Regional Arms Control Initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean (1974-2003)

January 21, 2009

Ayacucho Declaration, 1974

On December 9, 1974, the sesquicentennial celebration of the Battle of Ayacucho, the site of Simon Bolivar's final victory over Spain, eight Latin American nations stated their intention to consider arms limitations. Representatives from Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela jointly declared the need to "create conditions which permit effective limitation of armaments and put an end to their acquisition for offensive military purposes, in order to dedicate all possible resources to economic development."

1978 Initiatives

On June 7, 1999, the OAS General Assembly in Guatemala adopted a landmark Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions. As of June, 2003, the Convention has been signed by 20 OAS member states - all major hemispheric conventional weapons importers and exporters. Signatories to the Convention are: Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Canada, Costa Rica, Colombia, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela. As of June, 2003, eight states have ratified (Canada, Guatemala, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Peru, Paraguay and Uruguay). The Convention entered into force on November 21, 2002 with the deposit of the seventh instrument of ratification. This action brought to fruition several years of intense consultations in the hemisphere by the Governments of Brazil and the United States on a regional transparency agreement that will further contribute to regional peace and security. This unprecedented Convention puts in place a concrete mechanism for strengthening regional stability through mutual confidence and transparency and is a significant achievement for the OAS and the U.S.

A. Ayacucho Revisited

At the urging of Venezuela, the signatories of the 1974 Ayacucho Declaration attempted to revive the Latin American arms restraint initiative. Meeting in Washington on June 22, 1978, the signatory nations of the Declaration of Ayacucho reaffirmed the importance they attributed to the principles of the Declaration and agreed to examine concrete measures for the limitation of conventional armaments in Latin America.

Mexico circulated a more detailed proposal among the Latin American Foreign Ministers attending a meeting of the Organization of American States at the same time. The renewed effort under the Ayacucho Declaration to agree on regional arms limits was unsuccessful.

B. Mexican Conference

At the invitation of the Mexican Government, 21 nations of Latin America and the Caribbean held informal meetings in Tlatelolco, Mexico City, on August 21-24, 1978 on limiting conventional weapons in the region. The Mexican Government attempted to carry the spirit of the Treaty of Tlatelolco (for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America) into the field of conventional armaments. Discussions among the nations focused on a Mexican working document entitled, "Limitations or Prohibitions on the Transfer and use of Certain Conventional Weapons at a Regional Level." The working paper called for:

(1) Consultation on: a) the regulation of the transfer of certain types of conventional weapons to Latin America and Caribbean, as well as among countries of the area, b) the establishment of limitations and/or prohibitions on the use of certain types of conventional weapons considered excessively harmful and/or having indiscriminate effects;

(2) A meeting of a Conference of Foreign Ministers in order to adopt concrete measures; and

(3) The possible "calling a high level meeting to which all supplier countries of conventional weapons would be invited and which would be decided by the Chancellors, ... in order to guarantee the effectiveness of the measures adopted by the states of the region in this matter."

The Mexican effort was ultimately unsuccessful at reaching a regional arms control arrangement.

Contadora Process, 1983 - 1987

In January 1983, the foreign ministers of Colombia, Mexico, Panama, and Venezuela met on Contadora Island, Panama, to initiate what was the principal multilateral mechanism in the early 1980s in the search for peaceful resolution to the conflict in Central America. This "Contadora process" produced its first tangible agreement in September 1983, when the four Contadora Group and the five Central American governments issued a "Document of Objectives," which identified twenty-one political, security and social-economic goals to be negotiated. Several of the 21 goals addressed the control and reduction of weapons, troops, and foreign military advisers in the sub-region.

On September 9, 1983, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Central America and the Contadora Group began negotiations of a document based on the common goals set out in the "Document of Objectives." A draft "Contadora Act for Peace and Cooperation in Central America" was completed in 1984 and revised through 1987.

Yet, multilateral negotiations eventually floundered. Negotiations to find a peaceful solution to the problems of Central America, however, continued through the efforts of Costa Rica. The Contadora multilateral negotiations eventually gave way to the Esquipulas process.

Peruvian Proposal, 1985

In, 1985, the new Peruvian government called for a regional agreement limiting expenditures on armaments. In this context, Peru announced a unilateral decision to reduce the size of its purchase of French Mirage fighter aircraft. Peru considered it essential to further regional disarmament so that resources spent on armaments could be directed toward development goals.

