Friday, September 20, 2013

Chile Getting Rid of its Cluster Munitions

The Army has eliminated all cluster munitions from its inventory as part of the its obligations under an international treaty. Chile is one of the 80-plus countries that have signed the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions, which seeks to "prohibit the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of cluster munitions." Cluster munitions are particularly effective against "soft" targets such as airfields and infantry, using a shower of bomblets that spray wide areas with lethal firepower. But some bomblets don't explode when intended to, and many civilians have been killed or injured in accidental detonations. This is similar to the landmine problem, which is a larger issue for Chile. Vast minefields near the Peru border and in the far south of Chile are slowly being cleared under the terms of the Ottawa Treaty. Of course, the fact that the Army declares itself free of cluster munitions means its artillery units had them before, even if those were never publicly acknowledged. There has been no similar declaration from the Air Force about its cluster bombs. Among neighboring countries, Peru and Bolivia also have signed the Oslo accord, but not Argentina.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

40 Years After Coup, Chile's Military Vastly Changed

1973: Hawker Hunters hit their target
Sept. 11 marks the 40th anniversary of the coup that brought the military junta to power in Chile. The military that ousted then-President Salvador Allende has changed dramatically since then, both in terms of its role in society and the way it is structured. The army of the 1973 coup was essentially a World War II force, with Sherman tanks and an infantry mainly equipped with M1 Garand rifles. Throughout the 17 years of military rule, it remained much that way. An arms embargo made it difficult to upgrade weapons, but gave rise to a small domestic arms industry. A modernization finally started taking place when democratic rule returned in the 1990s. The three branches downsized sharply in personnel, but acquired newer tanks, jet fighters and warships. The Army has undergone a major restructuring, organizing itself into self-contained brigades and eliminating a system of stand-alone regiments spread along the country. The Air Force has standardized its front-line squadrons with the F-16. The Navy went with sleek frigates and has been building up its marines. Conscription essentially has ended, and professional soldiers have become part of the military's reforms. Today, Chile's military is part of the social safety net, and is active in peacekeeping missions. More important have been the institutional changes. When Pinochet ceded power, the constitution left the military with substantial power. But civilian administrations have chipped away at it. More and more, the armed forces have acquiesced to civilian rulers, and Chileans now pretty much dismiss the chance of another coup. The military, however, is still trying to put the Pinochet years behind, and the 40th anniversary is fraught with an aura of recrimination over the regime's human rights abuses. A must-read on the military's social changes is the brilliant analysis by strategist Armen Kouyoumdjian in one of the last papers he wrote before his death.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How Peru-Chile Clash Might Play itself Out

Chile and Peru could be days away from a decision over their disputed maritime border. Assuming the losing side accepts the verdict of the International Court of Justice, there would be domestic trouble for the losers, but no war. However, if the losing country defies the ruling, fighting could erupt in the region for the first time since the 1880s. The first hostile act probably would be warships of the losing country sailing into the disputed waters to assert their authority. That would provoke a response by the other country, setting the stage for a naval battle. As far as surface ships go, Peru is at a disadvantage. Its flagship, the cruiser Grau, and Lupo-class frigates are vulnerable to air strikes. Their air defenses don't have the range to defend against Chile's F-16s and their JDAMs, which have a standoff range of more than 40 miles. Chile's L Class air-defense frigates are armed with the Sea Sparrow and SM-1 missile, whose 20-mile range would afford protection against air attack. That doesn't mean Peru would be helpless at sea. Its six German-built Type 209 submarines could be an equalizing force. Indeed, much of the naval battle could consist of Chile hunting Peruvian subs, while using its own Scorpene and Type 209 subs to control the seas. Either country could escalate the conflict by launching air and land attacks. But a land campaign into enemy territory would be costly. Neither army has much to get through the normal attrition of combat. Air strikes on key military targets would be more likely to occur, but this too would have big risks. Chile and Peru have adequate air defenses, and the loss of aircraft would be sure to happen. Chile's land forces and air forces have a technological advantage, but Peru has been upgrading its equipment and should not be viewed as much of an underdog. In the end, the leaders of both countries probably realize that the economic and social cost of waging war would be too high, and a face-saving alternative would be the better option. Update: The International Court has put off a ruling until January.