| SPACES FOR ACTION-ORIENTED THOUGH:
An essential dimension in the development of Latin American regional cooperation.
by Félix Peña
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
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
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 http://issuu.com/
and on http://www.cippec.org).
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
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 http://consejorial.org/).
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
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 http://internacional.elpais.com/,
including the link to the final version of the text http://ep00.epimg.net/),
and those developed in the context of the WTO, especially in relation
to the Ministerial Conference of Nairobi (see all the information on https://www.wto.org/).
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 www.eviangroup.org)
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 http://www10.iadb.org/).
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 http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
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
- 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
legal framework of the 1980 Montevideo Treaty, which created the
LAIA (see http://www.felixpena.com.ar/).
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.
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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