military command

Image: Magali Guimarães


Soldiers learn to obey. If they don't receive orders, they get bewildered. In an outbreak, as in the Brazilian case, a “moderating power” is granted

The Head of State, not commanding the military, will be commanded by them. It's been like this forever and everywhere. Armed organizations see society, sometimes called "homeland", as a gift from the ranks. Not being commanded, they will lead their would-be offspring.

It is up to the Head of State to determine how the troops should be prepared. Supreme commanders who respond to corporate demands invert the hierarchy and cancel each other out: corporations must respond to the head of state, not the other way around. The supreme command must establish clear guidelines, precise objectives, circumscribed missions and adequate means. Extrapolations from corporate autonomy are inadmissible.

Soldiers learn to obey. If they don't receive orders, they get bewildered. In an outbreak, as in the Brazilian case, a “moderating power” is granted! They garrotte institutions and citizenship. With weapons in hand, they invent unreasonable “synergies” with judges and parliamentarians. They dare to “dialogue” with unarmed powers. Not even in war can the military overcome the politician!

In Brazil, the lack of interest, unpreparedness and inability of heads of state to command the Armed Forces harmed democracy. Generals usurped power and contingency rulers. There is no example of a president of the republic who has effectively assumed the supreme command of the Forces. Only dictators like Floriano and Geisel, simultaneously accumulated political power and military command. The others governed harassed by the ranks, either explicitly or covertly.

National defense is a serious and broad spectrum task. It involves all areas of the State and society. It transcends the instruments of force. It requires specialized planning. It does not contain improvisations, momentary moods, parochial wishes and dictates of ranks.

By choosing the holder of Defense in order to shepherd corporations, the Head of State declines the supreme command. Ministers must embody the political power that has been suffocated. If your choice is to please the troops, institutional corruption is promoted.

Military commanders are prepared to exercise force as a last resort. If they dedicate themselves to social order and public administration, they will do so in their own way, considering the divergent citizens as worthy of slaughter. In addition, they will subject Defense to corporate conflicts.

The Head of State must respect hierarchical rules when choosing commanders without annulling itself as the top of the chain. Corporate promotion rules do not override the constitutional determination. Virtuous commanders admit the status of assistants to the supreme chief.

In Brazil today, there are no relevant cleavages in the technical preparation and doctrinal formation of generals. They all went through the same schools, had access to the same specialized literature and the same ideological preaching. Differences between their professional capacities are of little relevance. All have proven leadership and leadership qualities.

The differences that matter relate to intellectual preparation, character and sensitivity to face the challenges of changes imposed by international reality. We live on the verge of a world conflagration. We need to support our foreign policy with weapons. Real commanders are concerned with showing strength to would-be rulers of the world. They won't have the taste or time to deal with electronic ballot boxes, drill artesian wells and look for sinecures.

Officers need to be questioned to assess their affinity with the propositions of the supreme commander for national defense. I don't know how Lula thinks about Brazil's defense, but I know that he is attentive to national cohesion, the first pillar of the defensive system. Fragmented society exposes itself to foreign greed. Cohesive society defends itself better.

The basis of national cohesion is the dignity of citizenship. There is no solid defense at the expense of the most vulnerable. The elimination of social inequities and explosive regional disparities is fundamental. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, religious fanaticism and regional prejudices weaken the Defense. Socioeconomic reforms that overcome the colonial legacy cannot be postponed. Without belief in a promising future for all, without common destiny, without pride in being Brazilian, there will be no defense that is worthwhile.

The second pillar of defense is the cultivation of friendships. In this, the next president is a master. A country with solid international partnerships is better protected from aggression. Friendships are consolidated through agreements that promote economic and scientific development, health and environmental protection. True friends share the will for collective well-being.

National sovereignty is incompatible with subaltern integration with power blocs in dispute for world hegemony. Strengthening ties with the neighborhood is essential and a priority for Defense. We need to boost the global insertion of South America and Africa.

Countries dependent on imports of food, energy, raw materials, machinery and medicine are vulnerable. Thus, the third pillar of defense is the mobilization of national capabilities in view of maximum autonomy. Countries that do not produce their own weapons and war equipment are forced into subaltern integration with powerful states. Brazil's current deterrence capacity does not correspond to its potential and needs. Defense needs to be in tune with the expansion of the scientific community and the technical-industrial sectors. Up to the present, such attunement has been chimerical.

Finally, defense must rely on instruments of force to carry out specialized missions. Today, the confusion of attributions of these instruments prevails, distributed among the different spheres of the Federation. The Army, above all, sets a negative example by meddling in everything. It does not admit that deterring foreign aggressors and public security guaranteeing citizenship are different missions.

Result: we have weakness in the surveillance of land borders, in the protection of cybernetic space, in the safety of coastal and river navigation, in the safety of road traffic, in the repression of crime, in the protection of citizenship, in the containment of disturbances and major commotions, in the effectiveness of heritage custody and protection of environmental heritage.

The attribution of preserving “law and order” conferred on the Army, Navy and Air Force disturbs the definition of the roles of the State's instruments of force. Military and police roles need to be differentiated. As long as uncertainties persist about the nature of armed corporations, both the defense and protection of citizenship will be weak or non-existent.

When choosing commanders, it is up to the Head of State to address initial questions to senior officers: (i) Do the Armed Forces have moderating power? (ii) Should those who do not observe disciplinary regulations and laws be punished? (iii) Are we going to work to defend Brazilians in this troubled world? (iv) How about closing the military offices in Washington? From there, he will choose those who reveal more affinity with his conception of national defense. It is a wise but lonely choice. The defense does not fit into party coalition apportionments.

Otherwise, the head of state will not be able to say: for the first time in the history of this country, a president of the republic has assumed the supreme command of the Armed Forces and risks being engulfed by uniformed rioters.

* Manuel Domingos Neto is a retired UFC professor, former president of the Brazilian Defense Studies Association (ABED) and former vice president of CNPq.


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