Thursday, December 21, 2017

Providence: Colombia and the FARC: Problems with Creating Peace

"Colombia and the FARC: Problems with Creating Peace"

W. Alejandro Sanchez

Providence Magazine: A Journal of Christianity and American Foreign Policy

18 December 2017

Originally published:

The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia: FARC) is slightly over a year old, and while the peace is holding and violence has dramatically decreased, there are a number of issues that will continue to be a concern from a practical and moral perspective. This commentary will briefly discuss some of them.

The “Missing” Insurgents
Any peace agreement that includes full demobilization must ensure that all insurgents lay down their weapons and return to civilian life. The first part of demobilization appears to have been achieved, as the United Nations mission in Colombia has overseen the FARC’s disarmament: 7,132 weapons have been retrieved from the insurgents.

The outstanding issue is the fate of the insurgents themselves. The number of FARC insurgents who surrendered via the peace deal and are now in camps is reportedly around 6,900. One major concern, obviously, is that if the demobilized insurgents are not reintegrated fast enough into civilian life, they may feel inclined to return to criminal activities. In fact, according to late-October reports by the Colombian media, some 800 fighters have not agreed to the peace deal and continue their illegal, violent activities (the number may actually be higher depending on what Colombian news outlets are consulted).

This situation is not new: last decade Bogota brokered a peace agreement with the paramilitary movement United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia: AUC). In a scenario similar to what is occurring today, many paramilitaries demobilized, but a number went on to create narco-criminal gangs (commonly known as Bandas Criminales: BACRIM), like the dreaded Aguilas Negras. The obvious fear is that the situation could repeat itself once again with the FARC.

Peace Over Victory
Another issue with the peace agreement is an ethical one: if the Colombian government was able to successfully bring an end to a five-decade war via peaceful means, did it not have the moral obligation to do so and prevent further loss of life?

At this point, it is worth mentioning a couple of facts about the FARC: its number of fighters has drastically diminished, from a high of an estimated 16,000 in the late 1990s to around 7,000 today (not counting those in prison). Nevertheless, in recent years the group maintained its fighting power, regularly attacked security units (11 soldiers were killed in an ambush in 2015), and protected its territory while profiting from drug trafficking and “taxing” mining companies, among other activities.

Certainly, an argument could be made that, since the FARC leadership was open to dialogue, this probably meant that they saw themselves on the losing side of the war. Thus, the Colombian military could argue that the agreement was unnecessary as they could have defeated the FARC militarily if the war had continued.  With that said, there was no real indication, at least from the author’s perspective, that the Colombian security and defense forces were close to dealing a devastating blow to the FARC when negotiations commenced in 2012. If anything, the FARC proved to be adaptable, able to overcome the loss of its leadership (e.g. the controversial 2008 airstrike in Ecuador that killed FARC leader Raul Reyes) and to continue fighting. The Colombian defense forces could have, probably, militarily defeated the FARC, but it would have certainly taken years with further loss of life for both sides as well as civilians—the conflict has already cost an estimated 220,000 deaths between 1958-2012, according to Colombian statistics.

Since a government’s primary duty is to protect its citizens, and there was no clear indication that the FARC could be militarily defeated in the near future without further significant loss of life (including civilian), there is a moral argument to be made in favor of the peace agreement.

Peace Over Justice?
Colombians have also had to deal with whether the peace agreement signifies amnesty for the insurgents. According to media reports citing Colombian government data, Bogota has granted amnesty to so some  6,000 FARC fighters as of July 2017, while 1,400 have been released from prison and granted conditional liberty. As part of the peace process, the FARC fighters were (only?) accused of crimes such as illegally carrying weapons and military uniforms, not actually taking part in attacks or murders, and they had to sign documents stating that they will not carry out any criminal activities again.
Understandably, there is debate about whether individuals accused of murder or drug trafficking have been given amnesty too as part of the peace agreement. For example, there are conflicting reports about whether a FARC leader, known as Jesús Santrich, has been granted amnesty.

Certainly, the fact that most insurgents will not serve jail time (or be released from it) is a bitter development to those who fought the FARC or suffered due to it. On the other hand, it would be absurd to believe that any insurgent movement would have agreed to demobilize in exchange for its members serving (lengthy) prison sentences.

