Category Archives: South America

Analysis related to USSOUTHCOM

Latin American Navies and Antarctica

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By Alejandro Sanchez Nieto and Brittney J. Figueroa

Latin American governments have a strong presence in Antarctica, with two countries, Argentina and Chile, formally claiming Antarctic territories while several others carry out annual scientific expeditions (apart from having research bases there). Regional navies are of paramount importance in these operations as they are the spearhead of their respective nations’ expeditions and security initiatives in Antarctic waters. In fact, in recent months, there have been new developments that signal a greater Latin American naval presence in the Antarctic in the near future: Peru has commissioned its new oceanographic vessel while Chile has commenced the construction of a new icebreaker.

Antarctic geopolitics will only increase in importance due to climate change and the upcoming year 2048 when the Antarctic Treaty will be open for review. Hence it is important that Latin America, broadly speaking, takes steps to maintain a continuous presence in Antarctica in order to have a voice when the frozen continent’s future is decided. Increasing budgets in order to modernize or replace aging vessels and expanding already successful scientific and security programs will play a critical role in regional navies’ future Antarctic operations.

Antarctica as a National Interest

The importance of Antarctica in Latin American security and defense strategies, as well as more comprehensive foreign policy concepts, cannot be overemphasized. One example of this is Antarctica’s frequent and prominent mentions in regional White Papers. For example, Argentina’s 2015 White Book repeatedly references Antarctica, and explains how “the Ministry of Defense considers of the upmost importance the upgrade [of military platforms] necessary for the scientific development, international cooperation and preservation of the Antarctic environment” (P. 43). Similarly Peru’s 2005 White Book mentions how the “Ministry of Defense, via the armed forces, has a fundamental role in the logistical support and the scientific research that encompasses the Peruvian presence in Antarctica” (P.42). Finally, Chile’s 2010 White Book has an extensive chapter on the Chilean Antarctic, explaining how the armed forces aim to “have a permanent presence, even during winter, in the Antarctic continent and its islands” and to carry out oceanographic scientific research in the region (P. 51 & 52).

These three different White Books exemplify Latin American nations’ interests in having a strong Antarctic presence and how militaries, particularly navies, are regarded as the tip of the spear of Antarctic operations.

Vessels and Patrols

Argentina and Chile possess several platforms that operate in Antarctic waters for expeditions, patrols, and to support their Antarctic bases. Argentina has the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar (Q5) and in 2014, Buenos Aires acquired four Russian Neftegaz-class multipurpose vessels to support its Antarctic bases. Meanwhile, Chile has the icebreaker Almirante Oscar Viel (AP46), and several other vessels capable of operating in Antarctic waters.

Additionally, the two countries set aside their differences—overlapping territorial claims in the Antarctic—to create the Joint Antarctic Naval Patrol (Patrulla Antártica Naval Combinada: PANC) in 1998. Via the PANC, naval platforms from the two countries come together during the Antarctic Summer months (November-March) to patrol Antarctic waters, assist vessels in need (e.g. the tourist vessel M/V Explorer in 2007), respond to oil spills, and visit and support various bases.

A picture taken by the Chilean Air Force shows the Explorer, which struck an iceberg in the Antarctic Ocean. (Fuerza Aerea de Chile via European Pressphoto Agency)

The PANC’s navies pride themselves on being prepared to safeguard the lives of those who work in and travel to the region, and are prepared for search and rescue missions along with other various emergencies at sea. The creation and success of the PANC should not be underestimated as it exemplifies the possibilities of collaborative naval efforts in the Antarctic. It is worth stressing that neither PANC country is a military power, and they do not have the same naval capabilities as some of their wealthier Antarctic counterparts, thus putting them at a great disadvantage (especially when considering each nation’s capabilities alone). However, despite the older vessels in their fleets, their partnership over the past two decades has proven to be effective both to patrol Antarctic waters, and also as a confidence-building mechanism.

Non-claimant nations also have important Antarctic programs. Peru, for example, recently received BAP Carrasco (BOP171), constructed by the Spanish Freire shipyard in 2016. Jane’s 360 explains that “the steel-hulled ship has a length of 95.9 m, a 6,000-tonne displacement, has a streamlined and raked superstructure with a meteorological sensor platform at the forward end,” which will be of great help for Peru’s future operations in the Antarctic. In addition, Brazil has a varied presence in the region that consists of the Almirante Maximiano (H-41), an ice breaker, the Ary Rongel (H-44), an oceanographic support ship, and several C-130 Brazilian Air Force (FAB) aircraft that are utilized to transport essential equipment and personnel to the Brazilian Antarctic Program (PROANTAR) facilities.

