OAS Role in Maintaining Unity among American States

Subject: Political
Type: Profile Essay
Pages: 10
Word count: 2627
Topics: Democracy, Government


The organization of American States is regarded as the earliest organizations globally. The institution traces its roots in a meeting held in Washington, D.C in 1889.  The meeting brought together the various American states (Legler, 2010). The meeting led to the formation of    International Union of American Republics. After a period of around five decades, in 1948, the member states drew a charter that brought OAS into existence at Bogota. The charter came into effect in 1951. Subsequently, the charter was amended by various protocols such as the protocol of Buenos in 1967, Cartagenas de Indias, in 1985, protocol of Managua in 1993, among others. Currently, the organization has 35 member states. Additionally, the organization has granted 37 sovereign states the permanent observer status together with the European Union (Schnabel & Carment, 2004).  

Chapter three of the OAS charter states, “All American States that ratify the present Charter are members of the Organization”. The above procedure has not changed since the inception of OAS in 1948. The idea behind the formation of the organisation was the promotion of economic integration, cultural and military cooperation among the member states as well as protection of the member states sovereignty against foreign interference (Herze, 2011). In subsequent years, the mandate of the OAS was expanded to include preservation and maintenance of peace, unity and stability among the member states. It is from this background that the following essay seeks to expound on the structure of OAS a well as its activities and roles in the promotion of unity among American states. 

The OAS structure

The OAS has a general Secretariat that runs the administrative work of the institution on daily basis. It is headed by the secretary general who is elected by the member states to serve for a maximum period of five years (Legler, 2010). OAS also has a general assembly that makes the institution’s policies and rules. The General Assembly holds annual meeting that is attended by all foreign ministers of the member states. Additionally, the General Assembly controls the OAS budget as well as exercising direct supervision over various specialized organs. There is also the permanent council which consist of ambassadors of each member states. The permanent council usually carries out interim deliberations in instances of aggression or attacks on member states prior to the General Assembly consultative meeting of foreign ministers. A collective action will only be undertaken when it is approved by a two-thirds majority. Both the general secretariat and Permanent Council have their headquarters in Washington, the United Sates. 

Roles and Activities of the OAS in Maintaining Unity

Peace Building and Conflict Prevention

In response to the emerging realities, the OAS has come up with institutional frameworks aimed at tackling the needs of the member states in the quest of promoting peace, unity and stability in the region.  Throughout the years, the organisation has developed acceptable norms and standards geared towards enhancing peace, security and development in the region. Notable among such initiatives include Inter-American Democratic charter and the Declaration of Santiago that were geared towards enhancing peaceful co-existence among the member states. The two treaties were entered into in 2001 and 2003 respectively (Baranyi, 2005). In the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the different countries constituting the organization affirmed their commitment towards preserving and protecting the values and principles that underlie democratic governance. Moreover, they also made a commitment to pursue preventive measures that are aimed at tackling the probable source of break-down of democracy and rule of law. Any legitimate member state government may invoke the charter and call upon the secretary general or permanent council to intervene if it feels that its democracy is under threat (Meyer, 2012). Moreover, the charter has placed a lot of emphasis on the use of democracy as a central plank in the resolution of inter or intra state conflict. In essence, it has advocated for the citizen participation at all levels of governance as a way of advancing democracy among the member states (legler, 2010). The above measures are quite instrumental in preserving and promoting unity among the member states. In essence, the respect and adherence to the core and underlying principles of democratic governance will inform the member states approach to disagreements that might arise. Instead of escalating the conflicts, member states are usually encouraged to utilise the available channels set out by the OAS as a way of amicably resolving the conflicts. This viewpoint is further buttressed by the Declaration of Santiago on Democracy and Public trust (Herz, 2011).  In the declaration, the member states made an undertaking of pursuing conflict resolutions as well as peace/consensus building mechanisms. The general Assembly also passed a resolution requiring the permanent council to promote the sharing of the best practices among the member states on democracy and conflict-resolution. It is worth noting that OAS, in aligning its efforts with the various resolutions, has employed consensus-building as well as collaboration as a means of resolving inter-state conflicts (Baranyi, 2005).

