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This analysis summarizes and reflects on the following research: Lima, R. C., Silva, P.F., & Rudzit, G. (2021). No power vacuum: National security neglect and the defence sector in Brazil. Defence Studies, 21(1), 84-106, DOI: 10.1080/14702436.2020.1848425
In the context of Brazil:
- Civilian authorities failed to advance a comprehensive national security policy and deferred to the military in the areas of intelligence, public safety, and border control—which help to maintain military priorities in the security sector and expand the military’s role in public life.
- “National security policymaking did not have a civilianized, institutionalized, integrated or effective national security council or national security strategy,” despite growing security concerns like organized crime and increasing levels of violent crime, paramilitary groups, “interstate militarized disputes,” and great power competition in the region.
- As the military’s role in intelligence, public safety, and border control expanded, civilian elites grew dependent on the military’s role in security policy, thus making the overall system more resistant to reform and steadily weakening democratic and civilian control over the security sector.
Key Insight for Informing Practice
- Maintaining or asserting civilian control over the security sector is critically important to countering militarization and protecting democracy.
Current thinking on civil-military relations has framed defense and military affairs as a form of public policy, centering the role that civilian-led institutions play national security strategy. With this principle of civilian control over defense and military affairs in mind, authors Raphael C. Lima, Peterson F. Silva, and Gunther Rudzit question what happens to a country’s security sector when civilian authorities neglect national security policymaking. They examine Brazil in the decades following the transition from military dictatorship to democracy as an exploratory case study to refine their theoretical understanding of national security neglect. They demonstrate that Brazilian civilian authorities failed to advance a comprehensive national security policy, which helped maintain military priorities in the security sector. As a result, over time civilian authorities shifted more responsibilities to the military in the areas of intelligence, public safety, and border control while the military expanded its political role in all areas of security policymaking.
National security neglect: “the lack of attention in national security policymaking by civilian political elites [that] weaken[s] political control over the armed forces, inhibits effective defence reforms, and…reinforce[s] militarization in national security policymaking [in] defence, intelligence, and public safety policies.”
The security sector can be understood by mapping the entities involved in intelligence, defense, and public safety: “state security providers” (armed forces, police, border and customs agencies, intelligence services, etc.), “oversight and management bodies” (audit offices, parliamentary or congressional committees, etc.), and civil society (media, academia, and other non-governmental organizations). An ideal security policy framework is a hierarchy (see Figure 1) in which (1) overall government policy is set by the executive or legislative bodies at the top level, and (2) the foreign and interior departments formulate how to execute the top-level policy in the international and domestic space, generating (3) a national security policy focused on coordination and integration across various government and military institutions. Intelligence, defense, and public safety policies and institutions are aligned with policymaking established at the higher levels of the hierarchy.
Figure 1. Based on Chuter, D. (2011). Governing & managing the defence sector. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies. Adapted.
In Brazil, following democratization in 1985, civilian elites did not engage in national security policymaking. For instance, the terms “national security” and “public safety” were absent from the 1988 constitution, and no update was made to the 1983 National Security Law. As such, “national security policymaking did not have a civilianized, institutionalized, integrated or effective national security council or national security strategy,” despite growing security concerns like organized crime and increasing levels of violent crime, paramilitary groups, “interstate militarized disputes,” and great power competition in the region. This lack of coherent strategy meant that only ad hoc efforts to craft security policy at the operational level took place—for instance, the creation of the Integrated Security Plan in the lead-up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
In the absence of a top-level coordinated policy, the military expanded its role in the areas of intelligence, public safety, and national border policy. A new intelligence system and civilian-led intelligence agency were created in 1999 but were effectively placed under the control of the military-led Institutional Security Cabinet, leading to “a high military prerogative in the intelligence system.” Public safety was entirely delegated to the sub-national level in Brazil, leading to low capacity and fragmentation of various public safety entities. Further, civilian authorities carved out new roles and missions for the military in public safety—named “law-and-order operations”—to address internal security threats. These operations have become “frequent and overused,” with each presidential term since 1995 deploying 15-29 of these operations. This pattern of civilian elites deferring to the military continued with the 2016 Strategic Borders Plan—expanding the military’s role in countering drug trafficking and other border crimes—and the Integrated Border Monitoring System, which is completely under the control of the Brazilian Army.
