Jet Stream 

 Milei’s westward shift and NATO ambitions. 

On 18 April 2024,  Argentinian President, Javier Milei, formally requested Argentina’s inclusion as a “Global Partner” of NATO, signalling a significant geopolitical shift. Milei’s administration appears determined to pivot Argentina towards the West, distancing itself from China while strengthening ties with the United States, Israel and Ukraine.  

This strategic realignment is evident in Milei’s diplomatic and defence manoeuvres, which include allowing the US to establish a naval base in Ushuaia, the capital of Tierra del Fuego, Antártida and Islas del Atlántico Sur Province, and sanctioning the acquisition of 24 F-16 fighter jets from Denmark. “This realignment is perhaps easy to say but difficult to implement because a country like Argentina needs to have good ties with the whole world without ruling anyone out,” commented a political analyst specialising in international politics.  

Historically, Argentina faced restrictions on military purchases due to the UK’s veto power over equipment containing British components, a measure designed to maintain British military supremacy in the ongoing Falkland Islands dispute. “Although no one has any hypothesis of military conflict on the radar, in these matters, it is always better to be on the safe side.” The political analyst added, “This is, of course, from the British side.”  

“Although no one has any hypothesis of military conflict on the radar, in these matters, it is always better to be on the safe side.”

Political analyst specialising in international politics, Argentina

However, the UK refrained from exercising this veto on the F-16 purchase, influenced by the US’s interest in preventing China from becoming a major arms supplier in Latin America. “It is an almost symbolic decision, which reinforces the Milei government’s alignment with the Western world, but defining it as a geopolitical shift sounds, at least for now, like too much,” a former defence official remarked.   

In tandem with the NATO partnership request, Argentina procured a Basler BT-67 aircraft from the US and is evaluating the acquisition of M1126 Stryker 8×8 combat vehicles from the US government. Potential future purchases include P-3 surveillance planes and King Air aircraft, reflecting a substantial investment in modernising Argentina’s military capabilities. “Sooner or later, if this is indeed about increasing Argentina’s international security at the end of the day, the country will have to finance this strengthening of the military sector, alongside the cuts it is implementing in more sensitive areas for society, such as health and education,” informed the former official in Argentina. 

This realignment presents lucrative opportunities for Western aerospace and defence companies. Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the F-16s and P-3s, stands to benefit significantly from Argentina’s procurement plans. Other companies, such as Saab and Embraer, might also see renewed interest.  

Notably, Argentina was previously prevented from purchasing Saab’s Gripen fighter jets in 2014 due to the UK’s veto power. With the current geopolitical shift, such barriers may diminish, potentially opening new markets for these companies. However, a former defence official noted, “Argentina is in a very difficult economic situation, so it is not going to go out every day to buy equipment.”

“Argentina is in a very difficult economic situation, so it is not going to go out every day to buy equipment.”

Former defence official, Argentina

By positioning Argentina closer to the West and NATO, Milei aims to enhance Argentina’s military capabilities and strategic significance. This pivot could increase regional stability and cooperation, aligning Argentina more closely with Western defence and economic policies. “Argentina urgently needs foreign investment, and it does not have the option to choose one or the other, nor to rule out any country,” explained the specialist in international politics. “But Argentina has financial obligations with countries like China, and at some point, it will have to meet them or renegotiate them,” as China has been a significant economic partner for Argentina. 

Several explanations and arguments exist behind Argentina’s purchase of 24 F-16 aircraft from Denmark. The first is Argentina’s evident need to begin to have deterrence and defence equipment after many years of disinvestment in this area. The political analyst identified that “there are about four areas in which Argentina could benefit: peace operations; maritime security and control (this is very important because of the number of boats that fish illegally in restricted maritime zones); improving the country’s cybernetic capabilities and information exchange.” 

Whether this was just a one-off purchase or whether there will be other similar purchases in the future cannot be said at this stage. Argentina clearly needs to make a profound reform and modernisation in which the purchase of aircraft, submarines and armoured vehicles will be a priority to defend its enormous territory. “There have been many years of disinvestment, so surely it would be easier to think about what things are not needed,” the analyst highlighted. 

Argentina’s request to join NATO as a “Global Partner” and its recent defence acquisitions underscore a decisive shift towards the West under President Milei. “I don’t think the Argentinean market offers great opportunities, at least at present.” However, the political analyst conceded, “Eventually Argentina, if it strengthens economically and maintains its decision to invest in defence and prevention, could be a good market.”  The former defence official agreed, “I don’t see it in the short-term, but Milei has been surprising us.”

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