Chilean defense policy is geared towards protecting the citizenry, defending their national interests and preserving their political independence, national sovereignty, and territorial integrity, according to the 2010 Chilean National Defense Book. “To these ends, Chile possesses and prepares the military resources needed for use in its legitimate defense, which means undertaking the modernization of all of its defense institutions, including the Chilean Armed Forces,” according to the text.
“The Chilean Armed Forces must not limit themselves to the role that they have been playing until now. We cannot look only at one line of action; it is our duty to get involved,” explained Minister of Defense José Antonio Gómez Urrutia during the anniversary celebration of the Ministry of Defense on March 20th at the nation’s military academy. Without ignoring the role — defense of national sovereignty —that Chile’s constitution assigns to the Armed Forces as its main duty, Gómez Urrutia maintained that “the sector’s capabilities must be ready, and it must also operate in those areas that the people assume to be a core feature of its defensive and protective role.”
The Armed Forces’ multifunctional capabilities were employed in the summer of 2017 to aid the civilian population when nature once again put Chile to the test. The entire state apparatus had to be employed to extinguish the many wildfires that ravaged different regions of the country.
“The progress we have made in the areas of interagency coordination, operational leadership, community interaction, and multiple aid deployment were on full display,” Gómez Urrutia said. According to the Defense Ministry’s official website, more than 8,000 service members, together with various types of aircraft and vehicles, fought the fierce blazes that erupted in the summer of 2017.
“There is no doubt that one of the main development tasks facing the Chilean defense sector is the institutional modernization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” Gómez Urrutia said. Thus, “The Ministry of Defense has authored a bill that would modify Public Law 20424, which regulates how the Ministry of Defense and its subordinate bodies are organized, moving from today’s concept of a Joint Chiefs of Staff and its leadership to the creation of a Joint Forces Strategic Command led by a commander who will hold the same rank in the chain of command as the commanders-in-chief of the Chilean Armed Forces,” he said.
“This ministerial body has been shaping its structure in search of broad versatility and functionality. Its purview as a ministry-level military organization is in the planning, preparation, coordination, and execution of duties, activities, and operations that involve a joint effort and that take on a special relevance in those circumstances in which coordination is needed from defense institutions to operate in the area of civil defense, coordinating their capabilities in service of the community during emergency situations, natural disasters, calamities, elections, censuses, and similar kinds of situations,” Air Force General Arturo Merino Núñez, director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Diálogo.
“The purpose of this change is to centralize in this strategic command the command and control of all of our forces in times of conflict and peace, expressly including their role during emergencies and disasters. Centralizing military leadership in a joint command means reinforcing and implementing an effective ‘civil command’ inasmuch as said command directly depends on the minister and is his direct advisor. Thus, these reforms, modifications, and adjustments involve giving the ministry greater professional and technical capabilities to better align its communications with the forces,” Political Science, Security, and Defense Professor Guillermo Holzmann told Diálogo. Holzmann is on the faculty at Universidad de Chile, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, and Universidad de Talca.
“It is important and necessary to understand that this law is not sufficient for success. The will of the government is to move towards an operational force structure [in order] to be jointly prepared at any moment and under any circumstances. That enables us to jointly confront conflicts of any size,” Gómez Urrutia concurred. In order to achieve these kinds of structural changes, a cultural change is needed, and it must be initiated by the very Armed Forces institutions where joint development will be seen as a doctrine incorporated into the educational system, said Holzmann.
The Foreign Office will have to develop a decision-making process in order to send these bills to the legislature before the end of the current legislative session so that they can be passed into law, or a solid base of support can be established, and the changes that the Ministry of Defense is considering can be implemented after Chile’s presidential election in late 2017.