Stopping Latin America’s Budding Arms Race

In recent weeks, many observers of the Latin American military situation have detected what could be the beginning of a new arms race in the region. Brazilian President Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva was photographed boarding the Tikuna, his country’s first conventional, domestically built submarine. He used the opportunity to highlight his support for the Brazilian military.

Similarly, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has broadcast his intention to purchase Russian Mig fighter jets and Brazilian low-flying surveillance aircraft, and to expand military expenditures. He is doing so, perhaps, because of recent problems with Colombia. Even Chile, after a lengthy process of weighing its options, is still pondering whether to acquire a dozen American-built jet fighters or a joint Swedish-Brazilian alternative.

Is there a new arms race underway in Latin America? If so, is there any conceivable way it could help address the hemisphere’s economic and social dilemmas?

Regional wars and border conflicts have existed since time immemorial in Latin America. There was the Chaco war and the Chilean-Bolivian conflagration in the nineteenth century, the so called “Soccer War” between Honduras and El Salvador in the 1960’s, the clash between Ecuador and Peru in the 1980’s, and Antarctic border disputes between Chile and Argentina that were finally settled in the early 1990’s. But the main reason for heavy military spending in Latin America has always been chiefly domestic.