Brazil’s Armed Forces are “to defend US interests” says researcher

For Héctor Luís Saint-Pierre, it is a military paradox to support the deregulation of the economy and the sell-off of assets.

By Ana Penido. Brasil de Fato. 26 October 2019.

With the broad participation of the military in the Jair Bolsonaro government, there is more interest in understanding which ideas carry this special category of civil servants. “The feeling of belonging to the military corporation seems to surpass the national and even the ‘patriotic’ feeling, which they consider themselves guardians,” says Héctor Luís Saint-Pierre, executive coordinator of the Institute of Public Policy and International Relations at the State University of São Paulo (Unesp).

In an interview with Brasil de Fato, the Argentine researcher also evaluates the defense policy and diplomacy pursued by the current government from an eminently military composition. He recalls that the regional leadership exercised by Brazil during the “government of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was deliberately abandoned”.

“Anyone who imagined that by the military’s commitment to the Bolsonaro government, national values ​​and the defense of sovereignty would prevail, can see the abandonment of these values ​​(…). Thus, it could be paradoxically concluded that we have Armed Forces to defend US interests, including the deregulation of the national economy and the appropriation of Brazilian wealth, ”he says.

Brasil de Fato – Would it be possible to say that, keeping space for some heterogeneities, there is a guiding thread of Brazilian military thinking?

Hector Saint Pierre – The military corporation is not monolithic, as their uniforms would seem to indicate. Although they are always outwardly united and subordinate to a solid hierarchical structure, internally there are positions that are not always coincident, as historically evidenced in movements that challenged some aspect of the decisions of the military summit. This happened in the Navy with the Chibata Uprising in 1910; in the Army, with the tenentist movement in the 1920s; the purges in the Vargas era; and particularly in the remarkable internal repression of the three forces during the 1964 coup, with the arrests, disappearances, torture and death of many military personnel, as the Truth Commission denounced. Each historical period is characterized by a corporate direction defined by some hegemonic group, oscillating between nationalism and liberalism (not to say surrender), between seeking a political autonomy that seeks freedom of strategic action in a non-confrontational manner until the end. automatic alignment.

If there is a common thread that has resisted the military’s changing positions on politics, it is corporate values ​​that stand above any other. The feeling of belonging to the military corporation seems to surpass the national and even the “patriotic” feeling, of which they consider themselves guardians. In general, the military man trusts the military in another country more than the civilians of his own. Without resisting generalization, we could say that most adhere to positivist values, such as the panic of history and change, the contradictory idea of ​​’order and progress’, traditional family and society values, and an unhealthy anticommunism that they associate with any criticism of bourgeois status quo. From the institutional political point of view, they consider themselves a fourth moderating power, that vigilant power capable of intervening in the political game whenever the (never defined) “homeland” is in danger. They consider the moral reserve of the nation and Western values ​​what, for them, would legitimize intervening in the political framework whenever they consider it opportune, as stated more than once, while still active, the general and current vice president of Brazil, Hamilton Mourao.

In your article “Rationalities and Strategies,” you list categories to understand military thinking. We highlight three dimensions: the autonomy of the Armed Forces before the State and its relationship with democracy; perceptions of regional hegemony; and concepts such as the enemy, coming from a certain way of seeing the dynamics of war and peace. What is happening in Brazil today, in defense policy, confirms what is defended in the article?

In this article, my goal is to draw a diagrammatic analysis model on variables that would allow us to analyze or compare conceptions of Great Strategy, which is a defense plan based on the highest command of the nation. Such planning may be defined by the executive, but must be approved by the legislature as a state policy that goes beyond the duration of a government. Faced with a threat that indicates the application of this planning, the Executive assumes the conduct and the responsibility of the actions. In this Great Strategy, the Armed Forces are only one component, the essential, but not the only nor necessarily the most relevant depending on the case.

With the transition from a military dictatorship to a democratic government in which their strict subordination to legitimate political power is expected, it should be possible to see a change in the strategic conception of the state at the same time.

In this article, I treat as Official Strategic Design (CEO) a conception whose variables obeyed the period of military dictatorship and as Alternative Strategic Design (CEA) an ideal state of affairs that I imagined should reflect the defense conditions of a democratic system. If there had been a transition to democracy in Brazil we would be close to the CEA. From this comparison it would be possible to corroborate if indeed the political change of system was accompanied by an accommodation of the form of force, employment and missions of the legitimate monopoly of violence, that is, a change in the strategic conception of the state should be contacted.

However, unlike other countries such as Argentina, where the transition was collapsed, or Chile and Uruguay, where it was agreed, Brazil had a slow, gradual and safe transition, granted by the military, which kept close watch to keep the CEO in place.

Today, the military continues to exercise a protective role over Brazil, less by the retired or active military that populate the house of government, than by the veiled pressure on society, politicians and institutions, either by “advisory”. unjustified or threatening tweets bordering on illegality. Defense has never ceased to be a closed box for society and has preserved itself as a monopoly of the Armed Forces. It is true that since the last years of the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, and more especially during the PT governments, there has been a timid intention to democratize the issue. But this shyness was perceived as a weakness by the military who further hardened their position. There is no democracy without strict military subordination to civilian control, without effective civil political conduct of the Defense, without active participation of society in the discussion of National Defense, without civil command and military obedience. Definitely, the Brazilian Armed Forces gained autonomy and prerogatives incompatible with the democratic system.

What about foreign policy?

It is assumed that – in an alternative, that is, democratic – conception, this form of international insertion should result from a debate with society, seeking regional cooperation, which guarantees the freedom of strategic action and the autonomy of decision. It could be said that both the Armed Forces and Itamaraty have always sought relative freedom of strategic action and a certain autonomy of decision, respectively, in their area of ​​interest, but always in a non-confrontational manner with the United States. However, since 2009, it has been noted in the Armed Forces that an approach to the United States has been sought, which became clearer during Michel Temer’s rule. Unprecedentedly, a Brazilian general is promoted to the US Southern Command Army Regional Cooperation Subcommittee.

