The region's defense budgets

Latin America and the Caribbean

During the past few weeks, we noticed a significant increase in discussion of defense budgets throughout the hemisphere. In most countries, defense spending is on the increase. Here is an overview of recent media coverage from CIP Intern Matthew Mcclellan. The combined defense budgets of South American states increased from US$39 billion in 2007 to US$50 billion in 2008. Most countries have become buyers in the new market for arms, some are sellers, and nearly all are furtively examining their neighbors' actions. The Ecuadorian government took a step toward spending transparency with the elimination of the Junta de Defensa. The Junta was accused of embarrassing gaffes like the Defense Ministry overpaying for used Argentine defense articles, as it did in 1995. Some feel the government’s action amounts to little more than a token gesture. President Correa has meanwhile overseen a large increase in defense spending. From 2000 through 2008, Ecuador spent over US$895 million on Defense. During Correa’s time in office, since January 2007, the Defense budget soared over US$631 million – over 70% of the nine-year spending total in just two years. Argentina has not put nearly as much money into the military as its neighbors, claiming a Defense budget of only 0.87% of its 2008 GDP. The Air Force has put off purchasing French Mirage fighter aircraft until 2011 or 2012, when it will reevaluate the economic climate. Today, the country’s most pressing Defense concern is keeping troops in its Armed Forces. Unlike other countries that are considering increasing military capacities, Argentina is concerned with maintaining them. A recent study found nearly half of all individuals in the Armed Forces have considered leaving within the last two years, including a substantial number of young pilots and officers who have left to seek better opportunities, for better pay, or to keep their families intact. Some Argentine analysts appear distraught about falling behind “international heavyweight” – and neighbor – Brazil. In December, President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva announced Brazil’s plan to upgrade its military and arms industry. Part of the plan includes training soldiers in rapid mobilization and guerrilla tactics, and the government wishes to resurrect conscription. While the plan includes purchasing foreign arms, the modernization's focus is for the country to increase its domestic arms industry. Brazil has ordered 4 diesel-powered Scorpène class submarines from France, but plans to develop its own nuclear-powered fleet, at a total cost over US$3 billion. The plan appears to be both financed by, and in the name of protecting, newly found Brazilian offshore oil reserves. Over the last several months, Brazil has consolidated its position as the largest South American arms vendor. Bolivia recently negotiated the purchase of Brazilian land vehicles and Super Tucano attack aircraft, and hopes to borrow from Brazilian institutions to fund additional purchases. Bolivia has also acquired several helicopters from Russia. Venezuela's Defense budget is 1% of its 2008 GDP, but growing steadily. It has been cultivating a relationship with Russia through arms purchases over the last several years. From 2005 through 2008, Venezuela bought over US$4 billion in arms and equipment from Moscow, and a September announcement revealed another US$1 billion credit for more purchases from Russia. Peru has decided to install two facilities capable of repairing Russian-made helicopters, clearly setting the stage for future purchases between the two nations. While this particularly animated editorial in El Comercio questions the drive to increase Defense spending, much of the discussion centers on keeping pace with Chile, which maintained a 2008 Defense budget of 3.73% of its GDP, second only to Colombia in South America. Colombia has more than doubled its defense expenditure since 2000. The Defense Ministry's budget, which includes police, now exceeds 6 percent of GDP. U.S. security assistance to Colombia is slightly less than it was in the early 2000s, making the U.S. contribution to Colombia's overall defense effort far smaller, as this July blog post from the Center for International Policy explains. Nonetheless Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s Defense Minister, plans to travel to Washington shortly after Barack Obama's inauguration, to urge officials to maintain established levels of aid under the Plan Colombia framework.