Following this commitment, Peru took several steps to promote a regional arms control arrangement. It attempted to improve bilateral relations with its neighbors in order to create the proper political climate for some type of regional arms arrangement. This effort led to meetings between Peru and Ecuador and between Peru and Chile.

At the 1985 OAS General Assembly, Peru actively promoted its initiative and stated,

"We believe that the best defense is the affirmation of the nation as a people and that the social urgency of our countries imposes upon us the limitation of our expenditures on arms. That is why we propose in Latin America a regional agreement for the substantive reduction of expenditures on weapons and we will not spare any effort to achieve it."

Peru went on to sponsor a United Nations General Assembly resolution on regional disarmament, which passed during the 1985 session. Although Peru’s proposal did not produce any concrete results, it did improve relations among countries in the Andean region.

Esquipulas, 1987- 1995

In August 1987, the Central American Presidents agreed to implement a regional peace and democratization plan. Known as Esquipulas II, it established broad commitments regarding: 1) democratization, 2) cessation of internal hostilities, 3) amnesty, 4) ending aid to insurgents, 5) national reconciliation, and 6) negotiations on security, verification, control, and limitation of weapons. The agreement built on the "Document of Objectives" put forward by the Contadora Group.

Following the completion of many of the political Esquipulas commitments, the five Central American countries of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala reaffirmed their desire to begin negotiations in the areas of security, verification, control and arms reduction in accordance with the Esquipulas II agreements. At the first meeting in San Jose, Costa Rica on July 31, 1990, they agreed to a regular process to accomplish these stated goals: to assure armed forces are defensive and not offensive in nature; maintain a reasonable balance or a proportional and comprehensive equilibrium of weapons, equipment, and troops such that they do not constitute a threat to neighboring countries; and define a new model of security relations based on cooperation, communication and prevention.

The five countries also agreed to create a body (Central American Security Commission, "CASC") to periodically meet to negotiate an appropriate arms control arrangements. At the September 10, 1990 meeting, CASC agreed to extend the United Nations presence in Central America, demobilize irregular and subversive movements, establish a regional mechanism to prevent crisis situations and form a technical subcommittee to handle questions of military inventories and arms reduction. The Central Americans also requested help from other countries, the United Nations, and Organization of American States to address the problems of mined border zones.

During the summer of 1991, the Government of Honduras tabled a draft treaty on Central American security for consideration by the five countries. The draft treaty of fifty articles detailed a program of confidence and security building measures (CSBMs), and the eventual negotiation of arms and troops limitations once insurgencies ended in Guatemala and El Salvador. Yet, due to internal peace processes and the then conflict in Guatemala, little progress was made on the treaty.

In 1995, the Central American Presidents agreed to proceed forward in the search for a new security agreement for Central America based on new concepts of security. In August 1995, a new draft treaty entitled "Central American Democratic Security Treaty" was tabled for consideration. After several months of negotiations, the treaty, the "Framework Treaty on Democratic Security in Central America" was signed December 15, 1995 in San Pedro Sula, Honduras by the Presidents of Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama. The treaty seeks to strengthen democracy in the region; protect human rights; begin to eliminate narcotics and weapons trafficking; promote sustained development; and encourage a regional arms control arrangement that promotes transparency, confidence and long-term peace. As of June, 2003 El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala have ratified the Framework Treaty.

Mendoza Declaration, September 5, 1991

On September 5, 1991, the Foreign Ministers of Argentina, Brazil, and Chile signed a trilateral declaration on chemical and biological weapons in Mendoza, Argentina. Under the declaration, the three countries expressed their commitment not to develop, produce or acquire chemical or biological weapons.

Peruvian Initiative, July, 23, 1991

On July 23, 1991 Peru announced a regional arms control initiative. In particular, it called for an extraordinary meeting of the Rio Group to discuss regional arms control measures. The objectives of the meeting were: (1) formal renunciation of all weapons of mass destruction, (2) agreement to ban short/medium range ballistic missiles and new generations of advanced conventional weapons, and (3) elaboration of confidence and security building and transparency measures. No follow-up activity occurred in response to the Peruvian proposal.

XXI OAS General Assembly, June 1991

The 21st General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OASGA) in 1991, created a permanent council working group to examine security issues ranging from proliferation and arms transfers to "cooperation for hemispheric security." The group was chaired by Argentina from October 1991 - August 1995. In August 1995, the working Group was made a Permanent Committee of the OAS.

XXII OAS General Assembly, May 1992

To advance U.S. defense and security objectives including nonproliferation and arms control, the U.S. tabled for consideration a resolution on regional and global arms control in 1992. On May 4, Brazil offered a counter-draft expanding the U.S. resolution to also include support for various economic and social goals. These goals ranged from trade expansion to cooperation on extreme poverty, as agreed to in the 1991 Santiago Declaration.

