Brazil's Armed Forces (Forças Armadas) have played an active political role ever since they helped overthrow the empire in 1889. From 1930 until 1964, they asserted their moderating power (poder moderador) and intervened frequently in the political process. In 1964 the military ousted the civilian president and governed for twenty-one years.
A national security doctrine, with two major elements, guided the military regime. The first element was a broad definition of security that included not only defense against external aggression but also internal defense against insurgency and communism. By using repressive measures, the military countered domestic insurgencies successfully from 1967 through 1973. The second element was economic development. Under the military, the role of the state in the economy grew considerably with the expansion of Brazil's industrial base. High economic growth rates of the 1968-73 period helped to legitimize military government.
The armed forces returned to the barracks in March 1985. Although they have continued to assert themselves politically, their political influence has been reduced substantially because of several factors. First, as Brazil has sought to consolidate its democracy, the National Congress (Congresso Nacional; hereafter, Congress) and civilian ministries have become more involved and influential in broadly defined security issues. Second, the military was forced to compete with civilian ministries for extremely limited resources and was unable to halt a continual decline in its share of government expenditures. And third, although the 1988 constitution preserves the external and internal roles of the armed forces, it places the military under presidential authority. Thus, the new charter changed the manner in which the military could exercise its moderating power.
Furthermore, the armed forces were unable to promote and fund pet projects effectively in the nuclear, space, missile, and armament arenas. President Fernando Collor de Mello (1990-92) exposed Brazil's secret, military-sponsored nuclear bomb program, the so-called Parallel Program (Programa Paralelo). As a result, several of Brazil's nuclear programs were placed under international monitoring. Collor also placed the Brazilian space program controlled by the Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira--FAB) under civilian oversight. In addition, the Brazilian government announced in early 1994 that Brazil would seek to join the Missile Technology Control Regime (see Glossary), and succeeded in doing so in October 1995. Brazil's armaments industry, supported by the military regime, collapsed without any major intervention by the state to shore it up.
Geopolitical changes and a shifting civil-military balance within Brazil recast the country's security interests. One geopolitical change in the early 1990s included a transformation from bipolarity toward multipolarity in the international system. Another change involved greater integration between Brazil and Argentina. Political and economic uncertainties in 1995 also influenced the Brazilian military's perceptions of the country's national security.
Since the 1950s, Brazil's rate of military expenditures has been among the lowest in the world. In 1993 this figure dropped to only 1.1 percent of the gross national product. This trend reflects the low level of external threat. Brazil is by far the largest country in Latin America and enjoys generally good relations with its ten South American neighbors. There is no threat to Brazil's internal security in the narrow sense of insurgencies. The politically inspired terrorism of the late 1960s and 1970s is nonexistent.
Despite the low level of defense expenditures, Brazil's armed forces are the largest in Latin America, with 314,000 active-duty troops and officers in 1997, including 132,000 conscripts. The Brazilian Army (Exército Brasileiro), the largest service (accounting for 66 percent of the total armed forces), has 200,000 active-duty troops and officers. The Brazilian Navy (Marinha do Brasil), totals 64,700 members, and the Brazilian Air Force (FAB), 50,000.
With no serious external or internal threats, the armed forces were searching for a new role. They are expanding their presence in the Amazon under the Northern Corridor (Calha Norte) program. In 1994 Brazilian troops joined United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces in five countries. The Brazilian military, especially the army, has become more involved in civic-action programs, education, health care, and constructing roads, bridges, and railroads across the nation.
Debate in Brazil concerning national security policy had been practically nonexistent. Political dialogue was limited to discussion of the revisions of the constitution, where only modest changes in the role of the armed forces were expected. None of the political parties, except the Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores--PT), articulated a position on defense matters. Although some civilians are experts in defense matters, their influence was negligible. There is no tradition of congressional oversight of the military, and the defense-related bureaucracy remains minuscule. Civil society continues to show a complete lack of interest in issues related to defense. The modest attempts by the armed forces to reevaluate their role, structure, doctrine, strategy, and tactics were conducted in a vacuum. Some analysts believed that the creation of a ministry of defense was a necessary condition for establishing civilian control of the military, as was in fact done in 1999.
By 2008, with Nelson Jobim as Defense Minister, Brazil had for the first time, effective civilian leadership and a mandate to modernize its armed forces. For the first time in decades, Brazil was beginning to consider security issues as an important element of foreign policy. Dovetailing with Brazil's traditional focus on regional stability, the new regional threat posed by Venezuela, and the need to defend its national sovereignty and borders make clear that regional stability is the overriding concern within South America. Venezuela had become the central focus of Brazil's regional stability concerns. Brazilian observers regularly and publicly expressed general concerns about Chavez's destabilizing influence on Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as his troubled relationship with Colombia. Venezuela under Chavez could well make a military effort to reclaim the half of Guyana (west of the Essequibo River) that it considered lost territory, principally as a way to deflect public attention from domestic woes.
Lula's proposal to create a new organization of South American regional defense ministers achieved little in the way of defense coordination, but would have served a political objective of bringing Venezuela and other regional troublemakers into a common organization that Brazil could use to exercise a measure of control. Finally, while the proposal to serve as a hub for servicing Russian equipment in the region would do little to develop Brazil's defense manufacturing capacity or to serve Brazil's own defense needs, it does make sense if Brazil believed that performing such a function could help control the spread of Russian weapons in the region. This objective might also explain the interest in allowing a Russian military jeep manufacturer to set up shop in Porto Alegre, a capability Brazil did not need but which might serve to entice Russian interest in allowing Brazil to serve as an equipment hub.
Border security and sovereignty concerns also continued to be a driving factor for Brazil's desire to re-build its military, develop a domestic manufacturing capacity for military equipment, and beef up its air defenses, in particular. Brazilians continue to perceive their long border with ten neighboring countries as vulnerable, justifying maintenance of a strong defense posture. The most likely scenarios with direct military implications for Brazil involve non-state actors such as the FARC and international criminal organizations operating across borders. Nonetheless, although it seems highly unlikely that Brazil's first reaction would be to send in the troops, Brazilians saw a military incursion by Chavez into a neighboring country as plausible, in light of Chavez's unpredictability, and see having a strong military as a deterrent. Moreover, they continue to hold suspicions regarding the intentions of the international community -- including the United States -- with regard to the Amazon. Brazil saw a strong military as an important element in backing up these assertions of sovereignty over the Amazon.
Beyond concerns about Chavez and regional and border security more generally, Brazil's priorities suggested that Brazilian interests are also motivated by Brazil's growing desire to take its "rightful" place among the world's powers and to be seen as a worthy of a permanent UN Security Council seat. It is this objective, which senior policy makers placed above all other foreign policy goals, that was driving Brazil's interest in a nuclear submarine.
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