Book Review Essays

Putting the Military Back into CivilMilitary Relations

Authors: {'first_name': 'Thomas C.', 'last_name': 'Bruneau'}


This essay reviews the following works:

Ensaios de grande estratégia brasileira. By João Paulo S. Alsina Jr. Rio de Janeiro: Editora FGV, 2018. Pp. 291. Reais 43.00 paperback. ISBN: 9788522520619.


Politics in Uniform: Military Officers and Dictatorship in Brazil, 1960–1980. By Maud Chirio. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018. Pp. xii + 280. $28.95 paperback. ISBN: 9780822965374.


Soldiers of the Nation: Military Service and Modern Puerto Rico, 1868–1952. By Harry Franqui-Rivera. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018. Pp. xiii + 342. $60.00 hardcover. ISBN: 9780803278677.


Fuerzas armadas, pretorianismo y calidad de la democracia: Ecuador y Uruguay. By Patricio Haro Ayerve. Quito: FLACSO, 2017. Pp. xix + 307. $18.00. ISBN: 9789978674789.


Brazil, 1964–1985: The Military Regimes of Latin America in the Cold War. By Herbert S. Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017. Pp. xiii+ 216. $40.00 hardcover. ISBN: 9780300223316.


Debating Civil-Military Relations in Latin America. Edited by David R. Mares and Rafael Martínez. Eastbourne, UK: Sussex Academic Press, 2014. Pp. xii + 224. $69.95 hardcover. ISBN: 9781845195915.


Military Missions in Democratic Latin America. By David Pion-Berlin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016. Pp. xiii + 218. $119.99 hardcover. ISBN: 9781137592699.


Soldiers, Politicians, and Civilians: Reforming Civil-Military Relations in Democratic Latin America. By David Pion-Berlin and Rafael Martínez. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. i + 414. $32.99 paperback. ISBN: 9781316604434.

Keywords: Article has no keywords
 Accepted on 09 Sep 2019            Submitted on 11 Jan 2019

There is no region in the world that exceeds Latin America in the number of books and articles, by local and foreign scholars, on the topic of civil-military relations. It is indicative of the great interest in the topic that Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina (RESDAL), based in Buenos Aires, periodically publishes the Defense Atlas of Latin America and the Caribbean, which appears in Spanish but has also appeared in English and at least once in French. Despite serious and sustained efforts and interest in other regions, particularly in the Middle East, there is nothing similar anywhere else in the world. Currently, much is happening in both the United States and Latin America involving civil-military relations, for better and for worse. The value of several of these books is to redirect our attention at least in part back to the military institutions from which the currently democratic regimes evolved. The authors deal with fundamental issues of militaries including the centrality of strategy, the importance of roles and missions, and the necessity of institutions in the absence of which civilians are incapable of controlling the military.

It must be stated up front that two major factors influence most of the literature on civil-military relations in the region, both of which revolve around the military but normally do not enter into military issues per se. First is the very serious human rights abuses in virtually all of the countries ruled by military regimes, and second, the transition from military regimes to electoral democracies, again in virtually all of the countries. It is no surprise, then, that the overwhelming emphasis in the literature is on the conditions for, and institutions created to exercise democratic civilian control, with very little attention to the military itself. The question thus arises: What happened to the military in civil-military relations in Latin America? The great novelty, and in my view, contribution of at least five of the books reviewed here is that they focus on precisely the military as an institution, how it should be organized, how it should be led, and what it should be doing: Chirio’s in her focus on the internal dynamics of the military in Brazil, Pion-Berlin’s as he focuses on roles or missions, Alsina’s as he deals with national security and defense strategy, Pion-Berlin and Martínez as they analyze military effectiveness, and Franqui-Rivera as he focuses on the military’s role in the culture in Puerto Rico. Each of these books, by refocusing the debate on the military institutions and their missions, brings the military back into the study of civil-military relations. While the book by Klein and Vidal Luna focuses mainly on the military regime, 1964–1985, and Chirio’s on the military regime and democratic transition, the remaining six deal primarily with the military in democratic regimes.

