Portal Direito da Comunicação Direito da

Portal Direito da Comunicação

Portal Direito da Comunicação


In Defense of Maximizing Civilian Control of the Armed Forces and Their Professionalism. The Need to Understand Democracy and the Military

por Ericson Scorsim

maio 24, 2021

In countries with deep-rooted democracy, one of the basic principles for the democratic rule of law is the principle of civilian control of the armed forces, something consolidated in the United States. This principle ensures maximum civilian participation in representative governments and, simultaneously, minimal military participation in civilian governments. In this sense, the democratic rule of law calls for armed forces’ professionalism, respecting their nature as a non-political and nonpartisan government body. It should be noted that the principle of civilian control of the armed forces is not entirely rooted in Brazil. Recent anti-democratic demonstrations calling for military intervention and the closing of the National Congress and the Supreme Court have raised the alarm about the risk to democracy posed by the politicization of the armed forces. However, an important step has been taken by the Federal Supreme Court regarding this matter. In the Direct Motion of Unconstitutionality ADI 6.457, Justice Luiz Fux stated that the Brazilian Constitution does not confer the Armed Forces moderating power to arbitrate conflicts between the three branches of government. In other words, it is not up to the armed forces to arbitrate conflicts between the Executive, Legislative, and Judiciary branches. The Supreme Court’s decision was adopted in the perspective of the debate on the interpretation of Article 142 of the Brazilian Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision also determined that the prerogative of the President of the Republic to authorize the use of the Armed Forces can never be exercised “against the Powers themselves.”

 In short, force, coercion, and intimidation cannot damage the independence of the Judiciary. The symbolism of this Supreme Court ruling is highly democratic and revealing of what the Constitution establishes when it defines the limits to the President’s powers and the role of the armed forces in the democratic regime.  In the words of Justice Fux: “Without drawing from the national legal system the possibility of a ‘constitutional military intervention,’ we reject the discourse that encourages a democratic rupture under the pretext of interpreting article 142 of the Constitution.”

In Brazil, the current government has nine military personnel at the cabinet-level.  There are military personnel in the Office of the Chief of Staff, the Government Secretariat, Institutional Security, the General Secretariat of the Presidency, and the Science and Technology and the Defense Ministries. It should be noted that the President is a former army captain, and the Vice President is a reserve general. Strangely enough, an active-duty general, General Ramos, is the government’s political articulator. In other words, Brazil has one of the most militarized governments in Latin America. One of the severe mistakes is that a military officer leads the Ministry of Defense. A civilian should hold this position to abide by the principle of civilian control of the armed forces. It can be argued that most of the military personnel in government are from the reserves, but even this fact must be interpreted in its proper constitutional context. One of the generals appointed to the Office of the Chief of Staff is on active duty.

 The Brazilian Constitution clearly states: “active military personnel who take up permanent civilian public office or employment will be transferred to the reserve, according to the law.” It can be argued that the position in the Office of the Chief of Staff is not a permanent position, only an interim one. Nevertheless, there is an incompatibility between an active-duty general occupying a civilian position and being responsible for the government’s political articulation. According to the Military Statute: “Article. 82 The military will be on furlough when they are on temporary leave from active service due to: (…) having been placed at the disposal of a Civil Ministry, a federal government agency, a state government, territory, or the federal district, to exercise a civilian function.” In other words, when a military person assumes a civilian position, they must be removed from their military duties.

Furthermore, according to an article in the Estado de São Paulo newspaper published on May 31, 2020, the armed forces have 2,900 positions in the federal government. There are 1,595 people from the Army. The Navy contributed with 680 people. The Air Force has 622 people at the federal government’s service.[1] In theory, the presence of military personnel in positions with military functions in the civilian government is permissible, as is the case in the Institutional Security Cabinet of the Presidency of the Republic and the Ministry of Defense. However, the situation becomes inexplicable with military personnel in areas such as health, infrastructure, energy, social security, among other civilian functions. Given this context, the Federal Audit Court opened administrative proceedings to investigate the participation of military personnel in the current administration.[2] In an interview on the TV show “Roda Viva” in June 2020, Supreme Court Justice Luis Roberto Barroso warned about the risk of militarization in Brazil’s armed forces, such as what happened in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez. Therefore, the military, once in power, may begin to get a desire for more power.

