Civil-Military Relations in Latin America: New Analytical Perspectives.


DAVID PION-BERLIN (ed.): Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.
 
This collection of essays by David Pion-Berlin examines civil-military relations in Latin America during a period of uncertain democratization. In this timely study, Pion-Berlin argues that scholars need to adopt new analytical perspectives because of changes in the international order, as well as trends in political science scholarship. Pion-Berlin states that the study of civil military relations in Latin America has been hampered by its isolation from comparative politics. He believes that the field has not taken advantage of "theoretical innovations from the outside that could have potentially valuable applications within. Instead, it has fallen back on itself, dredging up familiar ideas that have yielded diminishing returns over time" (p. 2). Pion-Berlin's critique of the state of the scholarship is convincing. Major changes --the end of the Cold War, the rising importance of anti-U.S. sentiment within some regional militaries, the ideological dominance of neo-liberalism, and the growing power of globalization-- call for scholars to rethink many shibboleths. Yet this volume is uneven. Despite some extremely good articles, some important issues are untouched and opportunities missed.
 
Pion-Berlin's introduction itself is one of the most valuable parts of the volume. He thoughtfully places the current state of the field in historical perspective and offers an analytical framework that may represent a means for political scientists to connect their work to broader trends in the field. His work is followed by Wendy Hunter's chapter examining the current state of civil-military relations in Brazil, which is written with her characteristic clarity and intelligence. Deborah Norden skillfully analyzes the political dynamic that ultimately brought Lieutenant Colonel Hugo Chávez Frías to the presidency of Venezuela. Harold Trinkunas has a clearly organized and insightful chapter examining the approaches civilian leaders can adopt to control the military by comparing the experience of Argentina with Venezuela. Brian Loveman's concluding chapter looks at the historical foundations that shape civil-military relations in Latin America. It is a model for the breadth and insight possessed by the best historical work.

Notwithstanding some excellent chapters by individual authors, however, this book does not live up to Pion-Berlin's aspiration to rethink scholarship in the field. In his introduction, Pion-Berlin correctly points to the immense influence that Samuel Huntington's work (such as his 1957 publication, The Soldier and the State: the Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations) has had on subsequent scholarship (p. 5). Despite Pion-Berlin's promise of new analytical thinking and fresh approaches, however, in some respects the volume appears to be an extended meditation on Huntington's work. Authors such as Ernesto López and Deborah Norden (pp. 88-105 and 113) emphasize Huntington's work, while Pion-Berlin himself begins chapter six by referring to Huntington's The Soldier and the State. Even when these authors critique Huntington, to some extent his scholarship sets the agenda of questions that they address, while other important issues are largely ignored.

The question of race, for instance, has a peculiar absence both from this work and from studies of civil-military relations in general. In his introduction (pp. 12-20), Pion-Berlin says that his study will emphasize the "subjective approach" which places great emphasis on culture. Yet no author in this collection addresses the key cultural issue of race, which is an important factor in civil-military relations throughout Latin America. The question of race is crucial to understand the 1910 Naval Rebellion in Brazil (and the government's brutal response), the attitudes of officers towards popular unrest that brought about "La Matanza" in El Salvador in 1932, the rise of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, then Fidel Castro's subsequent relationship with the armed forces, the vision that officers had for military rule in Peru and Bolivia during the 1960s and 1970s, officers' extreme use of violence during the civil war of the 1980s in Guatemala, and recent civil-military relations in Ecuador. Race is also an important factor in internal army politics in Latin America, whether one looks at inter-service rivalries or the relationship of officers with their men. Race is one factor that binds the diverse experience of Latin America together. But one would have no sense of this from reading this book, and there is no entry for race in the index. It is, of course, unfair to critique the individual authors for not covering all possible topics. But in a larger sense, race has not received the attention it should in the study of contemporary civil-military relations in Latin America.

Similarly, the work gives little attention to international issues, despite the fact that the end of the Cold War has had a profound impact on how regional militaries perceive their role. Nor is there much discussion of the United States' involvement in Latin America, despite its great influence in Central America, and the importance of U.S. policies to some countries such as Colombia and Cuba. Military journals throughout Latin America are now filled with articles about globalization and the changing pattern of international politics. This historical moment presents an opportunity to connect scholarship in this field to other areas of political science, such as international relations theory. But no chapter places Latin America in a broader international context.

These weaknesses should not detract from the volume's successes. No one work can cover the rich field of civil-military relations in Latin America in its entirety. This collection has a number of important strengths, including the excellent country studies that offer considerable insight into civil-military relations in Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela. While this work does not represent a radical rethinking of civil-military relations in Latin America, it is nonetheless a solid and thoughtful collection of essays.

 

Shawn C. Smallman Portland State University




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