By Luciana Pol et al.

Why do some political actors sustain that the armed forces should intervene in affairs other than their primary mission of defending a country from military attack? Are there security threats that can be equated with outside threats and that justify the use of military might inside borders? In order to respond to these questions, we must examine how the notion of “new threats” was constructed, who is promoting it as doctrine, and what these supposed dangers are.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a process of democratization put an end to the military governments that had proliferated in Latin America during the twentieth century. The “national security doctrine,” pushed by the United States and adopted throughout the Americas, was also abandoned once the ghost of Communism could no longer be used to conjure internal enemies. At the same time, democracy weakened the existing tensions between the countries of the region.

War with a neighboring country, which had been the main hypothesis of military confl ict for most Latin American countries, began to disappear from the realm of possibility. With nuances depending on the situation and history of each country, the armed forces generally began to lose relevance as political actors in the wake of democracy. In the same period, the issues of crime and citizen security became central themes on the political agenda throughout the region. This led many countries to favor military involvement in “combating crime.”

To varying extents in each country, the persistence of economic disparities and the expansion of illegal markets such as arms and drug traffi cking—underpinned by increased consumption in the United States—contributed to transforming Latin America into one of the most violent regions in the world.