Thanks to repeated 20th-century coups and the vicious dictatorship of the 1976–1983 “Dirty War,” the Argentine military earned a reputation as one of Latin America’s worst even in a region infamous for armed repression. Its ignominious collapse in the 1982 Falkland Islands War, followed by public revelations of state terrorism and the conviction of the top generals and admirals responsible for kidnapping, torture, and murder, helped overcome the worst aspects of its traditional impunity.
Since the 1983 return to constitutional rule, civilian governments have eliminated conscription, the military budget has declined to barely 1 percent of GDP (about half that of neighboring Chile, which has less than half Argentina’s population and a smaller territory), and Argentine forces have undertaken more strictly military operations such as peacekeeping in the Balkans and humanitarian missions such as earthquake relief in Haiti. While periods of political disorder such as 2001–2002 always bring coup rumors, the military appears to have little or no interest in taking the reins of government.
The size of the military services has also been reduced. and the army, navy, and air force all have lower troop strengths than Chile. Argentine forces are strongly weighted toward noncommissioned officers, though, and their hardware—ships and planes, especially— is more abundant than Chile’s.
Despite the country’s reputation for dictatorial bellicosity, two Argentines have won Nobel Peace Prizes: foreign minister Carlos Saavedra Lamas (1936) for mediating a Chaco War settlement between Paraguay and Bolivia, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel (1984) for publicizing the 1976–1983 military dictatorship’s human-rights atrocities.
© Wayne Bernhardson from Moon Argentina, 3rd edition