Eight former secretaries of Defense and five former heads of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States Armed Forces sent a signal of subordination of the military to the Constitution and civil power, amid the polarized political scenario in the country, but which has a regional impact, especially in Brazil.
The former high-ranking officials and multi-star generals signed an unpublished document that states explicitly how military commanders should behave in case of a change of government, such as the one that could happen in Brazil if Bolsonaro loses the elections to Lula.
Jair Bolsonaro has just led a massive act to commemorate the 200 years of the Independence of Brazil. There he enhanced his rhetoric of confrontation with Lula and the Worker's Party and continued to install the idea of electoral fraud in the elections of October 2, that according to the vision of the most radicalized sectors that surround him would justify a coup d'etat.
"The idea spread among the followers of Bolsonaro is that the polls lie and the Electoral Tribunal is controlled by the PT. If they lose, it is due to fraud," commented a source who witnessed the massive Copacabana act.
The question that goes round and round for more than a year revolves around the role that the Armed Forces will have in an eventual non-recognition of the results. At different times, the military chiefs clarified that they "will bow down" to whoever wins the elections. But the current military leadership is closer to Bolsonaro than the triad that left office after Fernando Azevedo left the Defense Ministry.
In this context of uncertainty, there was an unprecedented summit of former United States Defense Ministers and former Chiefs of General Staff who issued a document that highlights the importance of civilian leadership of the Armed Forces.
A qualified source who knows the Brazilian military assured LPO that it was a direct message from the United States to Bolsonaro's intentions to use the military as a pressure factor after the electoral process. "It is a direct message. In the final note of the Summit of Defense Ministers, Americans insisted on mentioning the concept of democracy... it took a few months to adjust the final version," the source added.
Many important military personnel are among the signers of the document. One of them is the Decorated General Jim Mattis, who was in Iraq and Afghanistan and was Donald's Trump Defense Minister. It was a strong political dispute between them, and during that time he was seen as an important restraint of the former president.
The document begins: "We are in an exceptionally challenging civil-military environment. Many of the factors that shape civil-military relations have come under extreme strain in recent years. Geopolitically, the ending of Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the rise of great-power conflict mean that the US military must simultaneously accept wars that ended meeting all the objectives satisfactorily, as they prepare for a more intimidating competition with close rivals."
"Socially, the pandemic and economic dislocations have altered social patterns and put enormous pressure on individuals and families. Politically, the professional military face an extremely adverse environment characterized by divisive affective polarization that culminated in the first election in more than a century with peaceful transfer of political power disrupted and in doubt," says the text in an obvious reference to Trump's traumatic departure.
It then warns that going forward "all of these factors could get worse before they get better. In such a setting, it is useful to review the basic principles and best practices by which civilian and military professionals have conducted healthy civil-military relationships between US civilians and military in the past, and can continue to do so if they are aware and alert."
For the development of the letter, they listed 14 points highlighting that "civilian control of the Armed Forces is part of the foundations of American democracy that operates within a constitutional framework under the rule of law." "Military officers take an oath to support and defend Constitution, not an oath of allegiance to an individual or a position. All civilians, whether they take an oath or not, are equally bound to support and defend the Constitution as their highest duty," they say.
According to the United States Constitution, civilian control of the Armed Forces is shared among the three branches of government. The Magna Carta states that "ultimately, civilian control is exercised by the will of the American people as expressed through elections." What the signers emphasize is that "civilian control is exercised within the executive branch for operational orders through the chain of command, which goes from the president to the civilian secretary of defense and combatant commanders."
The extensive manifesto also reinforces the role of Congress in determining the authorization of funds, the approval of officer promotions, and the supervision of military activity. In some cases or disputes, civilian control is exercised within the judiciary through judicial review of policies, orders, and actions involving military.
The most important paragraph is the last one and, according to the source consulted by LPO, it is directly linked to the presidential elections in Brazil: "During presidential elections, the military has a double obligation. First, because the Constitution foretells only one Commander-in-Chief at a time, the Armed Forces must assist the current Commander-in-Chief in the exercise of his constitutional duty to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution." "Second, because the voters (not the military) decide who will be Commander-in-Chief. They must prepare for who the voters choose, whether it is a re-elected incumbent or someone new. This dual obligation reinforces the importances of principles and best practices outlined above," it ends.
The consulted Brazilian source affirmed that "the three high Commands are not going to undertake any adventure... but they do not want an American ‚Äėguardianship'." "At best, this helps calm the waters... there are still many people worried about the possibility of a coup by Bolsonaro if he loses the elections. I do not think that could happen, at least, it cannot be done without the support of the Armed Foces."
The unpublished text is signed by former Defense Secretaries Ashton Baldwin Carter, William Sebastian Cohen, Dr. Mark Thomas Esper, Dr. Robert Michael Gates, Charles Timothy Hagel, James Norman Mattis, Leon Edward Panetta, Dr. William James Perry, Former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. (ret.) Martin Edward Dempsey Gen. (ret.) Joseph Francis Dunford Jr. Adm. (ret.) Michael Glenn Mullen Gen. (ret.) Richard Bowman Myers Gen. (ret.) Peter Pace.
Another source from the Higher School of War of the Brazilian Ministry of Defense confirmed that "the Brazilian military took note of the document," and added: "Bolsonaro does everything contrary to what is established in the manual of relations between civilians and military."
The relationship between the Brazilian Armed Forces and the United States Southern Command is close and of mutual coordination and cooperation. The Brazilian units are trained by the American ones and they even have American equipment. With all that, a Washington alignment of this kind could influence the final decision of the Brazilian military when it comes to playing with Bolsonaro.
While the signature of Biden's current Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is not there, LPO was able to learn that the document has official status. In addition, as revealed exclusively by LPO, the United States is closely watching the Brazilian electoral process and hopes Lula to be an interlocutor with the region.
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