Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Military and the Right in Chile

I've had a number of really interesting conversations about the military, which has led me to a new question. I've published on the fact that there relatively little--though gradually growing--interest in defense on the part of civilians. Why, though, is there is a persistent belief that the military's best ally for defense in Chile is the right?

This relates to reform of the Copper Law, which is currently being debated in the senate. I and many others have written about the fact that the military has resisted such reform because it places more control over its defense budget in the hands of the left and center-left. For this reason, there is continued discussion about whether a new law should include a floor below which spending could not be cut.

Yet there is ample evidence, both contemporary and historical, that the left treats the military better. One of the worst budget eras for the military was with the last president from the right, Jorge Alessandri (it was suggested to me that this could be some sort of punishment for how the military treated his father, former President Arturo Alessandri). From a purely defense perspective, meaning professional issues rather than political ones like human rights, the Concertacion has treated the military well. Resentment from the left regarding defense is related directly to the fact that there is no democratic control over a big chunk of the defense budget.

Despite being from the right, Sebastian Pinera cares less about defense than any president in the postauthoritarian era. In that regard there is no comparison with Michelle Bachelet, a socialist who had done extensive coursework in military academies. Her knowledge helped spark reforms in the Ministry of Defense that the military agreed with.

The Copper Law is on its last legs. The military's best option, both politically and professionally, is to support reform without a floor and root for Concertacion presidential candidates.


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