Uruguay's foreign policy has been shaped by its democratic tradition, its history of being a victim of foreign intervention, its status as the second smallest country in South America (after Suriname), and its location between the two rival giants of the region: Argentina to the west and Brazil to the north. In the nineteenth century, Argentina and Brazil did not accept Uruguay's status as an independent republic, and they often invaded Uruguayan territory. The British and French consuls, for their part, often exercised as much power as the local authorities. Thus, Uruguay's international relations historically have been guided by the principles of nonintervention, respect for national sovereignty, and reliance on the rule of law to settle disputes. The use of military force anywhere except internally was never a feasible option for Uruguay.
According to Bernardo Quagliotti de Bellis, a Uruguayan professor of law, his country had historically defined its foreign policy as based on five principles: affirmation of the right of self-determination of peoples; active participation in the process of political cooperation that attempts to look within and outside the region; coordination of positions on everything possible; recognition of the complexity and the diversity of the problems at hand; and flexibility combined with a sense of precaution.
Beginning with Batlle y Ordóñez's government in the early twentieth century, Uruguay has been active in international and regional organizations. It joined the United Nations (UN) in 1945 and has been a member of most of its specialized agencies. In 1986 Uruguay was elected to membership in the UN's Economic and Social Council. In December 1989, Uruguay signed the United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. Uruguay belonged to thirty-one other international organizations as well, including the Organization of American States (OAS), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), the Latin American Economic System (Sistema Económico Latinamericano--SELA), and the Latin American Integration Association (Asociación Latinoamericana de Integración-- ALADI). Uruguay was a signatory of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (Rio Treaty), the Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America (Tlatelolco Treaty), and the Río de la Plata Basin Treaty.
Uruguay has had strong political and cultural ties with the countries of Europe and the Americas. It has shared basic values with them, such as support for constitutional democracy, political pluralism, and individual liberties. Historically, Uruguay has enjoyed a special relationship with Britain because of political and economic ties beginning in 1828. Bilateral relations with Argentina and Brazil have always been of particular importance. In 1974 and 1975, Uruguay signed economic and commercial cooperation agreements with both countries.
Traditionally, relations between Uruguay and the United States have been based on a common dedication to democratic ideals. Although it initially attempted neutrality in both world wars, Uruguay ultimately sided with the Allies. In World War I, Uruguay did not break relations with Germany and lift its neutrality policy until October 1917. By that time, the government of Feliciano Viera (1915-19) had recognized "the justice and nobility" of the United States severance of diplomatic relations with Germany in early 1917. In 1941 President Alfredo Baldomir (1938-43) allowed the United States to build naval and air bases in Uruguay. The United States also trained and supplied Uruguay's armed forces. In January 1942, one month after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Uruguay broke relations with the Axis. The United States reciprocated with generous loans. As a condition for admission to the San Francisco conference, where the United Nations Charter was drawn up, Uruguay declared war against the Axis on February 15, 1945. That year it also signed the Act of Chapultepec (a collective defense treaty of the American republics) and joined the Inter-American Defense Board (IADB). In 1947 it signed the Rio Treaty, a regional alliance that established a mutual defense system.
During the 1973-85 period of military rule, Uruguay's traditionally democratic diplomacy was replaced by "military diplomacy" as determined by the "Doctrine of National Security." This military diplomacy gave priority to the serious problem of national and regional subversion and to historical conflicts affecting regional diplomatic stability, such as the issues of dams between Argentina and Brazil, sovereignty over the Beagle Channel, Bolivia's attempts to regain access to the Pacific from Chile, the Ecuador-Peru border dispute, and South Atlantic security.
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