Regarding Chile, it has commenced the construction of a brand-new icebreaker as part of its Antarctica I project. Thanks to information provided to the authors by ASMAR, (Astilleros y Maestranzas de la Armada) Chile’s state-owned shipyard that has partnered with the Chilean Navy since 1895, we know that the new platform, an over $210 million project, will be capable of longer Antarctic missions in part due to its design which allows it to operate at temperatures as low as -30 Celsius. Additionally, the icebreaker will be equipped with modern, state-of-the-art scientific equipment in its microbiological and chemical laboratories. Construction commenced on 9 May at ASMAR’s Talcahuano facilities. The new vessel will be operational by the 2022-2023 season, and will greatly support Chile’s Antarctic operations.

As for Colombia, the navy has refitted one of its oceanic patrol vessels, ARC 20 de Julio (PZE-46), so it can better operate in Antarctic conditions. The vessel has already carried out two expeditions. 

Uruguay’s presence in Antarctica since 1985 is also worth noting. The ROU 26 Vanguardia is the small South American country’s primary platform used for scientific research and to support Base Artigas and Station Ruperto Elichiribehety. The Vanguardia, named Otto Von Guericke at the time of its construction, was built in Poland for East Germany in 1976. The vessel was purchased by Montevideo in 1991 and was then given its current name. It has a length of 72.62 m, displaces 1872 tons, and a maximum speed of 14.5 knots. Other ships that participate in the country’s Antarctic activities are ROU 04 Artigas and ROU 22 Oyarvide. Unlike the PANC, which focuses on patrolling and safety activities, Uruguay’s main operations in the continent take place via the Uruguayan Antarctic Institute, a national agency under the supervision of the Ministry of Defense that focuses on scientific, technological, and logistic activities.

The Chilean icebreaker ‘Veil.’ (EFE/Chilean Navy)

Finally, it is worth stressing the general spirit of camaraderie in the Antarctic among South American navies. The PANC is a security-related initiative of two navies coming together in spite of historical differences and ongoing territorial claims in the Antarctic. Similarly, Uruguay has shared the results of some scientific studies with Chile and Argentina. In addition, Uruguay’s Mobile Marine Meteorological Station Project (Proyecto Estacion Meterologica Movil Marina) is an ongoing project that provides real-time information such as wind direction and speed, atmospheric and barometric pressure; and wave period, height, and type to Argentine and Chilean stations. This is a prime example of Latin American navies and scientific centers coming together to build upon each other’s successes in Antarctica.

Slow Improvements

While the aforementioned developments clearly demonstrate how Latin American navies are growing Antarctic capabilities, they should not be overestimated as there are also troubling shortcomings, particularly due to budget issues. For example, while Argentina’s icebreaker Irízar recently commenced sea trials and will likely return to operational duty by the 2017-2018 season, it has taken a decade-long reconstruction effort to repair the platform after it was ravaged by a fire in 2007. Similarly, budget issues have affected Argentina’s recent Antarctic operations, best exemplified by the recent summer 2016- 2017 season, in which the government had trouble figuring out how to resupply its Antarctic bases.

As for other nations, platforms that are too old to continue operating safely are eventually replaced by other vessels, which is not the same as expanding a fleet in terms of numbers. For example, Peru’s Carrasco will replace BIC Humboldt, which was constructed in the late 1970s and has gone through extensive overhauls to extend its operational life. Similarly, the new Chilean icebreaker will replace Viel, which was constructed in the late 1960s. Other naval platforms utilized for Antarctic operations, including the PANC, will soon become outdated. For example, Chile deployed ATF Lautaro (67) to the 2016-2017 PANC mission, a vessel constructed in 1973, while Argentina deployed ARA Islas Malvinas (A24), constructed in the 1980s. While replacement platforms are always welcome, expanding fleets by acquiring newly constructed ships would be more practical as their operational lives would last much longer than repurposed, older vessels.

Map of Antarctica (NASA)

The aforementioned Argentine Almirante Irízar illustrates the benefits of a stronger commitment by regional states toward their Antarctic programs, including their naval platforms. While its post-fire reconstruction was extensive and lengthy, the Argentine government’s investment has made the vessel one of the 10 biggest icebreakers in the world, as well as one of the most capable. In a recent navigational test, the ship surpassed expectations, and showed no signs of the various previous problems it had when it first made its way to the Antarctic from Finland in 1978. Not only does the ship have improved navigation capabilities, but it is also now multipurpose, housing eight top-of-the-line scientific laboratories, and an overall scientific investigation sector six times larger than that of its original construction. Despite the lengthy timeline of the repair, the Argentine government’s decision to allocate scarce resources in revamping the Irizar is a Cinderella Story of sorts, as it exemplifies the benefits that could come from a bigger budget committed to Antarctic maritime operations. Obtaining a new vessel would have probably taken less time than repairing the Irizar, nevertheless, if reports are to be believed, this modernized vessel will be of great help for Argentina’s Antarctic operations for the foreseeable future.