The Books

In Brazil, 1964–1985: The Military Regimes of Latin America in the Cold War, Herbert S. Klein and Francisco Vidal Luna compare Brazil to other military regimes in the region including Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay. They highlight the similarities and the differences among these countries during periods of military rule. The countries were similar in their suppression of congresses, political parties, and the media, and their application of state violence to demobilize their societies. The authors state, “These regimes all were an authoritarian response to the new demands and power of landless farmers and peasants, the new industrial labor force and the expanding urban middle classes” (37). It was assumed that these demands would inevitably lead to socialist or communist regimes, and the traditional upper classes no longer accepted the democratic system and were willing to call on the military to protect their interests. While the “threats” varied from country to country, the responses were similar in terms of ruthless violence, and no matter how “professional” the military were, defined fellow countrymen as enemies against whom all-out war had to be waged. The countries, however, varied in how they responded to the “threats,” and the book goes into detail on the political dynamics of the Brazilian military regime, the economic reforms, and finally the social and institutional reforms of the military regime. In emphasizing in great detail what they term “reforms,” Klein and Vidal Luna contrast Brazil to the other military dictatorships except for Chile, and to a lesser degree Peru. The authors argue that the reforms implemented during the twenty-one-year military regime modernized Brazil and, in their terms, “this legacy resulted in the successful elimination of the military as a major political actor and the abandonment by the conservative parties of their reliance on military support” (142). They also argue (142) that the army was successfully subordinated to the civilian state. In comparing and contrasting the Brazilian military regime to other, supposedly similar, regimes Klein and Vidal Luna follow the approach of Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan as they strongly emphasize (especially in chapter 4) the nature of the prior, nondemocratic, regimes in explaining democratic transitions and consolidation.1

The book consists of four chapters. The first compares and contrasts the Brazilian military regime with other military regimes in South America, and the second provides details on personalities and events during that regime. Chapters 3 and 4 cover the economic and social reforms implemented during the military regime. The book does not attempt, however, to explain the why and how of the transition to democracy after 1985. The final sentence of the book states: “The unprecedented violence of the Cold War military regimes created a massive reaction from all elements in these Latin American societies and resulted in a major cultural and political shift, in which democratic rule became far more firmly embedded in these societies than at any time in their history” (142). Seeing this statement in historical and relative terms, one cannot take exception to it. Looking back today on the trials and tribulations of the democratic regimes, including Brazil, this reviewer is less sanguine than Klein and Vidal Luna.

In Politics in Uniform: Military Officers and Dictatorship in Brazil, 1960–1980, Maud Chirio investigates the how and why glossed over by Klein and Vidal Luna. By examining in great detail politics of the military, with emphasis on junior officers and even some enlisted personnel, she complements Alfred Stepan’s 1971 classic study on the Brazilian military.2 In fact, Chirio does more than complement Stepan; she examines how lower ranks in the Brazilian military played a central role in overcoming the previous “moderator role” of the military in politics; a role which was key to middle-class support for the military coup of March 31, 1964. Her book makes a number of important contributions to understanding not only the Brazilian military regime but also provides a factual basis to begin to understand politics within the military post–1985. Among the major contributions of Chirio’s book are the following: the importance of French thinking on “revolutionary war” versus a US export of “national security doctrine”; the fallacy of “professionalism” restricting military involvement in politics espoused by the late Samuel Huntington;3 description and analysis of what Chirio terms “an archipelago of plotting”; the complex relationship between General Costa e Silva, his military colleagues, and civilian politicians; the why and the how of the “gradual political opening” after 1974 by President Geisel; and how the transition to democracy in 1985 diminished crucial rifts within the military.

Chirio brings to our understanding of the Brazilian military regime a different perspective, as she is from France and thus includes consideration of the influence of French thinking on “revolutionary war.” She offers a clear description of how militaries work, which is possible as her research is as comprehensive as imaginable with primary and secondary published material in several languages, utilization of all relevant archives, and interviews with more than a dozen retired senior officers.

