At the end of the 2017 South American Defense Conference (SOUTHDEC), which took place August 22nd to 24th in Lima, Peru, the coordinators announced that, the 2018 edition of the event will be held in Argentina for the first time, with the Argentine Armed Forces hosting in conjunction with U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM). To learn about the main challenges facing Argentine military, Diálogo spoke with Lieutenant General Bari del Valle Sosa, chief of the Argentine Armed Forces Joint Staff, during SOUTHDEC 2017.
Diálogo: You were one of the panelists during the cyber defense roundtable that took place during the conference. How does Argentina compare in this area to other countries in the region?
Lieutenant General Bari del Valle Sosa, chief of the Argentine Armed Forces Joint Staff: Sometimes, rather than comparing, as I pointed out, we are very worried; we are really pushing for exchanges of information because each of the countries is preparing itself, developing its organizations, training its people, developing the necessary technology to protect itself from this new threat, but it’s not enough. This kind of threat doesn’t have boundaries, and each country’s [separate] development is not enough. Therefore, it is essential for there to be an exchange of information, practice with different countries, drills, exchanges of experiences, of protocols, of lessons learned. We have applied certain procedures that are in effect within the Organization of American States and which clearly demonstrate the importance of exchanging information.
Diálogo: What is needed to achieve the level of information exchange you mentioned?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: Actually I think it is already happening. There are different drills, bilateral meetings between various countries, exchanges of experiences, some exercises, there are contests, there are tests, and there are countries that have organized cyber defense contests in which teams participate. There isn’t one specific result. These are steps that have to be taken on a daily basis because the threat evolves very quickly, so we have to try and move forward, and that requires being absolutely and constantly up-to-date.
Diálogo: Do you consider that to be the Argentine Armed Forces’ main challenge?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: We are in the process; the government has set an objective which is called restructuring of the National Defense System. And within that framework, we are protagonists in the Armed Forces Defense System. We are in a process of restructuring, which doesn’t just mean we are perfecting what we have been doing, but actually what we are trying to do is define the military instrument that will allow us to meet the demands of what Argentina will be facing in the 21st century. So our challenge is to look at what these challenges are and to design our military instrument in accordance with these demands.
Diálogo: Is it important to face these challenges jointly with other countries?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: Every country has its own reality, its own problems, its own definitions regarding strategic issues; however, beyond the fact that each country has their own particular issues, there is one overarching one, a framework of possibilities and also needs, where we can act together in a broad array of sectors and we can share defense policies held in common at different levels of importance, based on the specific case and the circumstances we are dealing with.
Diálogo: One of the four main military objectives of U.S. Navy Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, commander of SOUTHCOM, is gender integration. What is your perspective on that issue?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: I am convinced that we have evolved and we are committed to gender policies that consider the reality of our society. Because this is not just an armed forces issue, but gender policy plays a role at the national level. In the scope of the Armed Forces, women have participated in the past, generally limited to certain professional aspects in the area of healthcare, doctors, nurses, lawyers, and engineers. But starting in 1995, when the military service law changes and becomes voluntary, women are incorporated en masse. And in the training academies, for example the Army’s, which was the first to begin in 1997, they enter the training school for commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and later both the Air Force and the Navy followed suit. And the participation of female officers was increasing, both commissioned and non-commissioned. It was almost zero in the early 90s, but we are now at around 17 percent female participation in the Armed Forces. But there are certain places where the participation of women is very high. In some cases, over 50 percent.
Diálogo: Can women be general officers in Argentina?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: Not only can they become a general officer, but we actually already have two officers in our Armed Forces who have made it to that level. One of them, Army General Pansa, is an information technology specialist, and the other one is Rear Admiral Uriarte, who is also an information technology specialist. In other words, we have two women who have made it to the level of general or rear admiral. In 2012, the last existing barriers were removed, in this case in the Army, because they were not able to join the infantry or armored cavalry. And starting in 2012, that barrier was also removed, so we can summarize the policy in general: it is equal requirements, equal opportunities. Conceptually that is our view in the Armed Forces. We don’t have quotas, we don’t have numbers, but we have profiles, so anyone who satisfies these requirements can join, regardless of who it is.
Diálogo: What is Argentina’s role in peacekeeping missions, now that the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH, per its French acronym) is coming to an end?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: Our president’s idea was and is focused on encouraging and deepening our participation in mixed peacekeeping operations. The mission in Haiti is coming to an end, and our military participation is being reduced. We had two large units there, one battalion, comprising personnel from the Army and Navy, and a mobile military hospital belonging to the Air Force. They were reduced; the battalion withdrew a couple of years ago as military troops were reduced. On August 15th, the hospital’s specific activity came to an end, and they will completely withdraw after completing their MINUSTAH tasks in mid-October. So, we are analyzing existing scenarios and ones that will present themselves to see where Argentine troops can deploy under a United Nations mandate.
Diálogo: Is Africa a possibility?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: We are open to a wide range of current missions, and also those being considered in the United Nations. We haven’t made any decisions, but it is an option like all the other ones that are open to us. Currently, we are successfully finishing our participation in the first phase of the process of demilitarization and disarmament in Colombia, and although the nature of the United Nations mission will change, we are going to continue to have both equipment and personnel deployed there for the second phase, which is called reinsertion.
Diálogo: What is reinsertion?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: Reinsertion is the second phase of the process; the first was called demilitarization, relinquishing their weapons. The second phase is now happening, the stage of reinsertion. It is a process that the Colombian government is managing in coordination with the United Nations, and in that framework, we are participating as an observer group. There are now around 90.
Diálogo: Are there any plans in the near future for joint exercises between Argentina and another country in the region, or with the United States?
Lt. Gen. Sosa: We have general exercises, but they are permanent, annual. Some of them are simulations conducted indoors, and others are in the field, mainly with our neighbors, like Chile and Brazil. We have different types of drills, whether on land or at sea. Also, we have air force exercises in the framework of natural disasters all over South America. Just last year, troops did an exercise on land; in the month of October, in San Martín de los Andes, there was an exercise we did with Chile for protection from natural disasters. We deployed almost 1,200 people, including specialists from the two armed forces, not just the armies but both armed forces. Not only was the participation of the military members successful, but also a series of other organizations, because civilian bodies are also involved, along with the government, in the case of San Martín de los Andes, the city, the police, firefighters, the health department. It was a very productive exercise that brought to light the intense coordination of the different state bodies.