Argentine military defenselessness

Argentine military defenselessness

By Guillermo Martín Caviasca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

In this interview with the Malvinas war veteran and Chief of Intelligence of the Argentine Navy from 2011 to 2015, Rear Admiral Guillermo Tomé, we look at the different stages of Argentine defense in the last 40 years until reaching the present day.

You occupied a privileged position to observe the geopolitical, defense and International Relations situation in a recent period and you have always pointed out the importance of “strategic intelligence” to design national policies and understand those of other internal and external actors.

The visit of General Laura Richardson (head of the US Southern Command) has caused an important public impact. She has been making a series of travels around the continent and made statements about the intentions of the United States regarding the region and specifically about Argentina. She raises a series of conflict hypotheses or “common defense” needs in a wide range of areas that make up national sovereignty, military, economic, about the government system as well as cultural aspects. She mentions a series of adversaries and enemies on a comprehensive level. What analysis and opinion can you give us on this matter?

We can chat about these topics, no problem, I will contribute what is within my reach.

First, it is necessary to understand that this is not an issue of this general, or that Richardson is specifically someone who has changed the profile of relationships. That is, we have to go back to the change in the strategy and security of the United States more than a decade ago, when this country stopped prioritizing the war against terrorism and realized that its opponent is now China.

This happened after the 2008 crisis. I think it was in one of the modifications they made in their strategic and security conception, I don’t remember exactly if it was 2011 or 2012, where they focused absolutely on China.

The Southern Command for United States policy has always been in some way the praetorian guard they use to control our hemisphere. That is, Richardson, and the admirals who were previously in charge, appear as the chancellor of the United States in South America, because she is the commander of the Southern Command.

Reactivation of the Fourth Fleet after 2008

We already saw these policies since the United States changed its conception regarding the problems of Latin America. It is then that they created the Fourth Fleet, which had been suspended, since it was an element that had ceased to be useful for them since the war against terrorism.

It was after 2008 that the Fourth Fleet in the Southern Command was reactivated; but it also reactivated the Mediterranean fleet, giving it responsibility for Africa, which was another of the things they had suspended, because in their war against terrorism in Africa had also been secondary.

But from how Chinese interests began to unfold, both in Africa and Latin America, they evidently realized, given the change in general strategy and global enemy, the need to activate two fleets, yes.

And well, that’s what Richardson came to do.

Richardson did not come to do anything different from what Admiral Craig Faller came to do (who served between 2018 and 2021). He and the admiral in charge before (2016 – 2018), Kurt Tidd, were emphatically pointing out the United States Congress these same issues and threats to its hemispheric policy. The commanders of the Southern Command come here to say the same thing.

The issue is not this.

That is, we are perfectly clear why the United States is doing what it does. They do it based on their interests, there is nothing strange here.

What are your interests? Well, very well, this was always historically their backyard, they want it to continue being their backyard. They do not want Chinese interference in this place. Why? Let’s see, we don’t know (not even the US knows) how the global bid is going to end. What the United States does know is that, regardless of the result, they have to finish among the first.

And among the first, it is clear that, as far as South America is concerned, it has to be an area under their control. This is the same since the Monroe Doctrine, as you remember.

That is to say, even if China wins the competition and becomes a primus inter pares in a new world order, the United States will always want to have control over this region.

For the United States to abandon its control over the region, so to speak, stop being able to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, it would have to be widely defeated, something like the Germany of World War II. I don’t think that’s going to happen. And since I don’t think that is going to happen, the South American area will be treated by the US as a space of North American control, against any interference from another power or regional insubordination.

Why does the US act like this? Because strategically it is beneficial to them from the point of view of their close defense. Because this region is also a vast deposit of natural resources that are absolutely useful in the future. And because they also don’t want to give it to their opponent, then there’s the logic.

Erratic Argentine foreign policy

That’s why I tell you, the United States has not changed regarding this. The ones who changed are us. That in 2008 we said one thing, in 2015 we said another, in 2019 we said another and now in 2024 we have directly delivered with a truly incredible overperformance.

