Abuses of Military Power by Active-Duty and Reserve Military Personnel: Containment Measures in Favor of Democracy
In countries where the democratic culture is not yet fully rooted in popular sentiment, there are serious risks of abuse of military power by military authorities, endangering popular sovereignty, democracy, and the Constitution of those nations. In military literature, there is a reference to so-called hybrid wars. In this type of warfare, there is no differentiation between military and civilian milieus. There is no distinction between civilian and military targets. There is no difference between the momentum of peace and that of war. Besides this, the context of cyberwars must also be considered. In other words, the use of computing power as a military tactic over information and communications networks. The point is to highlight the risk of the abuse of military power in the “physical/in-person” and cyber contexts. Brazil has gone without war for a long time. Well, the army is prepared for war. What is the role of the army in a country at war? The army is believed to have a chronic identity crisis regarding its performance during times of peace. There are difficulties in defining its role as a state institution (after all, the military belongs to a state career).
For this reason, the army frequently takes part in so-called “urban wars” through operations to ensure “law and order.” Exceptional legislation authorizes army intervention in cities. It so happens that the army’s institutional mission is to act in national defense against external threats.
As Brazil has no external threat, there is a certain “creativity” in the invention of internal “enemies.” And also understanding an enemy as a system. Therefore, there is a risk of the use of military techniques in the political-electoral game. Among the techniques, there may be the risk of designing a “hybrid warfare” context for Brazil, using psychological, influence, intelligence, and cyber operations. That’s why preserving the army’s institutional responsibility to Brazil is vital. Brazil is not a faction in power. Brazil is the sum of more than 210 million citizens, who entrust their national defense to the army, a group of fewer than 500 thousand people.
The abusive exercise of military power can occur in the context of statements by military leaders, public solemnities inside and outside the barracks, and symbolic actions to benefit one of the candidates for President of the Republic. Later on, this same elected presidential candidate may reward the military preference for his candidacy and distribute public positions to military agents. Another kind of abusive exercise of military power can be through abuse of computer/cybernetic power in the context of disputes in the political-electoral game.
Military agents are public servants. Therefore, they must follow the applicable legislation as pertinent for the public administration. The principles of legality, morality, efficiency, economy, and impersonality fully apply to military agents. There is also the legislation on misconduct in public office and electoral legislation that applies to military agents. Therefore, the opening of military barracks and schools to benefit a particular presidential candidate may constitute an act of misconduct in public office and harm the integrity of the electoral system. In addition, this type of practice by military agents may constitute abuse of military power to benefit a particular presidential candidate. Furthermore, the use of military public servants to operate disinformation campaigns on social media and to promote attacks on the reputation of opponents represents an act of misconduct in public office. As you can see, there is a severe institutional risk.
The army is the one that commands the “cyberwar” scenario. Elections depend on critical national infrastructure. There are risks of unethical military men being used in the Brazilian President’s reelection campaign. Therefore, the partisanship of the armed forces is toxic to democracy and the armed forces themselves, as this can jeopardize the people’s trust in those forces. The Brazilian Constitution contains a series of rules to restrain military activity to avoid abuses. Among the restrictions is that the military must refrain from being involved in domestic politics. Beyond the realm of law and the Constitution, there is the aspect of military culture. Usually, in Brazil, military culture is marked by conservatism.
Military culture is characterized by anti-communism. This culture served as an “alibi” for the military coup of 1964, which led to military government regimes for two decades. It was a coup against popular sovereignty and Brazilian democracy. Therefore, the army (its military leaderships) must realize that by supposedly fighting communist movements, being an anti-communist force, it may actually represent the opposite, that is, advocating for a fascist movement. Furthermore, is the army’s underlying anti-communism a symptom of its uncritical adherence to the capitalist system? All organizations and movements based on corporatism face this risk: the search for unity and discipline may end up becoming authoritarianism. Moreover, any and all extremist movements infiltrating the army may stem from some personality and behavioral pathologies. Therefore, each and every advocate of anti-democratic acts should be investigated for mental sanity.
Political divisions may imply political polarization risks of the barracks and military schools, something that can compromise the military’s hierarchy and discipline. There are millions of voters in the winning group that supports the President. However, there are millions of other Brazilian citizens who did not vote for him. So there is a structural division of politics in the electoral system. Thus, if the army decides to opt for one of the groups, it will simply break with the most basic rules of institutionalization and the democratic regime. There is no point in the army denying support to the President. Formally, the army cannot even politically support the President of the Republic; it can only obey the commander in chief of the armed forces.
The issue is more profound. Military officers can support the President informally and advocate for his reelection. As noted, the President of the Republic is, obviously, the armed forces’ commander in chief. However, the army cannot have its prestige exploited before the population. In the 21st century, democratic military culture is needed, that is, formally and substantially committed to the democratic basis of the Constitution. That is why the army must understand its democratic role as a force at the service of popular sovereignty, the Republic, and the Brazilian federation. The army is a military subsystem in the service of national defense. But the army is not at the top of the constitutional pyramid.
