Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Chile’

Rehabilitating Pinochet?

Image by Archivo Clarín Argentina, via Wikimedia.

Image by Archivo Clarín Argentina, via Wikimedia.

By Taylor Marvin

Following the recent coup in Egypt, the Wall Street Journal posted a fairly run-of-the-mill editorial in favor of President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster. Arguing that the polarizing and Islamist Morsi government necessitated a military coup, the Wall Street Journal expressed hope that the Egyptian military would wisely steer Egypt back to democracy and resist the urge to govern the country directly. Accusing it of “trailing events at every turn,” the op-ed’s authors also denounced the Obama administration’s foreign policy, while neglecting to admit that the US has little ability to positively influence events in Egypt, and even less ability to foresee them — again, a fairly typical argument from the Journal.

However, in its last paragraph the op-ed veers into what can only be considered at best wildly historically myopic, or more likely simply deeply offensive:

“Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free-market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy. If General Sisi merely tries to restore the old Mubarak order, he will eventually suffer Mr. Morsi’s fate.”

This is, to put it mildly, insane. After participating in and then subsuming the military junta that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, Pinochet personally ruled Chile for nearly two decades. In that time he oversaw the deaths of 3,000 people (in a country of 13 million in 1990) and torture and execution of democratic activists, fought all meaningful democratic reform, and nearly fought what would have been an entirely-preventable conflict with Argentina. Ultimately, Pinochet left power not out of some respect for democracy, as the Journal seems to believe, but when he was essentially forced out. If the Wall Street Journal’s editors had any respect at all for Pinochet’s victims — or, perhaps more pertinently, any understanding of the legacy of his regime — they would not hold Pinochet as an example for Egypt’s newly re-empowered generals.

As Colin M. Snider writes, this argument is “vile, disgusting, repugnant, vulgar, and ignorant.”

But perhaps more interesting is what this op-ed represents. The Pinochet regime has long enjoyed some cachet among American conservatives, both for the regime’s anti-Communist stance and neoliberal economic reforms, and during his tenure Pinochet enjoyed close ties with the both the US government and neoliberal economists, notably Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek. With the end of the Cold War American elites had much less incentive to support anti-leftist Latin American military dictatorships, and generally turned away from previously-favored right-wing autocracies. But due to his free-market reforms and Chile’s subsequent economic growth the Pinochet regime continued to enjoy some degree of respect that other, once similarly favored regimes like the pre-1982 Argentine junta and Paraguay’s Stroessner regime gradually lost. This respect continued beyond Pinochet’s ouster, with American conservatives especially often rhetorically conflating arguments highlighting the regime’s economic success with some nebulous endorsement of it, while downplaying Pinochet’s crimes and the growth in Chilean inequality he oversaw.

But American economic conservatives ready to celebrate the Pinochet regime’s economic policies are usually quick to denounce its autocratic nature, even while implicitly endorsing the regime overall. This position stems from a somewhat understandable dilemma. In the American elite imagination the Pinochet regime is most often offered as clear-cut economic success story — acknowledge the regime’s crimes and the whole narrative edifice threatens to come crashing down. Some commentators attempt to streamline this historical narrative by insisting that while Pinochet was a brutal dictator the Communist-leaning Allende government it overthrew would have been worse. While this plays into American Cold War biases and draws on the specter of leftist insurgencies elsewhere in Latin America, it’s also a counterfactual, and ultimately not very convincing.

Given this rhetorical challenge — the contemporary conservative need to condone Pinochet’s economic policies while also denouncing its abuses — the Wall Street Journal simply elected to avoid the narrative bind entirely, drop the qualifications, and endorse the Pinochet regime whole-heartedly. Admittedly the op-ed only mentions Chile in the last paragraph and is focused on another issue, but this failure to qualify its celebration of Pinochet at all remains noteworthy.

Pithily noting that “anyone familiar with the political views of the WSJ’s editors couldn’t have been too surprised,” Daniel Larison sees the Pinochet reference as a predictable repurposing of American foreign policy tropes to fit a new situation:

“On one level, it was just an old rehashing of Cold War-era justifications for U.S. support for anticommunist authoritarian rulers, except that Islamists were now filling the role that communists and socialists used to play. On another, it was a fairly predictable expression of support for perceived ‘pro-American’ forces abroad even if they happened to be military officers engaged in a coup against an elected government.”