The amnesty, a minimum government salary for a number of months, and representation in congress with 10 guaranteed seats—the FARC is now a political party—is the price the Colombian government had to pay for the peace. An insurgent movement like the FARC had to have some “wins” in order to be convinced to be demobilized, and the government’s challenge has been to find a balance between how much the FARC could get in exchange for peace and how much was ethically (and politically) acceptable to grant.

Final Thoughts
The issues discussed here are some of the most problematic Colombia faces regarding the post-conflict era. Certainly, there are others, such as the fate of land controlled by the FARC and if it will be returned to its previous owners, and financial retributions to the victims of the conflict.
However, the author chose the aforementioned three issues because they provide a good overview of the challenges to peace that Colombia faces. Full demobilization is a utopia, and it was to be expected that some insurgents would continue their activities. The challenge now is to bring them to justice while preventing more demobilized fighters from taking up arms again. Additionally, we have discussed the morality of making peace with an insurgent movement. This is a controversial initiative, but if there is a reason to believe the insurgents will respect the deal, isn’t it necessary in order to save lives?

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cybersecurity issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Friday, December 15, 2017

IPD: Brazil to Join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA

"Brazil to join UN Mission in Central African Republic, MINUSCA"
W. Alejandro Sanchez and Scott Morgan
14 December 2017
International Policy Digest
Originally published:

Brazil will join the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), theUN announced. This is an important decision for the South American nation, as Brasilia looks to maintain a high profile in UN peace operations. This also shows an increased interest in Africa as well perhaps to counterbalance western interests. What remains to be seen is whether the 750 Brazilian troops to be deployed will have a positive impact in MINUSCA’s operations as the violence in the troubled central African state continues.
Brazil and UN Peace Missions
Brazil has had a strong interest in participating in UN missions in order to increase its international profile. In fact, the South American country had a leading role in the United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET), as well as the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). MINUSTAH concluded its activities this past October after 13 years in the Caribbean state, prompting Brazil and other donors to withdraw their troops, and it has been replaced by a smaller mission, the United Nations Mission for Justice Support in Haiti (MINUJUSTH).
According to October 2017 statistics provided by the UN Peacekeeping website, Brazil currently has deployed 250 personnel – police, experts on mission, contingent troops and staff officers – in various UN missions. The largest contribution is to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) where Brazil has deployed 205 troops and regularly deploys a warship to UNIFIL’s maritime taskforce.
Furthermore, Brazil operates in other UN missions in Africa, such as the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO); the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID); the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNIOGBIS); the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA); and the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). Finally, it is worth noting that Brazil is already participating in MINUSCA as it has deployed one expert on mission and two staff officers.
The South American country’s contribution to MINUSCA will dramatically increase since, according to reports, 750 Brazilian military personnel will go to the African state. On 23 November, a Twitter account apparently belonging to Brazilian General Estevam Cals Theophilo Gaspar de Oliveira tweeted a collage of photos of the multinational logistic exercises AmazonLog17 that Brazil carried out with Colombia, and Peru. The tweet explains the experience learned from the exercises “will be utilized by the Brazilian army in the UN mission that it will participate in 2018 in the Central Africa Republic, MINUSCA.”
There is no official timeline for when the troops will be deployed, but Brazilian General Ajax Porto Pinheiro has been quoted by AFP in a late November article, stating that “the timing is not precise, but we think our troops will go to Central Africa by March or April.” It is also unclear what types of units will be deployed and what exactly will be their task in MINUSCA. Another Latin American state currently present in CAR is Peru, which has deployed a company of some 200 military engineers that carries out construction and support operations.
The Future MINUSCA
The key question is how effective will the 750 Brazilian troops be towards MINUSCA’s objections, which include the stabilization of CAR, protecting civilians from attacks by Séléka rebels and anti-Balaka forces, and supporting development operations. MINUSCA’s mandate was renewed in November for another year, and it will now expire on 15 November, 2018. According to a UN press release, the Security Council “decided to increase the Mission’s troop limit by 900 military personnel, resulting in an authorized troop ceiling of 11,650 military personnel, including 480 military observers and military staff officers, 2,080 police personnel and 108 corrections officers” via Resolution 2387 (2017). From a pure numbers perspective, an additional 900 troops is a (big) drop of water in an already large glass and it is debatable how impactful they will be.
Certainly, the Brazilian military is well trained, has experience in UN peacekeeping (they just spent 13 years in MINUSTAH, not including other operations), and it remains very motivated regarding future involvement in peacekeeping – the Brazilian ministry of defense and military have repeatedly been praised for their involvement in peace missions.
With that said, MINUSCA is operating in a complex and dangerous situation, where violence is much more prevalent than in Haiti, as fighters from other conflict zones use the country as a safe haven and the famous peacekeepers’ blue helmet makes them a target. Indeed, MINUSCA peacekeepers have been regularly attacked in recent months, including in September, near Gambo, when a peacekeeper was wounded; while an attack in Bria on 4 December, “resulted in one Mauritanian peacekeeper killed and two other Mauritanian peacekeepers and one Zambian peacekeeper injured.”
Thus, there is a high probability that Brazilian peacekeepers will be targeted in MINUSCA, like their counterparts from other nations have been. This is particularly the case if they go out into the field to carry out stabilization and protection operations, not simply remain in their UN compounds – a common critique against UN blue helmets. Other criticisms have included peacekeepers sexually assaulting those who they are supposed to be protecting and providing weapons or looking the other way when a militia attacks the civilian population.
Final Thoughts
Brazil’s decision to join MINUSCA is unsurprising as the country has participated in various peacekeeping operations, taking a leading role in Haiti, East Timor and the UN maritime force in Lebanon. After the recent closing of MINUSTAH, it was only natural that the Portuguese-speaking giant would look to participate in another UN mission.
The real question is how effective will 750 Brazilian troops be in MINUSCA’s overall operations. The UN mission has been operating since 2014 and unfortunately, the Central African country remains unstable, despite the excellent work of certain NGOs working on reconciliation issues, with ongoing violence against civilians, the government and the peacekeepers themselves.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect any institutions with which the authors are associated.