In sum, the great value of Chirio’s Politics in Uniform is not only the incredible detail she brings to assist our understanding of the 1964–1985 Brazilian military regime but to heighten our awareness about politics within the military institution before 1964, between 1964 and 1985, and since 1985 until the present. Despite the tendency of the scholarly literature on democratic transitions and sample surveys to ignore the military, militaries throughout the region, and throughout the world for that matter, contain within them multiple and competing political tendencies that civilian decision-makers ignore at their peril.4 In sum, Chirio’s book, in contrast to the vast majority of the literature, takes the military institution seriously.

The author of Fuerzas armadas, pretorianismo y calidad de la democracia: Ecuador y Uruguay, Patricio Haro Ayerve, is a retired army colonel in Ecuador, and the book was his PhD thesis for FLACSO, Quito. As a dissertation it provides a wealth of references to the main topics covered in the book: praetorianism and the transition to and quality of democracy in both Ecuador and Uruguay. The author relies very heavily for concepts on foreign authors, in particular Samuel Huntington, and to a lesser degree Samuel Finer and Amos Perlmutter.5 He begins the book by drawing on these three authors to distinguish different forms of praetorianism and then, relying very heavily on Huntington, describes the Third Wave of democracy beginning on April 25, 1974, in Portugal and ultimately reaching South America. Haro Ayerve then turns to his next central theme, which is the quality of democracy, this time drawing on more and different foreign authors, some of whom are Latin Americans. The following chapters 4 and 5 are short histories of Ecuador and Uruguay, and he finds that the military was central in the democratic transitions in both. The content of the next chapter is defined explicitly in its title, “Military Subordination to Political Power,” and the following chapter provides some insights into how civilian political control operates in the two countries. In chapter 8, “Credibility and Confidence,” the author uses some insights from civilian professionals in both Ecuador and Uruguay and Latinobarómetro and LAPOP public opinion data to gauge the attitude of the public in the two countries regarding their militaries. The following chapter relies heavily on RESDAL data in providing some insights into military education. The penultimate chapter updates the relationship between the military and the democratic political systems in the two countries. The conclusion summarizes the main findings in the thesis: “The subordination of the Armed Forces to political power that is legitimately constituted is a democratic fundamental and a parameter that permits the evaluation of the quality of democracy” (283).

In my opinion, the main value of the book is that Haro Ayerve illustrates several points raised in the literature on civil-military relations, democratic transitions, and the quality of democracy in reference to Ecuador and Uruguay. The intention of the thesis is less to test any of the many hypotheses brought up by a very diverse group of authors, and mainly to illustrate them by reference to some historical material from the two countries. Further, while presenting quantitative data from RESDAL, Latinobarómetro, and LAPOP is a good start, it does not allow the reader to have a sense of, for example, what the population really thinks about the military or the roles and missions in fact implemented by the military.

In Military Missions in Democratic Latin America, David Pion-Berlin describes and analyzes what militaries in Latin America really do as opposed to the rhetoric of “fight and win our nations’ wars.” Pion-Berlin takes on what has been for many, considering the human rights abuses at the hands of the military dictatorships in Latin America, a very polemical topic; that is, the domestic roles of the military. Pion-Berlin approaches the topic in an extremely pragmatic manner, stating that “there must be compatibility between a military’s organizational strengths on the one hand, and problems which it is asked to address on the other. When that convergence is achieved, succeeding chapters will show, perhaps surprisingly, that the armed forces can perform well in domestic operations, conducting themselves in a manner that is effective, humane, and that fulfills the policy objectives of democratic governments” (11).

Pion-Berlin posits the centrality of missions in the following terms: “They define the military’s purpose and direction, and in doing so, allow strategic and operational plans to then be devised for achieving politically determined security objectives” (12). While basic to understating what militaries are all about, I have only seen once the centrality of missions in Latin America, in a book by Maiah Jaskoski.6 Pion-Berlin notes that while the primary mission of the military is indeed to fight and win its nation’s wars, he states a conundrum: “Where the military is supposed to deploy, it is not needed. Where it is needed, it is not supposed to deploy” (18). He discusses the main issues involved in using the military for domestic missions and concludes that it is indeed possible to use the military for domestic missions and at the same time secure democratic civilian control and humane treatment of the population. Before turning to the main military missions described and analyzed in the book, Pion-Berlin characterizes military organizations in terms of five features: their lethality, their hierarchy of command and compliance, their size and distribution, their formation in units and larger, and their logistics.