This is of course correct. But it’s possible that there’s something else here. The Pinochet regime is now nearly a quarter century in the rearview mirror. With this growing historical remoteness, it would be unsurprising if American conservatives gradually drop their qualifications when arguing in favor of the regime’s economic policies. After all, noting that a regime best-known (in the United States I don’t think this is an exaggeration) for its arguably-beneficial economic policies was also a reprehensible, anti-democratic dictatorship complicates the narrative. Given that the Pinochet regime is most often mentioned in the US as an appropriated tool in American economic policy debates, this complexity is relevant, and unwanted. As time goes by I would not be surprised if explicit endorsements of the Pinochet regime like the Wall Street Journal’s become more and more common.

Correction: This piece originally misidentified the Wall Street Journal editorial as an op-ed.

Advertisements

A Framework for Military Xenophobic Cultures

By Taylor Marvin

Last week a video showing Chilean sailors chanting “I will kill Argentines, I will shoot Bolivians, I will behead Peruvians” surfaced and immediately drew international condemnation. Chilean leaders denounced the chant and promised that the sailors involved would be punished, but the nature of the video — which shows a public training run — and reports that the particular chant has been around for decades suggests that it, and the military culture of violent xenophobia it embodies, enjoys some level of semi-official approval in the Chilean Navy. Chilean Congressman Gonzalo Arenas Hödar criticized the Navy’s reaction, remarking the chants “have always existed in all the armed forces,” and defensibly noted that anti-Chilean marching chants are common in the Argentine military as well.

Colin M. Snider has an excellent post (hat tip to Robert Farley) that places the violent chant within the context of Chile’s past wars and current rivalries with its neighbors  concluding that “such declarations are unsurprising, as they tap into nationalist sentiment and regional antagonisms that go back well over a century.” This is certainly true, as Chile’s historical wars with its neighbors is a source of frequent contemporary conflict. As Snider notes, Chile’s annexation of southern Peru and costal Bolivia during the 1890s War of the Pacific is still resented in both countries; notably, the Bolivian coat of arms retains a star for its lost Litoral province conquered over a century ago. More recently, Chile’s privileged position among its neighbors draws some degree of resentment: Chileans enjoy much higher standards of living than their northern counterparts, and, as David R. Mares nots in Violent Peace: Militarized Interstate Bargaining in Latin AmericaChile has been the dominant military force in the region for a century. While the likelihood of interstate armed conflict has dramatically decreased since the demise of the region’s military governments, Chile still enjoys a substantial qualitative military edge over its neighbors. Conversely, bigotry towards Peruvians and Bolivians is common in Chilean society, as is nationalistic hostility towards Chile’s poorer neighbors. Perhaps relatedly, the threat of renewed conflict is judged high enough to justify comparably high military spending (at 3.2 percent of 2012 GDP, higher than Argentine, Bolivian, and Peruvian percentage-of-GDP defense spending).

So, given the history of conflict between Chile and its neighbors and the nationalistic prejudice present in Chilean society, the chant is arguably — though perhaps depressingly — unsurprising. However, what is notable is its context. The public nature of the sailors’ chant suggests that this is not, strictly speaking, a discipline issue. If these xenophobic chants have persisted over decades of personnel turnover within the Chilean armed forces it strains credibility to argue that they are not tolerated by the military establishment. Instead, xenophobic chants are likely encouraged within the officer corp, a possibility supported by a Twitter user’s claim, directed at Chilean Admiral Edmundo Gonzalez, that the marching chants are “not improvisations”. This is striking. Of course, xenophobia and cultures of violence targeted at outsiders classified as enemies are not uncommon within militaries. However, their public expression is rarely tolerated in modern, democratic armed forces like Chile’s. That’s not saying these expressions never occur, but are rarely seen in the quasi-official context of the Chilean video.

Acknowledging the chant as semi-official implies some level of cost-benefit analysis within the military establishment. As noted above, this is not a discipline issue — violent xenophobia expressed as obviously as public chants would not be present if officers consciously decided not to tolerate it. Given that violent xenophobia appears tolerated, if not encouraged, within the Chilean military, the military establishment must judge that this culture’s benefits exceed its costs; this suggests that a cost-benefit framework determines when militaries foster cultures of violent xenophobia and when they do not. Of course, it is difficult to draw firm conclusions from the specific Chilean case — it is not clear if Chile’s apparent xenophobic military culture is due solely to endogenous determinants, or a broad framework that can be extended to other cultural contexts. But it does suggest interesting speculation.

