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  • Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America by Christopher Darnton
  • Michael R. Hall
Darnton, Christopher. Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014.

Political Scientist Christopher Darnton, an assistant professor at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, posits two important questions at the beginning of this study: “Why do international rivalries persist despite incentives to cooperate, and how can states resolve these conflicts?” (p. 1). To answer these questions, Darnton examines what he views as causal relationships between international and domestic politics in Latin America and in U.S.-Latin American relations. In Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America, Darnton takes a look at a [End Page 277] series of rivalries in Latin America during the Cold War. This thought-provoking study emerged out of Darnton’s 2009 Princeton University Ph.D. dissertation.

Darnton’s main thesis is that domestic interest groups have distorted national security policymaking for their own self-serving reasons. According to the author, the “major obstacle to rapprochement lay in the vested interests of agencies within the state apparatus (particularly the armed forces) and that the combination of an alternative mission for those agencies and resource constraints compelling policy tradeoffs caused rapprochement” (p. 6). Since one of the most egregious flaws of Détente was the inability of the United States and the Soviet Union to control their client states, U.S. policymakers were surprised to find that the shared threat of international communism and communist insurgents “helped some U.S. allies, but not others, to transcend their rivalries with one another” (p. 1). Thus, in an attempt to explain ongoing rivalries between non-communist states in Latin America during the Cold War, Darnton examines a series of case studies where some countries successfully achieved rapprochement and othersfailed. The case studies are divided into three main subsets, each of which merits a chapter in the book. Chapter 3 analyzes relations between Argentina and Brazil during the Cold War. By far the most detailed and well-researched component of the book (it is almost twice as long as the other case studies and has about twenty pages of footnotes), Darnton evaluates four specific attempts by Argentina and Brazil to achieve a rapprochement between 1945 and 1980. He explains that the attempts in 1947 and 1961 were initiated by democratically-elected governments and both failed. Although the attempts launched in 1972 and 1980 were both initiated by military dictatorships, the first attempt failed and the second attempt succeeded. According to the author, “the combination of economic crisis and the alternative mission of counterinsurgency during the 1970s shifted state agencies’ [the armed forces and the foreign ministries of the two countries] interests from favoring rivalry to supporting cooperation” (p. 13). Since 1980, Darnton claims that Argentine-Brazilian rivalry (except on the soccer field, of course), has been “overcome definitively” (p. 51).

Chapter 4 examines three rivalries in Central America–Honduras and Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador, and Nicaragua and Costa Rica–around the time of the 1959 Cuban Revolution. The author contends that “the critical barrier to cooperation in early Cold War Central America was the policy preference structure of the armed forces and that two variables–mission [End Page 278] availability and state resource constraints–determined these preferences” (p. 111). The least prosperous rivals, Honduras and Nicaragua, having a “common foe and weak U.S. support,” were able to achieve rapprochement “by convincing their armed forces to focus on countersubversion” (p. 111). The other two rivalries, however, continued uninhibited since they did not meet the prerequisites for rapprochement.

In Chapter 5, Darnton turns to four rivalries in the Andean World during the 1980s; which are Chile and Argentina, Chile and Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, and Colombia and Venezuela. The author applies his central argument to the case studies and determines that “the armed forces’ mission development determined leaders’ political capacity to achieve rapprochement” during the 1980s Debt Crisis (p. 141). Once again, only one set of states, Chile and Argentina, were able to achieve a rapprochement. Unfortunately, less than ten pages are dedicated to the other three case studies, which offers a...


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