Politicization of the Armed Forces is a clear and present risk – 06/02/2021 – Maria Hermínia Tavares

When he established the Ministry of Defense in 1999 and handed over its command to a civilian, President Fernando Henrique took a crucial step towards consolidating democracy in the country, bringing it closer to the best international standards. By complying with the provisions of the 1988 Charter —and not without resistance—, he ensured for the first time in the history of the Republic that no military man with a seat in the upper echelon of the government would control the defense policy.

The creation of the portfolio — and the president’s decision to entrust it to a civilian — corresponded to the desire of democratic forces to prevent politics from re-invading the barracks, dividing their commanders and, not infrequently, subverting their hierarchical structure. It was a question of protecting both democracy and the integrity of the three Arms.

The advances and setbacks of the ministry and the defense policies it put into practice are discussed with keen mastery by political scientists Octavio Amorim Neto (Getulio Vargas Foundation) and Igor Acácio (University of California, Riverside) in a recent article entitled “One step forward , one step back: the impact of the Ministry of Defense on defense policymaking in Brazil, 1999-2020” (One step forward, one step back: the impact of the Ministry of Defense on defense policy in Brazil; 1999-2020, in free translation .)

The authors show that the reduced competence and the limited appetite of civilian politicians for national defense issues blocked advances towards the consolidation of civil control in the sector.

They document the increase in the presence of military personnel in the upper echelons of the ministry with an important inflection from 2018 —with the appointment of a minister of military origin— and its exponential growth under the current government.

Amorim and Acácio also note that the military has become more present in national life through Law and Order Guarantee Operations (GLO) and assistance and humanitarian initiatives, going far beyond the usual activities of border defense, participation in operations of peace and joint exercises.

None of this, strictly speaking, began with the arrival of the former captain on the Planalto, but the weakening of civilian influence over defense policy has now become clearer and more dangerous, constituting a real and present threat of renewed politicization of the military, which it wanted to confine to history books.

In a democracy, the Armed Forces serve the State, not the political designs and personal plans of the incumbent governors. This is what will be at stake in the eventual disciplinary judgment of General Eduardo Pazuello.

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