Dialogue Report Draws a Roadmap to Reforming the Organization of American States

February 20, 2018, 9:00 a.m.
Contact: Ben Raderstorf

Washington, DC – The Organization of American States (OAS), the world’s oldest regional body, is stuck in “an ongoing irrelevancy trap in which longstanding perceptions of ineffectiveness become self-fulfilling prophecies,” according to a new Inter-American Dialogue report by Ben Raderstorf and Michael Shifter.
The report, which is the product of two roundtable meetings of experts on inter-American affairs and institutions, analyzes the causes of the OAS’s current challenges and proposes long-term reform efforts that could help ease many of the central tensions. While the authors conclude that the organization is as relevant—if not more relevant—than any time in its history, there is a risk that many leaders in Latin America and the US “may simply be willing to let multilateral ties wither,” and therefore urgent reform action is needed to make the organization more effective, responsive, and adapted to the particular challenges of the 21st century.

According to the report, the OAS faces five interlocking dilemmas that have arisen in the context of a changing hemispheric environment:

  1. An asymmetry of ownership and perceptions of function.
  2. A flagging regional commitment to many of its central principles, especially the defense of democracy.
  3. Overdependence on the personal commitment of the Secretary General.
  4. A relatively low level of interlocution in a hemisphere dominated by presidential systems.
  5. Insufficient capital, financial and political, to accomplish any of its goals in full.  

As a result, the authors encourage a particular focus on the “value added” functions of the OAS, which they identify as an “umbrella forum for hemispheric affairs and north-south interlocution,” a “clearinghouse of ideas and best practices,” and a defender of democracy and human rights, among others.

Looking forward, the report calls for efforts to rejuvenate the organization focusing on:

  • Strengthening the institutional mechanisms within the Secretariat to assess the quality of democracy.
  • Streamlining the mandate of the OAS to focus on core functions.
  • Increasing overall contributions and reforming the quota system.
  • Better integration with the Summits of the Americas.
To read the full report please click here.