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The Argentine government and the National Insecurity Doctrine

Argentine President Mauricio Macri has recently enabled the armed forces' involvement in home security tasks. His decision responds to a change in the international military doctrines promoted by the US. Español

Trespassing Forbidden, Military Zone. Wikimedia Commons. All Rights Reserved.

There was a time when thinking in terms of the National Security Doctrine was the thing to do, now it's the National Insecurity Doctrine.

According to this new creed, the enemy today is a network of interconnected actors who operate domestically as part of a global dark plot - thus, the military and their firepower are needed to neutralize and eliminate them. The policy, however, is absolutely wrong.

On May 29th 2018, coinciding with the Army Day celebrations, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said: "We need our armed forces to dedicate greater efforts to collaborate with other areas of the State, providing logistical support to the security forces taking care of the Argentines in the face of the current threats and challenges".

Almost two months later, on July 23, Macri insisted on the existence of several 21st century "challenges and threats" and stressed that this was an important reason for having the armed forces "collaborate with internal security".

That same day, Decree 683 was published in the Official Gazette. In essence, it points in the direction of enabling the participation of the military in matters such as the fight against drug trafficking and terrorism.

I would like, in this context, to focus on the term "threats" which is being used by the government of Cambiemos to name a current, transcendental new issue.

What does this use aim at? In what interpretative matrix can it be placed? How does that expression tie in the framework of inter-American relations?

In my view, the answer to these questions requires that we stop first in the United States and examine, as a starting point, the so-called Grand Strategy and its evolution over time, for Washington has been adapting and updating its approach.

This can lead us to recognize both the global level and the continental specificity through which the US Grand Strategy has been expressed.

The role of the Latin American military was, in terms of Washington's Grand Strategy, primarily that of a home front: fighting and subduing the "internal enemy" - local "Communism", which was understood as an extension of Soviet expansionism in the region.

During the Cold War, in the area of inter-State relations, Washington deployed a strategy of containment. In that period, it was essential to stop the expansion of the Soviet Union (USSR) and, if possible, to reverse both its outward power projection into the periphery (the Third World, as it was then called) and the assertion of its area of influence (that is, Eastern Europe).

In the area of non-State relations and, particularly in peripheral nations, Washington resorted - both directly and indirectly - to counterinsurgency.

This was a form of confrontation aimed at undermining the legitimacy of armed opponents (for example, guerrilla groups and national liberation movements), blocking access to resources so as to prevent them from carry on fighting, weakening the adversary's political opportunities and gathering support (for example, in rural areas and urban centers).

The prevailing military doctrine was deterrence. That is, making it clear to the USSR that the costs of attacking Western Europe and using nuclear weapons against the United States and its allies would be exorbitant, because Washington's response would annihilate them.

The dynamics of "assured mutual destruction" underlied a doctrine which mirrored the same type of message Moscow was sending to the United States.

This strategy and doctrine were complemented in the diplomatic field by the establishment of firm political-military alliances.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and the ANZUS Treaty (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) were, under the premise of bipolarity, the agreements that ensured the maintenance of Washington's zones of influence and its international power projection.

Now, in the Latin American sphere, a subordinate doctrine was derived from the US Grand Strategy. The eventual final confrontation between East and West had, as leading actors, the United States and Western Europe on the one hand, and the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, on the other, while the armed forces of Latin America were not considered decisive in a hypothetical direct combat with the USSR.

The role of the Latin American military was, in terms of Washington's Grand Strategy, primarily that of a home front: fighting and subduing the "internal enemy" - local "Communism", which was understood as an extension of Soviet expansionism in the region.

Within this framework, counterinsurgency was the Armed Forces' main domestic strategy - to be carried out with the support of the US and, if need be, their involvement. All of this was embedded in a subordinate doctrine: the National Security Doctrine (NSD).

In the immediate post-Cold War period, contention was maintained as a strategy both in the face of a potential resurgence of Russia and China's emerging power.

Deterrence persisted as a doctrine in relation to State counterparts, while missile responses were used against non-State actors as retaliation for terrorist attacks against US interests abroad.

The subordinate logic that has been consolidating itself in most of Latin America within the framework of the redefinition of the Grand Strategy is the logic of the already mentioned "new threats" - multiple, intertwined and lethal.

There were no diplomatic changes regarding the alliance system: Washington's international behavior followed a pattern which combined episodic multilateralism and recurrent unilateralism.

