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Chapter 5. National Security

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--see Glossary) 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 (see The Military Mission since 1988, this ch.).

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 (GNP--see Glossary). 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 are searching for a new role. They are expanding their presence in the Amazon under the Northern Corridor (Calha Norte) program (see The Military in the Amazon, this ch.). 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 has been practically nonexistent. Political dialogue is limited to discussion of the revisions of the constitution, where only modest changes in the role of the armed forces are expected. None of the political parties, except the Workers' Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores--PT), has articulated a position on defense matters. Although some civilians are experts in defense matters, their influence is 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 are conducted in a vacuum. Some analysts believe that the creation of a ministry of defense is a necessary condition for establishing civilian control of the military.

Data as of April 1997

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