Civil-Military Relations and Military Missions in Contemporary Latin America: Argentina's Sinuous Path Towards a Democratic Defense Policy (2011-2016)
Authors: Marina Gisela Vitelli
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After three decades of democratic reforms, the literature on Latin American civil-military relations has shifted its focus from the military towards civilian elites. Following this trend, this article offers a contribution to the study of the 'civilian variable' by examining two controversial decisions taken by Argentina since 2011: the empowerment of an army official who gained influence over key areas of national defense; and the involvement of the armed forces in anti-drug operations. While the literature often relates setbacks in the deepening of democratic control to the autonomy of the armed forces and right-wing ideologies, and the assignment of public security missions based on practical necessity, we argue that the case of contemporary Argentina confounds such interpretations. First, we claim that both decisions are better understood as the products of instrumental political strategies. That is to say, these decisions are taken in pursuit of short-term goals with the objective of maintaining particular civilian elites in power, and are often unrelated to questions of the effectiveness or otherwise of democratic defense policy. Second, against widespread acceptance in the literature of the trend towards greater involvement of the armed forces in the fight against crime, we argue that shifts in military missions in the region have alarming implications for democracy.