The ambition for political power creates risks to the Republic. And, successively, the concentration of power leads to risks of abuse. According to information in the media, there is more military personnel in the current Brazilian federal administration than during the dictatorship (1964 – 1985). It should be noted that, in principle, the occupation of civilian positions by military personnel, respecting technical criteria, is not problematic in and of itself. With their technical training, the military can contribute significantly to certain federal public administration strategic areas. The problem is political allotment with civilian positions as a bargaining chip between the President of the Republic and the armed forces.

For example, in Venezuela, the democratic rule of law has been corrupted as Presidents Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro co-opted the military.[3] Over there, military loyalty was acquired by granting them civilian government positions and occupying strategic state-owned companies.

 Notably, in the context of the 2018 presidential elections, one of the Armed Forces High Command generals, General Eduardo Villas Bôas, questioned whether the Supreme Court would make a political judgment to free then former President Lula. He pressured the Supreme Court to avoid the risk of impunity. In the end, former President Lula received a criminal conviction and was thus declared ineligible, being prevented from participating in the dispute for president of Brazil. The interference of the Armed Forces High Command in the form of pressure on the Supreme Court is indeed quite strange. According to the Military Statute, when providing on military ethics, military personnel must: “abide by and enforce the laws, regulations, instructions, and orders of the competent authorities” (Article  28, IV), and “obey the civilian authorities” (Article 28, XI). The Army Disciplinary Regulations (Decree No. 5.345/2002) lists the following disciplinary transgressions: “12. Disregard, delay, or hinder compliance measures or judicial, administrative or police actions or in some way contribute to this” and “16. Advising or assisting in the non-compliance with any order from a competent authority, or in delaying the execution thereof.”  In other words, military authorities must comply with court orders without questioning them.

In 2018, Jair Messias Bolsonaro, a former army captain, was elected president of Brazil by a majority vote. Did the President-elect, in fact, receive explicit or implicit support from the military corporations? Around 300,000 people are under the command of the armed forces. The family members and friends of military personnel are under the influence of the armed forces.  The Army has a universe of 70,000 reserves.[4] The Navy has approximately 50,000 reserves.[5] And the Air Force has a reserve contingent of 40,000 people.[6]  In sum, there is a universe of approximately 160,000 reserve military personnel, with the potential to become “canvassers” for specific candidates. Not to mention the number of people in the military police forces.

 A good part of the military corporations possibly supported President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, even if they didn’t do so openly. Only the military clubs, made up of reserve troops, have explicitly declared their support of the presidential acts.  So is the president repaying such electoral support by appointing military personnel to the federal public administration? Where does a democracy based on civilian government stand, with armed forces’ participation in political life? In light of this, another question emerges: is the professionalism of the Brazilian armed forces at risk? Does the political activism of the military reserve have the power to unbalance the electoral contest?  What can the Electoral Justice do about it? What can the Armed Forces do to respect the professionalism and their credibility before the Brazilian people? After all, the armed forces cannot be at the mercy of factions. A faction represents only a portion, not the whole nation. 

 Active and reserve military personnel should be apolitical or, at least, maintain political neutrality without expressing political preferences or criticism. To tell you the truth, active-duty military personnel have not spoken out on political issues, except for a few who are more active in political life. It is only the reserve military who have been actively manifesting themselves on social media.  In this regard, the Army Chief of Staff passed Ordinance Number 196/EME of July 1, 2019, that approves the rules for creating social media within the Brazilian Army. According to the Ordinance mentioned above: “Article. 6. The institutional profiles of military organizations may only share social media posts from institutional profiles of public administration bodies and official press agencies. Sole Paragraph. Sharing of social media posts from personal profiles is prohibited. In another provision: “Article. 7. Personal profiles may be created, and the creator of the profile is responsible for all of their digital interactions, strictly abiding by what is prescribed in the Military Regulations and the Army Disciplinary Regulations, and the legal system. Sole Paragraph. The military role can only be associated with the personal profile on social media intended for publishing resumes, such as LinkedIn. And, yet, another rule: “Article. 8. The creation of professional profiles is not allowed, except for the general officers that make up the Army High Command.” Furthermore, the following rule was approved: “Article. 10. Social media posts from personal profiles cannot be shared within the Brazilian Army’s institutional media. The engagement in interactions of a political nature is also forbidden.