On the contrary, the army lies below the three powers of the Republic: executive, legislative, and judiciary. The Constitution represents the system of the systems. Hence, the political system, through the Presidency of the Republic and the National Congress, is the one that commands the army. The army is a subsystem within the political and constitutional system. It is a military subsystem hierarchically subordinated to the Constitution. It is not a power superior to the three Republican branches.
The army is not a constitutional power parallel to the powers of the Republic. It is not an entity hierarchically superior to the three Republican powers. Thus, the army must obey the three branches of the Republic, respecting the autonomy and separation of powers. Armed power with lethal capability can never participate in a civilian government, the legislature, or the judiciary. Where weapons rule, law no longer governs. Thus, there are clear and precise constitutional limits on the army’s restraint in domestic politics. In this context, another issue/problem refers to the abusive action of “military clubs.” Certain “toxic” reserve military leaders promote anti-democratic campaigns, with manifestations of support for military intervention, including measures to close Congress and the Supreme Court. The army must never tolerate hostility towards democracy. In addition to this, it seems that the army (at least some of its members) does not have a clear understanding of what a civilian government means. Therefore, it is necessary for military re-education for them to grasp the democratic concept involving the government. This kind of aggression against democracy cannot be tolerated. In the United States, there are already several studies on toxic military leaders who undermine the credibility of the military institution. Therefore, it is necessary to contain this repulsive anti-democratic manifestation. Given the risks of abuses of military power, measures are needed to curb abuses under constitutional and electoral jurisdiction. While in Brazil we are still experiencing issues of undue influence of military agents in domestic politics, the United States is already preparing for the geopolitics of space. That is why they created a Space Force to ensure space dominance.
The goal is to promote American leadership in space and adopt measures to contain adversaries in space orbit. In summary, the army is not above the Constitution, the legislative, and the Judiciary branches. The United States is an advanced democracy; they had a civil war due to disputes over slavery. However, there has never been a military coup aimed at overthrowing a civilian government and establishing a military government in the United States. Furthermore, in 2021, the United States experienced the episode of the Capitol occupation in an attempt to prevent the confirmation of the presidential election results. Acts of intimidation, coercion, and violence were committed against members of Congress. Former President Trump’s toxic leadership was behind this movement. And the ghost of military coups around the world is still very much alive.
In Myanmar, the elected government was overthrown by a military coup. This is why, in Brazil, we cannot allow for a change from uniform to suit and tie to disguise the presence of military personnel in the government. It is a tragedy when democracy dies, even more so when through a military coup. It is a travesty for the military to occupy a civilian government, deviating from the principle of civilian government. In light of this, the institutions need to take democratic measures to contain military ambitions that may interfere in the political-electoral game. Where is the Public Prosecutor’s Office to ensure the effectiveness of civilian control over the armed forces? This is crucial for Brazil’s institutional maturity. On the subject of the army’s autonomy within the Brazilian political system and the lack of effectiveness of the principle of civilian control of the armed forces, see Samuel Alves Soares: Controles e autonomia. As Forças Armadas e o sistema político brasileiro (1974-1999), São Paulo: UNESP, 2006, a very current work. The book shows themes that identify the level of military autonomy in governments: the political system’s expectations about the function, role, and missions of the armed forces, civilian participation in the organization of national defense, the size of the forces, economic costs, and control over resources, the ability of Congress to oversee military activities, decisions about military personnel policy, special forums for the military, the production of intelligence information, the armed forces’ activities in internal defense actions, military education and doctrine, and a review of the actions carried out by the authoritarian regime. Another author, Pierre Leiner, in his work O Brasil no espectro de uma guerra híbrida (militares, operações psicológicas e política em uma perspectiva etnográfica, São Paulo: Alameda, 2020 (Brazil in the spectrum of a hybrid war (military, psychological operations, and politics in an ethnographic perspective)), analyzes the main political events that took place during the Dilma administration that triggered reactions from the military in the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations. There are issues about the National Truth Commission (which involves military memory or, better yet, military amnesia), military appointment authority, military education, gun control, among others. The military cannot control the historical truth about the military regime.
After all, what is the use of the army’s force for Brazil? This is an issue believed to require some serious reflection in the 21st-century scenario. Will the army be forever focused on internal defense, projecting its power onto the population? It must also be noted that the Brazilian army cannot face any of the great world powers or even face an eventual armed threat from a group of South American countries. In fact, by giving up nuclear weapons, Brazil has become hostage to the hemispheric defense policy of the United States. By express or implicit agreement, Brazil has become a hostage of the collective security foreign policy for the Americas. Therefore, Brazil is, in fact, dependent on the defense system of the United States. What happens to a formally sovereign country that, in reality, depends on aid from the United States in case of war? There is evident North American influence on the command of the Brazilian army. This is reinforced by the military cooperation agreements and the military base in Alcântara, in Brazil. In the Cold War context, this fact is recognized by General Golbery do Couto e Silva when analyzing regional geopolitics. In addition to this, we have to consider realpolitik. The United States has nuclear bomber aircraft, intercontinental nuclear missiles, nuclear submarines, and, in the future, hypersonic vehicles. It is obvious that Brazil will never try to go to war against the United States in the face of the brutal asymmetry of forces. However, the hegemonic power may abuse its hard power and soft power.