During the 2018 presidential campaign, then-candidate Bolsonaro fitted in front of the US flag in a shameful gesture for any sovereign claim. As president, Bolsonaro has offered the US government a servile relationship to US interests and a military alliance with the government of Donald Trump that has been antagonizing most of the world. This automatic alignment with US strategy turns Brazilian foreign policy into the interests of the superpower, transforming the opportunity presented by the rearrangement of world forces that is changing global polarity into disgrace.

Rather than take advantage of the global shudder by accommodating the strategic statures of the three great powers [United States, China, and Russia] and staying on the sidelines, Brazil embraces the decaying superpower by condemning itself to doing only the business it allows. One who imagined that by the military’s commitment to the Bolsonaro government, national values ​​and the defense of sovereignty would prevail, can see the abandonment of these values ​​and the surrender of sovereignty for purely ideological and even mystical reasons. Thus, one might paradoxically conclude that we have the Armed Forces to defend US interests, including the deregulation of the national economy and the appropriation of Brazilian wealth. The regional leadership granted and recognized by the South American countries to Brazil during Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s rule was deliberately abandoned and, in its place, the United States seems to propose to Brazil to be its very prosecutor in the region, placing the blood. Brazilian soldier as a lubricant of his interests.

We perceive criticisms in his work about the appropriation of American and European concepts to think about the Latin American reality. In other words, it is clear that Brazilian military thinking is not that Brazilian, and that this is a problem. Why do you think this occurs?

Colonization is not a purely economic phenomenon, it is also political, social, cultural and epistemic [intellectual]. Epistemic colonization imposes on us glasses to see reality as the colonizer wants us to see, these glasses are the concepts and theories that are often assumed uncritically. Those mainstream academics who define the thoughtful, the published, and the read are taken “by the colonies” as references to objectivity and scientificity. However, most of them are or have been or will be state officials (unlike Brazil, in other countries academics rather than the military are consulted) and think best for their country, which is a colonizing state. What is reprehensible is that our academics defend in the colony what the colonizer defends as good for the metropolis. Theories and concepts are not neutral, they are evaluative. For example, “Low Intensity War” is a concept established by

United States to refer to wars in which little of its warlike capabilities apply. But wars are fought between two belligerents and their definition either understands the two or will have two definitions depending on which side of the dispute lies. In the Nicaraguan War, defined by the United States as “low intensity”, for Nicaraguans it was a total war.

If this situation is serious for academics, when we consider colonialism among the military, it is dramatic. There is a tendency for the uniformity of the Armed Forces of the world to be conditioned by what has come to be called “the world’s arsenal”. Armament – fundamentally conditioned by weapon systems, due to the high level of complexity and sophistication that requires an intensive economy – is produced by few countries. When a country cannot afford to apply capital-intensive production of war artifacts, as most countries, particularly in the global South, are, they must turn to the arsenal headquarters to acquire weapon systems. But along with weapon systems one also buys the proper military organization for that system, a military doctrine, a doctrine of employment imposed by the system, training and also the enemy. It is the vendor who defines against whom these weapon systems can be employed, so it is he who defines the enemy.

Note that the definition of the enemy means not only the indication of whom I will point my weapon at, but also the one from whom I will not be able to buy, even if it is competitively priced, as well as to whom I will not be able to sell my soybeans (the case of loaded boats). soybeans, held in the port of Paranaguá, is a clear example of how one can go against national interests by the ideological pressure guaranteed by strategic dependence). The paradox of this is that the weaponry that should guarantee sovereignty, the autonomy of political decision, on the contrary, compromises it. Likewise, the military, the active subject of strategic freedom, by instrumental and doctrinal dependence is an agent of strategic subordination.

Today we have an instrument of force typical of World War II with a strategic Cold War ideology. The military, which was historically associated with development, today seems to be the guarantee of dependence. Embraer’s sell-off, the forefront of national research and development, was delivered under his watchful eye. The same could be said of Petrobras or the Alcântara Base. The military fears thinking outside the box.

Bolsonaro places great value on the battle of ideas and narratives about history, hence his great onslaught against universities and Brazilian research, with important budget cuts. The cuts also occurred in the Defense area, even with the presence of the military in the government. What are the main threats facing those who produce science in areas related to military and defense issues?

The academic community dedicated today to the themes of Peace, Defense, Strategy, Military and War has been invaded by the military. The so-called “epistemic defense community” is not the same as 30 years ago. At that time, we wanted to dispute the monopoly of reflection on issues that was exclusively dealt with by the military. Today, we sadly note that we have not been able to break this monopoly, but in contrast, the military has not only been able to break our monopoly of scientific reflection, but has successfully completed its strategy of occupying the Ministry of Education, Capes. Superior] and CNPq [National Council for Scientific and Technological Development], as well as appropriating part of the budget for education and scientific research.

At the same time as public universities are being scrapped, with no capacity for generational renewal due to lack of hiring, military academies have opened postgraduate programs in unspecified areas for the military function, such as International Relations, and counted on funds to open numerous competitions. What is the logic of the military to open postgraduate courses being that there are, and very good, public universities? Will it be to offer titles to your officers? They would not have to: the Temer government minister of education decreed (yes, anyway) that the military sciences are a science. To this extent, officers who study the “military sciences” (which are sciences aimed at improving their performance in early missions rather than performing scientific research) are awarded the title of PhD and may compete with those who have made life choices, for science. Do they want to reduce scientific theories to “versions” as they do with history?

* Interview given to Ana Penido, researcher at the Tricontinental Institute.