IPD: The Eurasian Economic Union and Latin America: What could 2018 Bring?

"The Eurasian Economic Union and Latin America: What could 2018 bring?"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
International Policy Digest
11 December 2017
Originally published:

As the world becomes more interconnected, regions that are geographically distant are now becoming closer as diplomatic and trade ties develop. For example, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) is approaching Latin America both as individual members and collectively.
Growing Relations: The members of the EAEU are Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia. Relations between Moscow and Latin America have been well covered – for example, the author has recently reviewed Russia’s relations with Bolivia andNicaragua – hence we will focus on the other EAEU members.
The Central Asian nation of Kazakhstan is an interesting case study as it has approached several Latin American states, particularly Brazil, which is one of the few Latin America countries where Astana has an embassy. For example, this year Kazakhstan’s Air Astana acquired five E190-E2 aircraft, produced by Brazil’s aerospace conglomerate EMBRAER, and deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2018. Air Astana did not purchase the planes directly from the Brazilian company, but rather signed a long-term lease agreement with AerCap; nevertheless, the decision to utilize EMBRAER platforms could help bring about future deals. Furthermore, the Kazakh company TetraTech, via its partnership with the US Agency for International Development, has been involved in projects among Latin American countries like Mexico(providing clean water) and Peru (supporting good governance).
Moreover, Astana has expanded its diplomatic presence in South America by opening a consulate in the Argentine city of Rosario, apart from already having a cultural center in said city. Additionally, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro visited Astana in September to take part in a meeting of the Islamic Cooperation Organization. As for positive publicity, the Mexican daily El Universal published a flattering piece about Kazakhstan’s interests in Latin America on 1 November, which includes an interview with Kazakh deputy foreign affairs minister, Yerzhan Ashikbayev. The article stresses that Mexican citizens do not need visas to travel to the Central Asian nation and the potential for future bilateral energy-related projects.
Meanwhile, Belarus has developed close ties with Venezuela; case in point: President Alexander Lukashenko met with President Maduro in Minsk just this past October. The meeting between the two leaders was followed by a round of a bi-national high-level commission, which occurred in late November, and the two sides discussed cooperation on issues like energy, agriculture and military strategy. Additionally, Mexico opened an honorary consulate in Minsk in 2016 while in early December 2017, Belarusian Ambassador to Ecuador and concurrently to Colombia, Igor Poluyan, made a working trip to Bogota, to promote bilateral relations, Belarus News reported.
As for Armenia, it is worth noting the migration of Armenians to Latin America, particularly after the Armenian Genocide. A 2016 article bySputnik Mundo discusses Armenia migration to Argentina and Uruguay in particular, though Armenians have migrated to other regional states. Nevertheless, the author has not been able to find recent diplomatic initiatives between the Caucasus nation and Latin America in spite of the Armenian Diaspora in the Western Hemisphere. Brazilian Foreign Affairs Minister Aloysio Nunes Ferreria did write an op-ed praising Brazil-Armenia relations prior to his mid-November visit to Yerevan, however no major agreements have been reported as part of this visit. A similar situation occurs with Kyrgyzstan’s stance towards Latin America. Apart from a statement by the Brazilian foreign affairs ministry that in 2013 Brasilia “donated $50 thousand to the Kyrgyz Government through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for supporting activities in favor of refugees,” there have been no significant initiatives.
Finally trade appears to be minimal. For example, the Mexican daily Milenio, reported in March 2017 that trade between Mexico and Belarus centered on Mexican exports of steel, materials for tires and cleaning machines. Meanwhile, Brazil has reported that its bilateral trade with Armenia reached USD$38.4 million in 2016.
