI), the FUNGLODE and the Real Instituto Elcano. It was held in Santo Domingo, on December 1 and 2 of this year and focused on the theme of "The new changes in the global agenda and their regional impact" (see the program on It had about twenty participants from different institutions in Latin American countries. Representing Argentina were the CARI and the National University of Tres de Febrero.

The third was that of the RIAL - Latin American Council of International Studies. It was held in Buenos Aires on December 11 and 12 of this year. On the first day, there was a political dialogue on the current situation of Latin America. On the second day, an academic seminar on the current state and prospects of Latin American political economy took place at the University Torcuato Di Tella (see the relevant information on The political dialogue was attended by about twenty participants from different countries of the region, including former presidents and former ministers, as well as experts from different disciplines related with international relations.

Such meetings, among many others, reflect the growing importance that action-oriented think tanks have gained in Latin American countries. They express the value of the link between analytical capabilities and concrete action, especially in the public sphere, in order to achieve, among other goals, a more effective approach to integration strategies of Latin American countries in the international system. It is an appreciation that has grown in the light of the greater dynamism and complexity that the political and economic relations between nations have today, both at the global level and in each of the geographic regions.

Such dynamics and complexity can be observed, particularly, in issues related with global governance -in its multilateral and inter-regional expressions-, and regional governance, in the conditions that help achieve reasonable levels of peace and political stability in the different regional spaces and in those conditions that help increase the connectivity, compatibility and convergence of the various national political, economic and productive systems. It can also be seen in the multiple scenarios of negotiations aimed at developing institutions and ground rules for global, inter-regional and regional governance. Recent examples of such negotiations are, among others, the Paris Conference on Climate Change, which was successfully completed on December 12, (for information on this event, go to, including the link to the final version of the text, and those developed in the context of the WTO, especially in relation to the Ministerial Conference of Nairobi (see all the information on

There is no single model to address the development of think tanks oriented towards international action and operating in a given country. However, in the abovementioned meetings certain common features of the participating institutions could be observed. Three of these deserve special attention. The first is that they include, in their debate and research agendas, those issues perceived as most relevant for the development of the international integration strategy of each country. The second is that they connect the activities of think tanks that have similar objectives and methods in countries belonging to the same regional space. This is the networking task which, although still in its infancy -both inside the countries and at regional level- has plenty of room for growth and the necessary future development. And the third shared trait is, precisely, that they generate common agendas with the other think tanks with which they connect. The relevance of the highlighted issues, as well as the density of the networks that are built and the coordination of the different agendas, could turn them into a key factor for developing a cooperative interdependence between the countries of the region, especially in terms of their insertion in the global international system.

It is also possible to see common elements in the working methods used by different action-oriented think tanks that are connected with each other, especially when they get together to share their analysis. A first common element is that they address their respective agendas with the participation of multiple stakeholders who express the diversity in terms of social roles, generations and visions of reality. This acknowledges the fact that, in order to understand international reality in the perspective of a country or group of countries, it is necessary to have a multidisciplinary and pluralist approach that draws from the diversity that characterizes global and regional spaces today. A second element is that they concentrate their activity in the analysis of few issues that are relevant for the current international agenda and that, due to their complexity, require to be analyzed from various multidisciplinary perspectives -for example those issues that could not be understood and addressed without resorting simultaneously to the logic of power, economics and the law. A third common element is that they strive to provide concrete ideas that can be useful in terms of the actions and policies needed to address important issues of the international agenda, whether in the perspective of a country or a group of countries.

Meetings such as those mentioned above do not necessarily aspire to draw formal conclusions that are action-oriented. They are spaces for reflection and debate, for the flow of ideas on how to face reality. Their aim is to exchange different points of view on relevant issues of the international agenda in any given time and on how to address them effectively. Therefore, their main result would be to contribute viable ideas for those who may eventually influence, directly or indirectly, the political or strategic decisions that aim to impact reality.

