Meanwhile in South America, completely under the radar, a Navy moves at full speed into the 21st century. While it is true Brazil and Venezuela have recently captured headlines for their Naval moves, the real mover and shaker in South American maritime affairs is Chile.
Most current Naval observers would likely associate the Chilean Navy with its recent Partnership of America's deployment. For the first half of that deployment, the Chilean Frigate Almirante Latorre (FFG 14) deployed with the USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52), USS Mitscher (DDG 57), and the USS Samuel B Roberts (FFG 58). That deployment only tells half the story.
The Chilean Frigate Almirante Latorre (FFG 14) is one of 4 recently refurbished Dutch frigates incorporated into the Chilean Navy, which also includes the Captain Prat (FFG 11), the Almirante Blanco Encalada (FFG 15), and the Almirante Riveros (FFG 18). These 4 Dutch ships are being joined by an existing Type 22 (Batch II) frigate Almirante Williams (FF 19), the recently acquired Almirante Lynch (FFG 07), and the soon to be received Type 23 frigates Almirante Cochrane (ex- HMS Norfolk) and Almirante Condell (ex- HMS Marlborough).
These 8 ships represent the most powerful naval surface force in South America. They will soon be joined by 2 Scorpene submarines recently commissioned, the O'Higgins and the Carrera.
While impressive, this doesn't make Chile very popular in South America. The increasingly good relationship between the United States and Chile has drawn the ire of countries like Venezuela, who points to Chile's 3.8% of GDP on defense budget as a troubling sign of the region. This increase in defense spending actually has an interesting reason behind it. Military Power Review, a think tank that focuses on affairs in South America recently published a report called "Rearming: The Paradigmatic Cases of Chile and Venezuela and Their Regional Impact." In reviewing that paper the Center for International Policy (CIP) cites Military Power Reviews conclusions saying
There is a permanent rise in the price of copper, parallel to that of petroleum, which increased by 400% between 2002 and 2006 in the international market. This explains to a large degree what the Instituto Nueva Mayoría in Argentina assesses as a "steady but gradual process" of rearming in the last 15 years, accelerated since 2003. In its report "Rearming: The Paradigmatic Cases of Chile and Venezuela and Their Regional Impact," the above mentioned think tank maintains that the Chilean Defense Ministry retains a large degree of autonomy when it comes to formulating its policies thanks to the Secret Copper Law that earmarks a certain percentage of the exports of the metal to the armed forces.
The Chilean military reduced its personnel in the last decade from 120,000 to 40,000, and it reorganized and created eight brigades, giving priority to mobility and fire power. Chile acquired 100 German Leonard II heavy tanks, retaining the ability to acquire several more, and 28 F-16 airplanes equipped with AMRAAN missiles and air-air laser bombs, unknown until now in the region. Of even larger impact is its purchase of two modern Scorpene Franco-German submarines as well as eight missile frigates, maritime patrol airplanes, and oil tankers. "Media experts have concluded that taking into account the relative sizes of Brazil and Chile's GNP, the latter spends six times more economic resources on military equipment than the main power in the region," says Nueva Mayoría.
That is sort of accurate, but the Copper Law isn't a secret, what CIP is missing here is that Democracies don't make defense policy a secret like say Venezuela does.
Venezuela has raised legitimate questions with its behavior, while at the same time it has become the 3rd largest importer of oil to the United States behind Canada and Mexico. Venezuela has close ties to Bolivia, a country with a number of disputes with Chile, foremost being the loss of territories to Chile in the 1879-1883 War when Bolivia lost its access to the Pacific. Peru was also engaged in that war, and disputes stemming from the maritime border between Peru and Chile exist even to today.
There is no shortage of alarmist attitudes in South America regarding Chile, with much of it stemming from the Chilean economic boom of Copper combined with the massive modernization of the military. However, none of these concerns appear to be shared with Western nations, all of whom have excellent and improving relations with Chile.
United States policy for South America has been largely an afterthought under the Bush administration,