Military Decline


    Electoral competition and the incentives it unleashes form a key
    source of the dynamism that has marked civil-military relations in Brazil in the period
    following the country’s redemocratization. The policies that have resulted from these
    incentives have gradually shifted the balance of civil-military power in favor of
    By Wendy Hunter

    What impact does democratic government have on the military’s ability to exercise
    decisive influence over issues of broad social and political significance? Are electoral
    politicians under democracy likely to preserve or diminish the military’s sphere of
    involvement? What resources can and will the armed forces deploy to defend and advance
    their claims?

    This chapter discusses competing theoretical approaches that claim to provide answers
    to these questions. The first section presents and probes the central analytic issue of
    the book: whether and for how long the "pacted" or negotiated nature of the
    transition to democracy in Brazil inhibited democracy’s consolidation. Did the military
    governments’ firm guidance of the transition, which allowed the armed forces to maintain
    ample institutional powers and play an influential political role in the initial
    phase of the new regime, create a legacy of extensive military influence? Or did the rules
    and norms of democracy eventually lead elected civilians to rein in the political
    activities of the military? The framework I present and endorse in this section suggests
    that the competitive dynamic of democracy unleashes irresistible incentives for civilian
    politicians to contest a military prone to political interference and endowed with ample
    institutional prerogatives, and that the popular support certified by electoral victory
    enhances their capacity to do so.

    The second section examines and analyzes the effect of two conditioning
    factors—civilian political institutions and broader power alignments—in shaping
    the strategies of democratically elected political actors to extend their power and
    influence over the military. I argue that the weak institutionalization of Brazil’s
    political system and multiple constraints on the use of military force for domestic
    political purposes in the current era reinforce the pressures created by democratic
    competition to reduce military influence.

    While recognizing that the definition of democracy is a subject of intense debate, I
    conceptualize democracy as a system of governance in which an inclusive adult population
    is free to engage in individual and collective forms of political action and in which
    rulers are selected through open, competitive, peaceful, and regularly scheduled
    elections. This is similar to what Robert Dahl calls "polyarchy." Such a
    minimalist, formal-procedural definition of democracy is necessary because I seek to
    investigate the impact that democratic procedures have on a substantive issue (the
    influence of the military in politics). My study would be condemned to uncovering a
    tautology if it included in the definition of democracy the absence of interference by
    unelected officials, such as military officers.


    "Confining Conditions" Inhibit Civilian Sovereignty

    Many analysts, including Alfred Stepan, Frances Hagopian, Guillermo O’Donnell, and
    Terry Karl, posited that Brazilian democracy would suffer from a serious "birth
    defect." They claimed that the negotiated nature of the transition to civilian rule
    would provide the military, along with other important actors from the authoritarian
    period, with long-lasting political clout. More specifically, they contended that
    institutional privileges the armed forces retained in the transition process would give
    them a strong and indefinite foundation of political leverage. The military would be able
    to exercise undue influence in nonmilitary spheres as well as resist civilian direction
    over defense issues. The concern of these authors was not that the armed forces would
    launch a frontal assault on democracy by waging a coup d’état, but that they would impede
    democratic consolidation by continual tutelage, causing democracy to die a "slow
    death." In line with the view that "patterns of politics established in periods
    of transition have a very real and strong potential to become semipermanent features of
    the political landscape," Hagopian contends, "[t]he advent of civilian rule in
    Brazil did not erode military authority, though it may have disguised it." O’Donnell
    saw Brazil as vulnerable to the development of a democradura, a civilian government
    controlled by military and authoritarian elements. The considerable political interference
    of the army in the first three years of the civilian regime seemed to provide empirical
    verification for this theoretical expectation.

    Tenets of "historical institutionalism" informed the development of this
    rather pessimistic view. The influence of branching tree models, such as Krasner’s model
    of "punctuated equilibrium," is particularly observable. These models claim that
    stable institutional patterns structure political life. By creating vested interests that
    promote their own persistence, institutions gain considerable autonomy and strength to
    withstand shifts in the broader political and socioeconomic environment. Even a challenge
    drastic enough to upset established institutional patterns is conditioned in its impact by
    the institutional setting in which it occurs. Historical institutionalists therefore view
    political development as a path-dependent process: following one path channels further
    development down the same path and precludes other options.

    According to this view, significant political change only takes place at "critical
    junctures" or "turning points," when institutional patterns are challenged
    by strong socioeconomic or political pressures. Such moments present rare opportunities
    for political actors to reshape the political landscape by founding new institutions.
    Periods of regime transition—when the rules of the game are in flux— constitute
    such moments. If change is to occur, quick action must be taken before the transition
    period comes to a close and patterns and practices inherited from the previous regime have
    a chance to congeal. After these windows of opportunity close, stability prevails and
    profound political change, which would reshape the institutional framework, is unlikely.
    If left unchallenged during the regime change, previous institutional patterns are
    believed to be reaffirmed and given a strong foundation to persist. A historical
    institutionalist perspective would predict that the armed forces would be able to preserve
    their power and set limits to popular sovereignty in the new democracy if they and other
    conservative elites managed to retain strong institutional prerogatives throughout a
    transition from authoritarian rule.

    Electoral Competition Leads Civilians to Contest the Military

    In contrast to the view described above, my research on postauthoritarian Brazil
    suggests that countries that return to civilian rule through elite-led negotiations need
    not be constrained indefinitely by the balance of forces that prevailed in the transition
    and immediate posttransition period. Civil-military relations in postauthoritarian Brazil
    have displayed much greater dynamism than a historical-institutionalist framework can
    account for. The firm hand the armed forces exercised over the transition and the
    institutional prerogatives they retained did strengthen their political clout in the
    immediate aftermath of the transition. The army’s interference in civilian decision making
    was considerable and often met with success in this initial period. But as the
    authoritarian past receded further into the distance, the advantage that military elites
    could reap from factors stemming from the transition began to erode. Within roughly three
    years, elected officials began to take gradual yet significant steps to check the
    military’s political interference. Politicians first confronted the military over issues
    that directly affected their popularity and electoral standing. Later, their actions
    included efforts to diminish the military’s institutional basis for political involvement,
    for example, by forming civilian-led organs to replace the former National Security
    Council (Conselho de Segurança Nacional or CSN) and the National Information Service
    (Serviço Nacional de Informações or SNI). At the same time, while some of the
    military’s institutional prerogatives remained in existence, leading officers appeared
    increasingly unable to use them to wield actual political influence.