Final Thoughts

Navies are usually viewed through the prism of defense and security; however they also play a critical role in Antarctic programs. Certainly other military services, government departments, and scientific institutions are other necessary pillars of any vibrant and robust Antarctic program, but navies are a sort of spearhead as they employ the primary platforms that deploy to this frozen continent. Hence it comes as no surprise that navies are prominently mentioned in the White Papers of several regional countries regarding Antarctic operations as they are engaged in various operations ranging from scientific activities to providing emergency assistance.

Countries like Peru and Chile are working on obtaining new platforms for Antarctic use while Colombia has refitted one of its navy’s vessels for these operations. Meanwhile, the Argentine and Chilean navies have come together to create a joint Antarctic naval patrol that has helped vessels and Antarctic bases in need. Finally, Uruguay’s scientific program and projects are also notable as they provide data that allows the multifaceted work of the Latin American countries in the region to continue operations safely and effectively.

The importance of Arctic and Antarctic geopolitics will increase due to climate change and the approaching year 2048, when the Antarctic Treaty is up for revision. The modernization of polar-capable vessels, such as Argentina’s Alimirante Irizar, if not the acquisition of newer ones like Peru’s Carrasco, will help Latin American navies increase the reliability and projection of already successful missions in Antarctica thereby fortifying Latin America’s presence and increasing its voice in regards to the future of the frozen continent.

For further info, see: “Reinvigorating Peru’s role in Antarctic geopolitics” (The Polar Journal, 2015) and “Argentina, Chile and the Joint Antarctic Naval Patrol: a successful confidence building mechanism” (The Polar Journal, 2017).

Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

Brittney J. Figueroa is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a Bachelors degree in Global Studies, and a Minor in Latin American Iberian Studies.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Featured Image: Chilean icebreaker in Brandy Bay, Antarctica. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Unfriendly Scramble for Everywhere: Investment’s Role in Foreign Policy

NAFAC Week 

By Phillip Bass

Because wars between great powers are no longer frequent, many great powers use indirect action and soft power to push foreign policy objectives.1 Joseph S. Nye Jr. describes soft power as the ability of a state to persuade another state to do what it wants without force or coercion. Soft power can come in the form of diplomatic pressure, trade relations, investment, and loans.2 The People’s Republic of China has been using soft power in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Latin America (LA) to fulfill foreign policy objectives. Chinese soft power in LA is a potential challenge to the United States’ hemispheric dominance.3 The Monroe Doctrine and the Roosevelt Corollary showed the United States was willing to use hard power to keep great powers out of LA.4 The United States’ dominance could be challenged if Chinese investment influences LA foreign policy.5 China has used soft power to pursue its foreign policy objectives in LA to delegitimize the Republic of China (Taiwan), access LA raw resources, and provide an alternative to American investment. These moves have made China vulnerable to events in Latin America. Investment changes a state’s foreign policy if the state is the investor, or if invested states have more to gain than by pursuing an alternative avenue.

Chinese investment in LA has increased from $15 billion in 2000 to $268.7 billion in 2013.6 China has invested $116.4 billion into Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador from 2007 to 2016.China gave Venezuela $60 billion worth of loans to help the country prior through 2015.8 China formed the China-CELAC Forum to promote economic relations between China and LA.At its first meeting in January 2015, Chinese President, Xi Jinping pledged China would invest $500 billion into LA by 2019.10 China has signed free trade agreements with Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica.11 China is one of the top five export destinations for Argentina, Cuba, and Peru. Additionally, China is Brazil and Chile’s largest trading partner. China is also one of the top five importers for Colombia, Mexico, and Uruguay.12  With Chinese interests investing large amounts of funds and trade into LA, it is important to see if investment changes states’ foreign policy.

