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Future, going backwards

Armed Forces face dilemmas of post-modern society

Futuro-volver-1-300x2061JONATHAN CAMPOS/GAZETA DO POVO/AE“Nós somos da Pátria a guarda,/ fiéis soldados,/por ela amados”, are some of the words of the Brazilian Army’s hymn. During the military dictatorship, many civilians would sing these words without too much conviction. Nowadays, this issue has become more serious. “The Brazilian Armed Forces are facing a major conflict at the moment: they have embraced super-modern concepts yet at the same time they seek to maintain their traditional prerogatives, corporative achievements and old-fashioned structures that border a dictatorial attitude, within an autonomous situation before the State and society. The Armed Forces are going through a major identity crisis”, says professional soldier and researcher Paulo Kuhlmann, a professor at the International Relations course at Unesp and author of the doctorate thesis Exército brasileiro: estrutura militar e ordenamento político, presented recently at USP. “Brazilian society and the legislative and government bodies are not overly concerned about issues related to Defense and have very little knowledge about the Armed Forces. On one hand, this grants the military excess autonomy to restrict the format and actions of the Defense authorities. On the other hand, this situation generates constriction in the Armed Forces, because of budget cutbacks and other factors. Government structure, which should maintain the power of the Armed Forces, fails to do so because it does not know the Forces real purpose and functioning”, he analyses.

“The identity crisis is linked to the disappearance of the enemy since the end of the Cold War and the weakening of the social stratification in most countries. In Brazil, this weakening includes the feeling of revenge manifested by those who were denied access to this stratification. Some military personnel believe that leftist governments take revenge by other means, such as refusing to support the Armed Forces or denying the Armed Forces new military equipment”, he adds. A research study conducted by anthropologist Celso Castro, the director of the CPDOC of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas foundation and coordinator of the Consórcio Forças Armadas Século XXI Armed Forces Consortium, on the status of the civil-military relations in Brazil revealed that “the negative burden of the symbolic heritage of the Armed Forces’ actions during the military regime is still enormous”. In addition, the research study showed that it is necessary to have better convergence of the military education system with the standards and values used in the civil education system because civilians clearly mistrust the standards of quality and biased attitudes of the educational system in the military academies. The Ministry of Defense is going to celebrate its tenth anniversary this year, yet relations between civilians and the military are still imperfect, uncertain, and undefined. “In short, there is a clear contrast with the previous period, especially the 1970’s, even though there still hasn’t been a real political rupture. Institutional weakness associated with a sovereignty that was atrophied through globalization has generated an ‘identity crisis’ among the military”, say Unesp researchers Ednéia Fázio and Suzeley Mathias in their paper O ensino médio e o papel do Exército. “Brazil’s politicians have not focused on the definition of national interests and therefore do not envision ‘new threats’ that the country will face in the near future”, they add. Thus, the training of military commanders to deal with the new challenges upfront is still part of the military context and, to this end, the military has been organizing itself autonomously and has defined the interests of and threats to the country. This is where the danger lies.

Futuro-volver-2-300x1991FILIPE ARAUJO/AEThe novelty, which as yet is not known as being good or bad, is the President’s recent approval of the project prepared by the Ministry of Defense and by the Office of the Secretary of Strategic Matters. The project’s objective is to re-organize the Armed Forces and create a National Defense Strategy, beginning in the second half of the year, to start building up “a professional, advanced military culture” by means of re-organizing, re-focusing and re-equipping the Armed Forces. Once civil society has a say on the project of the Defense Ministry and on the training of the soldier of the future, it will finally be possible to envision what the Armed Forces are useful for. “Nowadays, the Brazilian Armed Forces carry out a number of tasks, the so-called ‘subsidiary missions’, which include actions to eradicate or deal with dengue fever, provide water to the Semiárido dry region, build highways, among other attributions that add to the concept of building a nation. This concept is preached by the Army as its core mission and is put into practice by military service and the professional training of the military recruits”, explains Kuhlmann. “The restructuring of the Army during the transition to democracy occurs at a time when the Armed Forces seek to distance themselves from political-ideological conflict and seek professionalism and modernization”. According to the researcher, the Armed Forces wish to professionalize themselves by means of a professional and operational evaluation, based on the efficiency required of a modern military force, although they are constrained because of expenses and the lack of a political possibility to change the system. “In addition, the Armed Forces are worried about losing their political advantage in the sense of influencing young people. The Armed Forces are facing a drop in the number of recruits, reduced to the minimum number possible – and are concerned that military service, which is currently compulsory, will become voluntary”.