Pion-Berlin looks to the main missions of the military in Latin America. He quickly dispenses of what most have assumed (incorrectly) to be the primary mission—national defense—in highlighting the overall lack of defense preparedness, the low budgets, and the primacy of diplomacy in the region and the pervasiveness of confidence-building measures. He also very quickly dismisses the roles of the militaries in peacekeeping missions. After all, these are international and not domestic missions. On this point, he draws on the work of Arturo Sotomayor. This issue will be touched upon again when I review the next book, by João Paulo Alsina Jr., and include discussion of Sotomayor’s chapter in the book edited by Mares and Martínez.

Pion-Berlin considers the major domestic roles of the military in Latin America in three separate chapters and highlights in each the need for the military to be assigned to the specific mission. The first is internal security as the region is characterized by the pervasiveness of transnational organized crime and extremely high levels of violence. In the context of many countries Pion-Berlin discusses whether police and/or military are best suited to respond to the threat; he provides a table (78) outlining the threat and the instrument. In this chapter, Pion-Berlin suggests the utility of what he terms an intermediate security force, specifically the Carabineros in Chile and the Gendarmería in Argentina.

The second domestic role is responding to natural disasters. He cites an Organization of American States document that includes natural disasters as “new security threats” and goes into detail first on the appropriateness of the military to respond to these new security threats, using the earthquake in Chile on February 27, 2010, as an example of a learning experience on the use of the military, which was proven in their response to a similar major quake on April 1, 2014. Pion-Berlin provides other examples, both good and bad, and concludes (136) that the benefits outweigh the risks.

Finally, the third domestic role that Pion-Berlin describes is social programs, and specifically civic action. Looking to Venezuela, Bolivia, and Central America his assessment is more muted, and he highlights the risks to the military of politicization and corruption.

Basing his opinion on his review of the military in domestic roles, Pion-Berlin is generally positive, but he notes that the civilian decision-makers must consider many factors in order to maintain control. He cautions, however, that military officers can achieve a degree of leverage through civilians’ reliance on them to implement these domestic, and for that matter, external roles.

In Ensaios de grande estratégia brasileira, João Paulo S. Alsina Jr. is an iconoclast in civil-military relations in Brazil. If anybody doubts the common phrase “Brazil is the land of the future and always will be,” they need only read this book. Alsina Jr. is a diplomat with the Brazilian Foreign Service, Itamaraty; he has served in the Brazilian Ministry of Defense, has a PhD degree, and has published two single-authored and one coauthored books prior to this one and several articles in scholarly journals in both English and Portuguese. In Brazil he is an exceptionally well-known and highly regarded expert on civil-military relations and to the best of my knowledge has not been contradicted in either government or academic circles in Brazil.

The title of the book is accurate in conveying its contents. First, ensaios, essays, is a necessary approach to scholarship in this case as Alsina Jr. draws on his extensive experience since there is minimal primary and secondary literature in Brazil on the topics he covers. Second, estratégia is strategy in that Alsina Jr. seeks to understand Brazilian strategy concerning national security and defense.

What Alsina Jr. brings to the study of civil-military relations in Latin America, by a close examination of the case of Brazil, is a focus on strategy. He draws first on the most credible international scholars on military strategy, such as the British scholar Hew Strachan, and others who are primarily followers of Carl von Clausewitz. He complements the focus on strategy by next examining the post–Cold War global environment and then inserts Brazilian security and defense policy into the focus on strategy and the global context. His conclusion is that Brazil has no strategy. He states that “the grand strategy of the country continues to be chaotic and completely unable to bring together synergistically the capacities of national power in support of a realistic project of achieving sovereignty in the world” (106). He concludes that Brazil will remain a minor actor in international security, guided by diplomatic rhetoric unconnected with real capacity. The much-desired permanent seat on the UN Security Council, in the current conditions, for Alsina Jr. is but one more dream of a summer night. These very critical comments are supported in a book by two North American scholars.7

In support of his conclusion that the country has no strategy, Alsina takes up the most prominent issues of civil-military relations in contemporary Brazil. In all cases he finds the civilian-led government wanting. As Brazil only looks within, and not externally, the civilian decision-makers lack incentives to become familiar with defense issues and to fund the military adequately. By their definition, civilians do not need a strategy, and the result is a vicious circle. While Alsina Jr. offers suggestions to exit what he refers to as a vicious circle, he is pessimistic that any of them will work, as the problem is at the cognitive level. The civilians are simply not interested, as they do not have to be and can continue to live in a dream world captured by the phrase “O Brasil não tem enemigos”—Brazil has no enemies.

