News yesterday that the U.S. Department of Defense is poised to undertake force reductions and base closings in response to challenging national economic circumstances contrasts sharply with trends elsewhere in the hemisphere to ramp up defense spending and military purchases.
According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, army and Marine Corps. force reductions should save $487 billion over 10 years without compromising overall U.S. military readiness. Others called the proposed cuts dangerous; Arizona Republican Senator John McCain says Panetta’s plan “ignores the lessons of history,” and will result in a military “too small to respond effectively to events that may unfold over the next few years.”
While the U.S. is reducing defense spending our neighbors in the hemisphere are increasing theirs. In the most recent issue of Americas Quarterly, U.S. Army War College professor Gabriel Marcella argues that Latin America’s defense spending is projected to grow significantly by 2014—much of which is to finance arms purchases from China.
In recent years, China has sold $58 million worth of Karakorum jets to Bolivia, $150 million in air surveillance systems to Venezuela and has donated military equipment to Bolivia, Guyana, Colombia and Peru. The question of whether these activities threaten U.S. interests is open to debate, but according to Marcella, “U.S. officials are not publicly concerned about China’s military activities. Frank Mora, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere Affairs, stated in 2009 that while the U.S. stands for transparency, China’s arms and technology transfers are standard in the international community, and that some of the equipment can help Latin American governments improve security and counter drug trafficking.”