Thus, bilateral relations between individual EAEU members, apart from Russia, and Latin America should not be overhyped. Bilateral relations are generally positive, but sporadic. Moreover the scarce trade between the aforementioned EAEU nations and Latin America stresses that there is much to be done still to bring both sides further together.
Mexico’s Faux Pas over Nagorno-Karabakh: There has been one recent diplomatic incident between the two distant regions worth mentioning. Namely, Mexican government officials apparently made a diplomatic statement in favor of Armenia’s territorial dispute with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh. In late October, three members of the Mexican Congress – identified as Margarita Blanca Cuata Domínguez, Carlos Hernández Mirón, de Morena, and María Cristina Teresa García Bravo – travelled to Armenia as part of their work for the Mexico-Armenia Friendship Group. The problem is that they also travelled to Nagorno-Karabakh, without authorization from the Azerbaijani government and apparently ignoring orders from the Mexican Secretariat of Foreign Affairs.
The Azerbaijani government has vehemently protested the Mexican officials’ visit to the disputed territory.
EAEU-Latin America Deals: Limited bilateral relations notwithstanding, there is optimism regarding the future of relations between the EAEU (as a bloc) and Latin America. Case in point, on 4 December, the author attended a conference organized by the Eurasia Center at the Russian Cultural Center in Washington DC, entitled “4th Annual Conference: Doing Business with the Eurasian Economic Union: Improving East-West Relations.” The speakers included government and diplomatic officials of the five member states, who praised current levels of integration, the new Customs Code that will enter into force in 2018, and ties with countries like South Korea,Singapore and Vietnam.
The author inquired about EAEU-Latin America relations, and the speakers were optimistic about these initiatives and singled out relations with Chile, Mexico and Peru in particular. In fact, Chile and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EEC) have a joint commission aimed at promoting ties, which held its third round of meetings this past March. An EEC press release mentions that the recent round included lists by both Chile and EEC members of products that they would like to export. Similarly, in 2016 Peru noted that 99% of its exports to the EAEU currently go to Russia and the goal is to approach other states. Finally, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso has declared his country’s interest in looking for new markets. “We would like to establish stable relations with EAEU,” the diplomat has stated.
As a final point, it is worth highlighting the meetings between the EAEU and the South American bloc MERCOSUR – its member states: Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela (which has been suspended since December 2016). In late November, Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that Latin American nations, including MERCOSUR, are interested in close cooperation with the EAEU. While there have been important meetings between the two blocs in the recent past, MERCOSUR currently is at a standstill due to internal problems, such as the problematic situation in Venezuela. Additionally, regional powerhouse Brazil is under stress due to its ongoing economic woes, while its foreign policy is essentially on hold until the October 2018 elections when a new administration will take over. We will probably have to wait until then to see what direction MERCOSUR takes and if rapprochement with the EAEU continues.
Final Thoughts: It will be important to monitor what 2018 brings for the EAEU-Latin American relations. Russia already has a hefty presence in Latin America, and the key will be to see if the Union’s other members can begin to establish a foothold in this vast area. So far, initiatives by Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have been scarce and, given the geographic distance between these nations and Latin America, in addition to other foreign policy priorities, we will likely not see major bilateral initiatives in the near future. Thus, the EAEU, as a bloc, led by Russia, would be the key to bring these nations and Latin America closer together.
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

CIMSEC: What the Loss of the ARA San Juan reveals about South America's Submarines