Chinese soft power has put pressure on Central American states to not recognize Taiwan in favor of stronger relations to China. Twelve of the twenty-one countries that recognize Taiwan are in LA.13 After Costa Rica switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 2007, China and Costa Rica began negotiations for a free trade agreement in 2008 and the free trade agreement launched in 2011.14 In ten years, China has grown to deliver 12.6 percent of Costa Rica’s imports.15 When China-CELAC was launched, Costa Rica was asked to serve as the first chair of the Forum.16 Not every Chinese initiative has worked as well as its endeavors with Costa Rica; setbacks on the development of the $50 billion Nicaraguan Canal have disturbed bilateral relations between China and Nicaragua, where setbacks have delayed the development project from its late 2016 start date.17 In January 2017, Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega and Taiwan’s President Tasi Ing-wen had meetings to promote bilateral relations. Afterward, Ortega vowed to expand Taiwan’s international presence.18

Investment from China in LA focuses on the extraction of raw resources. Venezuela, Brazil, and Ecuador are the top three destinations for Chinese investment in LA. Twenty-eight of the thirty-two projects from the Chinese Development Bank in Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador are energy deals.19 High volumes of Chinese investment into raw resources is consistent across LA. Four-fifths of all Chinese investment in LA have been in resource extraction, with 70 percent of investment into oil and gas.20 Chinese shares of LA exports increased from 2 percent in 1993 to 9 percent in 2013.21 While China’s manufacturing imports from LA remain at 2 percent since 2003, their share of extraction and agriculture sectors has increased to 15 percent each.22 LA exports to China have also changed. From 1999-2003, oil and gas extraction consisted of 25 percent of LA exports to China. By 2013, oil and gas extraction consisted of 56 percent of LA exports to China.23

Chinese loans and investment in LA suggest they are using soft power to support countries wanting an alternative to American investment. While Brazil is less resistant to the United States’ presence in LA, Ecuador and Venezuela are both members of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA). ALBA seeks to promote the self-determination of LA states against United States’ investment. ALBA derailed the Free Trade Area of the Americas.24 Chinese investment in ALBA members suggests that Chinese investment finances countries wanting an alternative to the United States’ investment. China has invested $62.2 billion into development projects in Venezuela; almost 48 percent of total investment in LA.25 Venezuela also accepted $60 billion dollars in loans from China prior to the current economic crisis.26 Ecuador has borrowed upward of $11 billion from China between 2008 and 2014, covering 61 percent of Ecuadorian government spending.27 While China is not directly challenging American soft power in LA, Chinese investment supports governments that desire an alternative to the United States’ dominance.

Chinese investment and desire for LA raw resources has influenced China’s foreign policy. Prior to investing into LA, China would not be involved in crises in LA, but became involved in LA domestic crises in recent years. As Venezuela’s economy continues to spiral downward, the Chinese government invited economists and opposition lawmakers from Venezuela to Beijing throughout 2016. Officials discussed the $20 billion Venezuela owes China for loans and the possibility of a transitional government to bring stability to Venezuela.28 Ultimately, China decided to invest $2.2 billion to gain more share of the Venezuelan oil economy, from 500,000 barrels a day to 800,000 barrels a day in January 2017.29 Whether for good or bad, China’s foreign policy must now react to developments in LA to protect economic interests and imports of raw resources from LA.

Chinese investment in LA shows that investment changes a state’s foreign policy if they are the investor, or if the invested state has more to gain than an alternative. China is using soft power in LA to delegitimize Taiwan, have access to new raw resources, and to provide an alternative to U.S. dominance. Some of these efforts have led to positive results for China, but there have been setbacks for China. The more China invests into these objectives in LA, the more LA crises will affect Chinese foreign policy. If this relationship is beneficial for LA countries, they will also commit more to bilateral relations with China.

Phillip Bass is a junior studying International Relations at the University of Central Florida. Phillip is the Vice President of the International Relations Club, an organization that promotes academic and professional development of international relations students. Phillip is primarily interested in European studies.  Phillip is interested in moving into policy making fields or graduate school after his undergrad.

References

1. Kissinger, Henry A. 2012. “The Future of U.S.-Chinese Relations: Conflict Is a Choice, Not a Necessity.” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 91, No. 2 44-55.

2. Nye, Joseph. 1990. Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power. New York: Basic Books.

3. Kissinger. 48.

4. Coatsworth, John H. 2017. United States Interventions. March 20. http://revista.drclas.harvard.edu/book/united-states-interventions

5. Committee on Foreign Affairs: House of Representatives. 2015. “China’s Advance in Latin America and the Caribbean.” 2.

6. Committee on Foreign Affairs: House of Representatives. 2.

7. “The Dialogue”. 2016. China-Latin America Finance Database. March 25. http://www.thedialogue.org/map_list/.

8. Vyas, Kejal. 2016. China Rethinks Its Alliance With Reeling Venezuela. September 11. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-rethinks-its-alliance-with-reeling-venezuela-1473628506?mg=id-wsj.