I think it makes even the Americans themselves doubt; that is, excessive over-acting. There is no notion of the management of the interests of the Republic. What there is are particular conceptions that adorn particular interests and this leads us absolutely nowhere. But let’s see, this is not only today; Argentina has had an absolutely erratic foreign policy as far back as I can remember.

We were surrendered to the English, then we adopted a Third Position, then we surrendered to the Americans from the military dictatorship, then we wanted to be a Social Democratic country (laughs), then came “carnal relations”, then came non-carnal relations, and now again.

That is to say, we are erratic in matters of foreign policy because, obviously, we have two absolutely antagonistic models, and we are never going to agree.

This is not the case of Brazil, which has a foreign policy that has been much more constant over time, with which any country with logic would make agreements with Brazil because it knows or is at least assured of a vision that is much more continuous over time, except for some outbursts such as Bolsonaro, but he did not generate too many changes either.

Agreements with the US last as long as Milei lasts – the US knows that

We don’t, that’s why any agreement that the United States makes with us knows that it lasts as long as Milei lasts. The United States knows that. Obviously, they are going to take advantage of it, they are going to sell you the F16s, that is, they are going to get everything they can within their interests during these four years. Why? Because they know that in four years another person could come and return to a situation that could be absolutely antagonistic.

The ’American Mediterranean’

There were a series of proposals about defense at the regional level in the first decades of the century, which included UNASUR and its defense council. Also, the writing of documents called “books” where medium-term intentions for national and regional defense were indicated. What assessment do they deserve and what specificity did they have? What changes can be noted in new times regarding these guidelines both in defense and in international relations?

Well, it’s more than what we have been pointing out. UNASUR could be realized because similar visions converged in South America. Remember Colombia, which was the country that most opposed this issue, because Colombia was historically a satellite of the United States. Venezuela and Colombia fall within the “American Mediterranean”, already indicated by their geopolitical doctrines (the “mare Nostrum” of the Americans). Venezuela got out of hand, but Colombia did not.

I believe that even with Petro they are not getting out of hand. Obviously in the forms there may be a little more rispidities, without so many agreements, but in the end, Colombia continues to be the extra ally, the global ally of NATO, the only one within what is South America. Why? Because it is reliable beyond Petro. Beyond Petro, they consider that Colombian foreign policy has always had a crucial support with the United States, so that is not going to change.

But with respect to UNASUR, well, some leaders concluded and from a moment on they stopped coming together, and UNASUR was over. Therefore, this was built after 2000 until 2015 – 2016. Therefore, thinking about Unasur today is truly a utopia.

“We know what is necessary for South America”

We know is necessary for South America, yes. If South America does not come together, it is impossible for it to confront these North American interests in controlling the region. The only way we can coexist with the United States is by all of us being united in some way and having a common policy of negotiation and understanding with the United States.

It is the only way to stop the US management of South America. As long as we don’t do that, we have no way out. We have no destiny and obviously we continue to be satellite countries, what is best for the United States. Having us absolutely divided, fighting, in such a way that from the North you can negotiate individually with each of us, not as a bloc that does not suit you. I think you have more than studied that.

General Richardson stated in an interview that she summarized the deployment of US power with the acronym DIME (Diplomacy, Intelligence / information, Military , Economics). What idea is manifested through this?

(Laughs) It’s the same policy as always, you can summarize it however you want. The idea is always the same from the Monroe Doctrine through Mahan to Spykman, the power policy of the United States over the southern hemisphere has always been the same.

Sometimes with soft power, sometimes with hard power, it was with hard power when they invaded us without any problem, then it was with soft power in the Washington Consensus, or when they wanted to create the FTAA, but couldn’t.

Now they find that with Milei, applying the soft power is perfect, because with his overacting, he gives them more than what they ask for.  So, it seems to me that there is no need to make too much of a history with the names they give it, the policy has always been the same, the strategies can vary from time to time. power or soft power. Well, now we are in the soft stage because they can apply it and it gives them returns, when they can’t apply it and it doesn’t work, they turn to others.

Admiral, what meaning do you give to the agreements with the US regarding military policy? Both in general and in particular by the current government. And in relation to the current geopolitical situation of reconfiguration of the world order and highly conflictive military situation.

