In mid-August the Trump National Security Council published a “Western Hemisphere Strategic Framework.” (You’re forgiven if you missed it—it got a super-low-profile launch.) Here’s an English translation of an analysis that I published about it last week for Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung en Colombia.
Three and a half years in, the Trump administration has published a “Western Hemisphere Strategic Framework.” It didn’t launch it with much publicity, nor is it a document of transcendental importance.
The document (or at least its declassified summary) says few truly new things. This shouldn’t surprise us from an administration that has said little about policy toward Latin America beyond Cuba, Venezuela, and immigration. But there are a few notable nuances.
The framework makes clear who the enemies are. Within the region it identifies Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, “repressive dictatorial regimes [that] threaten regional security.” Other regimes that have shown authoritarian characteristics but are more aligned with Washington, like Bolivia, El Salvador, or Honduras, escape this label.
Extra-regional powers, and their “malign influence,” are also adversaries. The document only mentions China, although documents from Southern Command, among others, also warn about Russia and Iran. That desire to exclude other powers from the hemisphere recalls the Monroe Doctrine (according to which the United States reserves the right to keep other powers from having a presence in the American continent), something that according to the last national security advisor, John Bolton, is “alive and well.”
In reality, this focus on external powers has more to do with an effort to stay relevant to the National Defense Strategy that the Defense Department published in 2018, under then-Secretary James Mattis. That strategy says a lot about the threat of “great powers,” but hardly mentions the threats that have most oriented policy toward Latin America in recent years. In its public summary, it doesn’t even mention the words “organized crime” or “cartel.”
While none of these documents discusses in detail transnational organized crime—the issue that was most discussed during the Obama years—it’s worth noting that it was the Trump administration, in April 2020, that launched the largest naval deployment to the region in decades, justifying it as an anti-organized crime effort.
Another new nuance are the document’s sections about immigration, the Trump administration’s banner issue. The first objective that the Framework discusses is the protection of the homeland, with the first sub-objective to “Prevent illegal and uncontrolled human migration, smuggling, and trafficking.”
It’s also notable that “Align asylum policies and harmonize visa and immigration regulations” appears as another sub-objective in the section about strengthening democracies: it’s not clear what one has to do with the other.
In 2012, during the Obama administration, the Defense Department published a Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Statement. That document focused on institutional strengthening, fighting organized crime and terrorism, peacekeeping missions, and humanitarian assistance. The new Trump administration document leaves all those issues aside.
These abrupt changes in emphasis not unusual for U.S. policy toward Latin America, whose central paradigm has shifted several times over the past 30 years. From Cold War anti-communism, it morphed into the War on Drugs, and later the War on Terror, from there to “transnational organized crime” and, now, to “countering external influence” with a bit of anti-immigration. There’s no reason to think that the priorities expressed in this new document might be any more long-lasting.