9. China-CELAC Forum. 2014. About the Forum. Accessed March 27, 2017. http://www.chinacelacforum.org/eng/.

10. Jinping, Xi H.E. 2015. “Jointly Write a New Chapter in the Partnership of Comprehensive Cooperation Between China and Latin America and the Caribbean.” Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the United States of America. January 8. http://www.china-embassy.org/eng/zgyw/t1227730.htm.

11. Chinese Ministry of Commerce. 2015. November 18. http://fta.mofcom.gov.cn/english/index.shtml.

12. United Nations. UNcomtrade Analytics. Accessed March 27, 2017. https://comtrade.un.org/labs/data-explorer/.

13. Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of China. 2017. Diplomatic Allies. March 24. http://www.mofa.gov.tw/en/AlliesIndex.aspx?n=DF6F8F246049F8D6&sms=A76B7230ADF29736.

14. Chinese Ministry of Commerce. 2015. November 18. http://fta.mofcom.gov.cn/english/index.shtml.

15. World Trade Organization. 2017. Costa Rica. March 20. http://stat.wto.org/CountryProfiles/CR_e.htm.

16. China-CELAC Forum. 2014. About the Forum. Accessed March 27, 2017. http://www.chinacelacforum.org/eng/.

17. Watts, Jonathan. 2016. Nicaragua canal: in a sleepy Pacific port, something stirs. November 24. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/nov/24/nicaragua-canal-interoceanic-preparations.

18. Pretel, Enrique Andres. 2017. Nicaragua pledges to fight for Taiwan recognition on global stage. January 11. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-taiwan-usa-nicaragua-idUSKBN14V03Z?il=0.

19. The Dialogue. 2016. China-Latin America Finance Database. March 25. http://www.thedialogue.org/map_list/.

20. Gallagher, Kevin P, Lopez Andres, Rebecca Ray, and Cynthia Sanborn. 2015. “China in Latin America: Lessons for South-South Cooperation and Sustainable Development.” Global Economic Governance Initiative 6.

21. Gallagher et al. 5.

22. Gallagher et al. 5.

23. Gallagher et al. 5.

24. ALBA. 2017. What is the ALBA? March 25. https://albainfo.org/what-is-the-alba/.

25. “The Dialogue”.

26. Vyas, Kejal. 2016. China Rethinks Its Alliance With Reeling Venezuela. September 11. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-rethinks-its-alliance-with-reeling-venezuela-1473628506?mg=id-wsj.

27. Kuo, Lily. 2014. Ecuador’s unhealthy dependence on China is about to get $1.5 billion worse. August 27. https://qz.com/256925/ecuadors-unhealthy-dependence-on-china-is-about-to-get-1-5-billion-worse/.

28. Vyas. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-rethinks-its-alliance-with-reeling-venezuela-1473628506?mg=id-wsj.

29. Vyas. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-rethinks-its-alliance-with-reeling-venezuela-1473628506?mg=id-wsj.

Featured image: Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shakes hands with Brazil’s President Michel Temer during their meeting at the West lake State Guest House in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, September 2, 2016 (Minor Iwasaki/Reuters).

The Demobilization of Latin America’s Only Carrier: Brazil’s NAe Sao Paulo

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

On 14 February, the Brazilian Navy announced that it will suspend the modernization of carrier NAe Sao Paulo (A12) and commence its demobilization and subsequent decommissioning. Oddly, the news is simultaneously surprising and unsurprising at the same time. The Brazilian Navy regarded the extension of the carrier’s operational life as one of its priorities, however, ongoing technical difficulties and rising costs have made it more feasible to get rid of it than to extend its service life. As Brazil is the only Latin American country that possesses an aircraft carrier, its decommissioning must be properly discussed in terms of regional geopolitics.

A Brief History

Brazil has possessed two carriers: the first one was NAe Minas Gerais (A11), a Colossus-class vessel that served in the Brazilian Navy from 1960 to 2001. The vessel, formerly known as HMS Vengeance (R71), was constructed by the United Kingdom during World War II and sold to the South American nation in 1956.

Minas Gerais was replaced by Sao Paulo, a Clemencau-type French carrier formerly known as Foch (F99). The vessel was constructed in the late 1950s and Brazil purchased it in 2000 in a deal reportedly worth USD 12 million; it arrived in the country in 2001. Sao Paulo reportedly displaces 32,800 thousand tons, is 265 meters in length, and its air wing is constituted of A-4 Skyhawk aircraft. Sao Paulo was an important component in the training of Brazil’s naval pilots, and it also participated in exercises with countries like Argentina. However, it also spent time docked undergoing repairs and upgrades.