 Note that these rules apply to the Army’s social media. What about norms on social media, blogs, and other means of communication by the military? It is worth mentioning that the Military Statute (Law n. 6.880, dated December 9, 1980) provides: “Article. 14. Hierarchy and discipline are the institutional basis of the Armed Forces. Authority and responsibility increase with rank.” Another provision of the Military Statute: “Article. 45. Collective demonstrations are forbidden, whether on acts of the commanding officer and those of claimant or political nature”.[7] In this regard, the Army Regulations (Decree no. 4,346, dated August 25, 2020) holds the following provisions: “56. Taking part in a discussion regarding matters of partisan or religious nature when in a military area or under military jurisdiction.” Another provision: “57. The active-duty military that publicly manifests themselves on matters of political-partisan nature without authorization”. And then there is the rule: “58. Taking part, in uniform, in demonstrations of a political-partisan nature. Yet another rule: “59. Discuss or provoke discussion, by any means of communication, on political or military matters, unless duly authorized.”

In this sense, it is pertinent to regulate the use of social media by the Army to ensure its institutional communication. However, the question of the discipline of the military’s actions on social media, blogs, and the press remains. In this regard, in the United States, there is a debate about the use of Chinese applications by American military personnel and the risks of obtaining personal data and geolocation of the military, which can compromise their personal security, as well as the security of military operations, with geolocation of troops. For example, a simple exercise application used by the military had the ability, through geolocation, to identify the location of US troops abroad. The Army has decided to ban the use of these apps by the military.

 There is also controversy regarding Article 166 of the Military Penal Code, which defines the following military conduct as a crime: “To publish, without permission, an official act or document, or to publicly criticize an act of their commanding officer or a matter of military discipline or any government resolution: penalty – detention, from two months to one year, if the fact constitutes a more serious offense.  This legal provision was the object of an action against the violation of a fundamental constitutional right – ADPF n. 475, proposed by the political party PSL, Rapporteur Justice Dias Toffoli, on the grounds of the unconstitutionality of Article 166 of the Military Penal Code (Decree-Law n. 1.001, of October 21, 1969), for violating the freedom of expression of state military personnel, grounded on Articles 5, IV, IX and Article 2200, §2, of the Brazilian Constitution. According to the motion, military police personnel and firefighters use social media, blogs, and other means of communication to express their opinions and criticisms. However, these military personnel are being punished with reprimands and even imprisonment for their manifestations on social media.[8] Federal Prosecutor Raquel Dodge issued a legal opinion in ADPF n. 475/DF stating the following: Discipline and hierarchy are constitutional vectors structuring military institutions and conforming to all their activities. These are not mere institutional predicates but basic pillars that distinguish military organizations from other civilian or social organizations. This exceptional legal regime differentiates the military from civil servants and other citizens in terms of exercising individual rights. And she goes on to say: “The public manifestation of criticism of a hierarchical superior or a matter of military discipline discredits the military institution itself, in addition to breaching discipline and hierarchy. Hence, it is natural to have stricter rules for the military to express their opinions about issues of the military realm”. And, further, the opinion states: “The special relationship of military submission, based on discipline and hierarchy, imposes restrictions on the full exercise of the freedoms of expression and information, which have their scope of protection reduced to preserve the integrity of the military institution. Finally, she concludes: “Possible abuses in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression and manifestation of thought that imply a rupture with military discipline and hierarchy and consequent discrediting of the institution must be examined on a case-by-case basis and not by a generalized formula that recognizes the lack of criminal nature of any and all conduct based on the freedom of expression or information.” 

On the other hand, as for the political manifestation of military reserve personnel, curiously enough, there is Law n. 7.524, of July 17, 1986, which legislates on the manifestation of political or philosophical thoughts and opinions by inactive military personnel.

According to said Law: “Article. 1. Respecting the limits set by civil law, inactive military personnel may, regardless of the provisions contained in the Disciplinary Regulations of the Armed Forces, to express opinions freely on political issues and express thoughts and ideological or philosophical concepts on matters of the public interest. Paragraph. The preceding provision does not apply to military matters of a secretive nature and is independent of political-partisan affiliation.

It should be noted that this law was enacted before the 1988 Constitution came into effect.  In this respect, even if one considers the law to have been received by the Brazilian Constitution, it is critical for the freedom of political expression of reserve military personnel to be duly accompanied by the necessary political responsibility. Reserves, even though no longer connected to the military corporation, have certain credibility in the eyes of the public. Regarding military ethics, the Military Statute states: “Article. 28. (…) III – abstain, when not on active duty, from using hierarchical designations: a) in political-partisan activities; b) in commercial activities: c) in industrial activities. So, as their words have the power to influence society, there is the need for moderation in their political passions when issuing opinions about candidates, governments, or democratic institutions, with the potential to possibly unbalance the electoral contest. 

In this aspect, the manifestation of military personnel on social media, even if no longer on active duty, represent risks to military organization. You see, social media algorithms are calibrated to organize the digital environment based on extreme opinions.

