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Arms Race in The Americas.


 Presidents Nicolás Sarkozy and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during the celebrations of September 7th.

Presidents Nicolás Sarkozy and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during the celebrations of September 7th.

In recent weeks, much has been written in the media about the purchase of armaments and military technology by some South American countries like Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. On the subject of the arms race in our subcontinent, I would like to make a few comments, some of them are strictly personal opinions and other of more informative nature.

 Brazil is the main buyer of arms and military technology, mainly from France. In second place follows the venezuelan purchase of russian arms. Thirdly, Colombia is buying from USA and finally Chile having several arms suppliers, mainly from USA and Germany.

Our comments on the so called “arms race” in South America are the following:

 1) In principle, I mean that while the arms race discussion is a matter of public concern, it has begun to have a bit of exaggeration. Recent statements made by the Colombian President in Boston where he is saying that some neighboring states can make nuclear weapons is an exaggeration. Perhaps the reason behind this exaggeration are the next general elections in Colombia and Uribe´s intention to get reelected. There goes also the view of Brazilian Vice President Jose Alencar, who defended his country rights to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent and defense of its borders and oil reserves, which caused the immediate reaction of the Presidency of the Nation, which clarified that Alencar’s comments do not reflect government position.

Opening Ceremonies 40th Birthday of Treaty of Tlatelolco Opening Ceremonies 40th Birthday of Treaty of Tlatelolco


2) I would also note that there is a treaty in the Americas, the Tlatelolco Treaty for the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean, which was driven by Mexico -41 years ago- and was signed by 33 countries. The Treaty originated in the missile crisis in Cuba in 1962, which could lead to a nuclear conflagration between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, which made clear the danger posed by nuclear weapons to the region and the world. This threat was removed from the region and the continent has OPANAL to monitor the prevalence of commitments under the Treaty of Tlatelolco. The contribution of Mexican diplomacy for the Tlatelolco Treaty shows that today Mexico could play an important role in controlling the current arms race in South America. It is of my opinion that lately, Mexico has been placed aside in continental politics, and that is of no convenience for the cause of The Americas.

 3) Another point is that this is not a typical arms race but four different type of rearmament, because each of the 4 countries has a different reason behind the decision of buying arms. I must say that any army of a democratic state in The Americas must be modern, and keep modernizing as much as it is possible for an economy/country in development. During the aftermath of the dictatorships in Latin America, the democratic governments tried to weaken the power of the local armies by reducing the number of soldiers, reducing the military budget, by not buying new armament, etc… There was also a major effort from the democratic societies to jail some of the military who comited human rights crimes. There was also a major effort to denounce the “Plan Condor” and reduce into ashes any possible new illegal military coordination in The Americas. But this can not last for ever. The military institutions of our continent must keep somewhat modern and up to date, renew equipment and train its soldiers, of course that within a full democratic framework and taking into consideration the economic and social aspects of such expenditures.

 Latinamerican  armies have been positively instrumental in the peace processes of many countries around the world (Americas, Africa, Middle East, Asia), under the umbrella of the United Nations Latinamerican armies have been positively instrumental in the peace processes of many countries around the world (Americas, Africa, Middle East, Asia), under the umbrella of the United Nations

 So, Brazil and Chile are modernizing its military. But there are some countries that are doing nothing. For example, how long can the argentinian political stablishment (the Kirchner´s included) keep downsizing the military in Argentina? I am not an expert in argentinian military issues, but my question is the following, if the Argentinian Army is an institution that has worked well in democracy since the imprisonment of criminals like Videla, why does Argentina keep having an almost obsolete Army? Is it not in the best interest of Argentina to modernize its Army? The same analysis can be used with the cases of the Armies of Uruguay, Paraguay and Peru. I think yes, it is important to modernize the Armies of our democratic continent.

The question here is, always acting strictly within the democratic system, to build up a positive interdependence between the Armies of the Continent, with the close supervision of the democratic governments.