Institutionalization of Dialogue

Over the years, the OAS has been working towards institutionalizing the mechanisms of dialogue due to the realization of the effectiveness of such a structured approach in resolving conflicts (Herz, 2011).  The OAS General Assembly, in 20003, passed a resolution instructing the general secretariat to come up with the mechanisms for dialogue and instruments to be used for the prevention and resolution of conflicts that might arise among member states.  Structured dialogue has become quite essential for OAS’s work of advancing peace, security and unity in the region. OAS has worked with the members’ states, civil societies as well as political actors in an attempt to increase public participation in the various policies it has adopted (Rudy, 2005). This has gone along way into building a more cohesive organisation with diverse viewpoints. In effect, the member states feel included in the deliberations as opposed to having various resolutions imposed on them without taking into account their perspective. In essence, the OAS has recognized dialogue as a long term strategy aimed at preserving the unity and stability of member states. This is because dialogues that are carried out in an inclusive and participatory manner tend to survive changes in political administrations. In line with its goal of institutionalization of dialogue, OAS’s department for Sustainable Democracy and Special Missions established a section for Institutional Strengthening in Dialogue and Mediation (Schnabel & Carment, 2004). The new body was mandated with developing capacity and frameworks for consensus building and conflict resolution through a structured dialogue.

OAS Charter and Act of Bogota

The OAS charter came into effect in 1948 after 21 member states signed it at Bogota (Schnabel & Carment, 2004). In essence, it became the first regional organisation to actualize the principles of peaceful settlement of disputes as agreed upon by the United Nations Charter. Chapter V of the OAS charter deals specifically with peaceful resolution of disputes. In article 24, the charter states that the differences among the various member states shall be taken through peaceful procedures in line with article 25 (Schnabel & Carment, 2004). The procedures include and are not limited to negotiation, investigation, arbitration, and judicial settlement. Moreover, the permanent council is mandated to offer guidance in the peaceful resolution of disputes.

In the same breadth, the Pact of Bogota was signed in 1948 (Meyer, 2012).  The act was signed by 21 member states and ratified by 16.  Like OAS charter, the pact of Bogota places an obligation among the member states to pursue peaceful means in the settlement of disputes. In addition, it also allows the member states to seek judicial recourse to their grievances at the International Court of Justice where mediation fails to yield the desired outcome. However, despite giving this leeway, it also encourages member states to first settle their conflicts on the regional basis before referring them to the UN Security Council. 

The two legal instruments have been quite effective in resolving conflicts in the region and consequently maintain unity among member states. By utilising the procedures set out in the OAS charter and the Pact of Bogota, the organisation has been able to bring the conflicting parties at around table and make them iron out their differences in an amicable manner (Schnabel & Carment, 2004).  Since many member states ratified the legal instruments, they are under a legal duty to obey its dictates or face sanctions. This has forestalled many conflicts that might have escalated and threatened the unity among the member states. 

Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance

The Act of Chapultepec was adopted by the OAS member states in 1945(Kunz, 2011). In effect, the act called for a collective response for any act of aggression that was levelled against any member state. Moreover, in 1947, another document referred to as Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal was also adopted (Schnabel & Carment, 2004). The two documents treaties were primarily intended to protect the member states collectively from any form of aggression (Meyer, 2012).  They laid down principles that should guide the member states in such during times of aggression such as formal condemnation, retaliation, and non-intervention. Moreover, the treaty proposes a consultative mechanism where the foreign ministers of various member states could meet and decide on what course of action they will take in the face of aggression against a member state (Rudy, 2005).

The symbolic significance of this collective approach in preserving unity among member states cannot be overstated. It cultivates a sense of belonging and worth among member states in knowing that the other members will intervene and lend a helping hand when their territorial integrity is threatened. This in turn makes the member realise that they need each other and will work towards fostering unity even in the midst of disagreements. 

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Disputes Resolved by OAS

Honduras and Nicaragua

There was a maritime dispute between Honduras and Nicaragua. The issue under contention was the establishment of a single maritime boundary (Jeifets & Khadorich, 2015).  Nicaragua instituted a case on the above issue at ICJ.  During the same time, the two governments also requested OAS permanent council to convene a special sitting aimed at addressing the issue. Pursuant to the request, the secretary general was required to facilitate dialogue between the two parties and come up with recommendations that will de-escalate the tensions and promote peace. The 2 government’s eventuality entered into peaceful agreements which culminated into a memorandum of understanding under the supervision of OAS (Rudy, 2005). The memorandum was detailed in terms of how the two countries were to carry out their activities along the contentious border. Moreover, an agreement for bi-national border development plan as well as police cooperation and military movement between the two countries were entered into.

Honduras and El Salvador

A difficulty arose as regards to the demarcation of the border between the two countries. This was in line with ICJ ruling concerning the demarcation of boundaries. The governments of Honduras and El Salvador thus requested the OAS and Pan-American Institute of Geography and History to provide assistance into the boundaries. In 2006, the two countries eventuality reached a consensus concerning their common border (Jeifets & Khadorich, 2015).

