Nothing we humans do is more foolish than killing each other, especially in wars. Yet we spend vast amounts of time and money preparing for wars, even when they never happen.
Nowhere is this more obvious than South America. During the last 100 years, Wikipedia lists three small wars over land between Ecuador and Peru, and one between Bolivia and Paraguay. Columbia and Peru also went at it. Guatemala had a long civil war. Even World War II was not a major event. Only Brazil sent ground troops to fight in Europe.
On the ocean, there were some minor encounters with German warships during WWII, but there was only one full naval involvement in the 20th century: The Argentinians sent their Navy to support their invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982.
It is said that no one goes to war thinking it will end badly, but even generals should be able to see what will happen when you send a small, undertrained and underfunded military into war against the British Navy and Marines. The Falkland War of 1982 was a disaster for Argentina. Among other things, the British Navy rendered the Argentinian submarine Santa Fe unusable before it could do any damage.
Unfortunately neither the disastrous results of the Falkland War or the general lack of any conflicts in the 20th century gave the generals or admirals pause. They set about to rebuild their Navy.
The Argentine Navy replaced the Santa Fe with the San Juan, and now has three submarines, plus one destroyer, two corvettes, two supply ships for amphibious assaults like the one they made on the Falklands, one tanker, two cargo ships, one training ship, two fast attack patrol boats, six regular patrol boats, an ice breaker, three survey vessels, three buoy tenders, eight tugs and one yacht.
I can understand the need for patrol boats in anti-smuggling operations, and the buoy tender, and even survey vessels, but why do they need a yacht? Or submarines? Or a destroyer? Or corvettes? And when will they be doing an amphibious assault again?
Argentina is not alone in committing large amounts of money to a navy that will never see any action. Brazil’s navy will never go to war either; yet they have four to five times as many ships in their navy as Argentina, and thirteen more planned or under construction. It must take tens of thousands of sailors to operate and man so many ships.
Neither Argentina or Brazil have any extra money for the military. Brazil is in a deep and painful recession, and Argentina’s economy has been struggling for about 80 years. Here’s what Wikipedia says about Argentina’s economic history.
“The economic history of Argentina is one of the most studied, owing to the “Argentine paradox”, its unique condition as a country that had achieved advanced development in the early 20th century but experienced a reversal, which inspired an enormous wealth of literature and diverse analysis on the causes of this decline. Since independence from Spain in 1816, the country has defaulted on its debt eight times and inflation has often been in the double digits, even as high as 5000%, resulting in several large currency devaluations.”
Wiki attributes many of Argentina’s economic problems to the political instability that started in the 30s and has never subsided. Indeed historians say Argentina invaded the Falklands in 1982 in order to gather support for a military government. When they lost the war, the government was thrown out of office.
The cost of maintaining a military, even if not used in battle, is more than just money. Last year, the San Juan, the submarine they bought from Germany to replace the Santa Fe, sank unexpectedly, killing the 44 people aboard. This year, they found it, lying on the bottom off the coast of Patagonia, about 400 miles from the nearest port, 3,000 feet below the surface.
Shortly after the San Juan was found, the Defense Minister, Oscar Aquad, announced that (to the dismay of the families who lost loved ones in the accident), the Argentine government did not have the technology necessary to raise the sub.
There is a saying that generals are always preparing for the last war, but the odds are high that conventional wars are over in South America. If there are any future wars, they will be cyber wars, fought with computers. It’s time to decommission the destroyers, corvettes and subs.