But, back to my analysis about the so called “arms race”…

 Brazil has the “grandeur” vision , originated during the reign of Emperor Pedro I , in the XIX Century. The Brazilian stake is long term. It is not a response to a perceived current and accurate challenge, neither is triggered by the direct danger of an agressive neighbor, although the Venezuelan arms buildup and the presence of the russians raises concerns. The brazilian horizon is the future, and is associated with a growing role-and-recognition of Brazil as a global middle size power , the only Latin American country that seriously aspires to that role. For Brazil, investment in armament is inseparable from its political and economic objectives. It is part of a “country project” which also includes the immediate exploitation of its large offshore hydrocarbons. The economic logic is debatable, but the Brazilian geopolitical design is clear. It is further said that in the arms agreement with France it is also at stake the French and European support for the candidacy of Brazil as a permanent member of the Security Council of the United Nations and the participation of Brazil in a future extended G-8 , starting in 2011 (along with other nations like Mexico, India, South Africa, Egypt and China). In addition, the Congress and the U.S. government have authorized Boeing to transfer technology to Brazil on the construction of the fighter aircraft F18. Brazil has bought british aircrafts like the Gloster Meteor, and bought an aircraft carrier today named as “Minas Gerais”, and also a French aircraft carrier, with the current name of “São Paulo”. Previously to the announcement of the opening of negotiations for the purchase of the fighters, the Lula government had closed the purchase of five French Scorpene submarines, one with nuclear propulsion; fifty military transport helicopter EC-725, and the construction of a shipyard and a naval base in Rio de Janeiro. At the same time, France undertook to acquire a dozen Brazilian military transport aircraft KC-390, a project to be developed by the Brazilian company Embraer.

A mechanic works at a Colombia military base (Germán Olano) which would house U.S. troops under the agreement A mechanic works at a Colombia military base (Germán Olano) which would house U.S. troops under the agreement


President Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, during Chavez last visit to Moscow President Chavez and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, during Chavez last visit to Moscow


Colombia has no expansionist or hegemonic dreams, but to defend their state and territory. The increase in colombian military power is more circumstantial. Not part of a profound national vision. It is the inevitable response to an acute local problem with hemispheric implications, the FARC narco-terrorism : a decision essentially reactive. The U.S. role in providing funding, weapons, training and logistics, and the use of seven military bases , is clearly framed by this objective of defeating the FARC and the drug traficking. To imagine that this is part of a broader scheme or expansionist vision , is a simple ideological fantasy.

 More dangerous is Chavez. The project of the Venezuelan president is expansionist and aggressive, not defensive. The Venezuelan arms race is another matter. I am convinced that Chavez is also a big corrupt politician and has received multi million-dollar bribes from the Russians and some other provider of his “Bolivarian revolution”. The history will give me right. With cuban supervision, Chavez aims to give muscle to his political-ideological movement, an authoritarian project inward, and interventionist outward with hegemonic delusions. Chavez is a sort of tropical Hitler. He is able to conduct the venezuelan people to genocide. Internally he is oriented to feed armed militia groups (the venezuelan version of the german SA, similar to the infamous Dignity Batalions of Gral. Noriega) in order to support his regime (copied verbatim from the model repressive of Fidel Castro), that means repressive militias controlled by Chavez, while the Colonel wants to keep courting the venezuelan armed forces, more institutional, with sophisticated war toys. His external strategy , besides the strengthening of his strategic alliance with Russia, is as a thorn in the US “backyard” and aims to turn Venezuela into a center of military irradiation growth at a regional level. This war environment is the fourth pillar of a strategy in which the Alba is the political support, Petrocaribe is the economical support, and the Bolivarian Congress of Peoples is the more informal and “social” support.

 Chilean Submarine Fleet Chilean Submarine Fleet

The fourth is the case of Chile and its armed forces. The Chileans have been lifelong supporters of having a strong military and have an unresolved dispute over the years with its neighbors (Argentina, Peru and Bolivia). Obviously, in the chilean military schools they simulate conflict scenarios based on fighting with their neighbors. But for now it has gone from “want peace, but preparing for war.”

Out of the previoulsy described four models of rearmament, the Venezuelan model is by far the most disturbing. Is part of a clearly undemocratic project, uncontrolled at the internal level and without external contentions. To this is added to Chavez’s ties with Iran, Syria and Libya. Chavez also seeks to arm its allies, he has helped Bolivia with Russia (geetting them into a military agreement) and also going to donate weapons to Ecuador, for now 6 Mirage aircrafts.