    How do I explain this unanticipated result? I argue that electoral competition creates
    incentives for politicians to reduce the interference of a politically powerful and active
    military, and that electoral victory enhances their capacity to do so. This claim rests on
    two premises: that politicians are first and foremost interested in their own political
    survival, and that the broad institutional context in which they operate structures their
    behavior. These premises suggest that politicians will contest the military when military
    actions conflict with politicians’ opportunity to gain widespread electoral appeal. Thus,
    in contrast to the view that political arrangements that are founded or reaffirmed during
    regime transitions will remain entrenched even as the political landscape around them
    changes, I contend that broad political and institutional shifts—in this case, the
    unfolding of the rules and norms of democracy—can disrupt patterns and practices put
    in place under a different set of circumstances. Rather than creating a static framework,
    democracy unleashes a competitive dynamic conducive to change.

    This analysis is inspired by the literature on rational choice, which focuses on actors
    and their intentions and explains political action with reference to rational interest
    calculation. Strategic interaction among individuals maximizing their self-interest is
    seen as the foundation of politics. In the rational choice perspective, institutions
    result from this kind of interaction among individuals; they are created by actors
    pursuing their own preferences in instrumental ways. Once established, institutions set
    parameters for individual actors and their interest calculations, but they are always open
    to further modification.

    These are the explicit premises of arguments that authors such as Barry Ames and
    Barbara Geddes advance to explain politics and institutional change in Latin America.
    These ideas are also reflected in Douglas Chalmers’s concept of the "politicized
    state," which differs fundamentally from Krasner’s model of "punctuated
    equilibrium." Whereas Krasner stresses the stickiness of institutions and confines
    the possibility of change to rare but major moments of reorientation, such as regime
    transitions, Chalmers emphasizes the ever-present fluidity of Latin American politics,
    marked by frequent incremental shifts in the balance of power among self-interested actors
    and the institutional arrangements they establish.

    Both historical institutionalism and rational choice focus on the relationship between
    actors and institutions but differ in their views concerning the malleability of
    institutions and the direction of the causal relationship between actors and institutions.
    Historical institutionalism sees institutional arrangements as resistant to change, except
    during rare crises, and focuses on the constraints that institutions impose on actors. By
    contrast, rational choice sees institutions as more mutable and underscores the capacity
    of actors to shape institutions and modify them once they are created. Rational choice
    theorists recognize that actors are conditioned by their institutional setting, which
    establishes a strategic context for decision making, but hasten to emphasize that this
    framework itself is the product of interaction among self-interested individuals.

    Insofar as my empirical findings show that self-interested actors began rather quickly
    to reshape institutional arrangements and to alter the balance of political power in their
    favor, my study bears out the guiding principles of rational choice and diverges from
    those of historical institutionalism. The rules of democracy in Brazil have fostered
    political competition and thus induced and enabled politicians to undermine the terms of
    the conservative pact made during the transition from authoritarianism. In particular,
    politicians have begun to remove important constraints on popular sovereignty by
    contesting the institutional prerogatives of the military and reducing their political

    Political Incentives

    What, more specifically, are the factors that induce and enable civilian politicians to
    undermine military tutelage over the new democracy? Why do many efforts by politicians to
    enhance their electoral chances conflict with positions the armed forces hold? And how do
    politicians gain the force to advance their preferences even against opposition from the
    armed forces?

    Democratization gives rise to two types of incentives for electoral politicians:
    particularistic and programmatic. Particularistic incentives concern the use of resources
    to build and maintain politicians’ personal support networks. Programmatic incentives
    involve the credit given to politicians for advances in public policy (e.g., health,
    education, welfare, and economic reform). Both types of incentives are operative in
    Brazil, as in most democracies. And in different ways both generate strong and specific
    pressures against the persistence of military involvement in politics.

    First, democratization in Brazil has reinforced particularistic incentives associated
    with political clientelism, often at the armed forces’ expense. Heightened electoral
    competition since the early 1980s has motivated politicians to search ever more
    energetically for economic assets to distribute as political pork barrel, thereby
    improving their chances of reelection. The dream of clientelist politicians is to build
    roads, schools, hospitals, sanitation systems, and other public works projects in their
    electoral districts. These benefits are targeted toward specific, regionally delimited
    groups of people. The extent to which legislators support local pork barrel projects, and
    the prevalence of logrolling in congressional voting patterns, strongly suggest that many
    Brazilians still vote largely with considerations of patronage in mind, or at least that
    politicians think they do.

    Beyond seeking to distribute particularistic patronage, politicians also pursue
    "categorical patronage." Such benefits are targeted to specific industries
    and/or categories of people. In principle, benefits are defined in general terms, but the
    beneficiaries unfailingly "happen" to be concentrated regionally. The rather
    narrow and regionally concentrated nature of the given categories qualifies these benefits
    as patronage and not as an integral part of programmatic strategies. The purpose of
    providing categorical patronage is for politicians to win regionally based electoral
    support, not to advance universalist goals. Examples of categorical patronage include
    subsidies for Brazil’s sugar alcohol program and coffee sector, and social security
    provisions for specific types of workers and pensioners, especially those who are
    concentrated in the country’s most developed regions.