The agreements that the United States is making are, obviously, to maintain their control over the southern hemisphere that they consider to be their backyard, which is within the framework of the Monroe Doctrine and what the United States has historically intended.

American geopolitics is clear in that sense as we already mentioned with Alfred Mahan and Nicholas Spykman. The need to maintain control of the seas, trade routes and key points in estuaries and crossroads.

Or Spykman ‘s division of Latin America into zones, and the need to prevent their integration and the penetration by other powers. The American Mediterranean in the Caribbean and the buffer zone in Amazonas. The need to neutralize and divide the ABC (Argentina, Brazil and Chile) so that some force can emerge from there to challenge them.

Stop unity between the countries of the region and promote special partnership with them. It is always the same, it is their great long-term strategy that develops according to the circumstances.

Well, the United States has always wanted to have control over this area, and it is not going to give it up, especially in the current configuration of this world order. While the problem was terrorism, we did not worry them because we were already within their sphere of action, and we did not have to take our feet off the plate. When the other player, China, enters, interest in control of this area arises again.

How the Argentine Armed Forces were choked

How do you consider the issue of financing and development of national defense and its Armed Forces in the last 40 years and its impact on the current defense situation?

I think the approach to the Armed Forces in these 40 years has been a very big political error. We can agree on the need to remove the Armed Forces from political power. That was imperative and necessary. The problem is the solution they found. That is, the only solution was ideological.

So how was the Armed Forces removed from political power? I always talk about axes.

First was the budget and salary axis. They lowered our salary, even over time we ended up earning much less than the Security Forces, to have an ally in the Security Forces in case the Armed Forces again wanted to venture into what did not correspond to them. And obviously they choked us budgetarily.

In such a way that, of course, they were removed from their political function, but they were also removed from their military function. Why? Because people cannot be trained, new means cannot be obtained, old means cannot be maintained. In conclusion, the military instrument was simply something decorative.

That was one axis.

Obviously then there is the axis of Human Rights, which was not only based on the trials, which had different stages over time, right? After the “carapintada” uprising came due obedience, then came the pardons, then came the judgments of truth as a counterface to keep the issue alive.

Then everything was reversed with the laws in 2005 and all the trials were revived. But the judicial instance is not the problem. The problem in the last 40 years was the psychological wear and tear and the use of the term military, which was more attached to the problem of “human rights” than to the problem of national defense.

So that also acted to the detriment of feeling military and feeling that one is useful to the national defense. We were outcasts. That is to say, the human rights policy, although it established a path of truth, justice and so on, there were other consequences of that policy that perhaps were not observed, were not taken into account and that impacted the military instrument and impacted young people who had absolutely nothing to do with those times.

That was the second axis. So, in some way, its effects were negative. So, I told you about salaries, budgets and human rights.

And then there is the problem of the Armed Forces themselves, which did not know how to cope with this new situation. They were never able to find a clear solution of how to face reality to be able, from what they had, to continue being an instrument of the State or have some usefulness. And then there was the political part.

Politics was not interested in National Defense in the last 40 years, until very few years ago, when I believe that Minister Jorge Taiana was the only one who was truly interested…

Well, Nilda Garré was also, but Garré … The problem is that Garré ordered some aspects of the Armed Forces, but truly under a strong yoke where she did not manage, in some way, for the Armed Forces to feel represented. She hit us with a pipe.

And then the whole “progressive” issue, the “inclusive language,” all that “shit” conspired against a management that had not been bad, but when it came to weighing it, those issues were weighted more than the organization that she gave to the system. defense.

But the guy who was a real minister, and beyond Rossi (former defense minister), beyond Fondef (trust fund that allocates a part of tax revenue exclusively to technological development and weapons, proposed by Rossi)) and so on: I think it was Taiana, without a doubt, he was a guy who put on the minister’s shirt.

In addition to being an absolutely trained and prepared guy, and I think he led the Armed Forces politically quite well. He lacked time, perhaps being a little younger, and continuity.