The French shipyard Direction dês Constructions Navales et Services (DCNS) announced in December 2013 that it had “performed a ship check on the forward catapult” of Sao Paulo. On November 2015, IHS Jane’s reported that cracks had been found in the hull of the carrier, but the Brazilian Navy denied the report. Unfortunately, there were also deadly accidents aboard the platform: a May 2004 fire in the engine room killed three crew members. A second fire on February 2012 killed sailor Carlos Alexandre dos Santos Oliveira.

Demobilization Plans

The Navy’s decision to demobilize the platform is a slight surprise to the author of this commentary, who just this past September quoted the Brazilian Navy’s commander saying otherwise. At the time, the author asked Admiral Eduardo Leal Ferreira, commander of the Brazilian Navy, a question about Sao Paulo’s future at an on-the-record event at the National Bureau of Asian Research on 26 September, 2016. The Admiral explained that “we are working with DCNS to find a technical solution to have its propulsion system renewed.” Moreover, the Admiral listed the carrier as the third of the navy’s priorities, after the submarine program (PROSUB) and the construction of the Tamandare-class corvettes. What a difference a few months can make.

The Brazilian Navy’s communiqué explains the reasoning behind the decision to demobilize the carrier: upgrading it signifies “a high financial investment, there are technical issues and [the process will] require an extended period [of time].” The modernization process apparently could have taken a decade, by which time the AF-1 group would have to be retired, making it necessary to buy a new air wing suitable for the old ship. In an e-mail interview with this author, Professor Mauricio Santoro, a political scientist and assistant professor at the department of international relations of the State University of Rio de Janeiro, adds that “the explanation for this decision is the deep financial crisis that the Brazilian government is facing, with austerity measures being implemented as well as the expense cuts in many public policies.” In other words, given the scarce use of Sao Paulo and the expensive requirements needed to extend its operational life into the late 2030s, it is not surprising that the platform is being scrapped.  According to the Navy, the process will require three years.

With that said, the Brazilian Navy is already looking past Sao Paulo and maintains the aim of having a carrier in its fleet. The aforementioned 14 February communiqué explains that a new carrier remains the Navy’s third priority after PROSUB and the corvettes as “obtaining a new carrier will be substantially cheaper than modernizing Sao Paulo.”

This statement raises questions like: will Brasilia once again acquired a used platform, or will it embark on the more ambitious, but probably more costly, goal of manufacturing a new one? In recent years there have been occasional reports that DCNS has offered its PA2/CVF carrier project to Brazil to eventually replace Sao Paulo. We will have to wait and see how the Navy’s medium- and long-term plans are affected by recent developments. It is likely that Sao Paulo will be replaced eventually since, as Professor Santoro explains, “the importance of a carrier to Brazil has been highlighted in every major policy document of the Armed Forces, such as the National Defence Strategy.”

A Carrier-less Brazil and Latin America?

In previous CIMSEC analyses (e.g. How Peaceful is the South Atlantic?) the author discussed the generally calm South Atlantic geopolitics, which can be expanded to calm Latin American and Caribbean in general. There certainly are still some maritime border disputes and occasional incidents, but the region has been free of inter-state warfare for decades (the last regional war with a maritime theater of operations was the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War). Moreover, Brazil enjoys cordial relations with its neighbors, hence the Brazilian Navy probably does not require a carrier to protect its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Nevertheless, the Brazilian Navy and several scholars and experts do believe in the necessity of having an aircraft carrier. “Brazil has thousands of miles of coastline, major offshore oil reserves, and more of 90 percent of its foreign trade comes from the sea, hence a carrier is an important tool for naval and foreign policy, as it serves both as a deterrent and helps naval forces in the open sea, among other activities,” Professor Santoro notes.  Additionally, a carrier would help Brazil’s power projection, demonstrating to the world that it has a blue water navy.

The Sao Paulo’s usefulness would likely be different if it had proved to be a global asset. For example, Sao Paulo could have been deployed to peacekeeping missions that Brazil participates in, such as the UN mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) or the UN mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The platform would have been a welcomed addition to the multinational humanitarian operations in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

The Brazilian Navy carrier NAe Sao Paulo (Wikimedia Commons)

As previously mentioned, Brazil is the only Latin American that has a carrier nowadays. The only other regional country to possess one was neighboring Argentina: the ARA Independencia (V1) and then the ARA 25 de Mayo (V2), a Colossus-class carrier decommissioned in 1997. In fact, other Latin American navies are turning to smaller platforms, particularly oceanic patrol vessels (OPVs) given their maritime security challenges.

Should Brazil eventually acquire a new carrier, this will hardly affect regional geopolitics. Brasilia enjoys cordial relations with its immediate neighbors and the Western Hemisphere in general. This is best exemplified by the fact that the PROSUB project, which includes constructing a nuclear-powered submarine, has not triggered a regional arms race to deter an “imperialist” Brazil.

