President Mauricio Macri announced this morning a “deep re-conversion” of the Argentine Armed Forces as part of his administration’s greater effort to redefine the military’s strategic objectives in the near future.
The proposed reform plan will rethink and reshape the deployment of units and will ensure a larger military presence at the northern border in an effort to fight drug trafficking.
The President said the military will also fulfill the “fundamental role” of “protecting strategic goals.” (It will be up to the Executive to decide what qualifies as an asset in need of protection, but it would likely include natural resources reserves, dams and government buildings keeping sensitive information).
“We need the Armed Forces to be capable of facing the challenges and threats of the 21st century such as drug trafficking and international terrorism,” he said, and insisted that “it’s important for them to help in areas such as homeland security, providing support with logistics at the border.”
Macri made the announcement from the Campo de Mayo military base located in the Greater Buenos Aires area, some 30 kilometers northwest of the city of Buenos Aires.
In his speech the President referenced what some call a much-needed overhaul of the armed forces, especially in areas such as border security.
With these changes, the administration effectively puts into question the long-standing 1988 Ley N. 23.554 which stated that “in order to elucidate the issues pertaining to National Defense, the fundamental difference that separates National Defense from Internal Security must be kept permanently in mind. Internal Security will be governed by special law.” In addition, the 2006 Decreto 727 further limited the armed forces capacities to address “aggressions of external origin perpetuated by armed forces belonging to other states.”
Macri insisted this morning that Argentina’s current defense system is “outdated, after years of divestment” in the area.
The President was joined in this morning’s ceremony in Campo de Mayo by Defense minister Oscar Aguad and representatives from the three armed forces.
According to an article published on Infobae this weekend, the reorganization includes many items that will take place in three phases over the next eight years. Most notably, the plan intends to consolidate and create joint units between three military branches: the army, the air force, and the navy. In addition, new curriculum and a cyber defense program against potential terrorists are planned as part of the first phase.
It will also involve the closure of some military barracks, with the properties consequently being sold for resources and to modernize military equipment. A military source recently told Clarin, however, about the internal concern that the property sales will just be another way to lower the fiscal deficit and not give the armed forces the adequate resources they need.
The Argentine President has looked to reform the armed forces in his tenure, most recently in May when he announced the expansion of military’s scope to include logistical support in internal security. After this decision, Macri had alluded to future changes, again mentioning the need to bring the armed forces to the 21st century. The president also added that “we need a military with innovation both in terms of capabilities and organization.”
The updates to the military’s objectives can be seen as a way of clarifying a strategic mission for an institution that currently does not have a clear purpose. In a June interview with La Nación, Defense Minister Oscar Aguad also criticized the Decreto 727 as antiquated, saying that “the state vs. state war does not exist anymore” and that “enemies can be different organizations, military or not.” Indeed, in 2018, threats from foreign state-specific armed forces are practically nonexistent. By redistributing- and ideally modernizing- the armed forces efforts, the administration hopes to efficiently address the actual threats facing the country.
Aguad also lamented the outdated equipment and materials of the armed forces, calling it “objectively not good,” blaming the “integral decadence” of the country. He noted there has been a lack of investment and cut wages which has further limited the capabilities of the armed forces. However, critics of military intervention point to these items as reasons to not include the military into other security strategies. The approach requires a significant change in functions of the armed forces that may not be realistic given the considerable lack of resources.
The public understandably winced at the increased efforts to include militarization into a more normalized capacity, due to the armed forces’ delicate history with Argentine domestic life. After the military removed six presidents in 46 years between 1930 and 1976, any additional accumulation of power from the military might naturally unsettle some nerves. Since democracy returned to the country in 1983, Argentine presidents have taken legal measures like those mentioned above to impose civil control over armed forces.
Nevertheless, the Macri administration has shown its intentions to redetermine the role of the military. According to a recent paper from The Argentina Project, Argentina has “bucked a regional trend” by slightly increasing its military spending in the last few years. Military spending rose ever-so-slightly from 0.86 percent of the GDP in 2015 to 0.96 percent in 2016, a total bump of US $6.2 billion. To assuage any concerns, this percentage is still far from the global average, which World Bank data places around 2.16 percent. Oman and Saudi Arabia top the chart with 12.0 and 10.2 percent respectively, and within the region Colombia is highest at 3.1 percent.
Indeed, Macri has undoubtedly set out to change the future of the military in Argentina, and with it, he appears to hope the large-scale structural renovation will help the country’s ascending role as a leader in the region against drug-trafficking, money laundering, and other illicit transnational crimes. However, given the general attitude among the public regarding the armed forces, the forthcoming conversations will prove controversial- to say the least.