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Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America

One of the central paradoxes of the global Cold War was the prevalence of rivalries among countries within the same bloc. Given a common adversary, why did so many of these conflicts persist, why did peacemaking efforts repeatedly fail, and what conditions ultimately contributed to the rare instances of successful rapprochement? Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America, the first systematic analysis of these conflicts among US allies, argues that bureaucratic interests, rather than international mistrust or diplomatic missteps, fueled protracted rivalry among allies. Christopher Darnton discusses four critical conflict-resolution initiatives between Argentina and Brazil from 1949 to 1980, based on research in both countries’ foreign ministry archives. These documents reveal how presidents in both countries managed their armed forces and civilian bureaucracies, responded to insurgent threats and economic crises, and navigated the triangular relationship with Washington. Placing these rapprochement efforts in broader comparative perspective, Darnton articulates the political risks of diplomatic engagement, the economic and organizational components of successful conflict resolution, and some surprising lessons for contemporary coalition-building.

Christopher Darnton is an assistant professor of politics at the Catholic University of America. He is the author of Rivalry and Alliance Politics in Cold War Latin America (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) and of articles in International Studies Quarterly, Security Studies, Latin American Research Review, and the Journal of Cold War Studies. He holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University.

The Washington History Seminar is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. See www.wilsoncenter.org/collection/washington-history-seminar for the schedule, speakers, topics, and dates as well as webcasts and podcasts. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.

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