Final Thoughts

By the end of the decade, carrier Sao Paulo’s time in the Brazilian Navy will come to an end, leaving behind a lackluster record. The vessel spent too much time in port undergoing repairs, and when it was out at sea, it was for standard training missions, never participating in a defining operation that validated its acquisition. Moreover, Brazil likely does not need a carrier to protect its EEZ from neighboring nations, Latin American geopolitics being what they are, as compared to a large fleet of OPVs (the Tamandare corvettes will probably fulfill this role). Nevertheless, Brazilian experts, as well as the Navy, do regard the carrier as an important component of their maritime defense system as well as a critical platform to project Brazilian naval power.

Should Brazil eventually obtain a new carrier, this hypothetical platform should participate in multinational naval operations, such as Operation Atalanta in the Horn of Africa to combat piracy. The carrier could be utilized as a launching pad and an at-sea command center for humanitarian missions akin to the Operation Unified Assistance, in which the Carrier Strike Group Nine, led by U.S. carrier Abraham Lincoln, helped Asia Pacific nations after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. In other words, if the Brazilian Navy continues to regard a new carrier as a priority, while arguably unnecessary for traditional defense purposes, such a platform can be utilized for various helpful initiatives around the globe.

 Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: View of the forward flight deck of the Brazilian aircraft carrier Saõ Paulo (A12), in 2003. Four McDonnell Douglas AF-1 (A-4) Skyhawk fighters and an Argentine navy Grumman S-2T Tracker are visible. (U.S. Navy Naval Aviation News September-October 200)

Exponaval 2016 and Latin America’s Arms Fairs

The Southern Tide

Written by Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, The Southern Tide addresses maritime security issues throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. It discusses the challenges regional navies face including limited defense budgets, inter-state tensions, and transnational crimes. It also examines how these challenges influence current and future defense strategies, platform acquisitions, and relations with global powers.

“The security environment in Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by complex, diverse, and non-traditional challenges to U.S. interests.” Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, before the 114th Congress Senate Armed Services Committee, 10 March 2016.

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

Chile organized the 10th Exponaval exhibition from 29 November – 2 December. The arms fair brought dozens of defense companies to northern Chile, where they showcased their latest maritime defense technology with the hope of securing new contracts. Arms fairs are a common event in the defense industry and they regularly take place in locations across the world, hence the success of Exponaval is particularly relevant as it will help Chile, and Latin America, cement its place in the global arms fair circuit.

Exponaval 2016

The Chilean government and Navy give great importance to Exponaval (full name Exhibición y Conferencia Internacional Naval y Marítima para Latinoamérica) as exemplified by the participation of President Michelle Bachelet, who gave a speech on 29 November to officially open the arms fair. The country’s defense minister and military authorities were also present. Unsurprisingly, during her speech, President Bachelet took a moment to praise her nation’s state-run shipyard Astilleros de la Marina (ASMAR) as it is constructing, with support from the Canadian company Vard, a new ice breaker for the Navy, which is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Exponaval 2016 was held at the at the Concon naval base in Viña del Mar, northern Chile. It is also important to note that the recent arms fair was actually a two in one event, as  the 10th Exponaval was also the 5th Trans-Port (full name, Exhibición de la Industria Marítima Portuaria para Latinoamérica), an exhibit of port industries in Latin America.

President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, delivers remarks at Exponaval 2016 (Exponaval photo)

As for the type of technology that was exhibited, some examples include Russia’s Rosoboronexport, which displayed “Project 12150 Mangust fast patrol boats, the Varshavyanka-class (Project 636) submarines and Amur 1650 class submarines among other vehicles.” A number of British companies were also present, as Mercopress news agency explains that “companies exhibiting on the Department of Trade’s Defence and Security Organisation’s stand include: Leafield, SEA, MOD Disposals Agency and Ultra Electronics. Other UK companies exhibiting include BAE Systems, MBDA, Qinetiq, Kelvin Hughes, Lloyds Register and Thales.”

Additionally, there were also important developments among Latin American maritime defense industries. Case in point, a representative from Colombia’s Corporación de Ciencia y Tecnología para el Desarrollo de la Industria Naval Marítima y Fluvial (COTECMAR) told the defense news agency IHS Jane’s that “a joint programme between Brazil, Colombia, and Peru to develop a new river patrol ship is now under way, with design work expected to conclude in the second half of 2017.” The project dates back to 2015, but it is an important development that there is already a (still somewhat distant) deadline for the completion of the design.

