SIPRI: Latin America Military Spending Increased by 4.2 Percent in 2012
By Dialogo June 17, 2013
Latin America spent $34.1 billion on weapons and defense last year — a 4.2 percent rise over 2011 figures — while falling throughout the rest of the world, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), an independent organization that researches global armament trends.
Worldwide military expenditures in 2012 came to $1.7 trillion, or 2.5 percent of global GDP, the report said. In Latin America, defense spending accounted for about 4 percent of total GDP.
Paraguay saw the biggest year-on-year increase (43 percent), followed by Venezuela (42 percent). Globally, Venezuela ranked as the 13th largest arms importer between 2008 and 2012, said SIPRI, accounting for 2 percent of world deliveries. That country now owes Russia $4 billion for recently purchased military equipment, as the oil-producing nation faces both internal and external tensions.
The modernization of armed forces and the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime accounted for most of Latin America’s increase in military outlays, SIPRI said.
Mexico's military expenditures went up 9.7 percent due to the government’s battle against drug cartels, while Central American countries continue to widen and professionalize their armed forces to counter transnational drug trafficking organizations.
Argentina, Chile see defense spending rise too
“Argentina and Chile have announced plans to revive local defense manufacturing and modernize armed forces, although both are hamstrung by lack of cash resources and other budget priorities,” the SIPRI report said.
Argentina has increased defense spending by 123 percent since 2003, but this gain hasn’t translated into the acquisition of hardware and other military equipment, since personnel costs absorb 78 percent of the budget, the report said.
In 2012, Colombia’s military expenses rose by 11 percent as part of a four-year investment plan, which includes $1 billion for the purchase of communications equipment, armored vehicles, helicopters and satellites.
While most countries in the region rely on imports to modernize their defense forces, Brazil’s industry is mostly home-grown, though the country’s overall defense spending declined 0.5 percent in 2012.
Brazil stands apart with largest defense budget
The Brazilian Navy’s long-range plan lasting to 2047 includes a project to build 26 submarines.
“With these [nuclear-powered subs], Brazil would join the select club of countries that dominate the technology — China, United States, France, England and Russia. To get a sense of the strategic importance of that vehicle, these are precisely the five permanent members of the UN Security Council,” reported the Brazilian magazine Galileu.
Total defense spending came to $4.3 billion in 2012, up 34 percent from the 2011 figure of $3.2 billion. That, said the Ministry of Defense, ranks Brazil 11th in defense expenditures. By comparsion, the world’s three largest spenders on military equipment last year were the United States ($682 billion), China ($166 billion) and Russia ($9.7 billion).
In the past eight years, Brazil’s annual investment in defense has gone up by 480 percent, the government said, from $750 million in 2004 to $4.3 billion in 2012.
The country’s defense investment is twice that of Colombia, which has the second-largest military budget in Latin America, and 10 times larger than Argentina’s, according to SIPRI figures.
Brazil’s strategic concerns fueling its defense spending involve various natural resources throughout its vast territories, such as freshwater, rare minerals, biodiversity, newly discovered offshore oil, and protection of its borders with 10 countries.
Guatemala buys Embraer surveillance system
In April, Guatemala purchased an airborne surveillance and protection system from Brazil’s Embraer company for its 8,200-square-mile Maya Biosphere Reserve, the largest tropical forest in Central America.
The system consists of six A-29 Super Tucano airplanes, command-and-control equipment and three 3D radar systems, in addition to logistical support and training for Guatemalan pilots and mechanics.
“The surveillance system for the Maya Biosphere will allow Guatemalan authorities to identify and combat points of deforestation, forest fires, illegal occupation and illicit economic activities, like the illegal extraction of natural resources,” Embraer said in a press release. “With this order, Guatemala becomes the sixth operator of the Super Tucano in Latin America, along with Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.”
The Super Tucano is a turbo-powered plane used for surveillance, light attack combat missions, aerial interception, and counter-insurgency.
Latin America's growth in military spending sparks global interest
In late May, the Brazilian Navy hosted the 9th Inter-American Naval Telecommunications Conference, the main telecom forum among regional navies.
“The conference aims to study and endorse the coordination, improvement and standardization of Latin American naval communications systems, to create an efficient operating system during times of peace, as well as times of continental crises,” the Brazilian Navy’s IANTC organizing unit said in a press release prior issued prior to the meeting.
The May 27-31 event follows on the heels of the Latin America Aerospace and Defense (LAAD) trade show, held April 9-12 in Rio de Janeiro. LAAD featured 663 exhibitors from 40 countries supplying services, equipment and technology to armed forces, police, security services and government agencies.
Former Southcom Commander Gen. Douglas Fraser recently described the Latin American military buildup as “a modernization of fairly old, difficult-to-maintain capability.”
Regional arms race in the making?
The University of Miami Center for Hemispheric Policy, in a paper titled “An Arms Race in South America,” speculates that “perhaps the absolute increase in military expenditure is simply the natural consequence of the efforts by the region‘s armed forces to catch up with new technologies and, as such, we should not worry too much about it.”
UM said that increasing military purchases “are not in themselves indications that an arms race is developing. To talk of an arms race between countries usually implies that their military buildups are competitive and motivated by a perceived threat from the other. However, there is good reason to believe that the current arms build-ups in South America are mostly driven by other factors.”
The report added: “One motivation frequently cited by government officials [for increased military spending] is the modernization or replacement of old arsenals. This is credible, as much of the existing military equipment in the region is 20 or more years old and obsolete.
“That South American countries are stepping up such projects now is largely thanks to the boost that several countries’ state coffers have received from recent high international prices of commodities like copper, oil and soya. Other factors, particularly pertinent in the case of Brazil, include efforts to promote their domestic arms industries … and long-standing competition for regional leadership,” the organization said.