    The rampant pursuit of patronage resources by politicians not only clashes with the
    long-standing positivist impulse within the military to "rationalize" the public
    bureaucracy. It also leads them to enter into direct competition with military elites over
    state resources. Politicians are tempted to shift budget shares away from the military to
    civilian ministries better suited for pork barrel. Similarly, where military officers hold
    key posts in large state enterprises—strategic positions from which to build
    political allies by distributing jobs and other benefits—patronage-seeking
    politicians will seek to replace them. The competition for patronage resources unleashed
    by democratic competition thus generates strong pressures against the continued
    entrenchment of the military in the political and economic fabric of the country.

    Second, in addition to unleashing particularistic incentives associated with political
    clientelism, democratization reinforces programmatic incentives that frequently work
    against the armed forces. In Brazil, winning elections often depends on gaining the votes
    of the country’s impoverished yet increasingly mobilized majority. Besides seeking to rise
    from their own poverty, some of Brazil’s poor have visions, albeit often vaguely defined,
    of a more egalitarian society. Politicians of diverse ideological leanings suggest
    increasingly in their conduct that they feel pressured to respond to this pool of voters
    in a symbolic, if not effective, way. This is especially true of politicians who need to
    appeal to urban electorates; they would quickly be turned out if they merely defended the
    interests of the privileged. Politicians tend to portray themselves as sympathetic with
    the plight of the country’s poor, despite the deeply conservative tendencies of Brazilian
    politics. They do so in rhetorical ways; for example, the successor of the government
    party during military rule, ARENA (the National Renovating Alliance or Aliança de
    Renovação Nacional), renamed itself the Democratic-Social Party (Partido Democrático
    Social or PDS). Similarly, Brazilian politicians frequently make reference to mudança
    (change) and to a novo Brasil (new Brazil). They also try to gain standing with the
    mass citizenry by supporting policies that recognize popular desires for change, at least
    in some highly visible areas, such as labor legislation. Insofar as many of the policies
    that (even conservative) politicians are tempted to support in order to appear progressive
    do not ensure universal social rights or effective interest representation for the
    disadvantaged, they are more "populist" than "programmatic" in nature.
    Nevertheless, they often run counter to the military’s goal of maintaining social order
    through restrictions on popular mobilization. The military’s ultimate fear is that
    politicians with populist leanings will encourage Brazil’s historically quiescent lower
    classes to become more assertive, thereby jeopardizing political stability and a model of
    accumulation propitious for Brazil’s rapid economic advancement.

    In addition to unleashing "populist" tendencies, democracy makes politicians
    accountable for the success of more strictly programmatic policies. These include social
    reforms as well as economic measures like privatization, stabilization, and adjustment.
    Given the importance of performance for public support, politicians seek maximum control
    over events and processes that occur within their jurisdiction, territorial and
    functionally Large bureaucratic organizations like the military can compromise this
    latitude. And unlike alliances with other established groups and institutions, close
    relations with the armed services rarely enhance a politician’s electoral chances. While
    Brazilian legislators clearly rely less on taking policy stands and more on providing
    particularistic services, Brazilian presidents depend on enacting public policies that
    meet the public’s approval. They are thus especially concerned with maintaining political
    autonomy from groups that could interfere with this goal. The constitution bans immediate
    presidential reelection, but former Brazilian presidents often reenter politics at lower
    levels. They can also compete for the presidency again after one term has lapsed.

    These seeds of conflict that democracy plants between civilian and military interests
    create strong pressures for elected politicians to reduce the military’s sphere of
    influence. This does not mean that ideology is irrelevant or that all politicians will
    follow this course of action all of the time. But at the very least the framework
    presented here suggests that conflict will invariably develop between electoral
    politicians and soldiers, and that the survival interests of politicians are sufficiently
    compelling to prompt efforts to contract the military’s domain over time.

    Political Capacity

    If electoral competition unleashes incentives for politicians to diminish military
    influence, the popular support that electoral victory certifies enhances the capacity of
    politicians to do so. A military organization would incur great risk and cost in taking
    forceful measures against a government with solid popular backing. The greater the mandate
    a given government enjoys, the less likely military elites will be to aggressively
    counteract civilian attempts to diminish their political role. All things being equal, a
    politician’s capacity to take measures prejudicial to the armed forces is also enhanced to
    the extent that the armed forces do not form a united front opposing the measures in

    In Brazil, capturing 53 percent of the valid vote in the 1989 presidential election
    (the first direct presidential election in twenty-nine years) helped President Fernando
    Collor face down the armed forces in the initial stages of his government. Concrete
    policies to narrow the military’s sphere of influence, as well as symbolic gestures such
    as Collor’s frequent references to himself as "commander in chief," met with
    little resistance. A poll conducted in the spring of 1991, which revealed the three
    military ministers to be among the least known of anyone in the cabinet, attested to
    Collor’s ability to defuse the military. Rarely did Collor appear at public events
    alongside his military ministers, a sure sign that the armed forces had lost their place
    in the inner circle of power.

    By contrast, Collor’s predecessor, President José Sarney (1985-90), was far more
    beholden to the armed forces. The military ministers, especially Army Minister Leônidas
    Pires Gonçalves, were featured regularly in the press commenting on wide-ranging topics
    and criticizing civilian authorities. Sarney was the rather colorless vice presidential
    running mate of president-elect Tancredo Neves, who died in 1985 shortly before assuming
    office. Neves himself was selected by an electoral college rather than by popular vote.
    The weakness of Sarney’s mandate—beginning with the nonelectoral route by which he
    came to power—deprived him of the necessary authority to stand strong against the
    military. Notably, however, even President Sarney made some modest efforts to contain the
    military in the initial stages of his government. These efforts took place at roughly the
    same time that Sarney pursued a populist line on economic policy. But after his popularity
    plunged beginning in December 1986 with the failure of the Cruzado Plan, an economic
    stabilization plan intended to break inertial inflation, President Sarney became captive
    to the armed forces.

