Disintegrate, according to the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language, admits several meanings. One of them means to destroy completely; another, losing cohesion and strength. The notion of disintegration then refers to a loss and/or destruction. Here we assume that disintegration is not just the antithesis of integration, but reflects the decline of a way of conceiving and applying common policies on a wide range of issues between states linked to a political community. In this sense, there is a danger that Mercosur may eventually disintegrate, and the greatest responsibility will be Argentina and Brazil.
Since the beginning of the democratization processes in the 1980s and before the end of the Cold War, both have taken on the merits of a strategic partnership. Today, the great sub-regional product of this bilateral commitment, Mercosur, is losing gravitas and is the source of growing intra-group divergence. Year by year, depending on the national situation in each country, the number of market-skeptics, market-obstaclers and market-challengers increase. Simultaneously, the voices of merco-enthusiasts, merco-pragmatists and committed merchants have been silent.
Why, despite efforts to create international organizations and the benefits they generate, do states abandon or destroy them? Internationalist Mette Eilstrup-Sangiovanni conducted a study based on the performance of 561 intergovernmental organizations created between 1815 and 2006 and came to a surprising conclusion: the death rate has been relatively high, as approximately two-fifths have ceased to exist.
What leads to the demise of intergovernmental organizations? There are two theses. On the one hand, it is argued that the deaths are caused by changes in the international balance of power and/or by external political and economic shocks that reduce the usefulness of States, as was the case with Saarc (South Asia Regional Cooperation Association ) founded in 1985. On the other hand, it is argued that these organizations are likely to cease due to endogenous causes related to the fragility of their institutionality, the reduction of transnational links between members and ideological divisions, as in the case of the Andean Community de Nações (CAN), created in 1969 under the name of Pacto Andino and in vegetative state since 2006.
Marcosul’s current crisis is, in part, different and more complex. Gradually, there is a confluence of exogenous and endogenous factors that act as inhibiting – and eventually destructive – causes of the integrative process. The crossroads that Mercosur is facing today resembles a combination of what happened to Saarc and CAN.
According to internationalist Stephen Walt, the failure or collapse of these societies is due to strategic, material and symbolic power, political and socioeconomic aspects. Saarc has not been able to organize a summit since 2014. The last was Pakistan, but with tensions rising after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2016, India boycotted attempts to hold such a conclave. They have been without meetings for seven years, and in this period Pakistan has consolidated a very close relationship with China, while India has strengthened its rapprochement with the United States.
Something similar could happen if, for example, in the scenario of a fierce dispute between the United States and China, Argentina and/or Brazil decided to bow to one or the other of the powers. Thus, the respective acquiescence would bury the spirit of strategic convergence of the 1985 Foz de Iguaçu Declaration that sealed the friendship between Argentina and Brazil.
Mercosur is also going through the period of lowest density of transnational economic-commercial links in its history. This decline in intrazone trade began to consolidate in 2011, and was accentuated, abruptly, with the increase in demand for primary products in China, which, at the same time, contributed to the acceleration of a process of insourcing of the block.
In view of this, the Mercosur countries did not generate new conditions for a productive re-deployment based on agro-industrial value chains or joint projects for productive diversification. On the contrary, one-sided dynamics and dogmatic beliefs slowly increased, discouraging productive bonds.
ARE WE AT THE DOORS OF DISINTEGRATION?
A first lesson is that international organizations can succumb to the environmental stress of an external shock if they do not generate enough antibodies and their members are inclined to respond affirmatively to requests for acquiescence from great powers, as in the aforementioned case of Saarc. A second lesson is the risk represented by the lower density of transnational links, the insufficiencies of the physical infrastructure, the limited willingness or capacity for innovation and insertion in the regional value chains of companies and the social fragility derived from the limited citizen participation in joint projects.
It is possible, as internationalist Andrew Moravcsik argues with regard to the European Union, that even a collapse of the euro will not jeopardize integration. However, the repercussions of such an event would undoubtedly give an enormous boost to the anti-European movements. Finally, a third lesson to be highlighted is that the political vacillations that each government attributes to integration can erode cohesion and thereby lay the groundwork for disintegration.
According to sociologist and political scientist Karl Deutsch, a system is integrated if, by virtue of the cohesion among its members, it can deal with tensions and pressures, withstand imbalances and resist divisions. An example is the failure of the League of Nations, which had a promising heyday between 1924-1929. For reasons specific to each country, governments and public opinion in Western countries hesitated to give it relevance during the period 1934-1938. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a famous 1937 speech, called for the “quarantine of challengers,” but neither elites nor societies supported him.
Is there an awareness in member countries —especially Argentina and Brazil— of what the end of Mercosur could mean?
It is no longer a question of adapting to circumstances to allow Mercosur to survive, but of the need for an effort, mainly by Argentina and Brazil, to rescue and reactivate the strategic meaning of this agreement that completes its 30 years of existence. In this context, it is urgent, as a natural complement to what the governments in power are doing, to stimulate and develop citizen diplomacy so that it can assume a complementary role to that of the State.
In summary, a broad involvement of citizens — politicians, businessmen, workers, NGOs, union members, academics, scientists, communicators, artists, women, young people, etc — is essential in an effective recovery of the Argentine-Brazilian integrationist ideal and in a frank relaunch of Mercosur .
*Translation from Spanish by Maria Isabel Santos Lima