Then the rest have been politicians who led the Armed Forces to avoid problems. Therefore, there was no political concern for national defense except the promulgation of national security and defense laws, as a legal framework for democracy.

That’s where the work of national defense politics ended. Achieve those two laws, and once they established those two laws, they lowered our budget, they lowered our salaries, the trials came and absolutely nothing else was done.

The current acquisitions of war material such as the F16 blok 15: What implications do they have for national defense? Do they mean the intention to strengthen the Armed Forces? What would be the strategic orientation of these acquisitions? Do they mean substantial changes?

As I told you, there is a debt, without a doubt, with respect to national defense, and they now find that they have a military instrument that is useless, and that also costs a lot to put into a useful situation, and also it requires a lot of time. That is the question. And there comes the question of the acquisition of war material, such as the F-16. Well, that’s nonsense.

Purchase of F-16s guarantees to the United Kingdom that Argentina does not become a threat

We are buying a plane, what is bad? No, the F-16 is not bad. If we look around the world at all the countries that have F-16, it is obviously not a bad plane. Is it an old plane? Yes, it’s an old plane.

It gives us partial use for what we need. Why do I say partial? Because it will allow, in some way, to have a weapon to defend the territory, but we do not have a weapon that allows us to do anything more than that. Therefore, the F-16 is, in some way, the guarantee to the United Kingdom that Argentina does not become a military threat through the acquisition of new means.

Because it is an old medium, because it is a medium that is not going to come with all the weapons, and that must be looked at in the fine print. The planes come, the engines come, a series of spare parts come, but the issue of weapons: They are basic weapons, the planes do not come with air-to-air missiles, etc. You have to look at that in detail.

Therefore, it is a plane that guarantees the United Kingdom that Argentina does not become a threat from this moment on with the receipt of these planes. And obviously, we are still within the sphere of American psychological action. Why? Because the pilots are going to have to go to train in the United States, on simulators in the United States, in courses in the United States, and with that, you know that, in addition to the material and military dependence, there is a very strong psychological dependence.

That is the consequence of buying the F-16s. We remain tied to the United States. And, furthermore, with a means that, as I told you, is not going to be useful to us in the entire spectrum of national defense.

To state it simply: Territorial defense? Yes, but nothing more than that. That’s why I tell you, it is a guarantee to the United Kingdom that Argentina does not become a threat.

What does the announcement mean and what implications does it have that we will try to move forward in becoming preferential partners of NATO?

Well, this is hardly, please. Who would be interested in Argentina joining as a global ally of NATO, that’s why I tell you, it is a level of overacting. But, also, let’s see, who receives the Minister of Defense, the Secretary of NATO? No, the Deputy Secretary of NATO, receives the letter of intent, this has to be included into the analysis, this is nonsense.

Truly, how can Argentina be useful to NATO in terms of defense, in terms of interoperability? The Argentine forces are not able to interoperate with anyone, neither from the point of view of communications, nor from the point of view of weapons systems, there is no possibility.

What it can simply generate is an ideological tie, a tie from the political point of view of international relations in which we are absolutely on one side.

I mean, that’s the only implication this has. And what’s more, we don’t even know if NATO is going to approve it.

Let’s see, Colombia is the only country in South America that is a global ally, how do they use Colombia? They use them, the English come, they use the country, they sell it equipment that they have sold him all its life, they do joint exercises and that’s it.

That is to say, Colombia does not have any serious participation in NATO, neither will Argentina, and much less than Colombia, because it does not have the means, it does not have the military instrument to be of interest to NATO.

This is simply a new political overacting that leads us nowhere, because in some way, we were already extra-NATO allies since the time of Menem. That was never erased and what did it mean? It didn’t mean anything, the things that really have meaning are not the title they are going to give you, but what you do. If you are going to send three ships to the Gulf to fight Iraq as we did in the 1991 Gulf War, it is one thing.

If you don’t send the three ships to the Gulf, even if you are an ally, nothing happens. Now, would Milei want to send? Probably yes.