So how can Brazil promote its self-defense in a geostrategic manner? That is the vital question to be answered in this 21st century. Since then, the status quo of North American military supremacy in the Americas has not changed at all; in fact, it has broadened. Therefore, there is no point in denying the United States’ ascendancy over Brazil in the military aspect. This calls for a reality shock: to see the weakness to find relevant geostrategic alternatives in defense of national sovereignty. There is no point in the military speaking loudly in Brazil, while in the United States, they have to speak softly. In addition to this, the global defense trend is to reduce the number of army personnel.
In contrast, it seeks to organize smaller units with advanced technologies and smart weaponry. There are even projects to use robots in battle theaters. Therefore, a good management measure would be to decrease the army’s size by reducing personnel expenses. And, in tandem, the public resources saved on personnel can be used on investments in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, intelligent weaponry, robotics, situational awareness mechanisms, among others.
In this regard, the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the weakness of the national defense system against biological threats. This kind of situation cannot be met with physical/kinetic or cybernetic force. This situation requires intelligence and cooperation among all the agents responsible for the national biodefense system. Weapons are useless against the coronavirus. Military force is no good for fighting the virus. At the time of this article, more than 330,000 Brazilians have died due to Covid-19 – a number equivalent to the number of troops in the Brazilian army. It is as if a “Brazilian army” had been exterminated by the pandemic in under a year. This, of course, requires a new military culture in light of these “biological warfare” risks.
On the other hand, the founding fathers of the United States Constitution vigorously debated the existence of an army in times of peace. The Federalist Papers warn of the dangers to liberty posed by a standing army. Hence the need for strict legislative control of military activities. Aristophanes in his play describes the kidnapping of the goddess of peace by the god of war. The moral of the story is that peace is in our hands. Therefore, the author warns about false prophets that may compromise peace. Plato, in his work The Republic, teaches about the mission of the guardians of cities and institutions. Their mission to defend the cities. That is why they are forbidden from participating in commercial activities and politics. There is the polis’ care for the education of the guardians. However, the guardians are not the personal guards of the ruler. Their most noble mission is to protect the people and their institutions.
I believe that the army is facing an existential dilemma. A chronic identity crisis between its dictatorial heritage from the military regime (evidently undemocratic) and the search for its democratic identity. Here, the army needs to face its ghosts and demons. These dilemmas were revived with the release of General Villas Boas’ book 2021, Entrevista com o General Villas Boas (Interview with General Villas Boas) (Celso Castro, organizer). Until the army asks forgiveness from the Brazilian people for killing democracy from 1964 to 1985, there will be no peace in the country. The army must repent for the tragedy of the military regime and its murder of democracy for there to be peace in Brazil. This traumatic chapter of history will remain an open wound. It takes dialogue between Ananke, the necessity, Elpis, the Hope, and Fate. This is the mission to be faced – the dialogue between the need to defend Brazil, the hope for a better country, and the fate of Brazil. The Brazilian people sacrifice themselves to pay for their army by paying taxes. Therefore, the army can never be like the god Saturn, a devourer of his children. The invocation of the Homeland is not a shield to justify the abuse of military power and the politicization of the barracks, and the partisanship of generals and soldiers. A country with a truly advanced democracy has its army marked by professionalism as well as political neutrality.
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Ericson Scorsim. Lawyer and Consultant in Regulatory Communications Law. Ph.D. in Law from the University of São Paulo (USP). Author of the book “Jogo geopolítico das comunicações 5G – Estados Unidos, China e impacto sobre o Brasil” (The Geopolitical Game of 5G Communications – United States, China, and Impact on Brazil), published on Amazon.
 On the subject, Pettman, Ralph. Psychopathology and word politics. World scientific. University of Melbourne., London, 2012.
On this topic, see: Reed, George. Tarnished: toxic leadership in the U.S Military.Potomac Books, 2015. University of Nebraska, 2015.
Couto e Silva, Golbery. Conjuntura política nacional. O poder executivo & geopolítica do Brasil. Livraria José Olympio, 1981. Rio de Janeiro, 1981.
 Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James ,and Jay, John. The Federalist Papers, 3rd edition. Campinas: Russel Editores, 2009.d
 Plato, The Republic. Rio de Janeiro, Nova Fronteira, 2018.
 Agamben, Giorigo. Agamben. A aventura. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica, 2018.
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