Social media engineers seek to exemplify most of the extremes through digital data analysis, as this generates the largest audience.[9] Hence there is the risk of creating chaos and confusion in public opinion through the dissemination of fake news. And the scenario worsens in connection with the pandemic. Does this situation of public demonstrations by reserve military personnel on social media contribute to the armed forces’ credibility, reputation, and image? Or, on the contrary, can these demonstrations compromise the military organizations?  As the author, Giuliano da Empoli, explains in his work entitled “The Engineers of Chaos,” when analyzing the logic of social media and the impact on politics: “But, the essential point remains that extremists have become, in every sense and at every level, the center of the system. They set the tone of the discussion. If in the past, the political game consisted of spreading a message that unified, today it is about disuniting in the most explosive way. To win a majority, one must no longer converge toward the center, but add to the extremes.”[10]

 In short, in the digital environment, there is a risk of political extremism and manipulation, with collateral damage to democracy. Proof of this is Russia’s interference in the US presidential elections that culminated in the election of President Donald Trump and the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Another example: the manipulation of the referendum that resulted in the UK leaving the European Union. Finally, as there are many risks related to social media, the armed forces and legislator must reflect on the possible collateral damage to the institution and Brazilian democracy resulting from demonstrations by active and reserve military personnel. The most absurd aspect of the situation was the ongoing investigation by the Brazilian Supreme Court of the anti-democratic demonstrations in front of the Army Headquarters, as well as the alleged involvement of congresspeople in these demonstrations, including with funding.[11] And using social media to make money by spreading the word about these anti-democratic acts.

During the electoral period, severe attacks were made by a colonel from the army reserve against Justice Rosa Weber, who was the Chair of the Superior Electoral Court at the time. In this context, tension arose between the Supreme Court Justices and members of the Armed Forces, as detailed in the book “Os Onze. O STF, seus bastidores e suas crises” (The Eleven. The Brazilian Supreme Court, Its Backstage, and its Crises), by Filipe Recondo and Luiz Weber.[12] The most serious problem is the President of the Republic exploiting the prestige of military institutions before the public opinion for political-electoral purposes. This conduct represents an abuse of presidential power with political and personal objectives. This should be subject to parliamentary and judicial review. This presidential conduct causes collateral damage to the armed forces, with the risk of dynamiting the degree of confidence that the Brazilian people have in their military institutions. Just for comparison: in the United States, military participation in government acts is considered a highly severe national matter. General Mark Milley, commander of the US armed forces, participated in an activity with the United States president in the context of the use of armed forces to suppress civil rights movements. This was related to the protests against racism triggered by the death of George Floyd, a black American citizen, caused by a white police officer. The General apologized to the American people for having made the mistake of participating in an event held by Donald Trump’s administration. In his words: “My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics. As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from, and I sincerely hope we all can learn from it.”[13] Public officials from the Department of Justice expressed the view that the military cannot be used to violate constitutional rights in an open letter to the public.[14] During his administration, President Donald Trump sought to use US military personnel in his political-electoral game. However, the high-ranking military itself reacted strongly, and US institutions have criticized this presidential behavior. US Air Force professor and military officer Charles Dunlap, on the political exploitation of the military’s prestige, recently explained, “that sterling reputation is much-based (sic) on the public’s belief that the military, unlike so many other entities these days, is an altruistic organization impartially focused on serving the nation’s interests. Because the military typically stays apolitical, something too rarely found in today’s hyper-polarized environment, I don’t think it’s perceived as yet another self-serving interest group.[15] 

 Another author, Edward Chang, explains that people do not trust political institutions; this in itself is a good enough reason for the military not to participate in political life to avoid compromising the institution’s credibility.[16]

 Another author, Raphael S. Cohen, points out the risks of exposure of the military in political life: “The dangers of politicization, arguably, are only made worse by the public’s embrace of the military and its service members, particularly if this leads some to accept the words of general officers as sacrosanct. No general is infallible and beyond reproach, especially when choosing to enter an unfamiliar and turbulent political environment. These also could be debilitating for civilian policymakers, who may dodge responsibility for their decisions by cloaking indecision in deference to the uniform.”[17] 

 The author explains that there are dangers of politicization with the participation of the military in civilian governments by being associated with acts of government and political acts

 Another point of view is the need to establish a code of silence (code of self-regulation) for reserve military personnel to avoid encouraging insubordination within the corporation. There is potential for politicization within the military corporation if the issue of political statements is not regulated. According to the author: “The normalized exploitation of military service for partisan political purposes should never be acceptable, and Americans must outright reject it. Failure to do so means the representative government is in trouble.[18]