The problem is that what is he going to send? In the year 90, when Menem did what he did, I had the Meko 360 navy vessel that had been received in the country less than 10 years ago. So, the ships were new, there were spare parts. Although there was no budget, but this is like when you buy a car. You’ve been driving it for two years, you didn’t do any maintenance on it, but the car still runs. Of course, around 5 it exploded on you. Well, here more or less the same. At that time the ships were in condition. There was some support from the United States and ships were sent.

Today, what are you going to send? The patrol cars? The French ones? I mean, there is no way. As much as I would like, there is no way.

Finally, Admiral, can you give an assessment of the announcement to install a common military base in Ushuaia with the US? What implications does it have for Argentina? Will an enhancement of our sovereignty in the region operate positively regarding the recovery of sovereignty in the Malvinas, South Atlantic and strengthening our claims in Antarctica?

What happens is that here in Milei’s head and in the heads of some PRO guys they evidently do not want Malvinas to be a setback with respect to the policy of alliances with the West.

The foreign policy of the parties that are on the right, the PRO, including many radicals especially, and this new group of “Freedom advances”, are people who do not want to be in a fight with the West, much less with the United States.

So, Malvinas is a problem, because how do I manage to negotiate and get along with the United States and Great Britain? And on the other hand, having this question in the air. Obviously, there are many people who don’t give a damn about Malvinas.

What happens is that they can’t say it because in the national sentiment that is a bit against you. That is to say, Patricia Bullrich has no doubt, I have no doubt that she cares three cents about the Malvinas.

And what’s more, I even think they don’t give a damn about Antarctica. They have a vision of a small, small, efficient country, period. They don’t see Argentina as great. If you ask me about Milei, I don’t think he’s very far from that vision.

What happens is that it seems that they want to sell us the product that, by becoming friends with the United States, in this way the United States will intercede in order to return the Malvinas to us.

Well, that line of thought, or that line of psychological action on the population to make them believe that our alliance with the United States will make it easier to obtain the Malvinas, is a huge mistake. It is a huge mistake because they start from the big mistake that Galtieri made of falling into the trap that the United States was going to support him because of Argentine participation in Central America (because of Argentine participation in the fight against the revolutionary movements in Central America).

When the United States, due to its concern with the Soviet Union, because of what the South Atlantic, the oil route, the “American Mediterranean” meant and because of the threat of Soviet submarines, it needed to have total control of the South Atlantic. And that’s what Britain was for. With which the Malvinas war, which evidently ended in a trap for us. Consequence of this wrong geopolitical vision. Today, on the contrary, it is very positive for them to have a solid base of settlement in the Malvinas.

And now, with time having passed, they discovered that it is also important from an economic point of view, it is important not only from a strategic point of view, but it also provides resources and obviously projects to something much more important than itself: Antarctica.

Only a catastrophe would stop the US from supporting Britain in the South Atlantic

So, the United States will never… a catastrophe would have to come for the United States to stop supporting the United Kingdom in its control of the South Atlantic. Because they not only assure the US control of the South Atlantic, but they also assure Antarctica in the future, only with its ally England.

Don’t forget which the countries are in Antarctica. Those are, excluding Chile, Norway and Argentina, practically the entire Commonwealth. New Zealand, Australia, an insignificant little piece of France. Chile is not Commonwealth but is very close. With which the United States ensures that China has no participation. Or at least it believes that in this way they will not have any participation.

Difficult, but that may be the way out for them. Therefore, this belief regarding the Malvinas that the United States making us more and more friends is going to benefit us, I think it is the same mistake that Galtieri made with another vision in 1982. But deep down I believe that the current leaders, they’re not interested in it.

With which we continue as at the beginning, question 1, the erratic foreign policy policy where for four years we say one thing, then another. The difficult thing is going to be sustaining everything that they have already eaten from us, plus almost 2 million square kilometers, plus the 5 million in a position to lose if we lose Antarctica. If you ask me what I think in my internal forum: I think it is a very negative situation for the future. Because Argentina does not respond and does absolutely nothing, it is all declamatory. It is declamatory and useless from left-wing governments, and what right-wing governments do is, furthermore, actively contrary to our interests and sets us back. Therefore, following these alternatives we have no possibilities.

Thank you very much admiral.

Thank you Guillermo.

United World International

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June 2024