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Reviewed by:
  • Neorealism, States, and the Modern Mass Army
  • Andrew J. Kirkendall
Neorealism, States, and the Modern Mass Army. By João Resende-Santos. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 332 pp. $85.00 (cloth); $29.99 (paper).

João Resende-Santos's book is a fine piece of research and analysis. Unfortunately, those who would most profit from reading it are likely to overlook it because of a title that is, to say the least, unhelpful. The book is narrowly focused on the attempts by the Argentines, Brazilians, and Chileans to imitate German military practices in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He focuses less on military doctrine than on army organization, including conscription and staff organization, as well as weapons acquisition, professionalization, and education, and is primarily interested in explaining why these three countries chose to emulate the Germans. Not surprisingly, these three important South American nations sought to reform their militaries at different times and to different degrees, and primarily in response to actions taken by the other two.

It is unlikely that any Latin Americanist would be unaware that numerous Latin American militaries were trained by Prussian instructors and otherwise borrowed from Prussian military practices as they sought to improve what were up to that time weak national armies. With the creation of many military regimes in the region in the 1960s and 1970s, many social scientists began to focus on the historical evolution of civil-military relations, not least of all Brian Loveman. Resende Santos generally gives credit where credit is due and cites important books and articles by Robert Potash and Frank McCann, as well as the classic work on South American foreign relations by Robert N. Burr, By Reason or Force: Chile and the Balancing of Power in South America, [End Page 158] 1830–1905 (1967). He is arguing against an assumption prevalent evidently among political scientists, and particularly those focusing on security matters, that South America was and continues to be conflict-free. This is an error that few historians, of course, particularly those with an interest in the nineteenth century, would make.

Given the fact that Prussian society was so different from Latin American society, the author is certainly correct to argue that it was success on the battlefield in 1870 and 1871 against the hitherto much admired French that generated the urge to emulate the Prussian army (these countries had already adopted British naval practices). The most valuable contribution of this book is his extended treatment of the "external security environment" which he sees as responsible for South American choices rather than cultural tendencies toward imitation which others have noted. (One wonders what he makes of the tendency to wear British wool suits in nineteenth-century Brazil and elsewhere.)

The author's contribution to the development of the theory of neo-realism may not concern most of the readers of this journal. He seeks to improve on the insights of Kenneth N. Waltz, often criticized for paying insufficient attention to history in his explanations of how states act in an insecure, competitive world. Based on the reading of this book, it seems that the author is overly modest regarding his own contributions to the evidently underdeveloped theory of the role of emulation in international relations. I will leave it to my colleagues in political science to determine how convinced they are by the notion of a theory's ability to predict past events; historians, however, will be pleased that he grounds his theory in extensive primary research in annual reports, diplomatic correspondence, military publications, and memoirs.

While one cannot deny that enduring rivalries between these countries existed, it is also noteworthy that the three countries tended to fight wars against other countries, even in the nineteenth century. The author's main achievement is that he makes clear how much their actions were motivated by perceived security threats from the other two countries. He shrewdly notes that it was their own successes (Chile in its wars with Bolivia and Peru, and Brazil and Argentina in their war against Paraguay) that revealed to them how much their militaries needed reforming. Chile took the lead even before the War of the Pacific (1879...


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pp. 158-160
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