The failure of the military

Clara Figueiredo, Mercato Domenicale Porta Portese, Balilla_ one for 15,00, three for 30,00 euros, Rome, 2019


In Brazil, military incompetence is aggravated by its submission to the military and international strategy of another country.

“There is a well-understood psychology of military incompetence […]. Norman Dixon argues that military life, for all its tedium, repels the talented, leaving mediocrities lacking intelligence and initiative to rise through the ranks. By the time they reach important decision-making positions, these people tend to suffer some intellectual decay. A bad commander, argues Dixon, is never willing or unable to change course when he makes the wrong decision” (Ferguson, N. Catastrophe. Planet Publisher, p. 184).

Anyone with common sense – inside and outside Brazil – wonders today how it was that an important segment of the Brazilian military arrived at the point of conceiving and carrying out a militarized government and allied with groups and people moved by an extreme religious reactionarism, and by a completely outdated economic and ideological fanaticism, all “hidden” behind a grotesque character and a “bad military man”, as General Ernesto Geisel stated at another time?

The British historian Niall Ferguson defends the thesis of the universal incompetence of the military to exercise government, and points out some reasons that would explain such incapacity from the internal life of the barracks and the military career. In the specific case of the current generation of Brazilian soldiers, there is a contingent that has been dedicated, for three years, to dismantling what their predecessors of the last century most valued: the Brazilian energy sector.

The Brazilian military has always had an elitist and caricatured view of the country, imagining a country without citizens and where the social classes of the capitalist system are viewed with distrust and as a threat to the social order defined by them according to criteria anchored, ultimately, in the its international vassalage. Within this conception of a country without civil society, they have always considered themselves to be truly responsible for public morals and for defining what the “national interest” of Brazilians was.

At a certain moment in Brazilian history, the military understood that it was important for the national interest that the country had industrial projects in the sectors of metallurgy and steel, rail and road, oil and petrochemicals. However, in the next moment, they themselves redefine their own concept of Brazilian “national interest”, invert the economic strategy of their predecessors and promote the savage privatization of public companies, at the same time that they support the deindustrialization of the Brazilian economy and its retrogression to primary-export condition of the beginning of the last century.

As is known, the Brazilian Armed Forces played an active role in the construction of Petrobras, Eletrobras, Gasoduto Brasil-Bolivia, Itaipu Binacional and countless other state-owned companies in strategic sectors for the development of the national economy. But today, as we have already said, they are dedicated to dismantling these same companies and economic sectors, without any type of longer-term strategic justification, especially in the case of the energy sector, which is an essential part of the “national security” of any country in the world. world.

Take the case of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME), for example, which is one of the most militarized in the Bolsonaro government: in addition to the Minister-Admiral, the ministerial cabinet has the presence of over twenty military personnel, active duty or reserves, occupying leadership, coordination and advisory positions. And this situation is repeated in the Eletrobras System, where military personnel have prominent posts in units such as Eletrosul, Eletronorte, Eletronuclear, CHESF and Itaipu Binacional. And the same must be said of the Petrobras System, which is run by military personnel with a presence in the company's presidency and board of directors, from where they lead the dismantling of the company itself.

The Brazilian oil company sold BR Distribuidora and its gas stations, put its refineries up for sale and began to refine less diesel, gasoline and gas. The market was opened for the importation of these derivatives, and importers began to pressure for the price in Brazil to be equivalent to the price on the international market. Thus, the so-called “import parity price policy” was adopted, which brought enormous profits and gains for Petrobras shareholders, but has been directly harming Brazilian citizens, with the continuous increase in fuel prices and the chain acceleration of taxes. of inflation in the economy.

Likewise, in the case of electric energy, the rise in prices is primarily related to changes in the hydrological regime, but in the current Brazilian case it is directly linked to the mismanagement of the sector controlled by the military, but lacking in monitoring, planning, coordination and improvements in the Eletrobras System, whose investments suffered a significant reduction in recent years.

There is no precedent, in the international experience, of a State that is disposing of its main electricity company in the midst of a hydropower crisis and in a scenario of rising electricity tariffs. But this is what the Brazilian military is doing or letting them do. Practicing a kind of energy denialism that contradicts all sorts of facts and data, the Admiral Minister of Mines and Energy stated that “the energy crisis, in my view, never occurred” (interview to the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on January 01, 2022); manifesting total lack of concern with national sovereignty, the officer who presides over the board of directors of Eletrobras reiterated that “the future of the company is privatization” (statement to the press on January 07, 2021); and revealing complete disregard for the notion of citizenship, the General President of Petrobras endorses that “Petrobras cannot make public policy” (article published in the newspaper The State of S. Paul, on January 08, 2022).

