Democratic Argentina's "Global Reach": The Argentine Military in Peacekeeping Operations

By Huser, Herbert C. | Naval War College Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Democratic Argentina's "Global Reach": The Argentine Military in Peacekeeping Operations


Huser, Herbert C., Naval War College Review


Buenos Aires, 10 March [1996] TELAM-Lieutenant General Martin Balsa, the Army chief of staff, has emphasized the high professional level shown by Argentine military officers who joined the peacekeeping forces. He favors an active and well-trained Army, instead of an empty and poorly trained Army.

Balza told Radio America: "We are peace professionals. Our mission is to prevent wars. We, therefore, must be prepared to deter."1

SEVEN YEARS EARLIER, SUCH SENTIMENTS by an Argentine Army chief of staff would have been unthinkable. Argentina, although returned to civilian rule, was still dealing with a civil-military crisis of the first order, and the recently passed Law of National Defense did not list international peacekeeping among the roles and missions of the Argentine military. When on 9 July 1989 President Raul Alfonsin's administration ended (with his resignation five months before the end of his term) and President Carlos Menem's began, Argentina had only a few peace observers on United Nations "blue helmet" missions.2

On the fourth anniversary of Menem's presidency, however, there were 1,021 Argentine military personnel deployed in UN peacekeeping operations, some 90 percent of them in Croatia in the UN Protection Force. United Nations "blue helmets" worldwide then numbered 78,444, an all-time high, up from 14,724 in mid-1989. The Argentine contribution would peak, at 1,471, eight months later.3

These statistics reflect a major change in the foreign policy priorities and alignments of Argentina and also in the nature and scope ofthe roles and missions of the Argentine armed forces, including-very prominently-its navy. Why has this change occurred? What does it signify for the future?

Evolution of Argentine Military Participation Abroad

For most of its 187-year history Argentina has had no military forces deployed outside its borders or territorial waters. The only exceptions have been the Wars of Independence (1816-1824), the War of the Triple Alliance (1865-1870), and arguably, the 1982 war in the South Atlantic (although most observers outside Latin America regarded the brief occupation of the Malvinas/Falklands as an Argentine invasion of British territory, the Argentines emphatically did not). Argentina remained neutral in both World War I and World War II, declaring war on the Axis in the latter mostly to become a charter member of the United Nations and so avoid losing prestige and voice in the postwar order.

Indeed, Argentina was a reluctant partner in most international security arrangements until quite recently. Immediately following World War II the Juan Peron administration sought to make Argentina a Western Hemispheric rival to Brazil and even the United States for influence in South America. As with most countries in the Southern Cone, Argentine military doctrine at that time adhered to a geopolitical view of the world. Following Peron's political demise in 1955, however, the armed forces-who would be either in government or only a step away for the next twenty-eight years-assumed a purely national focus. They saw their roles and missions both in terms of internal security (preventing infiltration of local groups by communist cadres to foment insurgencies-a mission that would culminate in the "dirty war" of 1976-1979) and of external security (seeking to secure Argentina's borders and territorial claims, including most of the South Atlantic islands and a slice of Antarctica).

Consequently, Argentina's international presence in multinational collective security organizations or peacekeeping operations was minimal. Nonetheless, in the late 1950s Argentina began making small contingents of Argentine military officers available for UN observer missions. These contingents remained very small; when Menem came into office there were only twenty-one people involved, seventeen of them in UN missions authorized only the year before.4

Menem's predecessor, Alfonsin, had been preoccupied with severe economic and civil-military problems and so had not sought to make Argentina an international player.

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