Brazil’s Armed Forces: National Defence vs Law Enforcement Duties

Without external threats to repel, the world’s 15th-biggest standing army is turning into a de facto police force

Few places illustrate the modern role of the Brazilian army better than Tabatinga, a city of 62,000 on the shared border point between Brazil, Colombia and Peru. The frontier, protected by Amazon rainforest, has not budged since the Portuguese built a now-ruined fort there in the 1700s. But Júlio Nagy, a local commander, has his sights trained on unconventional threats. In February and March his troops intercepted 3.7 tonnes of cannabis. Last year they destroyed an airstrip built by illegal gold miners. Inside a small army-run zoo – home to toucans, a jaguar and even a manatee – garish macaws rescued from animal traffickers squawk intermittently.

The last time a big Brazilian city was attacked was in 1711, when a French corsair briefly captured Rio de Janeiro. The country’s official defence review states that “at present, Brazil has no enemies”. Lacking bellicose neighbours, armed insurgencies ormuch appetite to project power abroad, the defence minister, Raul Jungmann, recognises that the country’s armed forces “do not possess classic military attributes”.

Brazilian strategists say that a dearth of military adversaries does not justify skimping on defence. Criminal gangs operating in border areas can overwhelm civilian police, and in the future Brazil hopes to deter foreigners covetous of its natural resources. Maintaining control over sprawling, varied terrain is not cheap. Nonetheless, new threats require new responses. And the army’s own top brass say that its current form – heavy on low-skilled personnel, light on equipment, and increasingly diverted towards routine policing – is ill-suited for the government’s stated aims.” (The Economist, 2017, p.30-31).

Reference

The Economist (2017) Brazil’s Armed Forces: Enemies Wanted. The Economist. 08 July, 2017.

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