Peru’s First Constitutional Court has agreed to a request by the country’s Public Defender to temporarily suspend a proposed military draft lottery that the government wanted to implement.
There have been protests by civic society and opposition politicians against it, arguing that the law is discriminatory, as the majority of potential draftees would be poor, young Peruvians. The government is currently trying to organize counter-arguments to challenge the judiciary’s decisions.
While the draft is undoubtedly controversial, Peru’s internal and external security challenges are consequential, making it an imperative that the country increases its security forces.
Security and Defense Realities
Although the Andean nation has enjoyed economic growth and development over the past decade, it continues to face real security threats. At the domestic level, Shining Path, a narco-terrorist organization, operates in the Peruvian highlands, namely in the Huallaga Valley and the Valley of the Apurimac, Ene and Mantaro Rivers (known as VRAEM in Spanish).
Certainly the Shining Path today is less than a shadow of what it was in the 1980s, Peru’s era of terror, when it was present throughout most of the country and utilized car bombs to instill fear among the population (its trademark modus operandi). Nevertheless, the group remains a major security threat as there is a possibility that it could re-organize itself or form some kind of unholy alliance withColombian FARC guerrillasor the Mexican Sinaloa cartel.
The fact that Peru is a major producer of cocaine, (second in the world according to the United Nations, but first according to the U.S.) serves as an incentive for transnational criminal groups to expand their operations to the Andean country. In particular, a renewed and rearmed Shining Path presents a significant danger for the country and a difficult challenge for Peru’s government, military and civil society.
Additionally, concerns remain regarding Peru’s Southern neighbor, Chile. The two nations have had tense relations since the 19th Century War of the Pacific. Currently, the countries have turned to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of The Hague to settle a maritime dispute. The ICJ could make a decision as early as July.
While the realistic possibility of war between Lima and Santiago is arguably very small, there is a sincere concern within Peru of what could happen if the ICJ rules in Lima’s favor.
There have been several meetings of senior Peruvian and Chilean defense and diplomatic policymakers over the years that serve as confidence building mechanisms, but doubts remain whether Peru’s military is strong enough to be a deterrent to a potential Chilean aggression.
The Challenges of Insufficient Personnel
The aforementioned security challenges that Peru faces, ranging from narco-terrorism, drug trafficking and the possibility (in a worst case scenario) of war with Chile, puts the proposed military draft lottery in a new perspective.
The Andean country has a police force of around 106,000 members, but budget cuts have reduced the military’s personnel in recent years. This is not enough to properly address the security threats of a large nation like Peru, which has around 30 million citizens and borders that are not conducive to effective patrols.
President Ollanta Humala has admitted that the country has a deficit of 30,000 police officers. Meanwhile, if the draft lottery had taken place, it would have given the military an additional, badly needed, 12,500 new recruits.
Hence, the need to install a military draft (or actually re-install it, as one existed up to the late 1990s) has been heatedly debated by policymakers and NGOs. Moreover, the issue has been critiqued and politicized by individuals such as Oscar Valdes, a former minister, who has also declared his intention to run for the presidency in 2016.
Is the law discriminatory? Arguably yes, since the upper socioeconomic classeswill be able to pay a fine in order for their family members to avoid being drafted.The fine is of 1850 soles (roughly USD $660-700). Therefore, most of draftees will come from the country’s lower classes. Due to the fact that members of the middle/upper classes are generally light skinned and the lower classes are indigenous, the proposed law takes a racial angle.
It is noteworthy to highlight that the Humala administration has tried to appease concerns by stating that there is no intention to send therecruits to the VRAEMto combat Shining Path.
The Peruvian youth should be free to pursue their own interests and goals, instead of preparing to fight the country’s internal and external security threats. With that said, Shining Path, the drug-related violence, and the threat (real or not) originating from Santiago are not going away soon.
Moreover, if some sort of draft is not carried out, who will fight to protect Peru’s civilian society? Does the Peruvian population want to see Shining Path reinvigorated and see the nation return the era of terror of the 1980s? Even if a military draft is not implemented, the government, civic society and NGOs must find some kind of mechanism to appropriately augment the number of security personnel in the country (i.e. bymaking voluntary servicemore financially appealing).
A military draft may not be fair, but no one ever said war was fair. And Shining Path, to name just one of Peru’s clear and present dangers, has shown that they do not play fair.