Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Why We Latinos Don't Read about Defense and Security

By Jose Miguel Pizarro

We live in a different world. One that’s small, highly digital, multilingual and immersed in a global society that moves at high speed. For instance, a recently graduated South Korean law student can easily find a well-paid job in London, New York city or Sao Paulo. Why is this relevant?

The answer is sad, but simple.

It’s quite normal for tens of thousands of South Koreans or European students to find jobs overseas. In contrast, a microscopic minority of recently graduated Latin American students can hardly find jobs in other countries, let alone handle the daunting task of qualifying for a well-paid bilingual job at an international firm in his own city.

The evident decline in Latin American educational standards and the poor performance of our students — all across Central and South America — it's not the reason for this article. It's our failure at the state level to create national policies to help our children understand how important it is to have a well-educated society a matter that threatens several layers of our national security. That’s the central issue that's jeopardizing the essential foundation of military readiness in Latin America, including each country’s ability to compete in a highly skilled and completely multilingual global marketplace. Ignorant societies are easy to defeat, especially if they are rich in natural resources.

In a global economy, where foreign-language competency is critical, only one out of 99 Latinos speaks English. Educational failure puts Latin America’s future economic prosperity, global position, and physical safety at risk. The Latin American region will not be able to keep pace — much less lead — globally unless it moves to fix the educational problems it has allowed to fester for too long. We must invest in smart, well-designed and aggressive public education programs to not only compete with other developed countries and global peers, but also to be able to properly defend our own homeland.

When we remember that old saying, "The soldiers of an army are nothing more than a perfect reflection of the same society they are sworn to defend," the tune is simply reinforced. Poorly educated citizens don't make smart soldiers. Yet, Latin American soldiers and students remain poorly prepared to compete with global peers.

For instance, there is an evident doctrinal and a practical link between the way successful modern warfare is waged by successful armies and the procedures successful businessmen use to achieve commercial victory. Strong economies are always supported by strong armies. But you can't reach that conclusion unless you read…and you must read a lot.

I believe we live in the most violent century in human history and — as common sense indicates and suggests — we need to prepare our people to face a new era. To accomplish this we must provide Latin American readers with concrete tools for not only understanding the basic principles of war, terrorism and security policy in general, but also explain (in our own terminology) how current military and political events will shape the financial future of the Latino community and what you and I can do to stay ahead and survive the sweeping changes that are about to happen.

We have more than 580 million Latinos in Central and South America. The objective of any responsible government today should be to better prepare them for a century in which warfare and economic disasters will play a central role. Lack of natural gas, crude oil, electricity and other energy resources will lead — within the next 5 to 10 years — to a series of global military confrontations between the west and a wide variety of unexpected foes. This new reality could force, for instance, a large number of Latin American nations (and again, their more than 580 million citizens) to explore the possibility of forming a quite convenient alliance with the European Union or with the United States, raising the status of several countries in the region to a whole new level.

Under that particular scenario (which is, by the way, the most likely) the questions are common sense: What type of work opportunities will this new world provide for South Americans in the United States? Considering the gigantic reserves of oil, natural gas and fresh water contained in the Andes Mountains and the jungles of South America, what kind of new business opportunities will be available for Latin American governments and Hispanic enterprising businessmen? In other words, what's a successful mentality to face these new challenges?

Reading basic history and geopolitical issues will help most of our citizens to learn and focus on what military and security policies South American governments should pursue, why certain governments pursue the policies they do, and what will be the consequences of these policies for Latin America, the U.S. and the world in general. At the military, journalistic and college level, simple courses in contemporary history will provide the government, the media and the people the perspective necessary to introduce simple analytical models currently used by political scientists to describe and explain war, security threats, the strange price of oil, the lack of energy resources, etc. and how these issues will affect key domestic political life and policy areas. But we cannot enter the 21st century with hundreds of millions of Latin American citizens fully connected to the Internet, but with absent knowledge and shamefully clueless of the events shaping the future around them.

While this may come as a shock to some, the reality is that today there are very few recently retired South American officers, independent defense analysts or Hispanic military experts writing about warfare in Latin America. In contrast with the past, and for a wide variety of reasons, the Latin American press is not a friendly market to the military. As a result, there are limited offerings in military, defense or security literature written by Spanish-speaking experts. With so many military and defense intellectuals forced into obscurity, very little has ever been done on this particular subject. But that doesn’t mean there is not a starving crowd out there ready to "devour" a new controversial book attempting to explain — from a Latino perspective — what’s going on today with our world.

I believe we need books capable of refining and expanding the little knowledge of the Latino community on basic topics like international security, national defense and war fighting and help them to take into account and digest some of the contemporary ways of thinking about the nature, preparation and the conduct of war, the future of terrorism, and the new forms warfare will quickly mutate into.

Finally, it's quite evident to this writer that the current international energy crisis will end with a global military confrontation that will have almost immediate effects on Latin America. I believe it's the duty of all government servants, intellectuals and journalists to help our people not only understand, but also use various analytical models to describe and explain (current and future) policy-making in such areas as national defense, military industry, economic policy, taxation, international trade and immigration, narco-terrorism, populist governments, civil rights, nationalism and strategic alliances. While we will not be able to reach 580 million readers, we will most certainly reach the eyes and ears of anyone interested in the complex dynamics of Latin American national defense strategies, the future of warfare and the public policy-making process in relation to a broad range of contemporary energy issues and security threats. I believe our efforts will not go unnoticed.

Let’s keep on reading.

Mr. Pizarro is a regular contributor to specialized Latin American and European Military magazines such as Tecnologia Militar (MONCH Publishing Group en Español) and a well-known adviser to the U.S. Defense Industry in a variety of military transformation issues. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he also worked as a commentator on CNN en Español. Mr. Pizarro is a former Chilean Army artillery officer, a graduate of the Chilean Military Academy, a certified defense analyst of the National Academy for Strategic Studies (Chilean Ministry of Defense) and a former U.S. Marine.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Scandal Threatens to Break Military's Secretive Acquisitions System

Chile's Army finds itself in a tight spot after a former officer and three noncommissioned officers were found to have illegally paid themselves out of defense funds. A congressional commission is investigating the fraud, which has punctured a hole in the armed forces' most precious source of funding, the so-called copper law. For decades, the national copper company, Codelco, has been obligated to pass on 10% of foreign sales to the military, providing Chile with a warchest estimated at more than $17 billion since 1995. The law also makes is possible for the military to make purchases without public disclosure, which may have contributed to the fraud. Now, Secretary of Defense Jose Antonio Gomez is taking advantage of the scandal to bring down the copper law. He plans to submit a proposal in 2016 to replace the law with medium- and long-term funding programs. This is not exactly new. The two previous presidential administrations submitted similar proposals, but neither got far. Gomez acknowledges that some secrecy will still be needed in the procurement process, but he's made it clear that the goal is to increase transparency. While military purchases under the copper law are not revealed to the public, it doesn't mean there's no government oversight. The Ministry of Finance has to sign off on all disbursements. Update: CNN Chile broadcast a special report on the scandal.