Under Ecuador’s “third wave” democracy that began in 1979, the armed forces have exhibited considerable autonomy vis-à-vis civilians in government, as measured by (a) military intervention in politics and (b) the armed forces’ spread into internal security. Perhaps most noteworthy, military participation in politics and internal security increased significantly during the second half of the 1990s, in a permissive environment: as a result of their rule in the 1970s, the armed forces enjoyed a positive reputation within society as an institution capable of getting things done, without committing human rights abuses. Within that context, a traumatic military role crisis prompted the armed forces to expand their political and internal security roles. The armed forces lost their traditional mission of defending Ecuador’s southern border against Peru in the late 1990s, due to the resolution of that border dispute. In its search for institutional justification, the military proactively intensified its participation in politics and internal security. That extensive internal security work not only served as an indicator of military autonomy vis-à-vis civilians but it also made the armed forces ineffective and unreliable in responding to the civilian government’s basic national defense requirements, as evinced by the military’s response to a new sovereignty threat. When Colombian guerrilla crossings into northern Ecuador became a salient border threat in the 2000s, the armed forces focused on internal security in the north and not border defense.
Ecuador: Military Autonomy Under Democratic Rule
Argentina: The Journey From Military Intervention to Subordination
Argentina has moved through two defining eras. The first was one of military coups and dictatorships that repeatedly interrupted democratic periods of governance. The second has been one of uninterrupted democratic rule marked by firm military subordination to civilian control. From 1930 to 1976, the Argentine armed forces cut short the tenure of every democratically elected head of state. Eleven of 16 presidents during this period were generals. Military coups in Argentina were brought on by a combination of factors, including societal pressures, tactical and strategic blunders on the part of political leaders, and the military’s own thirst for power and privileges. Militaries would eventually leave power, but their repeated interventions would weaken respect for democratic processes. The last coup, which occurred in 1976, marked a turning point, giving rise to an authoritarian regime that spelled political, economic, and military disaster for the nation. So disgusted was the public with the dictatorship’s incompetence and brutality that it discovered a newfound respect for democratic rules of the game. The demise of the Proceso dictatorship helped usher in a long and unbroken period of democratic rule. Still, contemporary Argentine democratic governments have had to grapple with civil-military issues. Notable progress has been made, including the holding of human rights trials, the enactment of laws that restrict the military’s use in internal security, and the strengthening of the defense ministry. Notwithstanding a few rebellions in the late 1980s, the Argentine armed forces have remained firmly under civilian control since the return of democracy. Nonetheless, administrations have varied in their abilities and motivation to enact reforms.