In recent decades, the geopolitical scenario in Latin America has undergone significant changes, particularly in the area of military training and arms trade. While the region has historically maintained close relations with NATO powers, the growing involvement of China and Russia signals a change in the security and defense landscape. Institutions such as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) have played an important role in collaborating and strengthening relations between the Armed Forces of friendly nations and NATO countries, contributing to a more unified hemispheric environment. Starting from an exploration of the historical evolution of military training in Latin America, this article aims to examine the emerging role of China and Russia in the arms trade and military training in the region, in order to analyze the implications and challenges that this represents for geopolitics and security in Latin America.
During the Cold War, Latin America played a strategic role on the global geopolitical chessboard. Most Latin American nations established military alliances and agreements with the United States and other NATO powers. These alliances, reflected in military training programs and arms trade, strengthened the region’s defense capabilities. The International Security Assistance Initiative and bilateral agreements with European countries are the most notable U.S. military assistance arrangements in the region. However, as the Cold War came to an end, new actors emerged on the regional scene. China and Russia in particular have increased their presence and involvement in the region, ushering in a new era of military relations and arms trade in Latin America.
Throughout the 20th century, military training and the arms trade in Latin America have evolved significantly under the influence of Western powers. After World War II, the United States established a series of military assistance programs and cooperation agreements with Latin American countries. These programs included the training of officers and soldiers, as well as the provision of equipment and armaments. In the 1980s, military cooperation expanded to include several European nations. The purchase of combat aircraft and armored vehicles between European nations and Latin America are clear examples of this expansion. Advances in military technology have been an essential factor in the evolution of the region’s armed forces.
On the other hand, the beginning of the 21st century in Latin America marked a change in the focus of hemispheric cooperation. It promoted an interest in issues of civilian protection, transnational organized crime and the fight against drug trafficking. This change has generated a more holistic and complex refocusing of military cooperation, which is not limited to conventional training and armaments.
In the last two decades, China and Russia’s involvement in Latin America has seen a significant increase in terms of military training and arms trade. China has boosted its presence through economic investment and the development of bilateral relations. Russia, for its part, has revived its Soviet-Soviet relations and sought new alliances. In terms of technology and equipment, China has been supplying several Latin American countries with drones, while Russia has sold advanced anti-aircraft missile systems in the region. In addition, both countries have offered military training programs to Latin American officers. For example, Chinese military institutes have begun offering training courses in Spanish, and Russia has increased the number of military positions and scholarships for Latin American students.
Likewise, Chinese and Russian military culture and diplomacy are impacting Latin America. The opening of Chinese cultural centers and increased visits by senior Russian military officials to the region indicate the strengthening of relations not only at the governmental level, but also at the military, cultural and social levels. These relationships have the potential to reshape intra-Latin American relations as nations in the region weigh their historical associations with Western powers against emerging opportunities with China and Russia.
The growing involvement of China and Russia in military training and arms trade in Latin America poses geopolitical and security challenges and implications. This diversification of military alliances has the potential to weaken military diplomacy relations with the United States and NATO countries, which have historically been a critical component of hemispheric security. In addition, the increased availability of advanced military technology creates the risk of fueling a regional arms race. Given this reality, Latin America faces the challenge of balancing relations with global powers and managing its military training and acquisitions in a way that contributes to regional stability and security.
The growing involvement of China and Russia in military training and arms trade in Latin America is a silent battle that evidences a significant change in the regional security landscape. The multifactorial causes that threaten defense and security in the region require reviewing the scope of current hemispheric alliances and collaboration agreements. Faced with this constantly evolving scenario, it is imperative that the countries of the region evaluate their training and armament capabilities to face the geopolitical and security challenges that lie ahead. Global powers and Latin American countries have military institutions for hemispheric security (e.g. WHINSEC) that function as important centers of convergence for hemispheric collaboration and cooperation. These institutions must be taken into consideration when making strategic decisions to achieve regional stability.
Given the evolution of military training and the arms trade in Latin America, it is crucial that the nations of the region take joint action. Optimizing hemispheric cooperation and dialogue are key elements in addressing geopolitical and security challenges. Close collaboration and mutual understanding are the only real actions to ensure a stable and prosperous future for Latin America. It is time to reflect together and forge a path towards lasting security and peace!
Mexican Navy Captain Alcides Barrenechea López is an outstanding officer with vast experience in leadership and academic training. He currently serves as a guest international instructor for the Command and General Staff Course at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC); he also excels as a Reader and Thesis Committee Chair in the Master of Military Arts and Sciences Program at the Command and General Staff College of the U.S. Army University.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government, Diálogo magazine, or its members. This article was machine translated.
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