The ideas were merged into a resolution that was adopted and approved by the OAS Permanent Council on May 12 for presentation to the 22nd General Assembly in Nassau, Bahamas. The resolution takes note, in detail, of the exemplary record of the region in the matter of arms control and disarmament and urges states to take further steps both within and outside the region. On May 23, 1992, with thirty-one cosponsors, the U.S.-Brazilian resolution was adopted by consensus at the General Assembly.

Buenos Aires Governmental Experts Meeting on CSBMs, March 1994

During 1994 and 1995, the OAS Special Committee on Hemispheric Security devoted a substantial amount of time and resources on fulfilling the mandate of the XXIII OASGA "to hold

a Governments' experts meeting on CSBMs." On November 17-19, 1993, the OAS convened a preparatory experts' meeting on confidence and security building measures in Washington. The meeting discussed CSBMs and established procedures and an agenda for the future meeting mandated by the OASGA resolution.

On March 15-18, 1994, the OAS held the governmental experts' meeting on CSBMs in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The conference consisted of five plenary sessions and two working groups. The first working group developed an illustrative list of CSBMs for the region, and the second prepared a final report with recommendations to the OAS Permanent Council. Those recommendations were incorporated in the CSBMs resolution, which passed by consensus at the OAS General Assembly that same year.

Representatives from 19 OAS member states participated: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the U.S., Uruguay, and Venezuela. In addition, the meeting was attended by a large number of OAS observer states (Belgium, Germany, Spain, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, and Russia) and several non-governmental organizations, including the Inter-American Defense Board, the Woodrow Wilson Center, the City University of New York, and the University of Miami's North-South Center.

Aside from the historic nature itself of the Buenos Aires governmental experts' meeting, the experts developed an illustrative list of CSBMs for countries to consider adopting, as appropriate, on a bilateral, sub-regional and regional level. The experts developed a list of CSBMs, which includes military and non-military CSBMs. This document was recently updated at the 2003 Summit-mandated Miami Experts Meeting on CSBMs and remains an essential reference document for the hemisphere.

XXV OAS General Assembly, June 1995

On June 9, 1995, the OAS General Assembly meeting in Montrouis, Haiti, adopted a resolution proposed by the U.S. instructing the Permanent Council to establish a Permanent Committee on Hemispheric Security. This followed months of committee hearings and extensive coordination among delegations both in Washington and in capitals. The consensus adoption of the resolution created the region's first permanent forum on arms control, nonproliferation, and defense and security issues. The initiative institutionalized the OAS’ ability address defense and security issues.

The Santiago CSBMs Conference, November 1995

In 1992, at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, Chile proposed holding a regional conference on confidence and security building measures in Latin America. This offer was integrated within the OAS' own CSBMs process. The Conference was held on November 8-10, 1995. It was endorsed by the Summit of the Americas, when the leaders of the nations of the Hemisphere called to "Support actions to encourage a regional dialogue to promote the strengthening on mutual confidence, preparing the way for a regional conference on confidence and security building measures in 1995, which Chile has offered to host."

The Conference consisted of one General Committee, which heard plenary statements and a Working Group, which prepared the final Declaration for the Conference. Representatives from 23 OAS Member States participated; among them were: Argentina; Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, and the United States. In addition, the conference was attended by more than 30 observer states and organizations.

On November 10, 1995, the OAS Conference issued the Declaration of Santiago on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures, which detailed an action program for the hemisphere to pursue. In the Declaration, the governments of the member states of the OAS agreed to recommend the application of CSBMs, citing in particular:

  • gradual adoption of agreements regarding advance notice of military exercises;
  • exchange of information and participation by all OAS members in the U.N. registers of conventional arms and military expenditures;
  • promoting exchange of information concerning defense policies and doctrines;
  • agreements on invitation of observers to military exercises;
  • holding of meetings on the special security concerns of small island states.

The participants included in the Declaration a call for peaceful resolution "as soon as possible" of "ongoing disputes"; this was a tactful reference to territorial and border conflicts in the region. The Declaration charged the OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security with primary responsibility for follow-up and for the production of draft resolutions at the June 1996 OAS General Assembly in Panama that would recognize the progress achieved and take additional steps. At the closing session, El Salvador announced that, if the OAS General Assembly agreed that another high-level CSBMs conference be held, they would offer to host such a meeting.

