Potential for defense cooperation between India and Latin America

Large countries such as Brazil have developed manufacturing capabilities for aircraft, but by and large the region is a net importer of arms and defence material.

Potential for defense cooperation between India and Latin America
he armed forces play an important role in several countries, mostly as guardians of law and order, though sometimes accused of propping up undemocratic regimes. (Reuters)

Most Latin America & Caribbean (LAC) countries enjoy conditions free of external conflict. Major conflicts between even hostile neighbours are distant memories. The Treaty of Tlatelolco signed by all the region’s nations in 1967 banned nuclear weapons from the region and was also ratified by the nuclear powers. Most of the region also voted for the 2013 UN Arms Trade Treaty, though organized crime continues to ravage several countries. There are very few disputes within the region, and none of these threaten the peace. Security policy therefore is more focused on protection of natural resources and control of criminal movements.

Large countries such as Brazil have developed manufacturing capabilities for aircraft, but by and large the region is a net importer of arms and defence material. The armed forces play an important role in several countries, mostly as guardians of law and order, though sometimes accused of propping up undemocratic regimes. The existence of left-wing and guerilla movements in some countries elicits a military response. In past decades, the US and some other powers have assisted countries such as Colombia with defence equipment to counter these threats. Some countries such as Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador attempted to distance themselves from the US and Europe, which has created a nascent rivalry from the last century, resulting in Russia and China stepping up security cooperation.

“Transnational Crime Organisation and Drug Trafficking Organisations are one of the most significant threats that the entire region faces presently. These organisations have evolved over time to become extremely organized in nature and are heavily armed with the latest in weapons. To combat this menace, the police of specific drug control units in most Latin American countries have become highly militarized, hence requiring similar logistical support in context of weapons, tactile equipment, armoured vehicles and textile,” explained a top diplomat of the region who wished to remain anonymous.

Adding, “This is where Indian companies which specialize in security equipment and technology, experts in cyber security, small arms, patrol vessels, night vision equipment, and body armour will find a lot of opportunities to export in the region.”

Guerrilla Movements or Rebel Groups like Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELM) pose a continuous threat to peace in Colombia and often have a spillover effect in neighbouring countries. The rest of countries are not bereft of Guerrilla movements, while they are not as notorious as the FARC, most countries suffer from rebel groups that pose a consistent threat to the people and the government and are also responsible for a high crime rate in the region.

The political instability and volatility in Venezuela have led to a massive exodus of Venezuelans from the region. While in the beginning Colombians welcomed the refugees, it has now been perceived as a menace by the neighboring countries and has led to not just an increase in social tensions in the region but also the partial militarization of the Amazon by Brazil. Venezuela has also actively engaged in border skirmishes with Guyana, and these are likely to increase as Venezuela continues to lay claim to the recently found crude oil deposits in the Guyanese waters.

The region also faces a growing cyber security threat and the trend since 2017 is that of a growing number of cyber-attacks and ransomware cases. The countries in the region are finding it difficult to cope due to limited technical expertise and are looking for partners in the field of cyber security.

LAC also suffers from some of the highest crime rates in the world and as racial, socio-economic, and political volatility increases the crime rate is also bound to increase. There is also a potential of non-traditional security threats like rapid deforestation of the Amazon, sinking of the Caribbean, and general increase in dissatisfaction among the population would manifest themselves as mass movement of people, increased crime rates, and new rebel movements.

Also Read: India to challenge China’s foray in South America; To explore defence export opportunities

The LAC region to a large extent does not face the kind of security threat that most countries face. The lack of border disputes and inter – country disputes in the region signifies that most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean do not need the kind of large-scale weaponry that most countries aim to acquire. The high crime rate due to organised crime in the region has forced an intensive militarisation of police. “The immediate need in the region is that of small weapons, tactile vehicles, body armour, as well as surveillance equipment. These products do not require the kind of investment that is usually demanded by larger arms and weapons and can also become the niche that India can capitalize on, in this sector,” said another diplomat.

Another problem that is becoming larger everyday is the IUU fishing that is being propagated by the Chinese vessels. This growing threat of the Chinese vessels in and close to territorial waters of the Latin American nations, has made most nations aware of their shortcomings in maritime security due to which, a market has opened up for maritime security equipment which ranges from radars to small patrol vessels.

The Indian expertise in this sector stands to benefit from this niche market and as the relationship between India and Latin America has gotten stronger and more robust in recent times it is only natural that this market is also explored.

Technologies for Dual Usage

Earlier this week, defence minister Rajnath Singh had unveiled around 75 technologies for the use by the Indian Armed Forces as well as for civil usage. These technologies included dealing with cyber security too. Some of these are meant to be exported to friendly nations

During a media interaction recently, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Defence Sanjay Jaju, had indicated that several technologies and products unveiled include: cyber security, human behaviour analysis, intelligent monitoring system, automation/unmanned/robotics systems; Surveillance & Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems and Operational Data Analytics; Command, Control, Communication, Computer & Intelligence; and logistics and supply chain management, speech/voice analysis.

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