Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Chilean civil-military relations

One thing that became quite clear after hearing a number of paper presentations at LASA this year is that scholars of civil-military relations still don't agree on much. How do we know "civilian control" when we see it? How do we know if civilian authority is "effective"? Indeed, what should militaries be doing in a democratic context? What incentives exist for civilians to pursue democratic civil-military reform?

This was driven home to me when I gave my own presentation on civil-military relations during Chile's Concertación era (1990-2010). I discussed how economic reform--particularly the Copper Law--has been very elusive while some political reforms have been enacted. I added that the lack of economic reform did not conform to many rational choice analyses suggesting that politicians had an incentive to go after resources as a way to boost their own re-election chances.

From the audience came a very reasonable question--why? If Chile is so democratic, the armed forces are under control, and politicians naturally want access to resources, then why are these reforms not happening? Similarly, as I mentioned last week, the Brazilian government went so far as to announce its refusal to discuss the country's amnesty.

I didn't have a good answer. This is an empirical question worth chewing on. In no particular order, let me map out some possibilities, which can overlap.

1. The military is making some type of threat behind the scenes
2. The right (however defined) is blocking the reform efforts
3. There is insufficient political interest/lack of incentive across the ideological spectrum
4. The president believes the effort would distract too much and so won't pursue reform
5. Reform is not broadly seen as necessary in the first place

On the surface, none of these appear to fit Chile all that well. But something is going on under the surface.


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