Apart from the sales booths, there were several technical presentations via which experts shared their knowledge. According to Exponaval, the presentations included representatives from renowned defense companies like Navantia, MBDA Missile Systems, SAAB Group as well as Chile’s ASMAR.

Booth of Chilean state-owned shipyard ASMAR (Exponaval 2016 photo)

Even more, the Chilean Navy had  prominent participation in the fair, as it carried out exercises for the audience. This included a simulation in Valparaiso Bay of a vessel carrying radioactive material that is taken over by terrorists, where Chilean naval forces demonstrated how they would react to this hypothetical crisis.

Other Latin American Arms Fairs

It is worth noting that other Latin American countries also have arms fairs, though Exponaval stands out as it focuses on maritime defense technology. For example, Chile organizes another arms fair for aerial technology, the FIDAE-International Air & Space Fair (Feria Internacional del Aire y del Espacio). As for other regional states, Brazil organizes the LAAD Security–Feira Internacional de Segurança Pública e Corporativa (International Fair of Public and Corporate Security); Colombia has the Expodefensa International Fair of Defense and Security (Feria Internacional de Defensa y Seguridad); while Peru organizes the SITDEF–International Show for Defense Technology and Disaster Prevention (Salon Internacional de Tecnologia para la Defensa y Prevencion de Desastres).

Like with Exponaval, other governments and militaries provide support for these fairs in their respective nations. For example, while Exponaval 2016 took place at the Concon naval base, SITDEF 2017 will reportedly be held at the Peruvian Army’s headquarters in Lima.

Significance

What is the importance of Latin America organizing arms fairs? This author would argue that the main objective is to demonstrate that Latin America should not be regarded as a sole importer of military technology, but also a producer and a “showcase center” where deals can be made. President Bachelet voiced a similar idea in her welcome message as she stressed how this arms fair “allows a meeting between [suppliers] from the naval defense and maritime industry with official delegations from Latin American navies and the port agencies from other countries.”

In a 22 August commentary for CIMSEC entitled “The Rise of the Latin American Shipyard” the author discussed how various Latin American nations are constructing their own naval platforms and are even attempting to sell them to foreign customers. Since said commentary was published there have been new developments in the region: Colombia’s COTECMAR has signed a contract with Honduras and another one with Panama for logistic multipurpose vessels; Peru’s Servicios Industriales de la Marina (SIMA) has reached an agreement with Bolivia to sell its navy a riverine hospital ship; finally Ecuador’s shipyard Astilleros Navales Ecuatorianos (ASTINAVE) on 10 November “announced it is to construct three passenger boats for the Panama Canal Authority.”

Hence, regional arms fairs are particularly important for Latin American defense industries as they they allow for opportunity to showcase their products to regional navies and international firms in order to attract future sales. The aforementioned deals by ASTINAVE, COTECMAR and SIMA highlight that intra-regional naval platforms sales are already happening, and future arms fairs will benefit these companies in their eternal quest for new customers; hence it should not come as a surprise that SIMA and COTECMAR were present in Exponaval.

This brings us to the obvious question: to what extent do the exhibitions and meetings made during these arms fairs, such as Exponaval, result in actual contracts? Exponaval naturally summarized the recent fair as a success, explaining how over 140 company experts gave presentations, while putting the number of attendees at over nine thousand visits. Additionally, regional navies deployed some of their platforms, including Argentina’s corvette Robinson; Brazil’s Niteroi-class frigate Constitucion; Mexico’s patrol vessel Centenario de la Revolución; while the United Kingdom deployed the frigate HMS Portland and the tanker RFA Gold Rover.

As for contracts, Exponaval’s declared in a statement that deals were made for more than USD $800 million, but “this amount is related to the projects that the participating navies have in development for the next few years.” Hence, we will have to wait and see if in the coming months announcements are made about contracts between Latin American navies and maritime defense companies, and whether they can be traced back to Exponaval 2016.

Final Thoughts

The Exponaval 2016 arms fair which recently took place in northern Chile should be regarded as a success for local government and maritime forces. It was reportedly well-structured, with over a hundred companies showcasing their maritime defense products, it hosted thousands of visitors, and even featured visiting warships from friendly nations. Santiago also demonstrated the accomplishments of its state-run shipyard ASMAR as well as the professionalism of its naval forces. Ultimately, we will have to wait to see if, indeed, Exponaval (not to mention other Latin American defense fairs) can reliably serve as a place where suppliers and customers can meet and ultimately reach sales agreements.

Alejandro Sanchez Nieto is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military, and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

The views presented in this essay are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

Featured Image: Model submarine at Exponaval 2016 (Exponaval 2016 photo)