They constitute systematic talks between protagonists with different social roles and with different views and ideas on how to act to influence reality. Hence, it is important that the work agenda of the corresponding meeting includes relevant and current issues with a strong projection into the future.

Also important is the way of addressing the talks among participants. The best meetings are those where the agenda contains few themes; where there is a moderator who is able to incite the debate; where initial presentations are brief (ideally about ten minutes, obviously without reading texts and, even less, using slide shows); followed by a good period of conversation with rather short interventions (ideally three minutes as a maximum) and an active role of the moderator. Usually, these meetings do not require formal conclusions. These are drawn by each participant in relation to their own agendas as specialists, analysts or protagonists of the international relations of their countries. The meetings of the Evian Group (see led by Professor Jean-Pierre Lehmann (currently professor emeritus at IMD in Lausanne), which dealt with the relevant issues of the agenda of international trade negotiations, lasted two days and a half, had about sixty participants from very diverse lines of activity and some thirty countries and provided valuable contributions to its participants. This is one example, among many others, of how fruitful can these action-oriented thought and reflection meetings be. The same is true for the discontinued experience of the Mercosur Chair at Sciences-Po Paris (see During several years it was a space for multidisciplinary thought, with the participation of negotiators, businesspeople, experts, opinion formers -but no governmental character- on the negotiations between Mercosur and the European Union. Its discontinuity may be considered both as a consequence and as a cause at the same time of the weakening of the spirit necessary to achieve a successful bi-regional negotiation.

They are thus meetings aimed at nurturing a process that is rich in its diversity of action-oriented thought. The diagnoses that may result from these meetings, through the contribution of the various participants, are important because they influence the quality of the discussions. But still more important is the emphasis placed on thinking out alternatives on how to deal with relevant and complex issues through concrete actions, especially in terms of global, inter-regional and regional governance.

For example, at the meeting of RIBEI in Santo Domingo, as a participant, one could conclude that there is a need to continue reflecting periodically on how to address some relevant issues of the Latin American agenda of the present and the immediate future (the next meeting will be held in Colombia in 2016).

These issues can be summed up in the following three questions:

  • How can Latin American countries -eventually acting with countries in other regions, such as the EU and China- cooperate with Cuba for a successful conclusion of the process started on December 17, 2014 to normalize its bilateral relations with the US? It is a process that can still face serious difficulties and whose evolution can have a significant impact on regional relations (in this regard, see the November 2015 issue of this newsletter on Eventually, the success of the process could help dismantle the remaining factors of regional fragmentation, which have deep roots of emotional or ideological origin, and which have fueled the political agenda of the region and of several of its countries during most part of the last fifty years.

  • How can Latin American countries jointly address the inter-regional trade negotiations using their own approach on the type of agreements that can be advantageous and, at the same time, consistent with WTO rules? This would involve having their own model of inter-regional preferential trade agreement, similar to what has been achieved, for example, by the EU, the US and China.

  • How can Latin American countries develop an effective strategy for "convergence in diversity", especially to allow greater articulation in multiple areas between the Mercosur countries and the Pacific Alliance countries? This could be done, for example, using the instruments available within the legal framework of the 1980 Montevideo Treaty, which created the LAIA (see

National and regional action-oriented think tanks can aspire to become more effective if two conditions are met:

  • Firstly, that those involved in the action, whether in government or in business, show interest in receiving guidance from those at the level of thought. That is, that they ask questions and are interested in receiving advice.

  • Secondly, that those at the level of thought and analysis are predisposed to view things from the perspective of those involved in the action-or as we may say "in the trenches"- and to bring forward well-founded ideas and suggestions that provide an answer to the hypothetical or real question "How do we do this?".

Otherwise, if these requirements are not present, the interaction between the two groups becomes difficult or impossible. When this happens one group regards the other as "theoretical or academic", disjointed from reality and situated in "an ivory tower". Conversely, the other group is considered "self-absorbed" and not at all interested in listening. In this way, the conditions for a dialogue in which nobody listens may develop. This is quite a common occurrence and results in a vicious cycle which is very difficult to break.

