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Reviewed by:
  • Crafting Civilian Control of the Military in Venezuela: A Comparative Perspective
  • Gabriel Marcella
Crafting Civilian Control of the Military in Venezuela: A Comparative Perspective. By Harold A. Trinkunas. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005. Pp. xiv, 297. Illustrations. Notes. References. Index. $59.95 cloth; $24.95 paper.

Students and policy makers will applaud the arrival of this splendid book. It is timely because of salience of militarized authoritarian populism in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, and the policy relevant wisdom that the author provides to "democratizers." This book joins an increasing number of penetrating scholarly studies of civil-military relations. Such depth strengthens communication between military and civilians on defense issues, and helps define the responsibilities of both sides within the democratic rules of the game.

Trinkunas argues that the roots of Venezuela's contemporary problems of civil-military relations are deep. Venezuela was once considered a consolidated democracy, with civilians in control of the military. Trinkunas argues, nonetheless, that Venezuelan civil-military relations, due to the incompetence of civilian leaders, developed certain patterns that helped bring about the coup attempts of 1992 and the election of Hugo Chávez as president in 1998. Chávez in turn deinstitutionalized democracy and eliminated the boundaries between civilian and military spheres of influence and control. The book is, therefore, a work on civil-military relations and excellent political history that makes it easier to fathom contemporary Venezuela.

The book builds on the theoretical literature of civil-military relations to propose the following schema. Civilian leaders in emerging democracies must make strategic choices about how to control the armed forces. To control them in a way that advances the cause of democracy, civilian leaders need capacity. This takes the form of political will and expertise and taking advantage of strategic opportunities. They have four choices: appease the armed forces, monitor and oversight, divide and conquer, [End Page 694] or sanctioning. Monitoring and oversight is the best option for democracy, but this requires expertise and long-term engagement in all aspects of national defense and military affairs. Venezuelan civilian leaders, much like counterparts in other Latin American countries, lacked expertise in military and defense affairs. They exercised control for three decades, but the control was dysfunctional, preferring divide and conquer and appeasement to informed and expert oversight.

Civilians had many strategic opportunities to change the direction of civil-military relations, but seldom chose the course wisest for the health of democracy. Moreover, economic downturn, corruption, the impoverishment of the huge underclass, and the extensive use of the armed forces personnel for civilian tasks helped nurture discontent within the officer corps that came out twice in revolt in 1992, led by then Captain Hugo Chávez and others. The revolts failed in part because of the inability of the plotters to coordinate military operations, a failure attributable to the effects of years of divide and conquer tactics within the military command structure by civilians. Civilian leaders should have been attentive to the emergence of reformist elements and new doctrinal developments within the military, as well as coup plotting. These and other factors planted the seeds for the revolts of 1992 and the coming to power of Chávez, who would revert to manipulative divide and conquer to control the armed forces, especially after the attempted coup of 2002.

The book should have a prominent place in Latin American courses and should be mined for policy wisdom in every capital in the hemisphere. This reviewer has one dissent. On page 163, the author attributes influence of the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) in the curriculum of the Superior Institute for the Study of National Defense. Lest the U.S. role be misunderstood, the IADC curriculum of the time was dominated by the concepts of security and development that came directly from the Brazilians (Superior War College) and the Peruvians (Center for Higher Military Studies). Some militaries (for example, in Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Venezuela), are being told to assume internal development roles by their civilian leaders, ideas that go back decades.

Gabriel Marcella
United States Army War College
Carlisle, Pennsylvania


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