"What the Loss of the ARA San Juan reveals about South America's Submarines"
W. Alejandro Sanchez
"The Southern Tide"
Center for International Maritime Security
6 December 2017
Originally published:

Written by W. Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.
“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.
By W. Alejandro Sanchez
The Argentine Navy’s submarine ARA San Juan (S-42) disappeared in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Argentina, on 15 November. At the time of this writing, a multinational effort is underway to locate the platform and its 44-person crew. This tragic accident has prompted a discussion in Argentina regarding whether the country’s armed forces are being allocated sufficient budgets to repair or replace aging equipment. Additionally, theSan Juan incident must be placed in a wider discussion about civil-military relations, defense budgets, and the present and future of South American submarines.
ARA San Juan
Theories revolving around what happened to San Juan focus on an electrical malfunction that was reported by the crew prior to disappearing, though it was reportedly solved. The platform was returning to its home port of Mar del Plata when communications were lost. Naval protocol dictates that San Juan should have surfaced and traveled back to port, and it is unclear why the submarine continued its voyage submerged in spite of the aforementioned electrical problem. Adding to the mystery and overall concern was an apparent underwater explosion that reportedly occurred around 23 November in the general area where San Juan disappeared. The fear is that the explosion may have actually been an implosion due to pressure on the submarine’s hull.

San Juan, constructed by the West German shipyard Thyssen Nordseewerke, was commissioned by the Argentine Navy in 1985. The platform, a TR-1700 class, weighs slightly over two thousand tons, measures 66 m in length, with a max speed between 15 kts (surfaced) or 25 kts (submerged), and as it is powered with diesel engines – it went through mid-life repairs in 2008. Its sister vessel is ARA Santa Cruz (S-41).
Other South American Submarine Incidents
The disappearance of San Juan prompted a plethora of articles listing other notable incidents regarding submarines. One recent example that is often mentioned is the loss of the Russian submarine Kursk (K-141), an Oscar-class platform that suffered an explosion in the Barents Sea in August 2000. The U.S. has also lost submarines, like the USS Thresher (SSN-593), a nuclear-powered platform, in 1963, and the USS Scorpion (SSN-589), which disappeared in May 1968. That same year Israel’sINS Dakar and France’s Minerve (S-647) also disappeared.
When it comes to South America, submarine accidents are rare but, unfortunately, they have occurred. For example in 1919, theChilean submarine Rucumilla, an H-class platform, was carrying out maneuvers, when it started to flood; thankfully, all 23 members of the crew were rescued alive. More recently, the Brazilian submarine Tonelero (S-21) sank while it was undergoing repairs at a harbor in Rio de Janeiro in 2000. The crew members aboard also managed to escape safely and the diesel-powered, Oberon-class submarine constructed in the 1970 was successfully refloated only to be decommissioned shortly after.
There has also been one reportedly deadly accident: in 1988 the Peruvian submarine BAP Pacocha (SS-48), a Balao-class platform, was rammed by the Japanese fishing trawler Kiowa Maru off the Peruvian coast, close to the Callao port. Pacochasettled on the seabed, at a depth of around 144 ft (43 m). A massive rescue operation involving several vessels, including another Peruvian submarine, BAP Abtao (SS-42), was carried out and the 52-person crew was rescued in groups. Tragically, eight sailors including Pacocha’s commander, Captain Daniel Nieva Rodríguez, perished. Additionally, some of the survivors would live face health issues, as since they “were exposed to gradually increasing pressure for nearly twenty-four hours, their tissues were saturated with nitrogen at a depth deep enough to produce decompression symptoms.”
The Region’s Aging Submarines
Because submarines are a key element of a nation’s naval deterrent, detailed information regarding their status, including armament, is a sensitive issue. With that said, we can provide some general points from what is publicly known, and how these platforms fit into regional maritime strategies.
South America’s submarines are generally old, as most platforms were constructed in the 1970s or 1980s. Regional navies have focused on mid-life and other upgrades in order to extend their operational life. For example, the Ecuadorian daily El Universohas reported that the country’s two submarines, Shyri andHuancavilca, type U209, were purchased in the late 1970s and have undergone three modernization processes already, “1980-1983 in Germany, 1991-1994 in Ecuador, and 2008-2014 in Chile.”  
While most regional submarines are operational, others have been undergoing repairs for a significant amount of time. For example Argentina’s San Juan underwent mid-life repairs that required over five years of work (the Argentine media has critiqued this). Meanwhile the ARA Santa Cruz has been undergoing repairs at an Argentine shipyard since 2016, leaving the navy with only one submarine, ARA Salta (which was constructed in the early 1970s). Additionally, Venezuela’s Caribe(S-32) has been in a dry dock since 2004-2005, awaiting repairs. It is somewhat bizarre that in spite of the billions of dollars spent on the Venezuelan military during the Hugo Chavez era, the submarine fleet was not modernized or expanded, and it consists of only two platforms, Caribe and Sabalo (S-31), both are U209A/1300 constructed in the mid 1970s.
In recent years, there have been a few new acquisitions. A decade ago (in 2005-2007), Chile incorporated O’Higgins (SS-23) andCarrera (SS-22), two Scorpene-class submarines constructed by DCN-Bazan (now Navantia), to replace the old Oberon-class platforms. Additionally, in 2015 the Colombian Navy received two refurbished German submarines, U206A-class, for its Caribbean and Pacific fleets. The platforms, now renamed ARCIntrépido (SC-23) and ARC Indomable (SC-24), were constructed in the 1970s and served in the German Navy until 2010-2011, when they were retired and sold to Bogota the following year.

