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December 19, 2011

To Fix the OAS, Threats Are Not the Answer
Posted by The Editors

Connie MackThis post by Johanna Mendelson Forman, senior associate in the Americas Program and the William E. Simon Chair of Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The views represented here are solely those of the author and do not represent CSIS.

As if the House of Representatives had nothing else to do this week, the Sub Committee on the Western Hemisphere of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, will mark up a bill introduced by Representative Connie Mack (R-FL) that seeks a reduction in U.S. contributions to the Organization of the American States (OAS). Specifically, the bill would seek a 20 percent cut in OAS funding (the U.S. contribution is $48.5 million a year) each time the Permanent Council of the OAS, when in session, failed to condemn Venezuela for breach of the Inter-America Charter. This treaty, signed by member states in September 2001, addresses the principles of democratic governance and what must be done in the event of a coup, or other interruption of the democratic process. Mack specifically references Article 20 of the Charter which states:

In the event of an unconstitutional alteration of the constitutional regime that seriously impairs the democratic order in a member state, any member state or the Secretary General may request the immediate convocation of the Permanent Council to undertake a collective assessment of the situation and to take such decisions as it deems appropriate.  The Permanent Council, depending on the situation, may undertake the necessary diplomatic initiatives, including good offices, to foster the restoration of democracy.

This is not the first time that Mack has attacked the OAS. In July he proposed to shut down the institution when the Sub-Committee was reviewing the FY 2012 State Department authorization bill. While unsuccessful in that attempt to defund the institution where the U.S. can engage with all the nations of the hemisphere, save Cuba, Mack is now going for the cudgel by seeking to end the OAS by a thousand cuts.

OAS bashing is not a new sport in this Republican dominated House. It mirrors the deeper distaste that exists for any multilateral institution. There is no doubt that the OAS has its problems. There is a bloated bureaucracy that needs to be trimmed. It also could benefit from better oversight and administration. But we are bound to membership by treaty. And since 1948 when Secretary of State George Marshall signed the founding Charter, it has been part of a uniquely American international legal regime to which our government and 34 others subscribe. Cutting off U.S. support would send a powerful signal to countries in the region that already have doubts about our nation’s commitment to supporting them except for counter-narcotics efforts. At a time when the our neighbors are joining other multilateral organizations that specifically exclude the U.S., why would we want to close the door on a forum that can provide an important diplomatic tool in a region that is still our most important trading zone, and from which our energy security depend and has remained democratic and at peace?

Photo: Mack.house.gov

Correction: An earlier version of this piece included Stephen Johnson of CSIS as an author. He is not, and his name has been removed from the byline. -JJS

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