Consequently, the Ministry of Defense has minimal institutional integrity, it lacks a career for civilians, projects are not funded, and the “strategic” documents are merely words on paper. On this key point, Alsina Jr.’s negative conclusion finds support from another scholar who has served in the Argentine Ministry of Defense, Rut Diamint, in her chapter “Latin America and the Military Question Reexamined,” in Debating Civil-Military Relations in Latin America, edited by David R. Mares and Rafael Martínez. In line with the title of the chapter, Diamint reviews a series of domestic and regional issues that involve civil-military relations and concludes that both decision-makers and academics have been remiss in their responsibilities regarding strategy formulation, implementation, and civil-military relations. She states, “Civilians are responsible for leaving the custody of defense issues in the hands of the armed forces” (120). She is also extremely critical of regional initiatives, including the South American Defense Council of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which, she states, does not include within its purview the central elements of civilian control of the military.

The three main issues Alsina Jr. examines are the implications of Brazil’s role in international peacekeeping, the military’s role in domestic missions, and conscription. In his chapter in the Mares and Martínez edited book, Arturo Sotomayor provides an extremely rich and factual description and analysis of Latin American countries’ participation in peacekeeping missions under the United Nations. While there is some level of agreement that such involvement is good for civil-military relations, Sotomayor raises many issues, mainly concerned with the all-important details of what kinds of missions and where and how they are implemented. This is not an issue that can be answered, should a definitive answer ever be envisaged, let alone agreed on, without extensive comparative analysis beyond the reasonably limited participation of Latin American countries in a few operations, with the main focus until now on the United Nations Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH).

Alsina Jr.’s focus is not on the impact on soldiers and civil-military relations but primarily on the relationship, if any, between the participation in peacekeeping missions, again mainly MINUSTAH, and Brazilian grand strategy. He finds there is a minimal relationship, and most importantly, that peacekeeping is less to implement a strategy and more a way to bring in funds for the underfunded Brazilian military.

Alsina finds the same reverse, even perverse, logic when examining the maintenance of conscription for the Brazilian military. Whereas conscription could be used as a means to recruit sufficient personnel in support of a national security and defense strategy, which was presumably the origin of conscription first in Europe and then elsewhere, in Brazil conscription is intended for other purposes entirely unrelated to a (nonexistent) strategy. Its goal is mainly for clientelistic and social goals and not for national defense.

Finally, and in contrast to the objections to domestic military missions raised and responded to in Pion-Berlin’s book on missions reviewed above, or in Diamint’s chapter to be further discussed below, Alsina Jr. finds that there is general agreement in Brazil to use the military for domestic security, resulting in the frequent deployment of the Brazilian armed forces under Article 142 of the 1988 Constitution, which provides for the military to guarantee law and order. In sum, Alsina Jr. finds Brazil lacking in strategy, institutions, incentives, and understanding.

Debating Civil-Military Relations in Latin America, edited by David R. Mares and Rafael Martínez, contains seven chapters. Arturo Sotomayor’s has already been discussed above, and the others of David Pion-Berlin and Rafael Martínez will be included in the review of the next book. The book is exclusively about democratic civilian control. In reference to the title, the term “debate” is found on page xiii of the acknowledgements, but not elsewhere in the book. However, there may well have been a debate in the workshop where the draft chapters were presented, in that in the previously reviewed book by Pion-Berlin, Military Missions in Democratic Latin America, one can see a certain optimism or positive attitude regarding reforms in civil-military relations and democratic consolidation which could allow domestic roles of the military without democratic regress. In contrast, in Mares’s chapter “Citizen Security, Democracy and the Civil-Military Relationship” in this book, not only is the term “coup” used twelve times on one page (82) but the overall sense from the Eurobarómetro data he uses allows him to identify popular support for what is termed a “moderating coup” in all but six countries in Latin America. In addition, Diamint states very clearly in her chapter that “the undeniable success of these transitions did not include the effective regulation of democratic civil control of the armed forces” (101). The contrast with Pion-Berlin is most obvious in her subtheme, “The Political Use of the Military” in which she states that “the political use of the armed forces distorts these original principles [solid legal structure] and therefore pulverizes the very basis of the Estado de Derecho, the rule of law.” (114). One may well imagine the intensity of the debate with authors espousing radically different opinions regarding the competence of the civilian decision-makers to control the military.