 If we apply this lesson to Brazil, it is clear that the involvement of military personnel in the civilian government, even if they are in the reserve force, represents a flaw in the representative democratic system, something that must be rejected. In this regard, Brazilian General Santos Cruz believes that active-duty military personnel working in the government should be transferred to the reserve force precisely not to compromise the institutional image of the armed forces.[19] In the United States, the regulation of the subject of reserve military personnel is clear; there are quarantine rules, including rules regarding the use of military status and symbols associated with the armed forces.[20] 

 I would add that, beyond this issue, it is crucial to redefine in Brazil the limits to the participation of the military reserve in civilian government and to establish a code of conduct for participation in party political issues in support of the government or a particular candidacy.

 Also, it would be important to have rules regarding the use of military ranks held by elected officials who call themselves General X, Colonel Y, Private Z, Captain W, Sergeant T, etc. After all, do we have a republic of generals, colonels, sergeants, captains, and soldiers, or do we have a civilian republic? After all, if each division of the armed forces decides to support a candidate for elective office, what will that do to the civilian Republic? Barracks cannot be turned into electoral platforms. The rules for the use of social media by military personnel are applicable. These are defined in Ordinance n. 196/EME of July 1, 2019, which approves the norms for creating and managing social media within the realm of the Brazilian Army.

 The Brazilian Constitution grants eligibility to military personnel under the following conditions: “Article. 14. (…) §8. Enlisted military personnel is eligible, provided the following conditions are met: I – if they have less than ten years of active service, they must leave active service; II – if they have more than ten years of active service, they will be furloughed by their commanding officer and, if elected, will be transferred to the reserve force upon taking their oath of office.

 On the subject of eligibility and party affiliation of military personnel, the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies consultants, Sérgio Pires and Miriam Amorim, explain:

“Within this context, the Federal Constitution guarantees eligibility to enlisted military personnel in its Article 14§, 8. From this point on, there seems to be a paradox, as one of the conditions for eligibility is party affiliation. In the case of the military, this condition cannot be met in advance because they belong to a class of public servants forbidden to maintain party affiliation while exercising their public functions.[21] And the authors recall the Gordian knot of the risk to democracy and the military issue:

“We must always remember that, in the history of Brazil, whenever military segments have become politicized, there have been consequences for democratic stability. In the evolution of the well-known ‘military issue in the 19th century, before the Proclamation of the Republic, in the 1930 Revolution, the 1932 Constitutionalist Revolution, among other events.  Thus, we emphasize the need for active-duty military personnel to remain legally refrained from participating in partisan political activities. The authors further clarify: “It should be noted that the constitutional restriction on party affiliation only affects active-duty military personnel. Similar to the treatment given to these professionals, the Federal Constitution also creates conditions that restrict party affiliation of other categories of public servants, such as judges, members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and members of the Audit Courts.”   Finally, the authors conclude:

One of the main reasons why the Federal Constitution affords active-duty military personnel differential treatment, restricting their right to party affiliation, stems from the need to keep active members of the Armed Forces away from political-partisan militancy. Up to know, the constitutional legislator considered it reckless to grant such condition, as this could create the situation of a majority party controlling a large part of the Armed Forces, signaling the possibility of an ‘armed wing’ of a particular political party, which is not in line with democracy.[22]

As an example, the figures for the Military Police are as follows: Rio Grande do Sul (34,656 active-duty and 51,223 inactive), Santa Catarina (10,126 active-duty and 9,783 inactive), Paraná (18,795 active-duty and 14,006 inactive), São Paulo (84,470 active-duty and 64,000 inactive), Minas Gerais (43.554 active-duty), Rio de Janeiro (44,886 active-duty and 25,833 inactive), Distrito Federal (11,075 active-duty and 11,862 inactive), Bahia (11,076 active and 11,862 inactive), Ceará (21,398 active duty and 3,256 inactive), Pernambuco (21,340 active duty and 14,718 inactive).[23] What if a political party decides to recruit military police officers to join its ranks? Where does the Constitution stand in the face of an armed political faction? As a matter of fact, in an express statement by the leader responsible for the creation of the new political party with the provisional name Aliança Brasil (Brazil Alliance), connected to the figure of President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, the intention to recruit party members among the military reserve force was expressly declared.

