The Significance of Conventional Deterrence in Latin America

By Covarrubias, Jaime Garcia | Military Review, March-April 2004 | Go to article overview

The Significance of Conventional Deterrence in Latin America


Covarrubias, Jaime Garcia, Military Review


THE ARMED FORCES of Latin America must determine their new roles in a changing environment of new threats and opportunities. Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru have been searching for their strategic destinies in a world that grows more conflict-ridden yet interdependent each day.

An advance toward real integration is desirable because that is how countries create synergies that bring them out of prostration and underdevelopment. Concrete integrating forces exist, but progress slow because of problems arising from historic mistrust, asymmetrical economies, and political instabilities. Strategic documents show that these countries prefer conventional (classical) deterrence as the political and strategic model of choice, but the documents raise questions.

Pure and simple deterrence is more than just an adequate political and strategic model; it can be the motive for an arms race. Reconciling cooperation with deterrence is difficult. Cooperation and deterrence are each other's opposites. (1)

What is Deterrence?

When French General Andre Beaufre published An Introduction to Strategy and later Deterrence and Strategy in the early 1960s, his insight greatly influenced deterrence-theory analysis within international-relations circles. (2) B.H. Lidell Hart characterized An Introduction to Strategy as the most complete strategy treatise published in that generation. The Vatican analyzed the papers extensively at the fourth session of Vatican Council II in 1966and later commented on them in the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World." (3)

Beaufre defined nuclear deterrence as the only kind of deterrence that produces the effect seeks--to avoid or to end war--as the Cold War demonstrated. The following facts confirm Beaufre's assertion:

* The United States destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki with two atomic bombs, which led to Japan's surrender. Atomic weapons were outlawed, but the use of conventional arms continued.

* Nuclear proliferation has been slow, but the phenomenon of global terrorism and nuclear development in countries like North Korea could end this situation.

* Wars have continued throughout the world despite conventional deterrence.

Understanding what deterrence is, however, is complicated. Deterrence is often confused with the desire to avoid aggression, which is the natural attitude of a country that feels equal or inferior to another. Not having experienced war for long time complicates the issue. These attitudes are themselves the consequences of deterrence. Nevertheless, deterrence as a methodology to achieve peace succeeds to the degree that a country has a sound strategic political model. Thus, deterrence is not random or casual; it is the result of concrete actions.

Some fundamental requirements of deterrence are the physical capability to inflict damage, the ability to demonstrate power, and credibility. A country only obtains credibility through the political will to employ force. The political will to use force is the breath of life of deterrence. If the will does not exist, a potential adversary will perceive this and render the other two requirements--the ability to demonstrate power and the capability to inflict damage--inert.

Deterrence has no "first name"--in the sense of being defensive or offensive. We should not attach adjectives such as "defensive" or "offensive" to the word "deterrence" because if deterrence is successful there will be no need for defensive or offensive action. Deterrence's objective is secret, only for domestic consumption, or for later revelation by history. Since the politics of defense is by nature secret, what can a country do to demonstrate that it is not eager to attack another nation-state or to gain objectives in foreign territories? (5)

Deterrence is an "effect." Its results depend on the opinion the opponent has of his adversary's capability to win. …

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