Strategic Defence Capabilities for the Twenty-first Century

The new political team that will soon assume the leadership of the Ministry of National Defense will face tremendous challenges and, among them, the identification and selection of the best alternatives that are proposed for the development of strategic capabilities (weapons systems) that our country needs to deploy, considering the dividends of peace that we can enjoy today and a new social environment, characterized by major paradigm shifts. However, in the face of the complacent gaze of an “absentee owner” (the political authority) who has not exercised “responsible ownership”, military meritocracy remains anchored in the historical success of its profession (as do economists) and continues to dismiss the importance of emerging codes and the social revision of their performance, in situations that will affect them dramatically if they do not tune their goals with the society that is born.
In this scenario of urgent social priorities and a very restricted financial framework, the government program of President Gabriel Boric has committed a series of tasks for the “institutional transformation of National Defense”, among which the “participatory elaboration of a new National Defense Policy” stands out. The magnitude of its effects on military policy will make it necessary for our new political authorities of the National Defense to show a frank, prudent, credible and proactive style of action, which will facilitate promoting the changes that this will necessarily produce in the military force. The comparative experience of civil-military relations indicates that a budget debate focused mainly on the restrictions imposed by the financial situation produces in military leaders their mental block, feeling faced with a threat that they cannot solve and that, due to this, it usually has to be reoriented towards the shared identification of alternatives for the priority implementation of some programs that allow the updating of a basic core of defense of joint capabilities, which are really essential for the most likely strategic scenarios, within a possible and reasonable financing, thus delivering signs of confidence in a positive will to solve.
The specialized publications in this area point out that usually the main differences in this debate originate when the military subtly warns that they know better than anyone what is needed for National Defense and that any reduction with respect to what they propose puts at risk the security of the country, which is not the case, since often the military career is developed around the particular military means of their respective specialty and not on the identification and integral, joint and political solution of strategic problems, using the means that are most appropriate. That is, it focuses around a particular way of winning the war, without considering that, for the solution of military demands, at the strategic level there are no absolute truths, but only alternatives, with different risks and associated costs.
In this way, it is very unlikely that the military will be able to determine in isolation the real requirements of priority capabilities, since this also requires evaluating many other important factors, including political objectives, costs, strategic scenarios, macroeconomic effects, public support, national priorities, etc. Several examples clearly show that under financial pressures they tend to prioritize the most prestigious weapons systems, such as large combat units and their most popular platforms, while reducing the showless operation and sustainability that allows to maintain the enlistment of the force, thus artificially decreasing its operational capabilities.
In short, the requirements of strategic capabilities of Defense are much more than a military matter, to be solved by the military, which unfortunately has not been met during the last 30 years, in which we have spent more than 13 billion dollars on huge weapons programs, many of them unnecessary or ineffective, and that, as if that were not enough, this Government in its last days intends to continue increasing with new purchases that are difficult to justify.
For this reason, the time has come for the next Minister of National Defence to exercise her leadership with courage so that, within the framework of the elaboration of the new Committed Defense Policy, studies are initiated as soon as possible to identify the best options consistent with it, through an “institutionalized process of planning by capabilities, of a joint nature”, which includes the active participation of a “strengthened civil institutionality” (not pseudo-civil pernados) that evaluates its political, strategic and financial implications, considering a new strategic position of cooperation and legitimate defense, within the great task of “thinking about how we have an Armed Forces for all”, to which the new minister Maya Fernández has summoned us.
The content expressed in this opinion column is the sole responsibility of its author, and does not necessarily reflect the editorial line or position of El Mostrador.

Original source in Spanish

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