 Presidents Alan GHarcia (Peru) and Alvaro Uribe (Colombia) Presidents Alan Garcia (Peru) and Alvaro Uribe (Colombia)

 4) In this, I do believe reality has shown that the best approach to the problem is the Peruvian. President Alan Garcia-perhaps motivated by the thought of the great Americanist Víctor Raul Haya de la Torre, founder of APRA- asked first the UNASUR to implement whether it was possible to have a non-aggression pact between the sister nations of the south. This initiative failed. And now, Alan Garcia is claiming that the OAS itself should halt the “absurd” of the arms race in Latin America. As part of a regional conference on children, President Alan García said that if the growing arms purchases does not stop, “the OAS does not make sense, or Unasur, or CAN, or Mercosur.” The OAS could be the way, since the issue has failed in the newly created UNASUR (which was ridiculed by the Chilean Minister, comparing it to the non agression pact between the Nazi’s and the Soviet´s during World War II). At its last meeting Colombian military bases with US accessin Quito, the Ministers of Defense of the UNASUR were unable to make good decisions. And this was an error of the Presidents, especially the President of Ecuador and the President of Argentina who in the presidential meeting in Bariloche of UNASUR left the settlement of the dispute over the Colombia-US agreement in the hands of the ministers of defense. I wonder, what can the defense ministers do in a matter in which their own Presidents miserably failed? Since when defense ministers in Latin America are strong and capable of taking vital decisions?. In the most cases, they have always been quasi decorative figures. Or have we forgotten that -usually- the main military issues are resolved in consultation of the President with his generals? Most notably the President with the Commander in Chief of the Army.

 5) In this play not only South American countries. It also plays the international cartel of arms dealers. The arms market last year entered into a recession. Despite this global recession that knocked down arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world’s leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study. The United States signed agreements weapons valued at $ 37.8 billion in 2008, or 68.4 percent of all business in the global arms bazaar, up significantly from American sales of $ 25.4 billion the year before. Italy was a distant second, with $ 3.7 billion in worldwide weapons sales in 2008, while Russia was third with $ 3.5 billion in arms sales last year – down considerably from the $ 10.8 billion in weapons deals signed by Moscow in 2007. The growth in weapons sales by the United States last year was particularly noticeable against worldwide trends. The value of global arms sales in 2008 was $ 55.2 billion, a drop of 7.6 percent from 2007 and the lowest total since agreements for international weapons sales to developing nations 2005.Weapons reached $ 42.2 billion in 2008, only a nominal increase from the $ 41.1 billion in 2007. The United States was the leader not only in arms sales worldwide, but also in sales to nations in the developing world, signing $ 29.6 billion in weapons agreements with these nations, or 70.1 percent of all such deals. The study found that the larger arms deals concluded by the United States with developing nations last year included a $ 6.5 billion air defense system for the United Arab Emirates, to $ 2.1 billion jet fighter deal with Morocco and a $ 2 billion attack helicopter agreement with Taiwan. Other large weapons agreements were reached between the United States and India, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, South Korea and Brazil. Russia was far behind in 2008 with $ 3.3 billion in weapons sales to the developing world, about 7.8 percent of all such agreements. The report says that while Russia continues to have China and India as its main clients weapons (the chinese are starting to produce their own weapons, and the indians buy more from the US nowadays) , Russia’s new focus is on arms sales to Latin American nations, in particular to Venezuela. France was third with $ 2.5 billion in arms sales to developing nations, or about 5.9 percent of weapons deals with these countries. France´s new big customer is Brazil.

6) Since 2003, Latin American countries increased their military spending by 91 percent. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the money allocated by the countries of the region to the defense went from 24,700 million to 47,200 million dólares. From 2003, the region’s share of overall investment in defense rose from 2, 87 percent to 3.23. Military budgets in our area grew faster than the rest of the world.

 Serge-Dassault, net worth $5.4 billion, french arms producer, friend of Sarkozy, exporter of arms to Brazil Serge-Dassault, net worth $5.4 billion, french arms producer, friend of Sarkozy, exporter of arms to Brazil

 Last year, Brazil dedicated to his defensive unit 23,000 million. The Lula da Silva government has just closed an investment agreement with France for 12,300 billion through 2021, including a technology transfer program and the construction of military infrastructure. The equipment purchases will consume three-quarters of that program. Between 2005 and 2008, Caracas spent 7000 million dollars in arms, of which 4400 million would be applied to purchases made in Russia. Moscow provides the regime of Hugo Chávez from rifles to fighter planes, and it is suspected that some of this material may have gone into the hands of the FARC, the Colombian guerrillas. Colombia last year bought arms for 5500 million, or 13.5 percent more than last year. And Bolivia has signed an agreement with Russia to buy arms for 100 million dollars. In these data, it expresses a rearmament movement that begins to be followed each day with greater concern for those who follow the politics in the region. Despite the world’s worst economic slump since the 1930s and projections that the number of poor in Latin America will rise this year, countries in the region have embark on their biggest military spending spree in recent memory. Recently, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez visited Russia to purchase 500 combat helicopters for about $ 500 million, according to the Russian state-run RIA news agency. This would bring Venezuela’s purchases of Russian arms over the past five years to more than $ 5 billion. Days earlier, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva welcomed French President Nicolas Sarkozy to the Brazilian capital and announced the start of Final Negotiations to purchase 36 French-made Rafale fighter jets, which, according to French officials, are likely to cost more than $ 7 billion. In addition, Brazil is going forward with plans for the purchase and joint production of several other French weapons systems, including four Scorpene attack submarines, 50 military transport plans, and what would be Latin America’s first nuclear-fueled submarine. Chile recently bought 18 U.S. combat aircraft, and announced plans to purchase U.S. long-range cannons and radars. Even Bolivia, one of Latin America’s poorest countries, has opened a $ 100 million line of credit to buy arms from Russia.

