Candidates for the presidential election for the period 2023-2026 are defined. A presidential election is the moment when society is most motivated to appreciate the different views and proposals on the most relevant issues for the country’s destiny. One of these issues, which has never been the object of attention by political parties and their candidates, is related to the defense of Brazil’s independence and sovereignty. In particular, the preparation of the necessary military capacity for this defence.
When a country faces threats of a military nature, all attention turns to the use of the defense capacity it has developed. However, these situations are rare in the existence of most countries, especially those located in regions with a reduced history of conflict. This fact leads, in many cases, to a carelessness with the preparation of the defense. Brazil is a clear example of this.. Neither society nor the political power have considered the issues related to the preparation of the country’s defense capacity as relevant.
The paradox is that history teaches that this possibility always exists and this activity must be carried out during periods of peace. Preparing defense capabilities requires decades of continued effort and increasingly depends on industrial capacity and technological innovation. Therefore, it is the most strategic activity for the defense of the country’s sovereignty and should be widely debated in presidential campaigns.
Therefore, it is necessary to draw society’s attention to these strategic issues, which are crucial for Brazil’s sovereignty, independence and industrial and technological development itself.
When it comes to the country’s sovereignty, it is unwise to have a high dependence on imported means of defense, which are essential to guarantee it.
Two events that have taken place in the last two years, the Covid-19 pandemic and the War in Ukraine, have confirmed three millenary teachings about defense preparation, but often forgotten.
The first lesson is that when it comes to survival, economic or fiscal considerations take a back seat, and all energies and resources are directed towards meeting the challenges that present themselves. This happened in Brazil in the fight against Covid and it happens in all armed conflicts between States, as can be seen in the current war in Europe. However, in periods of peace, budgetary resources are always scarce and it is very important to rationalize State structures, seek to reduce unnecessary expenses and pay attention to opportunity costs.
The second lesson is that when it comes to the country’s sovereignty, it is unwise to rely heavily on imported defense means, which are essential to guarantee it. What is observed in the war between Russia and Ukraine is that the former, having a great technological and industrial autonomy in the defense sector, can defend its vital interests without having to resort to the aid of other countries, being able to resist the rigorous embargoes. that were made. Ukraine, on the other hand, because it does not have this autonomy, is totally dependent on NATO to face Russia. This dependence obviously implies less freedom to make decisions and defend their interests.
The third millennial teaching is that countries do not have eternal enemies or friends. Today’s friend can be tomorrow’s enemy and vice versa. The situation in Ukraine exemplifies this reality very well. Coming from the break-up of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine’s military capacity was, at the beginning of the conflict, almost entirely dependent on weapons and technologies of Russian origin. With the conflict, that source of supply was cut off. The geopolitical circumstances allowed the supply of its military needs by NATO countries, the former adversary. But this is not always possible.
Therefore, when it comes to security and sovereignty, a heavy dependence on means of defense provided by any foreign country, even if at a given moment it can be considered an ally, represents an unacceptable vulnerability.
This is a completely different situation from what occurs in other activities aimed at economic interests and which operate according to typical market rules. These can rely on a great diversity of supply sources, without being subject to blockades and restrictions, as in the defense sector. Examples are activities aimed at the manufacture of consumer goods, and others in which considerations about productive efficiency and competitiveness are predominant.
The war in Ukraine also shows a broader movement, which has been intensifying, of expansion and strengthening of the military alliance of Western countries. Originally created to oppose the Soviet Union, NATO expanded its area of action to give military support to the agendas of interest to Western powers.
The declaration by NATO’s member heads of state, at the organization’s council summit meeting, held in Spain in June 2022, can be interpreted as a securitization of the climate issue, placing it in the category of threat to the security of these countries, according to it can be read in its item 12. Numerous declarations by rulers of important NATO countries, which question Brazil’s sovereignty over the use of its natural resources, are cause for concern. Even though many may consider the hypothesis of an eventual conflict involving Brazil to be very unlikely, it is perfectly plausible and the good practice of defense planning requires that it be taken into very serious consideration.
It seems irrefutable that if Brazil ever has a confrontation involving members of this organization, or a conflict with other nations supported by it, it will immediately have its main sources of supplies and weapons cut off and will be at the mercy of the will of its eventual adversaries. This is because the existing alternatives, in BRICS countries, for example, are not compatible with the employment doctrines and weapons systems that Brazil uses and are very distant geographically. Therefore, they are more vulnerable to sea and air blockades. Argentina suffered from this problem in the Falklands war and that would be enough to serve as a lesson.
However, this possible scenario poses a major problem for Brazil’s defense, as the country’s military capacity, for decades, has been significantly dependent on defense technologies and products supplied and controlled very rigorously by NATO countries, even in times of of peace.
So, a crucial question for the Brazilian State is how to achieve, within a reasonable period of a few decades, a minimum of self-sufficiency in military capacity, in order to be able to face threats of this nature and magnitude.
Brazil urgently needs to increase its industrial and technological self-sufficiency for defense purposes. This should be a topic addressed by all presidential candidates.
There is an issue associated with this, which has a broader approach and which goes beyond the concerns with the defense, but which cannot be ignored. It is about the industrial and technological capacity building of the country as a whole, because, obviously, self-sufficiency in military capacity is highly dependent on it. On the other hand, it is known that military capacity, in the broad sense that will be described later in this text, although not the only one, has been one of the most important drivers for the industrial and technological development of the country, as it depends on products based on in high and medium high technologies, almost always for dual use, civil and military.
This fact requires the country to develop and support defense industries capable of designing and manufacturing them. This industrial capacity, built to meet the specific needs of defense, and not a generic “market”, and which encompasses complex facilities, sophisticated capital goods, highly qualified human resources and the mastery of high and medium high technologies, itself has dual job. The case of Embraer is emblematic to illustrate this assertion.
According to data from Fiesp, industrial production in Brazil, after reaching a peak of 21.8% of GDP in 1985, has been falling systematically since then. Current data show that in 2021 it dropped to 10.5%. In terms of other countries, the drop is even more expressive. Also according to Fiesp data, in 1980 the Brazilian industrial product was equivalent to 117.3% of the sum of industrial products from China, South Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. In 2011 this percentage had already dropped to 10%.
The data referring to qualified human resources are also not favorable to Brazil. According to data from the CIA, IMF and OECD, in 2011 the number of engineers and scientists per 1 million inhabitants was around 500 in Brazil, while in countries such as Sweden, Singapore, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Japan, for example, this number is more than 5 thousand.
The scenario outlined above justifies the acceptance of the premise that Brazil urgently needs to increase its industrial and technological self-sufficiency for defense purposes. This should be a topic addressed by all presidential candidates.
The materialization of this project requires the formulation of a strategic objective, which is considered a priority, which defines concrete results to be achieved within a period compatible with the urgency that the subject requires and is feasible.
This objective should be to achieve, in a period of 24 years (corresponding to six periods of government), a significant self-sufficiency in high and medium high technologies critical for the development of defense products considered strategic and the creation and/or consolidation of companies strategic companies capable of designing, developing, manufacturing and maintaining these products.
Eduardo Siqueira BrickPh.D., is a retired full professor at Universidade Federal Fluminense, retired CMG of the Corps of Engineers and Naval Technicians of the Brazilian Navy, member of the National Academy of Engineering (ANE) and researcher at the Nucleus of Defense, Innovation, Training Studies and Industrial Competitiveness (UFFDEFESA) and the National Defense & Security Center (CEDESEN), of which he is also a member of the Advisory Board.