Friday, April 11, 2008

Correa and the military in Ecuador

The civil-military conflict in Ecuador bears watching. I published an academic article five years ago about the role of Defense Ministries, which included a (now outdated) mention of Ecuador. One of the arguments was that military-dominated ministries represent a long-term obstacle to civilian supremacy over the armed forces. I further argue that naming inexperienced Defense Ministers is also an obstacle. [Not everyone agrees, I should add, and I have sometimes been portrayed as too pessimistic]

Rafael Correa is in a very tough position. The Defense Ministry in Ecuador has traditionally been dominated by the military, and until recently the minister himself was an officer (that shift to a civilian minister is, at least, a positive step). This makes it very difficult to establish civilian authority, as shown by Correa’s constant shuffling (four ministers in fifteen months). This is especially true in a country with a relatively recent history of military political intervention.

Correa is angry, and has a right to be. If the military leadership is withholding or hiding information from the president, they need to be fired. He did so, and the fact that it happened smoothly (at least thus far) is a good sign. He is also investigating the relationship between the intelligence services and the U.S. (the autonomy of military intelligence services is another troubling issue I’ve worked on).

However, naming an activist as minister who has been highly critical of the military will likely not turn out well. I understand the motivation, the message that Correa wants to send to the armed forces, as well as his desire to have a close associate in the position. But the most likely outcome is greater civil-military tension and less respect for the government. The military will do its best to ignore the ministry and will use various means to circumvent it, thus making life more difficult for the president. With any luck, I’m wrong.

The problem all over Latin America is a critical shortage of people from the left or center-left who are knowledgeable about their militaries. This doesn’t mean being sympathetic, or kowtowing, but just knowledgeable about defense policy and the military world. What Correa needs is someone who can bridge the gap by talking to the military leadership and gaining their respect without either doing their bidding or alienating them. I do not know how many people there are in Ecuador who fit that description.


MSS 1:32 PM  

The problem all over Latin America is a critical shortage of people from the left or center-left who are knowledgeable about their militaries.

Stepan's position, right?

I always found that fairly convincing, and part of a more general syndrome of lack of policy expertise in parties and, by extension, legislatures. And, by further extension, the pool of politically loyal yet technically competent people to draw cabinet ministers from is thus small. And not only for defense.

Greg Weeks 4:08 PM  

I can't remember offhand what Stepan argued, but the knowledge gap has indeed been a problem forever.

And yes, legislatures have the same problem, since they cannot draw upon many experts to help them figure out issues they aren't familiar with.

Boli-Nica 6:49 PM  

Jose Napoleon Duarte of El Salvador admitted he had no idea of how his military thought - despite having been an engineering professor at the military academy.
It is not only the lack of scholars studying the military.
Military officers and civilians do not interact - in areas like higher education.

In the US you go to college with future officers - many in uniform right next to you. Many officers, including academy grads , study security policy (to name one topic)with civilians in grad school. Civilian scholars teach at the academies. Retired officers and civilians work at think tanks.

Basically, there is a lot of cross-pollination between civilian and military worlds. Civlians in policy-making areas or media can have a rough idea of how the military thinks. That does not happen that much in Latin America where the professional military tends to be fairly walled off from the moment they become cadets. And normally the only way to even be an officer is through the academies. Meanwhile many future politicians and journalists go directly to studies in law or communications, and are likely to not take courses dealing with security policy.

Boli-Nica 6:55 PM  

^^ The Latin American military basically cook up their ideas on national defense policy, in their own staff schools and think tanks. And they draw on their institutional ideology and history that was inculcated in them in military academies.
There is little civilian input, and a lot of civilian ignorance of what is going on.

Tambopaxi 9:43 PM  

...There is one lady I know of who's academic specialist in civil-military affairs, named Berta Garcia. She's researched, reported and taught on the subject for years here at the local Jesuit school, the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador (PUCE). Berta's well known by the military and internationally, and is respected by just about anyone who's had dealings with her.

There's also an ex-general, Oswaldo Jarrin, who was MinDefense under Gutierrez, who's also will known in civilian and military circles here. He teaches at FLACSO/Ecuador and he might be another candidate for the bridge role that needed between Correa and the military.

I agree with your analysis, Greg, particularly with respect to the risks involved in naming Javier Ponce, a vocal critic of the military, to job of MinDefense. We could see a miracle and somehow Ponce and the military could hit it off, but he made a very tough, Correa's way or the highway speech the day he was sworn in, which hasn't made for a smooth start to his tenure...