Recommended Reading:

  • ADBInstitute, "Connecting Central Asia with Economic Centers", Asian Development Bank Institute, Tokyo 2014, en:
  • Archivos del Presente, "Revista Latinoamericana de Temas Internacionales", Año 8, número 63, Buenos Aires 2015.
  • Baldwin, Richard; Kawai, Masahiro; Wignaraja, Ganeshan (editors), "The Future of the World Trading System: Asian Perspectives", with a overview essay by Pascal Lamy, CEPR - ADBInstitute, a Book, London 2013.
  • Baldwin, Richard; Kawai, Masahiro; Wignaraja, Ganeshan (editors), "A World Trade Organization for the 21st Century. The Asian Perspective", ADBInstitute - Graduate Institute Geneva - Center for Trade and Economic Integration, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK - Northampton, MA, USA, 2014.
  • Bartesaghi, Ignacio, "Algunas reflexiones sobre el Mercosur. Propuestas para una necesaria reformulación", KAS - SOPLA, n° 3, Santiago de Chile, octubre 2015, en:
  • Bitar, Sergio; Lowenthal, Abraham F. (editors), "Democratic Transitions. Conversations with World Leaders", International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance Stockholm, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2015.
  • Brookings Institution, "Global cooperation under threat: adapting the UN for the 21st Century", Featured Speaker: Susana Malcorra, Chief of Cabinet - United Nations, Washington DC. June 15, 2015, en:
  • Cohen, Craig; Dalton, Melissa G. (editors), "Global Forecast", CSIS, Washington DC. 2015, en:
  • Crowley, Roger, "Conquerors. How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire", Random House, New York 2015.
  • Fidanza, Eduardo, "El desafío del buen gobierno", en diario "La Nación", Buenos Aires, sábado 21 de noviembre 2015, Sección opinión, página 37, en
  • Helpman, Elhanan, "El Comercio Internacional", Breviarios del Fondo de Cultura Económica, FCE, México 2014.
  • Hirst, Monica, "A Faceta externa do novo governo argentino", Carta Capital - RIAL, 03-12-2015, em:
  • IEDI, "Uma Nova Agenda Para a Política de Comércio Exterior do Brasil", Instituto de Estudos para o Desenvolvimento Industrial (IEDI), Junho 2015.
  • INTAL-BID, "Informe Mercosur. Segundo semestre 2014 - Primer Semestre 2015", Informe Mercosur n° 20, Buenos Aires, noviembre 2015, en:
  • Kershaw, Ian, "To Hell and Back. Europe 1914-1949", Viking Penguin Random House, New York 2015.
  • Lowenthal, Abraham F.; Bertucci, Mariano (editors), "Scholars, Policymakers, & International Affairs", John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 2014.
  • Lowenthal, Abraham F.; Bitar, Sergio, "From Autoritharian Rule Toward Democratic Governance: Learning from Political Leaders", International Institute for Democratic and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), Stockholm 2015.
  • Pauselli, Gino, "Lo que vendrá en política exterior con Macri", en Foreign Affairs Latinamerica - ITAM, México, 23 de noviembre 2015, en
  • Prasad, Nidhi, "Understanding China's foreign policy perspective", EastAsianForum, 4 December 2015, en
  • Riedel, Bruce, "JFK'S Forgotten Crisis. Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian War", Brookins Institution Press, Washington DC. 2015.
  • Rosanvallon, Pierre, "El Buen Gobierno", Manantial, Buenos Aires 2015.
  • Singer, P.W.; Friedman, Allan, "Cybersecurity and Cyberwar. What everyone needs to know", Oxford University Press 2014.
  • Tapscott, Don, "The Digital Economy. Rethinking Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence", Mc Graw Hill Education, New York 2015.

Félix Peña Director of the Institute of International Trade at the ICBC Foundation. Director of the Masters Degree in International Trade Relations at Tres de Febrero National University (UNTREF). Member of the Executive Committee of the Argentine Council for International Relations (CARI). Member of the Evian Group Brains Trust. More information. |

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