Finally, Brazil has the ambitious goal of domestically manufacturing submarines, as it is currently constructing with French support four Scorpene-class submarines and one nuclear-powered platform (the author has discussed this program in a November 2016 commentary for CIMSEC, “The Status of Brazil’s Ambitious PROSUB Program”). Of the region, the country has the most modern fleet as its current submarines (four Tupi-class and one Tikuna-class) were manufactured in the late 1980s and 1990s.
Why Do South American Navies Want Submarines?
Ultimately, what is exactly the role of undersea forces in South America in 2017 and beyond? The last conflict in the region was the Cenepa War in 1995 (Ecuador vs. Peru), while the last conflict with a maritime theater of operations was the Falklands/Malvinas War of 1982 (Argentina vs. United Kingdom).
While inter-state warfare in South America is not unthinkable, it is highly unlikely. Thus as regional naval strategies continue to evolve to properly address broad-spectrum maritime security threats (illegal fishingdrug trafficking, and humanitarian relief), the raison d’être of undersea forces must adapt, too.
In an interview with the author, Christian J. Ehrlich, Director of Intelligence at Riskop and Non-Resident Fellow at the Mexican Navy Institute for Strategic Research, explained that navies have three main missions: maritime security, naval diplomacy, and defense. Latin American navies have focused, particularly in recent decades, on the first objective – given the lack of inter-state conflict and generally peaceful diplomatic relations. This new reality has made it “financially difficult to maintain naval platforms that are mostly, if not exclusively, aimed at defense operations.” Mr. Ehrlich adds that navies that possess attack submarines have had to find a new “role” for these platforms, such as supporting surveillance or combating illegal fishing, such as when Ecuador’s submarine Huancavilca was deployed to combat illegal fishing after a recent incident involving a Chinese vessel off the Galapagos Islands.
Without a doubt, submarines are a powerful naval deterrent, a “just in case” tool if relations between two countries should deteriorate to the point that armed conflict is a real possibility. There are still occasional incidents, including maritime disputes, that highlight how South America is far from being a peaceful region where inter-state warfare is unthinkable. Hence, these hypotheses of conflict, combined with adapting to new security threats, ensures, as Mr. Ehrlich explains, that “the silent service will continue to be part of [South American] navies, which have invested decades in these platforms.”
Final Thoughts
The tragic disappearance of San Juan has brought to light a number of issues. In Argentina, the media and public are demanding both answers and culprits, and it is likely that the navy’s high command will have to resign. The Argentine media has discussed the military’s current status, blaming the civilian leadership of not providing adequate budgets to the armed forces to replace old equipment. At a regional level, this incident has brought to light the problematic reality of South American submarine fleets. Generally speaking, they are quite old, in need of replacement, and they need to find new roles to be relevant to contemporary maritime security strategies.
Thankfully, submarine-related incidents have been scarce, though the 1988 incident of Peru’s Pacocha and the current disappearance of Argentina’s San Juan exemplifies how just one accident can claim so many lives instantaneously. Such is the perilous life of the submariner.
W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez
The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.
The author would like to thank Erica Illingworth for editorial advice.