Debating Civil-Military Relations in Latin America includes two other chapters beyond those already noted. Deborah L. Norden’s “The Making of Socialist Soldiers: Radical Populism and Civil-Military Relations in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia” is a handy description and analysis of civil-military relations in these three countries.

Alejo Vargas Velásquez’s “The Profile of the Colombian Armed Forces: A Result of the Struggle against Guerrillas, Drug-Trafficking and Terrorism” argues that the focus on internal security historically defines the armed forces in Colombia. He quotes extensively from president-elect Alberto Lleras Camargo’s speech on May 9, 1958, following the military dictatorship under Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953–1957), enunciating the “Lleras Doctrine,” which stated that politicians should deal with politics and the military with military matters. From my research in Colombia beginning in the late 1990s, during which time I spoke with high-level civilian officials and military officers, and reading on the topic, I have been led to believe that the main result relating to the Lleras Doctrine was that the elites and general population didn’t care about military matters. Support for this view is the fact that at late as 2006 there was no NGO, think tank, or academic program in Colombia that dealt with conflict and civil-military relations, despite almost four decades of conflict with the FARC and other armed insurgent groups. If the military dealt with internal security at all, it was due to the priorities of one or another of senior officers, and the police had responsibility for counter-drug operations. The military was a conventional armed force with a blue-water navy of ships and submarines, an air sovereignty air force with advanced fighter bomber and troop transports, and an army that was focused on fighting the Venezuelans in the Guajira.

The military began to focus on internal security when the FARC overran the military base at Las Delicias in September 1996, along with several follow-on attacks. One of the main goals of Plan Colombia, and what followed from it, was equipment, including Blackhawk helicopters and military training to reorient the Colombian military toward counterinsurgency. Further, one of the goals, if not the main goal, of President Álvaro Uribe (2002–2010) was to redirect the military and engage the elite, including the approval of a war tax, to support the struggle against the FARC and other armed actors.

In Soldiers, Politicians, and Civilians: Reforming Civil-Military Relations in Democratic Latin America, David Pion-Berlin and Rafael Martínez have produced an excellent book that brings our understanding of civil-military relations in Latin America to a new level. Both authors have already made significant contributions to our understanding of civil-military relations: Pion-Berlin in Latin America and Martínez in Spain and Latin America. The countries they have selected for the empirical information in this book are Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay, but their findings, they argue, should be relevant to other countries in the region and beyond that bear certain vital similarities—that is, countries in which the military was the government and which are not under external threat necessitating a military prepared to engage in armed conflict.

The authors make clear that democratic consolidation is not inevitable and that a military under firm democratic civilian control is a crucial aspect of democratic consolidation. Their integration of civil-military relations in the overall process of democratic consolidation is a significant contribution of this book. Their approach to military reform relies heavily on von Clausewitz, drawing on the relationship of society, government, and the military. Their approach, most clearly in chapter 7 on convergence, focuses very heavily on society. The overall emphasis in the other chapters is on government and the military. The overall theme seeks to answer the following question: What is involved in turning the military, which had been the government, into an administrative arm of a democratic state?

The framework the authors have developed is very creative and encompasses the main dimensions that, in my opinion, any serious scholar must analyze in seeking to explain the present and future of civil-military relations and democratic consolidation. After examining how civilians were able to reduce military power in the four countries, they then review the progress, or lack thereof, along five critical dimensions: devising a new legal framework, building defense institutions, generating knowledge, achieving convergence with civilians, and achieving effectiveness. Before the analysis in these five key dimensions, they provide capsule histories of the transition from dictatorship, in all cases under military rule, to democracy in the four countries. They conclude the book explaining, in chapter 9, why and how the countries have achieved different levels of progress in the reform of civil-military relations.