Now, the Brazilian Constitution clearly establishes a limit to the participation of military personnel in the national political-partisan life to avoid the risk of creating an armed faction of a particular political party. This constitutional prohibition should be extended to reserve military personnel, even through an amendment to the Constitution. This constitutional purpose of prohibiting political-partisan activity by members of the armed forces must be protected from indirect means to circumvent the constitutional intention. In other words, constitutional frauds to politically manipulate the armed forces at the behest of the President of the Republic are undemocratic and unconstitutional, which is why they must be fought. 

 It should be noted that one of the pillars of American democracy, considered one of the most advanced in the world, is the principle of civilian control of the armed forces. But, this civilian control of the armed forces is not the control performed simply by the President of the Republic. On the contrary, civilian control must also be effected by the National Congress. In the United States, the division of powers between the President and Congress is key to ensuring civilian control of the military.[24] This lesson from the United States should be applied here in Brazil. What’s more, civilian control is designated by the constitutional forms of restraint on the role of the armed forces. Likewise, this civilian control is exemplified by the armed forces’ professionalism, in the sense of their neutrality toward political-partisan issues.

 According to Samuel Huntington, to maximize civilian control, the armed forces’ professionalism must be maximized. According to the author:

 “Objective civilian control achieves its end by civilianizing the military, making them the mirror of the state. Subjective civilian control exists in a variety of reforms, objective civilian control in only one. The antithesis of objective civilian control is military participation in politics; civilian control decreases as the military become progressively involved in institutional, class, and constitutional politics. Subjective civilian control, on the other hand, presupposes this involvement. The essence of objective civilian control is the recognition of autonomous military professionals; the essence of subjective civilian control is the denial of an independent military sphere.”[25]

As can be seen from the author’s words, the purpose of civilian control of the armed forces is precisely to avoid the risk of military participation in civilian governments. There is a clear risk of politicization for the armed forces and, in turn, a risk of a breakdown in hierarchy and discipline. If political ideology also enters the barracks, the unity of the military corporation will be broken.  If the military becomes divided between those who support communism/socialism and those who support capitalism, there will be a breakdown of the backbone of the armed forces. These internal divisions have happened in other moments of the Brazilian military history, such as the 1920s movement known as “lieutentism.” Another episode was the Copacabana Fortress revolt. Also, the Brazilian army segment had a moment of sympathy for fascism.[26] It is vital to strengthen the democratic regime further to avoid these historical atrocities. There are anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements precisely to fight such anti-democratic practices. In his book “How Democracy Ends,” David Runciman explains the new methods for disrupting the democratic order. According to the author:

Jurist Bruce Ackerman identifies, in the last fifty years of United States presidential politics, a series of additions of power by the executive. Most of them involve the ‘politicization of the military, co-opted in ever-increasing numbers into government positions. Faced with a recalcitrant legislature, presidents turn to career military personnel in their quest for results. Ackerman sees two dangers. One is that a subservient high command can greatly increase the powers of an extremist presidency by obeying their every order. The other is that the president ends up obeying the orders of the generals, who become indispensable to their administration. The commander in chief then becomes a mere figurehead, serving to cover up what would essentially be a military government. Is it the generals who obey the politicians or the politicians who obey the generals? When that line becomes blurred, it is hard to know”.[27] This high risk pointed out by the professor does exist in Brazil.

On the one hand, there is the danger of extending the powers of an extreme-right-wing president. On the other hand, there is a danger that the president will become subordinate to the will of the generals, and the powers of the presidency of the Republic will be eroded. Both pose risks to democracy. For the time being, the armed forces have the prestige of public opinion in Brazil.  However, certain public opinion polls show a decrease in the trust in the armed forces. When some of its members participate in the government by holding positions of a civilian nature, there is a risk that politics will contaminate the armed forces. And, in an extreme case, there is the risk of breaking the hierarchical unity of the armed forces and internal division. Brazil and Brazilian citizens need to trust the armed forces.

The military must refrain from involvement with the civilian government if it wishes to maintain the Brazilian people’s trust in the armed forces. The possible interest of small military groups cannot override the national interest, which, evidently, represents the interest of all Brazilians. Corporatism is obviously not the national interest. The mission of the military corporation is to defend the national interest, but it is not representative of the national interest in and of itself. In this respect, the armed forces’ responsibility, including its reserve personnel, is to exercise self-restraint in their participation in acts of government and political acts. The use of the armed forces by the president of the Republic in the political-electoral game could tarnish the reputation of the military institution.  In this regard, Brazilian General Santos Cruz, in an exemplary article O Militar e a Política (The Military and Politics), clarifies that the armed forces should not participate in the national political routine as they are government entities.[28] He supports the need to reform the military system, to make it mandatory for the military to be transferred to the reserve forces if they happen to participate in the government. I have detailed this matter in the article “Brazil, the Constitution, the Limits to the Authority of the Presidency of the Republic and the Risks of Politicization of the Armed Forces,” published on the website www.direitodacomunicacao.com.[29] Also, in another article, Lessons from the United States for Brazil: the Principle of Civilian Control over the Armed Forces, there is a detailing of the military issue in the realm of the democratic regime. 