As the military’s role in intelligence, public safety, and border control expanded, civilian elites grew dependent on the military’s role in security policy, thus making the overall system more resistant to reform and steadily weakening democratic and civilian control over the security sector. Nearly all reform proposals to limit the military’s institutional role, “such as civilization, centralization of authority, jointness and resource allocation,” failed; proposals providing the military with more resources and responsibilities moved forward. As a result, the public sees the military as “one of the most trusted institutions” in Brazil. Currently, the number of civilian government posts occupied by military members grew by 108.22% from 2016 to 2020, and 39% of President Bolsonaro’s ministries are led by retired or active members of the armed forces.
National security neglect was created by two problems in civilian leadership: the “problem of control over the armed forces” and the failure to address “internal and transnational security challenges.” This created “a cycle of dependency on the military to deal with these challenges, reinforced military influence, and inhibited defence reforms that challenged military prerogatives.” As a result, Brazil’s security sector is deeply militarized, with the military’s influence in all aspects of state and society growing.
Civilian control over the military is considered a key feature of democratic governance. For example, it’s one of many indicators in Freedom House’s Freedom in the World Index. Yet, in many countries (much like Brazil), civilian control and overall transparency in national security policy and the security sector are eroding as governments respond to—or hand off their response to—emerging security challenges. The militarization of the security sector constitutes an incredible threat to democracy and peace, and deserves thoughtful attention, critique, and push-back from both elected officials and civil society groups.
With regards to the key areas of security policy identified in this paper—intelligence, public safety, and national borders—there are parallels in the militarization of the U.S. security sector. Congress and the public were lied to about the intelligence supporting the invasion in Iraq and misled about “progress” made in the war in Afghanistan—both examples demonstrating how administrative support for war-making overrode an objective assessment of whether a military response would be effective in countering terrorism. In public safety, police militarization, encouraged by the Department of Defense’s 1033 program that has funneled $7.4 billion to police departments around the country, contributes to a vicious cycle of racist policing and low levels of police accountability. The effect is a warped perception that public safety requires armed personnel and not investments in communities to advance non-militarized responses that effectively diminish crime. U.S. national borders, and particularly the southern border with Mexico, have become deeply militarized with an ineffective but expensive border wall, drone surveillance, and armed personnel attempting to dissuade immigrants seeking legal rights of asylum—none of these efforts have worked to stop immigration (setting aside the question of whether that goal is even valid or ethical in the first place).
These examples paint a picture of an expensive national security sector with limited positive impact on anyone’s security but a pronounced negative impact on the security of the most vulnerable and historically disadvantaged. An important aspect of demilitarizing security is to assert civilian control over the security sector and ensure that decision-making in national security policy is grounded in both threat reduction and harm prevention. Security is not synonymous with military dominance, but an increasingly militarized public is led to believe that a military response is always necessary to ensure security, despite evidence to the contrary. Militarism is a threat to democracy in part because it justifies extraordinary measures that violate civil, political, and human rights while making governments less accountable for the direct harm they cause. Renewed efforts by Congress to reassert congressional oversight of war powers and national security is a critical first step—the first of many necessary steps to counter militarism and assert civilian control over national security.
- What are possible measurement indicators for national security neglect that can help identify trends in other countries?
- What does a non-militarized intelligence, public safety, and border control policy look like in practice?
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Geneva Centre for Security Sector Governance: https://www.dcaf.ch
Igarapé Institute: https://igarape.org.br/en/
Global Militarisation Index: https://gmi.bicc.de/#rank@2019
Keywords: security sector, militarization, Brazil, civil-military relations, defense, security policy, national security neglect