Indoctrinating, or at least tolerating, violent xenophobia within armed forces brings both benefits and costs. In the eyes of officers that allow it, peacetime xenophobia helps build martial vigor and an esprit de corps by self-defining a military group in opposition to its perceived enemies. Indoctrinating soldiers with the idea that war is possible also presumably raises morale and commitment in countries where servicemembers are unlikely to actually fight. However, xenophobic military cultures also impose external reputation costs — risking that soldiers will be perceived as bloodthirsty and the society they represent bigoted. These interacting benefits and costs suggest that militaries will foster xenophobia when they face conditions that maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of these cultures. Chile appears a clear case of maximizing these benefits, for three reasons.

First, Chile has standing rivalries with neighboring countries the Chilean population perceives as enemies. In addition to Chile’s history of conflict with its neighbors, this public perception is partially due to the Pinochet dictatorship’s practice of stressing external, as well as internal, threats in a bid to legitimize military rule. A society-identified external enemy is a requirement for military xenophobia, for obvious reasons: to motivate, xenophobia needs an obvious target. While military establishments are certainly capable of indoctrinating their members with violent hatreds, this xenophobia must be based on an existing social bias — modern French officers attempting to motivate their soldiers by indoctrinating them with a hatred of Germans would be met by laughter, despite the two countries’ history of conflict. Importantly, the channel between social perceptions of external enemies and deliberately indoctrinated military xenophobia works both ways: soldiers indoctrinated with xenophobic hatreds will take bigotry with them into society, and as the historical Chilean military dictatorship demonstrates governments will often build public perceptions of external threats in the service of regime legitimacy. Together, these popularly-perceived external enemies likely maximize the beneficial motivating effects of fostering military xenophobia.

Secondly, Chile has little prospect of going to war. Chile has not engaged in an interstate war for over a century, and despite outstanding disputes with Bolivia and Peru there has been little prospect of armed conflict since the end of the Pinochet regime. It is reasonable to suspect that servicemembers will be less committed to training and discipline in peacetime forces, as low commitment is less likely to result in fatal consequences. Constant repetition of the idea that combat is coming — “I will kill Argentines,” and so on — presumably is a device to increase individual servicemembers’ personal commitment. Even if servicemembers can rationally judge war to be unlikely, immersion in an environment where the opposite is stressed presumably has an effect; again, adding to the benefit side of the calculus.

Finally, Chile’s peacetime status reduces the potential costs of xenophobic military culture. For militaries in combat, unconstrained xenophobia has potentially greater costs. Soldiers socially indoctrinated with ethnic hatred are much more likely to commit highly-visible atrocities, if they have the opportunity. Chilean servicemembers may chant about “beheading Peruvians”, but thankfully have no opportunity to actually do so. For forces in combat, this is not the case. In the US military, endemic hatred of Muslims would create an environment where servicemembers judged war crimes to be tolerated. Consequently, in the last decade the US military establishment has vigorously worked to prevent a culture of broad hatred from arising within its ranks. While xenophobic hatreds have persisted at the lower-level of the US military — and have arguably directly resulted in atrocities — these hatreds are clearly not approved by military’s leadership and exist in spite of, rather than due to, desired institutional culture.

These two Chile-specific cultural factors — popularly-defined external enemies, and a low likelihood of facing combat — support the idea that military xenophobia grows from a deliberate cost/benefits framework. But in modern times the costs of fostering xenophobic military cultures have grown, as the furious international reaction to the video — and Chilean naval commanders’ promise that those involved will be punished — demonstrates. In past decades barracks hatreds were mostly just that: confined to barracks. But when a sailors’ chant can be quickly disseminated around the world and instantly embarrass the government, the reputation costs of xenophobic military cultures have grown, even for peacetime forces. Chile’s military establishment appears to be learning this the hard way.

Rational Causes of War in the South Atlantic

1982 Argentine magazine, via Wikimedia.

“We’re Winning.” 1982 Argentine magazine, via Wikimedia.

