The February 4 march Big turnout for Piedad Córdoba
Jan 302008

A colleague just sent a copy of Balance Militar Suramericano (The South American Military Balance), a new document from the Bogotá-based Security and Democracy Foundation. It gives an interesting overview of the current sizes, capabilities and budgets of South America’s militaries, drawing much data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) and the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

(Right now, I can’t find the Balance Militar document on the foundation’s website. It bears no release date and may not be available for free. If it appears, I’ll add a link. Update as of 2/1: here it is as a PDF file.)

The report discusses the rapid military buildup that Colombia underwent over the past ten years, and includes much new data comparing Colombia with its South American neighbors. These include three surprising findings, presented here with translated excerpts from the report:

1. Colombia’s military (not counting police) expenditure is similar to Chile’s. Over the past ten years the two countries have alternated in second and third place – well behind Brazil – with military expenditure levels surpassing $4 billion per year, and approaching $5 billion. They are also similar as a proportion of the overall economy.

With respect to the assignation of military expenditures as a portion of GDP, Chile and Colombia are the countries that have most devoted their resources during the 1997-2005 period, with an average of 3.61 and 3.52 percent of GDP, respectively. Colombia is the country that has undergone the greater budgetary effort, moving from 2.9 percent in 1997 to 3.7 percent in 2005.

(By comparison, the U.S. defense budget, including the cost of the Iraq war, is roughly 4.3 percent of GDP [nearly $600 billion out of nearly $14 trillion].)

2. Since 2004, Colombia’s military expenditure has been growing more slowly than the South American average. Led by large new arms purchases in Chile, Venezuela, and Brazil – made possible by returns from high commodity prices – South American defense budgets have risen extremely rapidly since 2004.

Despite the current [Colombian] government’s commitment to sustaining a military budget in accord with the needs of armed forces involved in a sustained military campaign, budgeted military expenditures have shown the worst growth rate in the region, 3.70%, during the 2004-2006 period – far from the regional average calculated at 22.35%.

3. The sharpest increases in Colombian military spending took place not during Álvaro Uribe’s presidency, but during that of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana. Colombian public opinion views Pastrana (president from 1998 to 2002) as a naïve peacenik whom the FARC duped into a failed negotiation while the country’s security situation went into a tailspin. In fact, while Pastrana was pursuing negotiations, his defense ministry and high command were overseeing a huge military buildup that included a big contribution from Washington: Plan Colombia.

On three occasions during the 1998-2002 period – 1998, 2000 and 2002 – the Colombian government approved military budget increases greater than 10%, more than double the average of the decade [1997-2006]. … It is with these resources that the Colombian government bought more than 12 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, Russian Mi-17 transport helicopters, and supported the modernization of its aircraft, riverine and land combat equipment, alongside the U.S. aid funding.

After 2002, the increase in military expenditure has been gradual, without showing – so far – any extraordinary budget increases, as indicated by the 8.65% increase in defense expenditure between the years 2003 and 2006, less than the peaks described during the 1998-2002 period. Despite this, at the end of 2005 the Colombian government carried out one of the most important purchases of military materiel in at least two decades, 25 Super Tucano [Brazilian] aircraft for close air support.

The document notes that with the Uribe government implementing new asset tax on the wealthy to fund the war, a new spike in Colombian military spending is likely for 2008.

3 Responses to “Whose military buildup?”

  1. Tambopaxi Says:

    Wow, this report is a surprise. Antes de eso, I would have guessed that Colombia was THE big spender arms in LA.

    The Brazilians, I can see, due to their size and regional leadership aspirations (I see they’re in the market for a nuclear sub, btw), but the Chileans???

    Rocios with Bolivia and Peru just can’t justify the Chilean buildup. I may be getting cynical in my old age, but I wonder if these purchases aren’t some sort of long term deal between civilian governments there and the military to keep the uniforms docile. I thought that, post-Pinochet, militarism within Chile was down, if not, but maybe not….

  2. Randy Paul Says:

    Chile doesn’t surprise me. 10% of CODELCO’s earnings goes to the military.

  3. boz Says:

    Just got it yesterday via e-mail. It is up on their website now.

    You must have gotten an early copy :)

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