Europe Dominates South America’s Militaries
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Half of all weapons imported by South American countries over the past decade came from one place. It’s not their close neighbors in North America. Nor is it Asia, despite Russia’s high-profile arms deals with Venezuela. It’s the European Union.
Europe’s military hardware is deeply embedded within South America’s armies.
Between 2002 and 2011, 49 percent of weapons imported by South American nations come from EU countries, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfers Database. Here are the top 10 arms exporters to South America, along with the percentage of the region’s arms trade they’re responsible for:
Almost all of Russia’s exports go to one place—Venezuela. Eliminate that, and it’s only responsible for 3.6 percent of all exports to the region—it drops to ninth place. Also note how Spain, with its close cultural ties to the region, does not lead European exports to the area. Instead, Germany’s on top.
The Trumpet has closely followed German arms sales to the Middle East, as Germany strives to build an anti-Iranian alliance. A similar process of alliance building through arms trading is already well under way in South America.
Argentina’s navy, for example, is mostly German. All its destroyers were built in Germany. So were its submarines. Most of its frigates were designed by Germany’s Blohm + Voss and assembled in Argentina. The rest of its frigates are French. Its main battle tank was jointly developed with the German firm Thyssen-Henschel and based on the German Marder. It also has over 100 light tanks from Austria, and a few from France. Then there’s a long list of guns, missiles, helicopters, radar and other miscellaneous military equipment that come from France, Italy and the Netherlands, as well as armed troop transporters built with German help.
Bolivia’s small number of tanks all come from Austria. Brazil’s primary tank is the German Leopard 1. Its navy uses a French aircraft carrier, British frigates and German submarines. Chile’s tank force is made up entirely of Leopard 1 (this time a Dutch variant) and Leopard 2 tanks. Its armored infantry fighting vehicles are from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. Its frigates come from the UK and the Netherlands and its submarines from Germany, France and Spain.
Ecuador uses some Leopard 1s it bought from Chile, as well as some French tanks. Its navy was supplied mainly by the UK, Italy and Germany. Peru’s flagship is from the Netherlands. Its frigates are mostly Italian and its submarines German.
You get the picture. South America is full of navies that have mostly been purchased from Europe and armies that rely completely on European tanks. All this hasn’t happened in the last 10 years. The robust arms trade goes back decades. As American power retreats and the world becomes more dangerous, who is South America’s natural ally? Europe.
South America doesn’t build many of its own advanced weapons. It imports them. Its militaries are so tied to Europe it would be hard for any South American country, with the exception of Venezuela, to fight a war without European support.
Take the Falklands War. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher bullied French President François Mitterrand into handing over the codes to disarm Argentina’s Exocet anti-ship missiles, which it had brought from France. She made sure France didn’t sell them any more of the missiles.
When you look at the type of weapons South America is buying from Europe, its dependence is even clearer. Fifteen percent of its arms trade may be with the U.S. But South America hasn’t been buying the type of weapons from it that would make it dependent on America.
Since 1960, over 60 percent of all radar equipment imported by South American countries has come from nations now in the EU. Nearly 90 percent of all anti-ship missiles and torpedoes have come from Europe, as well as over 65 percent of all air-to-surface missiles, and nearly half of their sonar systems. Sixty percent of all warships imported over that time have come from the EU. So have nearly 60 percent of their tanks, more than half of their armored vehicles, and nearly half of their anti-tank weapons.
So what areas does the U.S. dominate? Mainly aerial warfare and especially reconnaissance—probably as part of U.S. efforts to stop drug smuggling. Most of South America’s light aircraft, training airplanes and transport planes come from the U.S.
Most imports of fighter aircraft also have come from the U.S., but this was mainly in the 1960s. After that time, they have only sold a handful of planes.
South America has clearly avoided being dependent on America for critical weapons systems. But it is dependent on Europe. That doesn’t happen by accident. National leaders evidently all came to a similar conclusion. They couldn’t afford to manufacture their own advanced weapons. They didn’t want to be dependent on the U.S. or Russia, so they chose to side with Europe.
This reliance is both a symptom and a cause of South America’s closeness with Europe. They chose to buy from Europe because they trusted it, and it would be hard for them to break away now.
This alliance is exactly what the Trumpet and its predecessor, the Plain Truth, have forecast all along. The May 1962 Plain Truth declared that “the United States is going to be left out in the cold as two gigantic trade blocs, Europe and Latin America, mesh together and begin calling the shots in world commerce.” In October 1957, it proclaimed that the EU and South America are “religious, commercial and political partners.”
We see the results of that today. South America is welded to Europe’s military system. The alliance is secure. South America’s military is hugely dependent on Europe.