To reinforce the issue of maximizing civilian control over the armed forces, according to Professor Samuel Huntington in his work The Soldier and the State: “the one prime essential for any system of civilian control is the minimizing of military power. Objective civilian control achieves this reduction by professionalizing the military, by rendering them politically sterile and neutral. This produces the lowest possible level of military-political power with respect to all civilian groups. All the same time, it preserves that essential element of power which is necessary for the existence of a military profession”.[30]

 In summary, in Brazil, the notorious political exploitation of the Armed Forces by the President of the Republic, with active and reserve military personnel in a civilian government, is a symptom of the severe illness of democratic life in our country.

The weakness of organized civil society explains, in part, the strengthening of the armed forces’ participation in the civilian government, something that needs to be rethought. It also represents an abuse of presidential power, which is subject to parliamentary and judicial review.  The worst risk for Brazil is for us to have a political army. As a negative example, we have “Chavism” that emerged in Venezuela and co-opted the military into the government. This created a tragic scenario for the Venezuelan people and struck a blow to democracy. Here in Brazil, the armed forces are expected to be guided by the professionalism of the military career, following the principle of civilian control, as determined by the Federal Constitution. The goal of the Republic is to maximize civilian control of the armed forces, as well as to maximize their professionalism. The credibility, reputation, and image of the armed forces depend on the degree of removal from participation in civilian government.  To this end, there must be greater democratic control over the possible use of military positions within the barracks to turn them into electoral platforms. From an electoral perspective, to ensure isonomy among candidates, it is crucial to forbid the exploitation of hierarchical ranks by candidates from military corporations. The strict discipline of manifestations by military public servants – on active duty and in the reserve forces – on social media, the press, applications, or other means of communication, is critical to preserve the integrity of the military organizations and society’s trust in them.

In addition, it is vital to establish restrictions on the participation of reserve military personnel in political parties, as well as in political positions and candidacies. 

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[1] Monteiro, Tânia and Fernandes, Adriana. Com 2,9 mil cargos, Forças Armadas temem desgaste. (With 2.9 thousand positions, the Armed Forces fear attrition.) Estado de São Paulo newspaper, May 31, 2020.

[2] In a statement by Federal Audit Court Minister Bruno Dantas: “Recently, there are constant allusions to a possible excessive militarization of civilian public service. This is a relevant issue, which has raised concern among important sectors of Public Administration scholars and also of society. Such concern is also in line with the recent statement made by Justice Luís Roberto Barroso in an interview on the Roda Viva TV show, in which he highlighted the risks of militarizing the civilian sectors of the government.  The Minister concludes: “For this reason, I propose to this Plenary that the General Secretariat of External Control be ordered to conduct a survey to verify the current cadre of military personnel, active and from the reserve, who occupy civilian positions in the government at this time, and present a comparison with the last three years, to assess the situation and disclose this data to society.”

[3] According to General Eduardo José Barbosa (former Defense Minister of the Dilma administration), current President of the Military Club, the most disturbing thing about the Armed Forces during the PT (Brazilian Labor Party) administrations was the alignment of the Brazilian government with dictatorshipsnsuch as Venezuela and Cuba. The statement was made during an interview to Reinaldo Azevedo on the portal UOL, aired in June 2020.

[4] Source: www.eb.mil.br. As of April 2020.

[5] Source: www.marinha.mil.br. As of March 2020.

[6] Source: www.fabmil.br. As of May 2019.

[7] This provision is applicable especially in relation to the demonstrations by the military police and firefighters, who have frequently demonstrated in the streets, even carrying out riots and coercing the population. Unfortunately, we saw this happen recently in Ceará, for example.

[8] On the subject, there is also a bill that modifies the Military Penal Code to provide for the right to manifest military thought.

[9]See: Empoli, Giuliano da. The Engineers of Chaos. Like fake news, conspiracy theories, and algorithms used to spread hate, fear, and influence elections. São Paulo: Vestígio, 2020, p. 141-164.