Kuhlmann points out that the military reacts against the US policy towards Latin America. The USA wants the Armed Forces to act as a police force that has to deal with ‘new threats’ (drug trafficking, organized crime, among other threats), and disregard the idea of sovereignty. “The fear of revenge from society and the undefined status of the Ministry of Defense, viewed as being too young, has led the military to deny the general idea generated by globalization, which states that sovereignty is unnecessary and an anachronism”, says the researcher. Recent history underscores these fears: the Falklands War, in 1982, which made the Argentine Armed Forces the butt of ridicule; the democratization of Latin America; the end of the Soviet Union and the resulting end of the Cold War; and, more recently, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in September 2001, which provoked the resurfacing of militarist ideals, widely believed to be extinct. “The end of the Cold War generated a readjustment in the doctrine of the USA’s and Europe’s Armed Forces – a downsizing, in view of the end of former conflict configurations”, points out Kuhlmann. Military instruction began to disregard the traditional values of Duty, Honor, Country and focus more closely on compensations, more common to professional civil activities, the so-called civilianization of the armies. “In the aftermath of September 11, however, this moment, baptized as ‘military post-modernism’, was substituted by a bitter state of security. The attitude went back to the original concern of defending the territory, nearly characterizing a return to the traditional past – although the enemy is ‘volatile’ – by means of the war on terrorism”. In Brazil, says the researcher, the first movement in this respect was the creation, in 1984, of the Sistema de Planejamento do Exército/Siplex system, the objective of which was to make the institution operational and to make it more modern. The idea at that time was to increase the number of armed forces personnel; however, the new national and international re-configuration prevented the idea from materializing.

Futuro-volver-3-300x1821Sgt. Brandon MorenoIn Brazil, the Defense priority was moved from the South Region to the Amazon Region. Unlike the situation that occurred during the Cold War, when the defense focus was on the South, where the enemy was restricted, interstate and armed in preparation for a confrontation, in the Amazon Region – the current priority – new and existing threats are perceived, as are the ways to deal with them: empty geographical spaces are being dealt with through the solution of colonizing the region, involving the nationalization and integration of the indigenous people. In addition, the armed forces have to deal with border control issues (arms smuggling, lumber smuggling, etc.) and the confrontation with guerrilla forces from other countries. In short, this is a resistance strategy. “The new geopolitical environment has had an influence on military training”. This new environment must provide the military with the ability to take on several different roles, such as scholar, statesman, negotiator, police. But if the military personnel do not have the formal education to fill in the training gaps, they will not be able to carry out their new tasks accordingly in the post-modern world”. “Therefore, it is necessary to train the new military personnel so that they can conduct ‘new missions’, and this will result in closer civil-military relations. This is not as easy as it sounds. If we believe that education is a truly sensitive issue, and given that military education is out of the scope of government actions, then it stands to reason that the Armed Forces enjoy great autonomy, because they can train their personnel, by training their views and attitudes, without being held accountable for their acts”, say Ednéia and Suzeley. “In regard to military training, all the reforms want to bring the future military commanders closer to civil society, and this includes the methodology used to educate the future leading classes. But one cannot choose to ignore the military’s ability to take up empty spaces (hence the need to train civilians in this respect), nor their ability to adapt and foresee”, the researchers point out. There is a reason for the government’s intention of moving the seat of the Academia Militar das Agulhas Negras, Military Academy, from the state of Rio de Janeiro to Brasília. The insertion of the Ministry of Science and Technology into the building up of the National Defense Strategy is based on the same reason, and includes measures that maximize the integration of research efforts in civil and military scientific institutions.

