Friday, July 31, 2009

Colombia and the South American Arms Race

In a world of non-state conflicts (Iraq, Iran, Mexico, Nigeria), it is refreshing to witness a good old-fashioned state-to-state confrontation. It is much less violent than the up-close-and-personal, messy, insurgency. Today, we see Venezuela kicking it up a notch against its regional rival, Colombia.

Venezuela and Ecuador have funded guerrilla proxies against Colombia. Now that Colombia is emerging from its civil war, it is naturally antagonistic toward its unfriendly neighbors. A FARC-free Colombia will tackle the resource and border disputes it currently ignores. Colombia's battle-hardened army, and its friendly relation with the US, do not comfort Hugo Chavez, either. The strategic rivalry in the area may draw the rest of the continent into the confrontation. An arms race started by Peru and Venezuela will lead to some much needed cash for the American military-industrial complex for the next few years.

Whether this arms race widens will depend on the ABC: Argentina, Brazil, and Chile. Argentina's Kirchner may well take Chavez's side and use the Venezuelan aid money to "recapitalize the military" [aka graft money to constituents.] Where Brazil and Chile will come down is more difficult to read, due to their complex relationship with the area. Venezuela will interpret the outcome of the Brazilian fighter competition as a signal of where Lula is going.

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