[10]Work cited, p. 163.

 Brazilian Supreme Court, Inquiry 4.828, DF, Rapporteur Justice Alexandre de Moraes.

[12] Recondo, Felipe and Weber, Luiz. Os onze. O STF, seus bastidores e suas crises. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2019. The specific episode is a video in which the retired military colonel cusses Justice Rosa Weber, Chairperson of the Superior Electoral Court at the time. Other Justices demanded action from the Armed Forces, asking for the colonel to be arrested, given the insults directed at Justice Rosa Weber.  Justice Alexandre de Moraes even went to Army quarters to talk to General Villas Bôas. Also according to the book: “Toffoli describes a grim scenario. He recalled that General Villas Bôas, commander of the Brazilian Army at the time, had 300,000 armed men who overwhelmingly supported the candidacy of Jair Bolsonaro. It is important to note that the candidate and his followers, including the military, have placed under the electoral process under suspicion, especially the electronic ballot boxes. Thus, the Superior Electoral Court must be clear and firm in its positions. It had to demonstrate the perfect functioning of the institutions. Those who heard Toffoli’s words got the feeling that the suspicions of instability were not pulled out of thin air: there was a true feeling of uncertainty regarding Brazil’s future. In a plenary session of the Supreme Court, Justice Celso de Mello stated:  “The filthy, sordid, and repugnant speech of the agent who offended the honor of Justice Rosa Weber (…) was exteriorized through highly insulting language, disqualified by superlatively coarse and boorish words, proper of those who possess a very reduced and crude vocabulary, unworthy of those who claim to be officers of the Armed Forces, permanent institutions of the Brazilian State that stand above irrational passions and do not allow themselves to be contaminated by them. [12]Work cited, p. 17. 

[13] In the original the words of General Milley: “As many of you saw the results of the photograph of me in Lafayette Square last week, that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society,” Milley said: “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment, and in that environment, created the perception of the military involved in domestic politics.  The Washington Post. Pentagon’s top general apologizes for appearing alongside Trump in Lafayette Square, june, 11, 2020.

[14] Committee on Armed Services. U.S House of Representatives. According to the text: “Further, also on June 3, 2020, I sent a letter asking a series of essential questions about the use of military forces in response to peaceful protestors in the District of Columbia, the movement of active duty troops to staging areas around the country’s capital, and plans to deploy active duty troops around the United States should the President invoke the Insurrection Act. The responses were due yesterday, June 9, 2020. The letter requires a response and these questions cannot be left unnanswered. It is imperative that you provide answers to these questions immediately. I remain committed to working with you on these critical issues, which will require the combined efforts of both our organizations to better understand what actually transpired and what we must learn going forward, to ensure the military remains one of the most respected and trusted institutions in the country.

[15] Chang, Edward. Why retired military officers need to shut up about politics. The Federalist.

[16] Chagnd, Edward, article quoted above.

[17] Cohen, Raphael. Minding the Gap: the Military, Politics, and American Democracy, December, 2017.

[18] Chang, Edward. Why retired military officers neet to shut up about politics.

[19] See Isto É magazine: Santos Cruz defende que militares da ativa do governo passem para reserva, June 13, 2020.

[20] Department of Defense, Directive. Political activities by member of the Armed Forces, February, 19, 2008.

[21] Pires, Sérgio Fernandes and Amorim, Miriam Campelo de. Elegibilidade e filiação partidária de militares. Digital Library of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, 2006.

[22]Work cited, p. 10.

[23] See data from the transparency portals of each Brazilian state.

[24]See: Huntington, Samuel. The Soldier and the State, p. 178.

[25] Huntingon, Samuel. P. The soldier and the State. The theory and politics of civil-military relations. London, 1985, p. 83.

[26] According to General Góis Monteiro: “Brazilian fascism, ours, intended to strengthen the unity of the motherland, given the class representation to which modern socialism tends. It would not be a Mussolini-style fascism, a Mediterranean fascism. But, in any case, a fascism based on the strengthening of the state, with the contribution of the fundamental principles of each class, well defined and served by the administration of public affairs.” See: Fausto, Boris. A revolução de 1930. Historiografia e história. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1997, p. 143.

[27] Runciman, David. How Democracy Ends. São Paulo: Todavia, p. 61

[28] Santos Cruz, Carlos Alberto dos. The military and politics, Estadão newspaper, May 28, 2020.

Portal: [29]www.direitodacomunicacao, on May 25, 2020.

[30] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State. The theory and politcs of civil-military relations, p. 84.

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