    President Itamar Franco suffered from the same basic weakness as President Sarney.
    Replacing President Collor in the wake of the December 1992 vote of impeachment, former
    vice president Franco did not come to power with an electoral mandate of his own.
    Moreover, during his presidency Franco never gained sufficient popularity among the
    citizenry to defy any established group or organization. President Franco therefore
    manifested much greater timidity than his predecessor in taking steps to increase civilian

    The dynamic described above suggests that civilian politicians will be motivated to
    oppose a politically active military as a natural outgrowth of democratization. Even in
    the absence of a deliberate, principle-driven strategy to remove the military from
    political roles, the imperatives of electoral competition, together with the legitimation
    that popular elections confer on winning candidates, set the stage for civil-military
    conflict and the subsequent adoption of measures to reduce the military’s sphere of
    influence. Some politicians who support the reduction of military prerogatives undoubtedly
    do embrace the ideal of civilian control over the military. Many, however, appear to be
    motivated less by principles and more by instrumental considerations of electoral
    advancement. That former members of ARENA, the government party under authoritarian rule,
    have been among those who have contested the armed forces attests to the strength of
    pragmatic calculations. President Collor himself, who launched the most direct attack on
    the armed forces since 1985, was himself a son of the military regime.

    Presidents versus Legislators: Differences in Incentives and Capacities

    Both presidents and legislators seek to extend their own power and influence. A
    military that interferes regularly in politics will invariably constitute an impediment to
    this goal. The more the armed forces impinge on the electoral interests of executive and
    legislative politicians, the more they set themselves up to be contested. Beyond the basic
    interest that presidents and legislators share in their own electoral advancement, a
    slightly different set of incentives and constraints applies to the two categories of

    Presidents seek to remain in good standing with the electorate even though most Latin
    American countries bar immediate presidential reelection. In many countries, it is not
    unusual for former presidents to strive for the presidency anew after sitting out one or
    more terms. In Brazil, they often seek election to lower political offices. To maximize
    their long-term influence and chances of reelection, presidents must do three things:
    govern effectively, build a political organization with strong personal loyalties to them,
    and survive in power. The presence of a powerful and politically active military can pose
    a threat to all three of these objectives. A military prone to political meddling is an
    especially vexing problem for presidents.

    The future careers of presidents, more than those of legislators, depend on achieving
    programmatic goals that resonate well with public opinion. If reelection is at all a goal,
    presidents must gather cross-regional support. The programmatic incentives facing
    presidents include a host of public-policy initiatives over which military influence could
    be problematic and electorally costly. The following constitutes an example of military
    interference limiting a president’s latitude to enact reforms that could boost his
    government’s popularity. The hierarchy’s relentless pressure on the Franco government to
    award higher salaries to the military (which, if granted, would compel the government to
    provide salary increases for civilian public employees as well) threatened the austerity
    requirement of the Franco government’s economic plan, the Plano Real. President Franco had
    a vested interest in the plan, an eleventh-hour development that could improve the
    reputation of his beleaguered government. The success of the plan was also critical to
    Finance Minister Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who used it to launch his campaign for the

    While more attentive than legislators to broader policy concerns, presidents also need
    to build and finance personal support networks. They rely on the distribution of
    large-scale patronage to win support for their programs in the Congress and bureaucracy,
    and among governors and mayors. Presidents’ reliance on patronage is also designed to lay
    the groundwork for future political candidacies to which they aspire. Thus, presidents too
    face pressure to direct public funds to where they have the greatest electoral payoff.
    Having to spend patronage resources on the armed forces in order to ward off the prospect
    of a coup interferes with this goal. When threatened with imminent military intervention,
    Latin American presidents have historically redirected vast amounts of patronage resources
    to the armed forces. But this leaves them with fewer resources to finance social and
    economic programs essential for maintaining general popularity and legislative support.

    In short, through policies as well as electoral patronage, presidents can enhance their
    long-term influence and subsequent reelection. A politically inclined military is likely
    to interfere in the dual processes of policy making and patronage distribution. It thus
    stands to reason that presidents would be motivated to contest the military and push them
    back from the political sphere. Moreover, by virtue of the impressive administrative
    powers that Latin American presidents have at their disposal, their ability to enact
    reforms to contract military influence greatly exceeds that of individual legislators.

    But the aspiration of Latin American presidents to contain military influence in order
    to advance their electoral interests is often counterbalanced by the desire to survive in
    office. Antagonizing the military remains a widespread concern among Latin American
    presidents. In the event of a military coup, a prospect that occurs to all Latin American
    chief executives at one time or another, the president is usually the main target of
    overthrow. In the decades before the installation of the bureaucratic-authoritarian regime
    of 1964-85, the military spearheaded several "moderating coups," whose central
    purpose was to replace one civilian executive by another.

    Presidents can be counted on to court the military—even at the cost of political
    autonomy—when deep economic and political crises put in doubt the survival of their
    governments. Discretionary funding and other concessions to the armed services are key
    ways by which debilitated presidents try to secure their governments. Obtaining military
    support has two objectives: the first is to reduce the likelihood that the armed forces
    will try to overthrow the government; the second is to enhance governability by fortifying
    the government. For example, a president who enjoys military backing is better positioned
    than one who does not to intimidate an uncooperative Congress or an unruly labor movement
    into becoming more supportive (or at least less defiant) of his administration.

    In short, while the desire to extend their own power and influence constitutes a strong
    motivation for presidents to contest and contain the military, the instinct to protect
    themselves from overthrow also exists, constituting a countervailing source of pressure.
    Given the extensive powers of their office, Latin American presidents can affect
    decisively the civil-military balance depending on which logic and corresponding course of
    action they follow. As discussed below, in addition to a president’s electoral mandate,
    broader power alignments and the overall political climate can tip the balance in one
    direction or the other.