Some of the key findings in the book include the importance of incentives for civilians in these four countries to take up reform of the military and of civil-military relations, the very small role of legislatures in these issues, and the fact that more change takes place under leftist governments than under those of a more conservative orientation.

Throughout the text, the authors use a great number of figures and tables to illustrate the critical points in comparing and contrasting the extent of reform in civil-military relations among the four countries. These enable them, in chapter 9, to explain the different degrees of change. In combining all of the dimensions, including both democratic civilian control and effectiveness, the authors conclude that Argentina has gone the furthest in their analysis of reform, followed by Chile, Uruguay, and Brazil in that order.

Even with the extensive field research experience of Pion-Berlin and Martínez, it would be impossible to have accumulated sufficient data to describe and ultimately explain varying degrees of reform in civil-military relations in Latin America. They have therefore drawn, mainly through e-mails, on a credible group of scholars on civil-military relations in the four countries. The positive side of their drawing on these experts is that they have the data as documented in the book. The negative side is that the data is less standardized than it might be if the authors could have done the field research themselves.

There are two mildly critical observations I must make. First, the authors are sincere in the relevance of their findings for other countries that may not possess the same characteristics as their four case studies: new democracies with a history of the military as a government with human rights abuses and not facing any serious external threats. Even so, and this is more a quibble than a criticism of their approach, the dimensions they describe and analyze for military effectiveness—strategy development and assessment, transparency and accountability, size of expenditure (where less is better), reduction and optimization of military capacity, and turning from conscription to volunteer military—may not be the most relevant factors or variables for other countries with dissimilar histories and facing different geopolitical realities. In South America, this would include Colombia, which had to fight the FARC to the negotiating table, and countries where the geopolitical realities result in external threats to national sovereignty. Second, while von Clausewitz inspires many of us, and his emphasis on the importance to civil-military relations in analyzing society in the trinity of society, government, and the military, the challenge is always to gauge society. With government and the military one has access to documents and can conduct interviews. With society most analysts, including Haro Ayerve and Mares in the books reviewed here, rely on public opinion data. I must admit that I have done public opinion surveys in Brazil and Portugal and use data from Eurobarometer, Latinobarómetro, LAPOP, and Pew public opinion surveys extensively. However, I always have in the back of my mind that people are being asked questions about an institution, the military, that they probably know very little about. Of course, the militaries in most Latin American countries, and the United States for that matter, love these surveys since the military often comes out high on the trust and support of democracy spectra. I believe it is a matter of distance in that most people have minimal contact with the military (as opposed to the police, civil bureaucracy, and the like). Pion-Berlin and Martínez rely on much more than public opinion surveys but even so, I believe that Harry Franqui-Rivera’s book Soldiers of the Nation: Military Service and Modern Puerto Rico, 1868–1952 embodies yet another useful source of information on civil-military relations, and its counterparts can be found in other countries in the region. Franqui-Rivera uses extensive archival and published sources to trace the cultural impact of the military in Puerto Rico, and thus provides the context within which the population has developed attitudes and behavior concerning the military.

In Soldiers of the Nation, Franqui-Rivera provides a cultural interpretation for the analysis of civil-military relations in Puerto Rico. It should be noted that in my opinion one of the most useful books for the comparative study of civil-military relations, utilizing a cultural approach, is the now classic book by Samuel E. Finer.8 Franqui-Rivera’s focus in this book is on the impact of military service in Puerto Rico, from the 1860s until 1955. It has to be remembered that in contrast to the vast majority of countries in Latin America, which obtained independence from Spain or Portugal early in the nineteenth century, Cuba and Puerto Rico only became independent from Spain in 1898. Then, both countries, formally in the case of Puerto Rico and informally in Cuba, were taken over by the expansionist United States, which also supported the independence of Panama from Colombia, built the Panama Canal, and intervened in Central America and elsewhere in the Caribbean during the same era.