The Santiago Conference on CSBMs and its Final Declaration indicated a growing consensus in the hemisphere on the value of arms control, in particular CSBMs, as a component of a national security strategy. The Conference also reinforced the basic tenet that participation by civilian and military officials, in partnership, constitutes an important factor in the development and implementation of CSBMs.

Treaty of Tlatelolco II, November 1996

Based on Mexico’s 1978 efforts on limiting conventional weapons in the region, it attempted within the Rio Group in 1996 to address the issue of conventional arms. The Mexican proposal was referred to in the November 1995 Declaration of Santiago on CSBMs. Mexico held a meeting of interested Rio Group members to discuss the initiative. The effort met with no success.

San Salvador Conference on CSBMs, February 1998

On February 25-27, 1998, the OAS held a regional Conference on CSBMs in San Salvador, El Salvador. The Conference consisted of the General Committee, which heard plenary statements, and a Working Group, which prepared the final Declaration for the Conference.

Representatives from 27 OAS member states participated: Argentina, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Uruguay, the United States, and Venezuela. In addition, the Conference was attended by observers from several states and international organizations.

On February 27, 1998, the OAS Conference issued a consensus "Declaration of San Salvador on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures." The 27 participating countries were able to identify for possible implementation additional CSBMs on a bilateral and multilateral basis that complement the 1995 Santiago Declaration. The Declaration states that the governments of the OAS agree to recommend the application of CSBMs, in particular to:

Encourage contact and cooperation among legislators including conferences, the exchange of visits, and a meeting of parliamentarians.

Extend to diplomatic training institutes, military academies, research centers, and universities, the seminars, courses, and studies envisioned in the Declarations of Santiago and San Salvador.

Identify and develop activities promoting cooperation among neighboring countries along their border regions.

Promote the exchange of information, inter alia, through the publication of books on defense or official documents on the organization, structure, size, and composition of the armed forces.

Encourage the preparation of studies for establishing a common methodology in order to facilitate the comparison of military expenditures in the region, taking into account, inter alia, the United Nations Standardized International Reporting of Military Expenditures.

Develop a cooperation program to address the concerns raised by maritime transport of nuclear and other waste.

Continue supporting the efforts of the small island states to address their special security concerns, including those of an economic, financial, and environmental nature.

Improve and broaden the information submitted by the member states to the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms.

Continue consultations and the exchange of ideas within the Hemisphere to advance the limitation and control of conventional weapons in the region.

The Conference and its Final Declaration demonstrated continued momentum in the hemisphere for arms control, and, in particular CSBMs, as a component of a national security strategy. The Conference was also successful in broadening the foundation for a cooperative security approach to include Central America and the Caribbean.

Participating countries recommended several actions to strengthen the OAS Committee on Hemispheric Security and called for "a study on revitalizing and strengthening the institutions of the Inter-American system related to the various aspects of hemispheric security, with a view to meeting the challenges of the coming century." Moreover, the region institutionalized dialogues on CSBMs by calling for an annual meeting of experts at the OAS, an inter-parliamentary meeting, and the inclusion of CSBMs themes in the Inter-American Service Chiefs meetings.

Inter-American Convention on Transparency in Conventional Weapons Acquisitions, 1999

This Convention grew out of an OAS resolution adopted at the 1997 General Assembly that stipulated that the OAS would consider the desirability of a legal framework to provide advance notification of major arms acquisitions covered by the United Nations (UN) Register of Conventional Arms. The UN Register is a voluntary annual report by member states on their arms imports, exports and procurement through national production of seven categories of weapons -- battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

The Convention imposes two sets of requirements on States Parties. First, each State Party is required to provide annual reports to the OAS Depositary on its imports and exports of conventional weapons covered by the Convention, which are identical to those covered by the UN Register of Conventional Arms. Second, each State Party is required to notify the Depositary of its acquisitions of covered conventional weapons, whether through imports or national production, within 90 days after they are incorporated into the inventory of the armed forces. States Parties that have not acquired any covered conventional weapons during the preceding year are required to file a "nil report" no later than June 15 of each year.

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) Common Standardized Methodology for Measuring Defense Spending, 2001

One of the CSBMs proposed by the 1998 San Salvador Conference on CSBMs was the establishment of a common methodology to measure defense expenditures that would facilitate comparison of military spending throughout Latin America. The governments of Argentina and Chile embraced this suggestion and, in 1998, agreed to submit a formal request to the Economic Commission for Latin American and Caribbean (ECLAC). Following the publication of Argentina’s Defense White Book in 1999, which contained the first ever-public accounting of its military expenditures, ECLAC began data gathering and analysis. In 2001, ECLAC presented its draft report to Argentina and Chile, which was finalized in 2002. ECLAC’s common standardized methodology for measurement of defense expenditures is now available to all nations of the Hemisphere as an important CSBM that contributes to disarmament and the potential lowering of military expenditures.

