Most countries have a military. For some, the role of military is mostly symbolic and simply adds to the overall structure of the state, for others it is an essential tool is accomplishing goals and ensuring the safety and security of their people and borders. When it comes to Argentina, it is fair to say that it stands somewhere in the middle. Its military history spans over two centuries and was the leading factor in the successful cut-off from the colonial ties with Spain as well as the civil war that helped make the country’s organization explicit.
The modern Argentinian military is known as the Armed Forces of the Argentine Republic and is controlled by the Commander-in-Chief, meaning the President, as well as Minister of Defence, who is a civilian. It is composed of the Army, the Navy, the Air Force as well as two security forces. While the former three are on constant and active duty and are responsible to the Defence Ministry, the security forces can be called into effect only in the face of an armed conflict and only by the Ministry of Security. Those two security forces include the National Gendarmerie, which focuses on protecting the borders and other locations to which strategic importance is attributed, and the Naval Prefecture, whose mission is to guard coasts, major internal rivers as well as the maritime territory in general.
In terms of relationships, Argentine has long supported close military-related relationships with the United States. They cooperate to create defence strategies and procurement of military supplies. In terms of other goals, the modern Argentine Military Forces are fully committed to the peacekeeping missions of the United Nations, which include humanitarian aid, emergency relief and country’s presence in Antarctica under the UN mandates.
There is also something to be said about the amount which Argentine spends on its military. For quite some time it has been one of the lowest spending countries in South America when it comes to maintaining the military and purchasing new equipment. In fact, together with democratization of the country, a commitment has been made not to carry out any large-scale equipment purchases.
Just like any other country, Argentina has its military leaders that were at the forefront of important military actions and decisions, or those who are infamous for their actions. Here are a couple of them:
- Juan Carlos Onganía. This leader was known more for his strong militaristic approach to governing than any kind of democratic standpoint. He was a de facto President of Argentina (1966-1970), who became a prominent figure as a military dictator. Notorious for his disregard for civil authority, he managed to ensure the Armed Forces of Argentina a leading role in the political and economic governing of the country and opposed democratic governing, giving priority to an authoritarian approach.
- Martín Balza. Former Chief of Staff of the Argentine Army, this Lieutenant General is a solid opposite to the previously mentioned Onganía. He had strong democratic principles and promoted legitimate government. Among his achievements is an unusual one – he is one of the first to give institutional self-criticism while speaking of the army’s, of which he had control, miscalculated intervention into 1976 coup. This step holds more crucial importance than what might seem evident; few leading figures have the courage to admit their mistakes and, in that way, lay foundations for better leaders in the future.