As for the subordinate logic, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Communism in Eastern Europe, the phenomenon of the so-called "new threats" (drug trafficking, terrorism, organized crime, etc.) was devised - primarily by the US.

These new threats were conceived, in Marcelo Saín's words, as "a set of risks and non-traditional conflict situations - that is, not generated by interstate conflicts derived from border-territorial disputes or competition for strategic dominance".

The importance and the impact of the attacks of September 11, 2001 in the US ushered in a redefinition of the Grand Strategy.

The new strategy was aimed quite simply at military supremacy. That is, Washington would not (and does not) tolerate, either in the military or the political field, any equal-size international competitor (peer competitor), be it its old rival Russia or its new opponent China.

This was not a matter of good or bad will, or ideology (conservative or liberal), but something derived, to a large extent, from the obvious imbalance of power in the world system.

The strategy of primacy assumed (and assumes) that the vital interests of the United States are not sufficiently protected by a multilateral set of rules and agreements.

As for the non-State actors, to the famous traditional counter-insurgency strategy a counter-terrorist one was added, which consists of attacking militarily any opponent considered to be criminal and lethal (thus not entitled to political recognition) and deploying a variety of coercive actions against terrorist groups (preferably Islamic), eventually their State allies, their material support networks and shelters.

As for doctrine, deterrence continued to be the backbone of military thinking. At the height of what was presumed to be an enduring unipolar condition, Washington was on the road to achieving unquestioned predominance.

A new element incorporated after 9/11 was the "preventive war" doctrine. Its aim was to show that the US appropriates to itself the power to use its military might against any country, whether it may be ready to attack the United States imminently or not, without taking into account any evidence in order to legitimize, at least partially, its recourse to the military instrument in international relations.

Likewise, the solid alliances of the past (as diplomatic instruments of political and military support and commitment) overlapped in some cases and, in others, were replaced by ad hoc coalitions (the so-called Coalitions of the Willing), which means that Washington - Washington only - determines what the mission is and then establishes the coalition necessary to carry it out (as in Iraq or against the Islamic State).

Finally, the subordinate logic that has been consolidating itself in most of Latin America within the framework of the redefinition of the Grand Strategy is the logic of the already mentioned "new threats" - multiple, intertwined and lethal.

This proliferation of intersecting dangers is fostered by the absence and/or partial capture of the State and, consequently, requires that the armed forces take on an active role to confront them - thus erasing the difference between internal security and external defence.

This leads to what I call the National Insecurity Doctrine, which is a substitute for the old security doctrine: current enemies are a network of interconnected actors who operate in the home front as part of a global dark plot - and thus, the military and their firepower are needed to neutralize and eliminate them.

Complementarily, at the international level, the question now is not to involve the military in the traditional United Nations peace missions any longer, but rather in anti-terrorist actions within the new operations being deployed by the UN itself - for example, in some African countries.

The call by Argentine President Mauricio Macri to involve the military in the fight against "threats and challenges" must be understood in the context of the "new threats" dynamics.

The call by Argentine President Mauricio Macri to involve the military in the fight against "threats and challenges" must be understood in the context of the "new threats" dynamics which, in turn, arose from the changes that have occurred in inter-American relations.

This will not only affect one of the assets of democratic Argentina in Latin America - namely, the strict separation between defence and internal security - but also obstruct the urgently needed national debate on what sort of defence policy and what sort of armed forces the country needs today.

A large majority of those who believe in the value and usefulness of that separation have been arguing that such a debate cannot be postponed and that it must be done using serious, frank and head-on arguments. But on the contrary, the position of the government of Cambiemos in this matter leads to less discussion about defence and a further weakening of the Armed Forces.

This article is being published as part of the partnership between Nueva Sociedad and democraciaAbierta. You can read the original here.

About the author

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian is Full Professor and director of the department of political science and international studies at the Universidad Torcuato Di Tella in Buenos Aires. He was previously professor at the Universidad de San Andrés, also in Argentina. He earned a doctorate in international relations from the Johns Hopkins University school of advanced international studies, and lived, researched and taught in Colombia from 1981-9

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian es Profesor Plenario y director del departamento de ciencias políticas y estudios internacionales de la Universidad Torcuato Di Tella en Buenos Aires. Previamente fue profesor en la Universidad de San Andrés, también en Argentina. Se doctoró en relaciones internacional en la John Hopkins University school of advanced international studies. Residió en Colombia entre 1981-98.


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