Peruvian Proposal for Lowering Defense Spending, 2002

On April 2, 2002, Peru sent a letter to other South American heads of state calling for an agreement prohibiting the acquisition and possession of medium and long-range missiles in Latin America. In the same letter, Peru advocated five other initiatives:

  • Promoting shared security strategies in the context of the review of hemispheric security;
  • Agreeing on initiatives to progressively reduce defense spending and increase social spending;
  • Making advances in the agreements that standardize the measurements of defense spending;
  • Implementing the declarations that declare some regions as Zones of Peace;
  • Calling for a new generation of confidence and security building measures.

At the 5th Defense Ministerial of the Americas (DMA) and the XXXIII OAS General Assembly, Peru called for limitations on defense spending throughout Latin America in order to reallocate the funds to social spending. Peru, along with Costa Rica, introduced a resolution for adoption at the 32nd and 33rd General Assemblies that calls on all states of the hemisphere to reduce defense spending to the lowest levels possible in order to use the funds for "human development."

South America as a Zone of Peace and Cooperation, 2002

On July 26-27, 2002, the Presidents of South America met in Guayaquil, Ecuador and declared South America a Zone of Peace and Cooperation. This declaration built upon the 1998 Declaration of Mercosur, Bolivia and Chile as a Peace Zone, which was signed in Ushuaia, Argentina.

The declaration of Guayaquil notes existing realities created by the Treaty of Tlatelolco, the NPT, the CWC and BWC- that South America is free of WMD [weapons of mass destruction]. Peru introduced resolutions recognizing the South American Zone of Peace and Cooperation at both the UN and the OAS in 2002 and 2003.

Summit-mandated Miami Experts Meeting on CSBMs, 2003

The Plan of Action emanating from the 2001 Quebec City Summit of the Americas mandated the holding of an "experts meeting, prior to the Special Conference on Security, as a follow-up to the regional conferences of Santiago and San Salvador on CSBMs, in order to evaluate implementation and consider next steps to further mutual confidence." The United States hosted this meeting in Miami from February 3-4, 2003.

The meeting consisted of one General Committee, which heard plenary statements and presentations by various delegations and organizations, and two working groups tasked with drafting the final outcome documents of the conference.

Civilian and military representatives from 31 OAS member states participated: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.

Also participating were several observer states, including Russia and France, as well other international organizations, such as the United Nations and the Inter-American Defense Board. Representatives from a variety of non-governmental organizations were also present, and they held a "Civil Society Forum" after the conference proceedings on February 3 that discussed the role of civil society in defense budget transparency.

The Conference issued two final outcome documents: the "Consensus of Miami--Declaration by the Experts on CSBMs: Recommendations to the Summit-mandated Special Conference on Security;" and the "Miami Group of Experts Illustrative List of CSBMs for Countries to Consider Adopting on a Bilateral, Sub-Regional, or Regional Level."

The adoption of these documents marked major successes for the Conference. Both of these documents provide a practical roadmap for resolving interstate border tensions, lowering pressure for arms spending, promoting democratic norms, and fostering a climate of trust, transparency, and cooperation in Hemisphere over the next. In addition, the Conference recommended permanently institutionalizing the CSBMs process by the creation of the Forum for Confidence and Security Building Measures to discuss and advance CSBMs.

More specifically, the "Declaration" recommended the voluntary application of 35 military and general measures by OAS member states. The "Illustrative List" expanded on the measures contained in the "Declaration" by providing a catalog of 53 specific political, diplomatic, military, educational, cultural, and other measures that states of the region can draw upon as they seek to improve ties and build among the states of the region.

The CSBMs developed by the conferences, Buenos Aires, 1994; Santiago, 1995; San Salvador, 1998, have strengthened regional military-to-military relations, reduced inter-state tensions, and fostered cooperation and security among the states of the region. The results of the Miami Meeting of Experts built on this progress by recommending new measures. It also furthered the expansion and institutionalization of the CSBMs endorsed by the previous conferences, and contributed directly to the May 2003 Summit-mandated Special Conference on Security. This Special Conference will be the culmination of a comprehensive review and revitalization of the region’s security institutions.