 An Apache attack helicopter An Apache attack helicopter

 7) The arms race is linked to another important phenomenon: the processes of integration in Latin America is involved in since the 80s are canceled or, at best, stalled. The Free Trade Area (FTAA), which prompted the United States since President Bill Clinton in 1994, succumbed at the top of the World Trade Organization in Cancun in 2003. The Andean Community of Nations broke when Chavez decided to leave, in complaint of the free trade agreement that Peru and Colombia negotiated with Washington. Mercosur, perhaps the most ambitious experiment to overcome the national level for the economy and trade, has become a pillar of salt: the flow of trade between Argentina and Brazil is obstructed by all kinds of non tariff barriers; Paraguay rises with increasing vehemence claims for the cost of hydroelectric power consumed by their neighbors, and between Argentina and Uruguay could not be guaranteed any free movement of goods and people, due to the argentinian of its international bridges and their governments litigating in The Hague for the site of a pulp mill cellulose.

 8)The theme of Colombian military agreement with the U.S. (the bases) , is used by Chavez as an excuse to justify Venezuela’s arms purchases (and get bribes for it…). The Brazilian side also is using this situation as an excuse to lower the pressure on their military deal with the french. Brazil also wants to have a major role in South America and does not serve them a greater U.S. presence in Colombia and also a greater Russian presence in Venezuela or any other South American countries (Ecuador, Bolivia).

 9)  USA has said he is concerned about the arms race in South America, but that does not fit with the fact that today the U.S. is the largest arms dealer and almost monopolistic in the world, and the only who grew up in its arms sales despite the global recession. I tend to believe that USA gave a secret OK to France (USA will not bother France in this) so that USA will not compete with France to sell arms to Brazil, based primarily on the excellent relationship between Sarkozy and the U.S., secondly that does not suit the United States that the arms industry of one of its main allies, France was falling apart and, thirdly, that Brazil would never do such a big arms agreement with the U.S. due to political and ideological restrainments (what Lula would say to the rest of the Latin American leftists? who could stop Chavez yelling at Lula if Brazil bought 20 billion in arms from USA??). What it should worry the U.S. is Chavez’s plans. But that is also now controllable material, due to the improvement of relations between USA and Russia, because USA will not make the missile shield in Europe.

 10) It is said that in the case of the Brazilian military purchases it may also ocurred cases of corruption. One reason to say that , is the fact that without any previous tender, the Brazilian government named the company Odebrecht as the Brazilian counterpart for the construction/maintenance  of the new arms and weapons. The French company owner Serge Dassault Aviation, is also a close friend of Sarkozy.

 11) Finally, I would say that the Army is an important institutional part of our modern democratic societies. The sword of the Justice is the law, and the defensive sword of the democratic nations (specially the small ones) is the Army (under democratic controll) . The Army has a role in the defense of the democratic state and the continued building of the nations, supporting the Constitution and democratic freedoms and may even be an engine for economic development. Not a bad thing that the Army will be retrofitted, for example the Chilean case, or it is not a bad thing that the Colombian Democracy received military aid from another democratic country to cope with the subversion of the narco-FARC. Nor is it bad that Brazil wants to have an army in line with the economic and political weight that the country already has in the world. What is debatable is the case of a non democratic army and the gang style paramilitary forces who want to arm Colonel Chavez in Venezuela. Chavez is the one who has to give assurances to the continent that his intentions are neither aggressive nor expansionist. Of all the sizzle that has been heard about the arms race in South America, the only thing that worries me is Chavez. His plans must be contained with the use of carots and sticks, diplomacy and sanctions. Mexico´s diplomacy can help, the OAS can help to contain Venezuela, and also the Venezuelan people should try to contain this political dinosaur of the sixties.

4 Responses to Arms Race in The Americas.

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    April 19, 2010 at 8:02 am

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    April 5, 2010 at 5:05 am

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