University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy

An Arms Race in South America?

INTRODUCTION

In absolute terms, South America is spending much more in military pursuits than two decades ago. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), in 2009, military expenses in the region reached nearly $52 billion, more than twice the 1990 figure.2 Moreover, a number of recent acquisitions—ranging from Venezuela‘s repeated purchases of Russian military hardware, worth more than $4.4 billion since 2005, to Brazil‘s decision to buy a nuclear-powered submarine from France—have raised eyebrows.

Yet, as a proportion of GDP, military outlays in the region have remained fairly stable over the past two decades, and actually went down slightly in 2008.

Is this good news, bad news or, simply, no news for the region? After all, many analysts have warned, correctly, against the facile use of the notion of ―arms race to describe what is happening in South America. Even General Douglas Fraser, Commander of the U.S. Southern Command, has described the trend as ―a modernization of fairly old, difficult-to-maintain capability. Perhaps the absolute increase in military expenditure is simply the natural consequence of the efforts by the region‘s armed forces to catch up with new technologies and, as such, we should not worry too much about it. Or should we?

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