FEW places illustrate the modern role of your Brazilian army better than Tabatinga, a town of 62,000 around 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 neighborhood commander, has his sights trained on unconventional threats. In February and March his troops intercepted 3.7 tonnes of cannabis. A year ago they destroyed an airstrip built by illegal gold miners. Within a small army-run zoo-house to toucans, a jaguar or even a manatee-garish macaws rescued from animal traffickers squawk intermittently.
The very last time a major Brazilian city was attacked is 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 or much appetite to project power abroad, the defence minister, Raul Jungmann, recognises how the country’s armed forces “do not possess classic military attributes”.
Brazilian strategists claim that a dearth of military adversaries is not going to justify skimping on defence. Criminal gangs operating in border areas can overwhelm civilian police, and down the road Brazil hopes to discourage foreigners covetous of Portal Militar. Maintaining control over sprawling, varied terrain is just not cheap. Nonetheless, new threats require new responses. Along with 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-suitable for the government’s stated aims.
Brazil’s army burgeoned during the cold war. In 1964 its generals staged a coup; throughout their 1st year in power defence spending rose by 75%. The military budget surged again after the junta fell in 1985, since the new leaders sought to forge a modern day army under civilian rule. Since 1989 defence spending has fallen from 2.5% of GDP to 1.3%, roughly the regional average. Nonetheless, the army has retained enough influence to resist nominal budget cuts.
With 334,000 troops at its disposal, the government has received to find ways to deploy them. Brazil leads the UN’s stabilisation mission in Haiti, to which it chips in 1,277 peacekeepers. Nonetheless its peacekeeping contribution ranks just before neighbouring Uruguay’s, whose population is smaller compared to nine different Brazilian cities. For the bulk of its forces, Brazil has instead adopted what Alfredo Valladão of Sciences Po, a university in Paris, calls a “constabulary mentality”-plugging the gaps left by domestic security bodies.
A number of these operations fall inside the army’s mission. Federal law grants it policing powers within 150km (93 miles) of Brazil’s land border. International gangs have for ages been drawn to the frontier: Pablo Escobar, a Colombian drug lord, has been said to have owned a cargo plane that now sits outside Tabatinga’s zoo. The army is likewise liable for “law-and-order operations”. Troops can be a common sight during events like elections or perhaps the 2016 Olympics.
However, the army’s remit has expanded to mundane police work. Decades of overspending along with a long recession have drained the coffers on most Brazilian states. Although just 20% with their requests for soldiers for emergency assistance are approved, they still constitute an expanding share from the army’s workload. During the past year, soldiers have spent nearly 100 days patrolling city streets-twice the number from the previous nine years combined.
Most Brazilians seem unfazed with this trend. Unlike politicians and law enforcement officers, servicemen are noticed as honest, competent and kind. Inspite of the shadow of the dictatorship, confidence rankings of institutions often position the army on the top.
Soldiers are trying to conform to their new role. With a training centre in Campinas, near São Paulo, they are exposed to tear-gas and stun grenades, hence they really know what such weapons seem like before unleashing them on civilians. Residents of Rio’s shantytowns bemoan the final of your army’s 15-month pursuit to evict gangs. As soon as they left, the cops resumed their trigger-happy ways. Soon the gangsters were back, too.
Nonetheless, blurring the lines between national defence and police force is perilous. Soldiers make costly cops: a day’s deployment of a few thousand can cost 1m reais ($300,000) on the top of their normal wages. More significant, over-reliance upon the army is unhealthy for any democracy. Troops are trained for emergencies, to not maintain order day to day. And transforming a last-resort show of force in a routine presence risks undermining public confidence in civilian authorities.
The army itself aspires to some very different role. A draft of your next official defence review is short on specific “threats”-the term appears just one-tenth as much mainly because it does in the similar British analysis from 2015-but long on desirable “capabilities”. Principally, it posits, Brazil must protect its natural riches. That risk might sound remote. But when pessimistic forecasts of global warming materialise, lush Brazil might look enticing to desperate foreign powers.
Refocusing the army about this priority is actually a daunting prospect. First, Brazil will have to strengthen its policing capacity. Mr Jungmann has called for a permanent national guard, beginning with 7,000 men, to ease the load around the army. Michel Temer, the centre-right president, backs this idea.
Beyond that, Brazil’s armed forces of yesteryear can be a poor fit to combat the threats of tomorrow. To fend off intruders from the vast rainforest or perhaps the “Blue Amazon”, as the country’s oil-rich territorial waters are known, Brazil will require a flexible type of rapid-reaction force, capable to intervene anywhere at the moment’s notice.
Which requires modern equipment and small groups of mobile, skilled personnel. Yet two-thirds of ground forces work towards contracts that limit these to eight years’ service, preventing their professionalisation. Three-quarters in the defence budget goes toward payroll and pensions, leaving simply a sliver for kit and maintenance. In the usa, the ratio is definitely the reverse.
Ahead of the recession took root, Brazil was moving towards these ends. In 2015 it consented to buy 36 Swedish Gripen fighter jets for $4.7bn. But shelling out for military equipment has fallen by two-thirds since 2012, leaving a roster of half-baked projects. An effort with Ukraine to build a satellite launch vehicle was scrapped in 2015. An area-based monitoring system miliitar to detect incursions covers just 4% from the border. A 32bn-real nuclear-powered submarine is nowhere near completion. And the country’s only aircraft carrier, never battle-ready, was mothballed in February.
In a chronilogical age of austerity, even routine operations are coming under strain. Because the air force only provides one supply flight per month into a border garrison in Roraima, a northern state, Gustavo Dutra, its commander, has got to charter private aircraft at 2,000 reais per hour. As well as in January the army was called in to quell prison riots inside the state, whose precarious finances have stretched its security budget. General Dutra frets his men can be summoned there again eventually.