    Legislators are also constrained by the presence of a powerful and politically active
    military. In order to improve their chances of reelection, they too want to extend their
    own control over resources and broaden their latitude over decision making. Compared to
    executive politicians, however, electoral support for legislators depends less on what
    programs they support and more on their ability to satisfy constituents through the
    provision of particularistic services and categorical patronage. As a general rule, the
    broader policy concerns of legislators will be more important to urban constituencies, who
    are better informed and more mobilized than their rural counterparts. But even in states
    with major urban agglomerations, such as São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Minas Gerais, the
    provision of categorical patronage is important to getting elected. As individuals,
    legislators can only gain by doling out huge amounts of patronage. Presidents, by
    contrast, bear a disproportionate burden for relying excessively on patronage for
    electoral ends. For a president, the costs of pursuing such a policy range from
    antagonizing the military to ruining the economy.

    Legislators also have a strong interest in not antagonizing the military. But a
    collective action dilemma, which the organizational weakness and fragmentation of Brazil’s
    political party system exacerbates, often prevents them from supporting budgetary and
    other policies that reflect this interest. For example, legislators cannot be assured that
    fellow members would contribute to the collective good of safeguarding democracy by
    satisfying the military’s budgetary demands. The moderation of an individual legislator’s
    hunger for patronage resources would barely affect the armed forces’ budget share. But by
    sacrificing patronage, a crucial weapon in electoral competition, the individual
    politician might risk his or her political future. Thus, the incentive structure militates
    against an individual legislator’s making a contribution to this cause on his or her own.
    This suggests that the Congress might be the most likely institution to impose political
    and organizational costs, as well as budgetary restrictions, on the armed forces. The fact
    that military reprisal is generally directed more clearly at presidents than legislators
    reinforces this expectation.

    The Brazilian Congress has indeed taken bold steps to challenge military power. But
    Congress’s ability to enact reforms aimed at subordinating the military to effective
    civilian control in the long term hinges on acquiring collective support. Gathering
    support to promote the common goal of establishing civilian supremacy over the military is
    difficult where legislators direct their time, energy, and political capital to issues
    that yield more concrete and immediate political benefit. In short, the problem is that,
    as individuals, presidents have the greatest capacity to downgrade the military’s
    institutional powers, but they are often inhibited by fear; legislators are less concerned
    than presidents about antagonizing the military but face greater organizational barriers
    to bringing about reforms that would advance civilian authority in the long term. Yet
    despite these constraints, political elites in postauthoritarian Brazil have in fact
    challenged the military over specific policy decisions as well as certain institutional

    While democracy provides universal inducements to pushing back military influence, the
    strength of the incentives and the capacity of politicians to act on them vary across time
    and across countries. Institutional differences—for example, electoral rules and
    internal party procedures that shape politicians’ strategies for electoral
    advancement—explain some of the variation among democratic countries. So do broad
    domestic and international changes that affect the degree to which politicians view
    military restiveness as a serious threat. As elaborated below, both
    factors—institutional differences among politics and broader power alignments in
    society—condition the process by which civilians contest the military. While the
    weakly institutionalized nature of Brazilian politics heightens the incentives for
    political elites to contest the armed forces, the lack of domestic and international
    support for military intervention in the post-cold war era removes a previous
    disincentive. Together, they render politicians more likely to push back military


    Institutional Rules

    Institutional rules condition politicians’ strategies for pursuing reelection, which in
    turn shape their conduct toward the military. The system of government (presidentialism
    versus parliamentarism), rules governing elections, the party system, and internal party
    procedures have an important impact on these strategies. Brazil’s political system
    contains numerous features that impel politicians to act in accordance with electoral
    exigencies. Under the short time horizons that this system encourages, politicians are
    especially motivated to adopt policies that impose organizational, political, and
    budgetary costs on the armed forces.

    Comparatively speaking, Brazilian politics is highly personalistic and weakly
    institutionalized. The party system is extremely fragmented. Parties themselves lack
    internal cohesion. The 1989 presidential race provided strong testimony to the weakness of
    party affiliation and the negligible role that parties play in structuring Brazilian
    politics. Fernando Collor de Mello created a new party, the PRN (Partido de Reconstrução
    Nacional or National Reconstruction Party), for the sole purpose of running for president.
    The runner up, Luis Inácio (Lula) da Silva, came from the Workers’ Party (Partido dos
    Trabalhadores or PT), whose representatives comprised a mere 3 percent of the Congress.

    Several institutional provisions elevate the importance of personalistic leadership and
    populist appeals. Presidentialism, coupled with a fractionalized multiparty system, is a
    foundation for highly candidate-centered politics. The independent basis of power that
    presidents enjoy allows them (more than prime ministers) to circumvent parties. And
    because a multiparty system creates special difficulties for the creation of stable
    majorities, presidents facing this situation are especially likely to try to govern above

    The unique combination of proportional representation and open-list candidate selection
    gives Brazilian parties limited influence over which candidates are elected. Because
    candidates effectively compete against members of their own party (as well as other
    parties), open-list proportional representation systems place a high premium on a
    candidate’s personal characteristics (rather than his or her links to a political party)
    and on a candidate’s ability to dole out patronage.

    Further weakening the strength of Brazilian parties is the absence of an entry barrier
    to the formation of a political party (a certain minimum percentage of the national vote
    that parties must obtain in order to win representation in the legislature). Brazilian
    politicians thus form new parties when it is opportune to do so, and because no
    legislation prohibits it, they frequently leave their old parties for other already
    established parties. Between 1987 and 1990, 40 percent of all federal deputies switched
    parties, mainly during the Constituent Assembly of 1987-88. Given the electoral importance
    of patronage, it is not uncommon for legislators to join and abandon given parties based
    on party connections to clientelist networks, especially those sustained by the
    government. Many politicians previously of ARENA have switched into centrist or even
    somewhat progressive parties, mainly to improve their electoral prospects.