Belize and Guatemala

Under the auspices of OAS, the two governments restarted their negotiations concerning a territorial dispute. After so much deliberation, an agreement on confidence building was entered into by the two states. This led to the signing of an agreement on confidence building in 2000. Subsequently, the second agreement was entered into in 2003, establishing a transitional process (Schnabel & Carment, 2004). Moreover, in 2005, the two camps signed another agreement that established a framework for negotiations as well as confidence building measures between the two countries. This was aimed at promoting bilateral relationships between the two countries in addition to finding a permanent solution to the problem.The OAS secretary General played an active role and was on the forefront of finding a permanent solution to the impasse. In subsequent years, there were many hurdles towards reaching an amicable solution. However, in 2014, the foreign ministers of the two countries, under the OAS guidance, signed a roadmap so as to bolster the bilateral relationship in addition to setting a new date for the referenda (Rudy, 2005). Moreover, a joint commission was formed to look into areas of cooperation between the two countries.

Costa Rica and Nicaragua

The two governments had a dispute concerning the Calero Island. They thus requested OAS to intervene and help them solve the dispute.  OAS secretary General headed the team that was to come up with a special report.  The committee’s recommendations were adopted by the permanent council. The committee proposed among other things the removal of security forces in the area by both sides, dialogue on the demarcation of the border, and formation of a bi-national committee. In 2011, the ICJ made a ruling that was more or less similar to the recommendations put forward by the OAS committee headed by its Secretary General (Jeifets & Khadorich, 2015). 

Ecuador and Colombia

There were some tensions between Columbia and Ecuador as regards to interference in domestic matters of each state (Schnabel & Carment, 2004).  On one hand, Columbia accused Ecuador of being in violation of its sovereignty by offering support to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. Ecuador also levelled a counter-accusation against Columbia as regards its sovereignty because of thee 2008 military operation (Kunz, 2011). This led OAS to convene a special meeting of the permanent council aimed at ironing the differences between the two countries. This was followed by a meeting of foreign ministers where they instructed the secretary general to use his office to pursue peace between the two countries and build an atmosphere of trust between them.

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In conclusion, the OAS has been very effective in the promotion of unity and stability among the 35 member states (Meyer, 2012). The OAS charter became the foundational instrument upon which disputes and disagreements in the region were resolved and unity fostered. The principles espoused in the charter such as non-intervention, juridical equality, and peaceful co-existence work in tandem to maintain the unity among member states. Moreover, the OAS has continually urged its members to pursue alternative methods of dispute resolution such as dialogue, negotiation, and mediation. The overall impacts of these initiatives have been positive instrumental in creating a unified organization where the members cooperate in different spheres for a common goal.

This notwithstanding, the organization has not lacked its fair share of ineffectiveness. For instance, the Pact of Bogota regarding the framework for conflict resolution has been more of a symbolic document (Kunz, 2011).  Despite being ratified by 14 member states, it has never come into effect.  Moreover, the OAS charter also contains provisions for the peaceful settlement of disputes but none concerning the action that should be taken when there is aggression against a member state (Rudy, 2005). 

Lastly, the Organization of American States still has a great opportunity and space of improving itself to meet the goals and aspirations of member states. The organization should exploit the goodwill and commitment of member states in fostering and building a cohesive organization where each and every member states feels valued and respected.


  1. Lack of sufficient funding makes the running of the organization and ineffective in handling different issues that may arise
  2. There is a negative perception that OAS is ineffective in advancing democracy, human rights, as countries like Venezuela continue experiencing gross human rights violations on the watch of OAS.
  3. Conflict between and among OAS member states concerning varying issues yields distrust and suspicion among the member states such as between United States and Mexico.
  4. Lack of pragmatic and collective mechanisms among the member states on tackling issues such as money laundering, narcotics trafficking and terrorism.
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Did you like this sample?
  1. Baranyi, S. (2005). Inter-American institutions and conflict prevention. FOCAL.
  2. Herz, M. (2011). The Organization of American States (OAS): Global governance away from the media. Taylor & Francis.
  3. Jeifets, V., & Khadorich, L. (2015). OAS and Interstate Dispute Resolution at the Beginning of the 21st Century: General Pattern and Peculiarities. World Academy of Science, Engineering and Technology, International Journal of Social, Behavioral, Educational, Economic, Business and Industrial Engineering, 9(4), 1148-1155.
  4. Kunz, J. L. (2011). The inter-American treaty of reciprocal assistance. The American Journal of International Law, 42(1), 111-120.
  5. Legler, T. (2010). Multilateralism and regional governance in the Americas. Latin American multilateralism: New directions, 12-17.
  6. Meyer, P. J. (2012, July). Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress. Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress.
  7. Rudy, T. D. (2005). A Quick Look at the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the OAS: What Is It and Is It Legal. Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com., 33, 237.
  8. Schnabel, A., & Carment, D. (Eds.). (2004). Conflict Prevention from Rhetoric to Reality: Organizations and institutions. Volume 1. Lexington Books.
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