The Structure and Rules of Hemispheric Relations: 1700s–1900
Modern U.S.–Latin American relations have been conditioned in important ways by basic changes in the structure and rules of the Western Hemispheric international system. Since the eighteenth century, three different structures have evolved. The colonial era witnessed a multipolar structure with four major powers: Britain, France, Portugal, and Spain (Figure 3.3). Through most of the nineteenth century, this multipolar structure endured, but the number and
composition of major powers changed. Britain and France remained important hemispheric actors, but the United States displaced Portugal (which lost its colony in Brazil) and Spain (which lost most of its New World possessions). Once the American Civil War ended, and especially from the 1890s onward, the structure grew increasingly unipolar due to a major change in the distribution of power. U.S. economic, military, and political power expanded greatly, Latin American states failed to develop equivalent capabilities, and Washington squeezed European states out of the Western Hemisphere, leaving U.S.–Latin American relations to play out within a unipolar, highly asymmetrical context.