Saturday, January 3, 2015

Sizing up Bolivia as a Potential Enemy

Bolivia is asking the International Court of Justice to grant it access to the Pacific Ocean through Chile, a move that has deepened a historic rift between the two nations. The dispute dates back to the War of the Pacific (1879-1883), which resulted in Chile annexing the coastal territory of Bolivia. The loss has been a sore spot for Bolivians, and the government of Evo Morales has used it as a cause to rally the nation. It's highly doubtful the conflict would lead to war, however. If it came to blows, the fighting would be over quickly: Chile's military dwarfs Bolivia's, which has no credible armor, artillery, air power or even infantry. Indications are that its army doesn't even have enough assault rifles for all its troops. Rather, Bolivia is hoping the Court of Justice delivers a sympathetic ruling and hands it a diplomatic victory. Could Bolivia wage a low-intensity war of sabotage and harassment? That's not likely either, because Bolivia already has an important business presence in the disputed area. Chile argues a 1904 treaty set the border that remains in force today. Bolivia says it signed the treaty under duress. Chile has countered that the International Court has no jurisdiction over treaties so old. The dispute is in large part a battle for public opinion, and La Moneda produced a video that shows how it has already granted Bolivia free access to ports, railroads and other facilities that give that country de facto access to the Pacific. Like other Latin American land disputes, this one will be fought through economic and political means. So don't expect Chilean F-16s to buzz Bolivia anytime soon.

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