    It should not be surprising that levels of party identification and loyalty among
    voters are extremely low in such a system. Because most Brazilian parties have no
    "reservoir of support" among their followers, politicians are beholden to rank
    and file demands. The conditional nature of the electorate’s support and the high
    electoral volatility present in weak and fragmented party systems make politicians
    especially sensitive to immediate electoral considerations.

    The ultimate result of Brazil’s weak party system is the personalization of politics.
    Such a system renders the political landscape ripe for the emergence of populist leaders.
    Prone to demagoguery, they appeal to voters on the basis of diffuse popular images and
    political patronage. The fluid nature of Brazilian politics and the nonprogrammatic
    orientation of political parties not only provide politicians with incentives to behave
    this way, but also offer them great latitude to endorse political platforms in response to
    shifting public opinion. The weak institutionalization of Brazilian politics selects for
    those politicians who shun institutional constraints on their rule, whether these
    constraints assume the form of a stronger party system or a military that is embedded in
    the state and armed with a broad array of institutional prerogatives.

    There is a double edge, however, to the organizational characteristics of the Brazilian
    political system and their effect on civil-military relations. In weakly institutionalized
    systems, civilians are more likely to support policies that effectively lead them to
    challenge the military. When electoral opinion and military preferences come into
    conflict, politicians are likely to side with the former since few politicians enjoy the
    reservoir of support that would allow them to act otherwise. But at the same time,
    politicians in such a system are less likely to build collective support for measures
    aimed at institutionalizing civilian control over the armed forces. In other words, while
    the system’s fluidity creates special incentives for politicians to contest or challenge
    the military when their electoral fortunes are at stake, the organizational weakness of
    political parties militates against efforts to permanently defuse the armed forces as a
    political actor. The reason for this is twofold.

    First, the fragmentation of political parties and the short time horizons of actors in
    a weakly institutionalized political system create an environment of imediatismo
    político (political immediatism), which makes it difficult to translate the long-term
    collective interest in gaining civilian supremacy into collective action of
    the kind necessary to develop lasting mechanisms of civilian control over the military.
    Stronger parties, more suitable for overcoming collective-action dilemmas, would help
    coordinate members around a more deliberate and persistent strategy of gaining civilian
    control over the military. A less politicized system would enable politicians to look
    beyond the most immediate crisis and focus their attention on the development of
    legislation aimed at solving the problem of military interference in a more enduring

    The second general factor limiting a weakly institutionalized political system from
    going beyond contesting the military to subordinating them permanently concerns the
    broader impact of such a system on governability. The short-sighted political calculations
    that drive the actions of clientelist and populist politicians against the military are
    likely to undermine other goals, such as responsible economic policy. As the economy
    deteriorates and political turmoil arises, the standing of civilian politicians, most
    notably the president, is undermined. When these problems erupt into acute crises,
    presidents, who are held most accountable for the overall condition of the country, risk
    losing their positions. Under this threat, and because they lack organized bases of
    civilian support, the capacity of presidents to keep the military out of politics
    diminishes. They may even turn to and expand the role of the armed forces in order to keep
    the crisis from spiraling out of control. Thus, the goal to survive in office may
    eventually induce politicians under threat to restore military power.

    Notwithstanding this possibility, military influence has declined overall since 1985
    and can be expected to diminish further as Brazilian democracy becomes more consolidated.
    The dynamic normally unleashed by democratic competition and reinforced by the fluidity of
    Brazil’s political system is for self-interested politicians to contest the military. The
    countervailing dynamic described above unfolds only under exceptional conditions, stalling
    or temporarily arresting this process. The dynamic that has transpired in Brazil in the
    postauthoritarian period suggests that military interference in politics will decline
    overall with time, notwithstanding certain short-term deviations from this trend. But
    because the characteristics of a weakly institutionalized system will motivate civilian
    politicians to continuously challenge the armed forces but not go further and
    institutionalize control over them, ongoing civil-military tension and conflict can be

    The Credibility of Military Force

    If characteristics of Brazil’s political system strengthen the incentives that lead
    politicians to contest the military, features particular to the current era and their
    effect on power relations in the broader society reinforce this tendency. Politicians need
    to respond to electoral incentives in a democracy, but they must also respond to power
    relations, which vary across time and national borders. Since basic threats to the
    socioeconomic and political order are absent in most of post-cold war Latin America, the
    use of military force for domestic political purposes lacks widespread support and renders
    civilian politicians less fearful of upsetting the military. The awareness of Brazilian
    officers that the current political climate is unsympathetic to strong-arm tactics tames
    their reactions to challenges that they view unfavorably but that do not threaten core
    corporate interests. Rarely in recent years have the military closed ranks and frontally
    resisted civilian initiatives to diminish their influence over extramilitary matters. The
    navy and air force have tended to be more liberal and internationalist, more concerned
    than the army is to meet narrower professionalist and technological needs and less
    inclined to combat developments that diminish their overall clout. Even within the army,
    not all officers have supported a continuation of the institutions influence over broad
    political, social, and economic questions. Officers’ tendency to exercise restraint
    emboldens politicians to respond more to public opinion than to military opinion. In
    short, electoral considerations gain in importance and take precedence over considerations
    of military power when the basic political and economic order is not in question. In the
    1990s, winning votes, not military support, is clearly the first principle of political

    The basic analytical issue at hand concerns whether and to what extent the armed forces
    can transform their central power capability—organized coercion— into influence
    over outcomes. The potential impact of an actor’s central power capability (e.g.,
    financial strength, expertise, force, etc.) is a key determinant of how seriously it is
    regarded by others. It is indeed the case that an actor’s potential power is "the
    price of admission to the political arena," even though the armed forces’
    institutional prerogatives may help them articulate and realize their preferences without
    having to constantly invoke their ultimate weapon, the capacity for physical intimidation.

    Organized coercion, the military’s central power capability, can be an impressive
    political weapon. A wide range of military actions—from "shows of force" to
    pronunciamentos, rebellions, and coups d’état—rest on the military’s
    potential to inflict violence. The coup d’état represents perhaps the most outstanding
    instance of this. Stated starkly by Samuel Huntington, "while other social forces can
    pressure the government, the military can replace the government."