The really regrettable thing about all of this is that, while Correa has good reason to be pissed with the military, he's chosen the confrontational, take 'em down approach to the issues rather than low key, private solutions to the issues. By taking the front page, in your face, tack he's only exacerbating a sensitive situation which really could be resolved amicably and in private were Correa so inclined.

Tambopaxi 4:55 AM  

...I forgot to mention that I agree in the main with boli-nica's analysis of the the civilian-military disconnect in LA. There are occasional examples of cross links between the military culture (it's more than just an ideology) and that of the civilian world, but not much.

I should say that disconnect is itself a product of hispanic culture (in the LA, not the North American context).

Re: The civil-military disconnect thing, I should mention one encouraging development in that area here in Ecuador - well kind of, anyway, and that was the development, over some years, of what's known as the "White Book".

The White Book was, and still is, an extended concept paper which envisions a military that's more beholden and responsive to civilian leadership, whose budget would be incorporated into the regular civilian budgetary process, and which would divest itself of many of its commercial/industrial holdings.

This paper got started as an idea several years ago, and basically was finished (or came to an end as a process, depending on how you look at it) during the Palacio administration. As far as I know, the Correa folks never did anything with it, but who knows, perhaps they're looking at it more closely now, post Aisalla scandal.

Greg Weeks 7:32 AM  

The White Book concept has become more common in Latin America over the past decade or so and is encouraging--in most cases it means conceiving of defense policy in very general terms in order to avoid too much controversy. But it does mean everyone meets regularly for a period of time and discusses defense.

Boli-Nica 9:52 PM  

This whole row sounds like fallout from the infamous FARC laptop:

The memo from within the directorate to Raul Reyes warning of an "Ecuadorian Minister" who was allegedly a "CIA" source.

And Raul Reyes summary of the secret meeting w/Correa's interior minister, where the Ecuadorian government allegedly offered to remove "anti-FARC" officers from the border. Which military officers in Ecuador might interpret as appeasement.

Boli-Nica 10:38 PM  

As far as the military's ideology, good part of it involves a very basic but very overlooked concept. For the past 200 years in South America "National defense" has meant literally protecting your country against neighbors. The organization, training and thinking has been largely geared to that goal. Given the historical context of very real conflicts and rivalries in every SA country, this is hardly surprising.

The other thing that is overlooked, is the strong influence of Prussian/German (and to some extent French) training and doctrines in Latin American military thinking. Most Latin American professional armies were pretty much set up from the ground up by Prussian officers late 19th early 20th century. German advisors founded military academies,set curriculums and taught. This influence continued all the way up to WWII, with a good number of WWI vets advising the military in Chile and Bolivia.

Greg Weeks 8:54 AM  

It's really more the opposite. National security in Latin America since the post-independence period has focused more on internal rather than external enemies in large part because the state has been so weak.

Boli-Nica 6:05 PM  

It's really more the opposite. National security in Latin America since the post-independence period has focused more on internal rather than external enemies in large part because the state has been so weak.

I think the focus is much more split. And the concepts are much more interchangeable, i.e. a weak state is more vulnerable to external agression. Not to mention the fact that poorly defined borders, in regions little state control were an invitation to seizure.

In general, it is hard to dismiss the effect on military thinking of 200 years of outright wars, border disputes, and long-standing rivalries.

The very concept of professional armies spread by rivalry. As soon as Prussians arrived in one country, the neighbors sent away for theirs.

Not to mention the fact that for most of the past century, the way armies were organized, their order of battle, and mobilization plans were largely geared towards fighting a neighbor. That is what these guys trained for, and the wars they think about - a lot.

Anyone notice how natural the (very public) order to move "battalions to the border" came to Chavez? The fact that the US had to rush special forces trainers to deal with Che and again 25 years later to deal with the cartel, because Bolivia's army was (and is) organized to fight set-piece battles against one particular neighbor. Or how the Argentinians at the peak of the Falklands did not withdraw their elite mountain units from the Chilean border. Or even more drastically, how Brazil's industrial policy started from the military's perceived need to become self-sufficient in the types of armaments needed to fight Argentina.

Boli-Nica 6:23 PM  

Just to tie it all in, Ecuador had border wars with Colombia and Peru fairly recently. Colombia bombing its territory is a huge violation and an insult in its thinking. But so is any policy that would "tolerate" an irregular Colombian army on its side of the border.

Greg Weeks 7:45 PM  

You are convinced of your own argument, so I won't spend much time with its inaccuracy. I would recommend a very good book, Miguel Angel Centeno's Blood and Debt: War and the Nation-State in Latin America. Chapter Two in particular analyzes military doctrine and how it focused on internal rather than external threats.

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