The author plays off the role of the military in the island vis-à-vis the emergence of a nationalist movement seeking, as was the case in Cuba and Panama, real national independence. In the process, Franqui-Rivera gives a detailed history of Puerto Rico while still a colony of Spain and then when the United States took control. During the height of the American period of control, which began under direct US military control in October 1898 until May 1900, the United States used the military as a critical element of Americanization. As Franqui-Rivera states, “The military was instrumental in promoting the Americanization of the Puerto Ricans” (49). Following direct US military rule, and after a civilian government took over, the island was under the Bureau of Insular Affairs, which was an organ of the US War Department. There it remained until FDR placed it under the Department of the Interior in 1934. The author describes and analyzes the independence movement in Puerto Rico, and discusses how FDR utilized the Good Neighbor Policy, beginning in 1933, to relieve pressure for independence.

Consequently, by the time of World War II, as was the case in most other Latin American countries, which were formally independent republics, the island supported the United States in the war against the Axis. During that war, eighteen thousand soldiers from Puerto Rico played some role in support of the United States. As a result, the author states, “The military in Puerto Rico became an essential instrument for political and socioeconomic modernization” (169). Franqui-Rivera goes into great detail on the intersection of a nascent independence movement and the positive role of the military, at least for the United States, in the modernization of the island. The same was to happen again in 1950 and the war in Korea, when once again the military in Puerto Rico supported the United States. The overall result was that through military service the peasants could join the middle class, and the independence movement was in a certain sense co-opted. The result was, as Franqui-Rivera states in the last sentence of the book: “Both Puerto Ricans and Americans grew comfortable with the Commonwealth, perhaps too comfortable, and more than seven decades later the island still has the same political status” (213).


Several of these books redirect our attention at least in part back to the military institutions from which the currently democratic regimes evolved. The authors deal with fundamental issues of relations between civilians and militaries including the centrality of strategy, the importance of roles and missions, and the necessity of institutions in the absence of which civilians are incapable of controlling the military. The question now for future scholarship on civil-military relations in Latin America is “Where do we go from here?” While including only one chapter on Latin America, specifically on Chile, the book I have coedited with Professor Aurel Croissant of Heidelberg University provides a framework for the analysis of both control and effectiveness as well as a chapter on theories and another on big-N methodologies in order to make some progress in the comparative analysis of civil-military relations.9 It also includes countries that are not democracies—China, Russia, and Turkey—the analysis of which helps us to better understand the crucial support from the military that allows President Maduro to remain in power in Venezuela.


1Juan J. Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996). 

2Alfred C. Stepan, The Military in Politics: Changing Patterns in Brazil (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971). 

3Samuel P. Huntington, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957). 

4I have in mind here the democratization literature epitomized by the Journal of Democracy, and replicated in the Varieties of Democracy dataset (available at 

5Samuel E. Finer, The Man on Horseback: The Role of the Military in Politics (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2003); Huntington, The Soldier and the State; Amos Perlmutter, The Military and Politics in Modern Times: On Professionals, Praetorians, and Revolutionary Soldiers (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1977). 

6Maiah Jaskoski, Military Politics and Democracy in the Andes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013). 

7David R. Mares and Harold A. Trinkunas, Aspirational Power: Brazil on the Long Road to Global Influence (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2016). 

8Finer, The Man on Horseback. 

9Thomas Bruneau and Aurel Croissant, eds., Civil-Military Relations: Control and Effectiveness across Regimes (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2019). 

Author Information

Thomas C. Bruneau is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School. He specializes in security issues including politics in Brazil, Central American street gangs, civil-military relations, intelligence reform, and contracting-out security. His most recent books include Civil-Military Relations: Control and Effectiveness across Regimes, edited with Aurel Croissant (2019); Patriots for Profit: Contractors and the Military in U.S. National Security (2011); Maras: Gang Violence and Security in Central America, edited with Lucía Dammert and Elizabeth Skinner (2011); and The Routledge Handbook of Civil-Military Relations, edited with Cris Matei (2013, a new edition forthcoming). His recent scholarly articles and book chapters deal with civil-military relations in Colombia, oversight of intelligence, and the role of police in countering terrorism with case studies of the United States, Spain, and France.