    But the distinction between an actor’s potential strength and how likely it is to bring
    the full force of its power to bear is also critical. Rarely is there a perfect congruence
    between power as measured by basic capabilities and power as measured by actual effects.
    Power is not a static attribute, but one that is conditioned by context. Some contexts
    increase the likelihood and capacity of political actors to transform their potential
    power into actual influence over outcomes. Others reduce them. When viewed from this
    perspective, the military’s central power capability—organized force—suffers
    numerous restrictions.

    The degree of political influence the armed forces can wield by virtue of their
    coercive potential depends very much on how willing they are to employ force and,
    relatedly, on other actors’ perceptions of how likely they are to do so. Force can prevail
    and the military can constitute the ultima ratio if military leaders are willing to assume
    the costs of unleashing it. Rule by the military as an institution constitutes the
    clearest expression of the military’s willingness to incur the risks of coercive action.
    Lesser manifestations of military power also carry risks.

    The armed forces can indeed overplay their cards by invoking coercion when they lack
    societal support. Excessive threats and displays of force can erode the reserve of
    societal good will that the armed forces need to retain long-term credibility. In the
    words of Guillermo O’Donnell and Philippe Schmitter, "beyond a certain point, kicking
    or even pounding the table may be counterproductive. It threatens one’s allies almost as
    much as one’s opponents, and the committed players may well join forces to eliminate the
    obstreperous one."

    Many South American militaries, including (perhaps especially) the Brazilian, strive to
    project an image of respect for the public’s wishes. Never have the Brazilian armed forces
    undertaken a major intervention without first seeking civilian support. History has
    demonstrated the value of civilian allies as a key determinant of the success of military
    interventions. Even during the height of military rule, the regime went to great lengths
    to legitimate itself by publicizing its developmental accomplishments and keeping the
    Congress open (at least in a formal sense). In the postauthoritarian period, the energy
    the Brazilian army devotes to public relations provides strong testimony to its commitment
    to projecting an image of responsiveness to public sentiment. If the military’s claim to
    represent "the national interest" or "the will of the people" is to
    have any credence, intimidation must be used selectively. If the armed forces do not
    reserve saber rattling for exceptional circumstances, their chances of gaining domestic
    and international civilian support at critical moments will be reduced. In the absence of
    substantial societal backing, the use of strong-arm tactics for domestic political
    purposes can also adversely affect corporate unity, a key military concern. Recent
    examples of this took place in Venezuela and Thailand, where military commanders ordered
    soldiers to fire on demonstrators in 1989 and 1992, respectively, provoking internal

    At various moments, the armed forces in Latin America have chosen to assume the risks
    of using coercion for domestic political purposes. Over the course of this century,
    Brazil’s military have wielded force in various forms and degrees. Two factors have
    generally inspired their forceful intervention in politics: strong objections to the
    extant economic and political order, accompanied by a vision of change; and core corporate
    concerns, such as unity among the officer corps, obedience to hierarchy (especially
    between officers and enlisted men), autonomy of the rank and seniority system from
    political interference, a monopoly of the armed forces over paramilitary organizations,
    and budgetary resources sufficient to maintain training, education, and equipment.

    Developments of the early 1960s constituted a challenge to core corporate principles as
    well as the military’s preferred political and economic order. Labor organizers’ efforts
    to unionize enlisted men and President Goulart’s pardon of mutinous sailors put in
    question the military’s corporate preservation. The mobilization of urban and rural
    popular sectors raised concerns among military officers as well as societal elites about
    maintaining their privileged socioeconomic positions. The political polarization of the
    1960s rendered the domestic use of military force more acceptable and lent credibility to
    military saber rattling. Conservative and center-right politicians allied with leading
    officers although it diminished their political independence. Under conditions of high
    politicization, even populist politicians with ample popular backing could be overthrown
    by the armed forces.

    Does postauthoritarian Brazil present conditions similar to those that led the military
    to rattle their swords, gain the backing of societal elites, and intimidate civilian
    politicians in the past? By and large it does not. The demobilization of the anti-system
    left, the demise of communism worldwide, and the general consensus about democracy and
    capitalism as preferred political and economic systems have calmed the military and other
    elites. The armed forces’ survival is not currently in question. Since the return to
    civilian rule, the Brazilian military have experienced no fundamental challenges, such as
    the existence of a parallel armed institution or the operation of subversive groups
    seeking to undermine internal discipline.

    Certain trends, such as the decrease in defense expenditures and the privatization of
    military industries, have adversely affected force levels, military training, and
    re-equipment plans. And certainly the military do resist moves to reduce their influence
    in some areas more than others. For example, they made no concerted effort to retain
    control over the SNI, but have challenged civilians over budgetary expenditures and
    defense projects in the Amazon. The variation of military response rests on how closely
    the issue impinges on central corporate functions, on the (self-defined) raison d’être of
    the institution, and on the organization’s ability to justify itself to others. With
    reference to the above examples, spying on citizens of one’s own country is not easily
    justifiable as a corporate military function. Demanding greater resources to defend
    territorial integrity in the Amazon is. Many recent developments that contract the
    military’s jurisdiction and competence and meet with resistance do not strike at the heart
    of corporate preservation. Thus, they have not prompted leading officers to go beyond
    routine complaining and the occasional issuing of rhetorical warnings.

    Only with respect to one matter—the legal prosecution of military personnel for
    human rights violations committed in the authoritarian period—have Southern Cone
    militaries considered the stakes high enough to warrant forceful action. The issue of
    corporate autonomy lies at the heart of the armed forces’ visceral reaction to efforts by
    civilians to prosecute them for measures conducted in a context they liken to war.
    Rebellious factions of the Argentine army reminded civilians that they constituted a power
    to be reckoned with, effectively putting an end to the trials initiated by President
    Alfonsín. In Chile, where the military have essentially remained immune from prosecution,
    efforts to hold officers accountable for past violations met with shows of strength. In
    Brazil, the self-granted amnesty of 1979 has never come close to being rolled back.