This is happening in the energy sector, but the same incompetence or mismanagement is also found in other areas of government led by its military, be they old generals in pajamas or young officers who quickly specialized in buying and reselling vaccines in the health area for example, where military incompetence had more dramatic and perverse effects and reached Brazilian citizenship in an extremely painful way.

And the same is happening outside the economic area, as in the case of the truly chaotic military administration of science and technology and the Amazonian environmental issue, not to mention the bizarre situation of an Institutional Security Office of the Presidency of the Republic that it was unable to monitor, and nor even explain – until today – the shipment of about 40 kilos of cocaine found inside a plane belonging to the presidential delegation, on an international trip by the president himself.

The performance of the Brazilian military and the volatility of their conceptions of development bring us back to the thesis of the British historian Niall Ferguson. He attributes the “universal incompetence” of the military to the very functional rules of soldiers' careers, and he may be right. But our hypothesis drawn from the Brazilian experience starts from another point and goes in a slightly different direction.

From our point of view, the governmental incompetence of the Brazilian military begins with their international subservience to a foreign power, at least since the Second World War. A lack of external sovereignty that multiplies and aggravates the primordial source of the inability and unpreparedness of the Brazilian military to exercise government under democratic conditions.

Summarizing our argument: the greatest virtue of the military is their hierarchy, discipline and sense of obedience and, therefore, for a “good soldier”, any questioning of “superior orders” is a serious fault or even treason. As a consequence, the “truth” of every soldier is defined by his immediate superior, and so on, to the top and the end of his career. Within the Armed Forces, “blind obedience” is considered a virtue and an indispensable condition for success in war or in any other “binary situation” in which there are only two alternatives: friend or enemy, or “blue” or “red”, as the military usually splits up in their “war games”.

There is no possibility of “contradictory” in this type of hierarchy, and that is why it can be said that the military hierarchy is by definition anti-democratic. Moreover, in this type of highly verticalized hierarchy, as is the case with the military, criticism, change and the very exercise of intelligent thinking are prohibited or discouraged, and it is considered a very serious fault. Therefore, it is the very discipline indispensable to the fulfillment of the constitutional functions of the Armed Forces, which incapacitates them for the efficient exercise of a democratic government.

In the Brazilian case, this type of authoritarian head was able to coexist, during the period of the military dictatorship – between 1964 and 1985 – with the economic project of “conservative developmentalism”, because there was no democracy or freedom of opinion, and because the priorities of the project were already were defined in advance since the second industrial revolution. The worksheet was simple and adjusted for binary heads: building roads, bridges, airports and key sectors for the country's industrialization. At the same time, this binary and authoritarian mentality, and distant from Brazilian society and people, contributed to the creation of one of the most unequal societies on the planet, due to its total social and political blindness.

After re-democratization, in 1985, this same narrow-mindedness of the new military generations lost the ability to understand Brazil's complexity and the country's place in the new multilateral world order of the XNUMXst century. The Cold War ended, the US stopped supporting developmental policies, and everything indicates that military training was hijacked by the neoliberal vision. As a result, the Brazilian military has still not managed to get rid of its anti-communist vision of the post-war period, now and then they confuse Russia with the Soviet Union, and still add to this a new binary vision, derived from manuals of orthodox and fiscalist economics. , in which the State itself is treated as a great enemy.

Summarizing our point of view: the generation of the Brazilian “developmentalist” military of the 1980th century was a “vassal” in relation to the USA, had only a territorial vision of the State and national security, and had a police-like vision of society and citizenship, but supported an investment strategy that favored the industrialization of the economy until the XNUMXs. The new generation of “neoliberal” militaries of the XNUMXst century deepened their American vassalage, replaced the State by the market, continued trampling democracy and the social rights of Brazilian citizens .

At this point, we can return to Niall Ferguson's initial thesis, to complement or develop it, because in the case of a "vassal military corporation", and in a peripheral country like Brazil, military incompetence is aggravated by its submission another country's military and international strategy. You cannot govern a country when you do not have the autonomy to define what your own strategic objectives are, and what your allies, competitors and adversaries are. You can't govern a country when you don't accept the contradictory and treat everyone who differs from your opinions as enemies.

You cannot govern a country when you are afraid or forbidden to think with your own head. You cannot govern a country while looking at its citizens as if they were your subordinates. A country cannot be governed until it is understood that the fundamental obligation of the State and the basic commitment of any government is with life and with the rights to health, employment, education, protection and material and intellectual development of all. its citizens, regardless of their class, race, gender, religion or ideology, whether they are friends or enemies.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

*William Nozaki Professor of Political Science and Economics at the São Paulo School of Sociology and Politics Foundation (FESPSP).


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