Hispanic American Historical Review 80.1 (2000) 218-219
[Access article in PDF]
The Armed Forces and Democracy in Latin America. By J. Samuel Fitch. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. Tables. Figures. Appendix. Notes. Index. xx, 264 pp. Cloth, $48.00. Paper, $16.95.
There is much to commend in J. Samuel Fitch's thoughtful and comprehensive book, which assesses changes and continuities in military roles and attitudes and patterns of civil-military relations in Latin America's new democracies. The book has theoretical, empirical, normative, and policy dimensions. Fitch explores the tensions between traditional forms of military tutelage of politics and democratic consolidation and suggests "democratic professionalist alternatives" for the military (chap. 6). He argues that military influence has declined in some countries, but high levels of military autonomy, guardian roles, disrespect for civilians, and elements of old national security doctrines persist in the region as well (chaps. 4, 5).
Fitch distinguishes between regimes with military tutelage and those with conditional military subordination to civilian rule, and categorizes similar cases into clusters. He examines military role beliefs and attitudes in chapter 3, arguing that changes in these beliefs "are a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for institutionalizing effective democracy in Latin America" (p. 62). A fundamental basis for Fitch's analysis is his series of some 160 interviews in Argentina and Ecuador, carried out over time and among all levels of the officer corps. Based on these, Fitch is quite optimistic about the depth of democratic change in the Argentine military and less so regarding the Ecuadorian military. Most Argentine officers reject a guardian role in the later interviews, Fitch finds, while one-third of the Ecuadorian officers reject the principle of military subordination to civilians (p. 69). Fitch classifies Ecuador as a tutelary or semitutelary regime (pp. 89, 101, 105, 146). Regarding Argentina, Fitch asserts that his interview data "are consistent with the conclusions of Argentine analysts that the 'military issue' is dead" (p. 70). In my opinion, Fitch is overly sanguine, and he cites only two analysts, one of whose work focused solely on the possibility of military coup (p. 233 n.20). The military question periodically "rises from the dead" in Argentina, and indeed, chapters 4 and 5 portray the Argentine case as considerably more mixed (pp. 139, 144; see also p. 41).
A strength of the book is that the author does not base his analysis exclusively on the political attitudes of officers as expressed in interviews or rely solely on the individual [End Page 218] level of analysis. Fitch fully recognizes the crucial importance of the institutional, political, and international contexts that shape military decision-making and behavior, and the book blends multiple levels of analysis into a balanced picture. The author disaggregates components of military national security doctrines and finds both continuity and change since the transitions to civilian rule, as well as national variations (pp. 112, 129). He argues that while the conceptual framework of national security still orients military thinking, it is no longer a coherent doctrinal justification for military political involvement as during the cold war. But his case studies of posttransition civil-military relations throughout the region lead Fitch to conclude that in most countries, current patterns must be changed to ensure the long-term survival of democratic regimes (p. 135). Civilian leaders face a delicate balancing act: to persuade militaries to respect and work within the system while minimizing military political prerogatives and expanded roles that make the system undemocratic (p. 135). Overall, Fitch's book makes an important contribution to the literature on the Latin American military.
J. Patrice Mcsherry
Long Island University