One issue, however, still bothers the military and Defense experts: the “internal police” role that the government and society would like to impose upon the military contingent. “Existing laws lack clarity and precision on how to regulate the actions of the Armed Forces to guarantee “law and order”, a function that causes considerable unease among part of the military contingent. At present, juridical ambiguities that regulate the mission and tasks of the Army make this a banal job, as if though it were a magic formula that would solve all problems”, Kuhlmann warns. In his opinion, the danger is the militarization of police institutions and the corruption of the military strata. Likewise, he continues, “complementary missions” should be contemplated cautiously, as in general they are viewed favorably by the Armed Forces, in view of the fact that they increase society’s positive feelings towards the military. “The Army already acts in one direction. If we add to this the obsolescence of the national Defense equipment, the low salaries and the poor working conditions – all of these issues change the expectations of those who are in the army barracks and those who want to join the military. Unless there is civilian interference in the military education curriculum, actions will be excessive and the identity crisis will become stronger among the Armed Forces”. The researcher points out that when the Armed Forces felt they lacked support, the military personnel lost the references of their values and corporative beliefs related to the fulfilling of a mission that no longer exists. “This was reflected and is still reflected in several episodes of disobedience”. At the same time, the indiscriminate use of troops, even though – as civil authorities allege – this has legal grounds, has already caused problems when the troops were called into action without the backing of the President and Congress. Such actions can result in tragic consequences, as attested to by the deaths that occurred during the invasion of the steel mill in Volta Redonda, among others.

WWW.ARMY.MILThe importance of this discussion is reinforced by the repetition of some of these issues in the American army, which has always been the paradigm for all of the armed forces. Morton Ender, a sociologist from the West Point Military academy, has just launched a book in the USA: American soldiers in Iraq: mcsoldiers or innovative professionals’, a field study conducted with several military personnel in action in Iraq. “Many of the study’s results are unexpected, the result of the adoption, by the American army corps, of the principles of efficiency derived from the McDonald’s chain, such as speed, stability, etc. This has generated individualist soldiers who believe they are better than their peers, but who ultimately trip on the so-called ‘irrationality of excess rationality’, a sure-fire recipe to limit creativity, autonomy and spontaneity”, Ender explains. “The new soldiers no longer fight for their teams, or for their buddies; they fight for an abstract, nationalistic idea of America. Their attitudes are based on ‘America first’, which suggests the existence of an ‘internationalist-isolationism’ among the American troops”. This is one of the consequences of September 11. “But this attitude was not what had been expected. Most of the soldiers did not react to the attacks and only a small minority cared enough and went to the battlefield. Today’s figures are ridiculous when compared to the epic sacrifices made in previous wars. Few soldiers put their lives on hold to serve ‘the common good and an ideal’.” The positive point is the growing diversity of the American troops. “Many soldiers that are not the ‘typical American soldiers’ (white, Christian, hetero, worker, young, physically fit) were finally able to achieve full citizenship within the military organizations. Likewise, the new geopolitical conditions, that require a more sophisticated soldier to accomplish  new missions, opened up more space for female recruits, who are better prepared to deal with the new subtleties demanded by this new form of war”, he explains. In fact, this also holds true for the Brazilian Armed Forces because of analogous reasons, albeit less bellicose ones. For those who defend the end of compulsory military service, ‘as in the USA’ , Ender emphasizes that America is going against the trend and should advocate a universal, national military service. “This could be used to correct many of the social ills that American society is suffering”. Indeed, this same argument is being resorted to by the military and civilians in the new Defense project, which advocates the maintenance of compulsory military service and its actual extension to all social classes, and not only to the lower-income class, as has been the case. No matter what happens, in America, as well as in Brazil, Ender points out, there is still a huge gap – between the civilian and military worlds,- and the civilianization of military life is on course, whether in social representation or in representational attitudes. And this, say the experts, is where the danger lies.

Reference books
ENDER, Morten G. American soldiers in Iraq. Routledge, 199 pages, 2009.
BEST, Nicholas. O maior dia da história. Editora Paz e Terra, 332 pages, 2009.