The Americas 59.3 (2003) 447-448
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This book is a careful historical examination of military regimes across four countries and five different governments in the Southern Cone and Brazil. The study covers two military governments in Argentina (the Revolución, from 1966 to 1973 and the Proceso from 1976 to 1983) as well as one military regime each in Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. The book is useful for understanding democratization because Arceneaux effectively alerts us to substantial differences among military authoritarian regimes as well as differences in the level of success these regimes achieved in social and economic policy and in controlling democratic transition.
Arceneaux's perspective broadens understanding of military regimes for several reasons. For example, while military regimes certainly do not abide by democratic rules, he suggests that they nonetheless have rules of their own against which their behavior and record can be compared to discern varying levels of success. While civilians and scholars often perceive the military itself and the military regime as one and the same, in fact, they are separate. This distinction means that military governments must retain ties with and support from the military itself in order to achieve their goals in government. A successful way of doing this is to minimize military investment in the regime itself, providing adequate governance but also keeping the military institution itself separate, intact, and only minimally effected by governance. Different military regimes have achieved this goal in greater or lesser degree. Similarly, scholars often perceive military governments as separate from (and dominant over) civil society. In fact, they are not entirely distinct and must create and retain successful linkages into at least some elements of society in [End Page 447] order to have successful social and economic programs. These two elements of military government--ties backward into the military and linkages forward into society--help retain institutional unity, produce more successful military governance, and facilitate transition control. Moreover, incorporating some elements of society into the transition process increases and extends military control over the transition process. Arceneaux goes through each of his five cases and illustrates how and why the different military regimes were more or less successful with these two types of forward and backward linkages. That level of success then helped determine the extent to which military regimes were able to govern effectively and influence or control the process of democratic transition.
This type of insight into differences among military regimes is an important factor in understanding why the military significantly influenced transition in some cases (Pinochet's Chile) and not in others (the Argentine Proceso). Only detailed institutional knowledge allows such distinctions. Yet, as with any study of a single institution, that asset comes with its own liabilities. In being so knowledgeable about a single institution, Arceneaux tends to overemphasize the total influence of that institution while underemphasizing the influence of other institutions and social forces on regime success and democratic transition. For example, in explaining the collapse of the Argentine Proceso regime, he makes relatively little reference to the role of the human rights movement both domestically and in international context. Similarly, while he suggests that Brazil's legislature played a key role in democratic transition there, he does not explore why that legislature was so influential while other national legislatures were not. These other institutions and social forces clearly altered the course of military rule and of democratic transition in powerful ways. The full picture of regime success or transition cannot depend upon reference to the military institution alone.
Despite these shortcomings, the book is an excellent source for understanding the military as an institution and as a governing regime. It should be helpful for students of democratic development in Latin America and will also be useful for students of military regimes elsewhere. The insights it provides are constructive in comparing the Latin American regimes with the Franco...