    Just as Latin America’s new democracies have basically safeguarded corporate military
    concerns, the broader political, economic, and social climate of the contemporary period
    does not threaten elite sectors that backed military activism in the past. Research
    suggests that only a small percentage of Brazilian industrialists feels threatened by the
    left in the new democratic regime, and that the overwhelming majority has adapted to the
    democratic system. Industrialists do not regard the military as necessary for protecting
    their interests on a regular basis and have responded to existing dissatisfaction by
    demanding greater participation in economic decisions. In fact, their significant economic
    power and ties to key decision makers have enabled business groups to exert more influence
    over economic policy making than any other single social group. International condemnation
    of military solutions in the post-cold war era—manifested, for example, in response
    to the attempted coup in Guatemala in 1993—doubtless contributes to the use of
    nonmilitary forms of influence on the part of Brazil’s business elites.

    In light of the current climate, the armed forces in Brazil and elsewhere in Latin
    America have exercised notable restraint after retreating from power, save their
    uncompromising stance to preserve immunity from human rights prosecutions. The rigorous
    distance Brazil’s military maintained from the investigations, demonstrations, and other
    events leading up to President Collor’s impeachment was unprecedented in light of their
    interference in every other major political crisis of the twentieth century. Further
    testimony of change was the military’s nonintervention during the lowest point of the
    Franco government, when widespread corruption, hyperinflation, and low morale among the
    ranks led many observers to draw parallels with the pre-1964 environment.

    To return to the terms of the earlier discussion, despite the military’s basic power
    capability, constraints on the leadership’s willingness to use strong-arm tactics limit
    its influence over actual policy outcomes. Given the array of factors inhibiting the
    unleashing of force, coupled with the widespread perception that the military are
    reluctant to call upon their basic power capability, saber rattling has come to lack
    credibility. Military elites can bluff only so many times before civilians call their
    bluff. Armed forces that develop a reputation for making threats that are never carried
    out lose credibility over time. The practice of not taking military claims seriously
    remains more evident among legislators than presidents. At the risk of exaggeration,
    conditions of the 1980s and 1990s have rendered the Brazilian military somewhat of a paper


    This chapter has sought to address three questions posed at the outset: What is the
    impact of electoral competition on the political role of the military? How do specific
    political institutions condition the way in which civilians contest the military? How can
    the armed forces defend their claims? Contrary to the prevailing view that democracy in
    Brazil has remained and will remain restricted by virtue of the strong position the
    military enjoyed at the onset of democracy, my rational choice approach suggests that the
    installation of democratic competition tends to bring about a gradual expansion of popular

    Using the strategic calculations of politicians as a point of departure, this chapter
    has argued that electoral competition and the incentives it unleashes form a key source of
    the dynamism that has marked civil-military relations in the postauthoritarian period. The
    policies that have resulted from these incentives have gradually shifted the balance of
    civil-military power in favor of civilians. This general trend of eroding military
    influence is subject to fluctuation depending on the strength of governments and the
    electoral relevance of issues. Politicians, both executive and congressional, are more
    likely to challenge the military under governments with widespread support and over issues
    where military interference threatens their own ability to win elections.

    Specific institutional features condition the manner in which civilians contest the
    armed forces. How democratic competition works to alter the balance of civil-military
    power depends partly on politicians’ strategies of reelection and on the institutional
    rules that govern these strategies. In a weakly institutionalized political system, as in
    Brazil, the feebleness of political parties induces politicians to attract voters through
    the constant provision of patronage and endorsement of popularity-enhancing platforms,
    practices that are likely to be at odds with military preferences. Such a system also sets
    the stage for the emergence of politicians who seek to enhance their political autonomy
    and therefore challenge tutelage by an independent and bureaucratic military.

    But while the institutional characteristics of Brazil’s political system reinforce the
    general incentives that electoral competition unleashes and provide special impetus for
    elected officials to challenge the armed forces, they militate against the development of
    conditions and measures conducive to ensuring long-term political stability and civilian
    control. Effective civilian governance, arguably the best antidote to the armed forces’
    intervention in politics, is more difficult to achieve in a weakly institutionalized party
    system. Moreover, given the potential of such a party system to produce high levels of
    politicization, institutionalized mechanisms to break the political role and autonomy of
    the military are less likely to be enacted and consistently observed by civilians.

    The legitimacy and credibility of military force as a domestic political instrument
    also conditions the willingness of politicians to contest the armed forces. Widespread
    consensus in favor of democracy and the relative paucity of threats to the military’s core
    political and corporate interests in the post-cold war era inhibit the armed forces as a
    whole from countering civilian efforts to downgrade their prerogatives by invoking
    coercion. The cost-benefit calculation made by military elites has generally pointed in
    favor of accepting their declining political fortunes rather than putting up resistance at
    the risk of provoking serious civil-military conflict. But simply because the military’s
    actual bargaining power suffers serious limitations in the current period does not mean
    that the military cannot and do not extract occasional budgetary benefits or other
    concessions in exchange for supporting the government.

    That civilians have contested and managed to reduce military influence in Brazil is
    especially noteworthy since the military entered the new democracy from a highly
    auspicious position. Chapter 2 analyzes why the officer corps enjoyed such strong standing
    in 1985. To explain this strength, the chapter goes back in time and analyzes developments
    that took place within the institution during the bureaucratic-authoritarian period, and
    between civilians and the military governments in the transition to democracy. By
    establishing where Brazil’s armed forces stood in 1985, Chapter 2 offers a baseline from
    which to judge their post-1985 evolution.

    Excerpted from Eroding Military Influence in Brazil—Politicians
    Against Soldiers by Wendy Hunter, The University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 244

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