Argentina plans 50 percent boost in defense spending

Sept. 1, 2010 at 5:27 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- Argentina is planning a 50 percent increase in its defense spending but has left open-ended the amount that will eventually go into the military regeneration program.

Plans for the major boost to arms buying and refurbishment of the armed forces were announced by Argentine Defense Minister Nilda Garre, who said the government wanted to make up for years of neglect since the country's 1982 defeat by Britain in the Falklands.

An Argentine invasion of the islands that year provoked a 74-day conflict with Britain that led to more than 1,000 deaths and the humiliation of formal surrender to British forces.

The debacle damaged the Argentine military's place in the political power base and eventually led to the generals' withdrawal from the political scene and a return to civilian rule.

Successive governments ignored the military's requests for funds to keep the armed forces in fighting form, with the result that many in Argentina rate their forces as one of the least battle-ready outfits in Latin America, with obsolete weapons, demoralized or ill-paid service personnel and little or no clout in the political spectrum.

Garre told a university audience the government would increase the defense budget in the coming years from 0.9 percent to 1.5 percent of Argentina's gross domestic product to help overcome effects of the post-Falklands period.

Exactly how that would translate into financial allocations for defense procurements and reform of a controversial military remunerations system remains unclear.

Critics of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Garre's comments could be aimed to win favor within the pro-military electorate before next year's presidential election and before Congress reconvenes in December.

Fernandez lost her parliamentary majority in 2009 elections and has faced mounting criticism of her style of government. Last month Fernandez ordered state take-over of the country's largest newsprint manufacturer and supplier in what critics saw as an attempt to control dissent within the media.

The government has come under increased pressure from the defense lobby to fund projects for military regeneration, especially as Fernandez has conducted a diplomatic campaign to push Argentina's sovereignty claim over the Falklands, a British Overseas Territory.

Garre said Argentina's military had suffered neglect after the Falklands defeat, social tensions between the military and the rest of society after the war, recurrent military dictatorships and the economic crisis from 1992 to 2002.

As part of the military regeneration, Garre said Argentina was looking seriously into reviving its dormant nuclear development program. Present plans call for developing nuclear technology enough to power future naval vessels including submarines, she said.

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