By Taylor Marvin

Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is once again making noise over the Falklands dispute. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the unresolved dispute over the islands is once again causing diplomatic trouble — recent petroleum exploration around the islands has raised the stakes of the conflict — but the real takeaway is that the status of las Islas Malvinas continues to draw popular ire among Argentines.

Jorge Luis Borges famously described the Falklands War as “a fight between two bald men over a comb.” Borges’ comment pithily summarizes the perceived futility of the war, but frivolously dismisses the conflict’s real impetus — states may fight over worthless territories, but they rarely do so for irrational reasons. The 1976 Argentine military junta initiated the war not in an irrational grab for the harsh islands themselves, but instead in a reasonably-sophisticated bid to legitimize their unpopular government through a popular military victory the war’s architects judged readily attainable. That fact that the junta’s initial assumptions about the UK’s commitment to defend the islands were wildly inaccurate does not mean, in and of itself, that the war decision was irrational.This explanation for the 1982 war suggests that renewed conflict over the islands is unlikely.

Las Islas Malvinas command a unique place in popular Argentine thought. Among Argentines, the sentiment that the Falklands rightly belong to them and that the status quo is an unjust colonial holdover is widespread. In this framework — that identifies the British claim to the Falklands as nothing more than open colonialism — the islanders’ desire to remain part of the UK is irrelevant; the very fact British people live there at all is an injustice. I’ve spent only a brief time in Argentina, but vividly remember noticing a cartoon map of the country, part of a corporate logo, that included the islands. Even in this trivial context, las Islas Malvinas are Argentine.

The Argentine junta’s 1976 overthrow of the Isabel Perón civilian government was intended to facilitate the remaking of Argentine society and force an end to the country’s historic liberal-conservative conflict. But the junta’s frustrated inability to usher in stability and clearly unsustainable brutality of the Dirty War made their rule increasingly untenable, and the invasion was a last-ditch effort to bolster the junta’s popularity. Allusions to combs and bald men aside, the Falklands conflict was never about territory itself; instead, it was fought over the symbolic value of the islands’ sovereignty. The junta saw themselves as the defenders of Argentine society. Facing the prospect of the overthrow of their regime, the potential legitimizing payoff of a successful invasion of the islands made war a reasonable choice.

Importantly, the Falklands was not the junta’s only prospective legitimizing victory. Argentina’s military government had long-standing territorial disputes with Chile, where Pinochet actually encouraged settlement of the country’s harsh south out of the fear that Argentina would sieze the sparsly populated territory. But despite almost going war with Chile over disputed and geopolitically important Beagle Channel islands in 1978, the Argentine junta only escalated a territorial conflict to war in 1982, when they faced a severe domestic legitimacy crisis. In Argentina’s zero-sum political climate of the early 1980s, a face-saving military victory would salvage the critically unpopular military government’s rule. Of course, the conflict had the opposite outcome, but at the time the invasion was a reasonable bet.

Today fears of renewed conflict are mostly based on this populist logic: as long as an Argentine government perceives itself as domestically unpopular, so the thinking goes, stoking nationalist sentiments over the islands will be a tempting policy. But the belief that the Argentine government’s behavior is governed by a rational cost-benefit logic suggests that actual war over the islands is unlikely. Yes, Argentina’s continued economic downturn and erratic growth both reward populistic nationalism and increase the appeal of offshore energy exploration. But the current government faces nowhere near the legitimacy crisis that prompted the junta’s decision to invade in 1982. The Falklands War was a desperate act launched by a domestically embattled government that associated its own legitimacy with national survival. That is not true today. Rather than the culmination of a century of left-right conflict, today’s Argentine government is comparably unexceptional. The modern Argentine government is also aware that the expected costs of conflict would be greater than it judged in the days before the 1982 invasion. Despite the British armed forces’ shrinkage since the 1980s, the 1982 war is evidence that the UK is willing to fight over the islands, while the junta’s war plans were benchmarked around the assumption that Britain would not contest the invasion. Given the lower domestic incentive and higher expected costs of conflict today, a rational choice for war is unlikely.

Making diplomatic noise over the Falklands question is a low-risk strategy for bolstering the Argentine government’s domestic popularity, and it is unsurprising that President Kirchner continue to press the issue. But this does not mean that renewed war is likely.

Note: This post has been edited for clarity.