What do Brazilian Admirals want? Not a quiet expansion!

The Minister of Defence, the commanders of the Army and Navy, as well as other high-ranked politicians on a Brazilian Navy ceremony (photo by Felipe Barra, 2013)

The Minister of Defence, the commanders of the Army and Navy, and various other high-ranked politicians on a Brazilian Navy ceremony (photo by Felipe Barra, 2013)

The Swiss blog Offiziere.ch has recently published a piece by Paul Pryce, analysing the Brazilian Navy’s current endeavours whilst trying to figure out what bearing it is sailing. Pryce evaluates the ‘quiet expansion’ of the Brazilian Navy, and whilst he delivers a brief but sound level of analysis, he fails to deliver an accurate reading of some of the key underlying issues. These issues include the ‘military industrial compound’ dimension of the Navy, the often unspoken aspects of civil-military relations in Brazil and the competition for budget between branches.

Pryce maps out the debate about whether Brazil wants a brown, green or blue water Navy, but fails to contextualise the process in the hardships of a troubled civil-military relationship in a ‘recently established’ democracy. He analyses the Navy as if it was a single by-product of wider state determinations, without opening up the ‘black-box’ and examining the diverse layers of interaction between the various existing actors. As I will argue, Brazil’s naval expansion is not a ‘quiet’ one, nor is it particularly surprising. It is rooted in the way the Brazilian defence establishment rethinks its role in a ‘new, global Brazil’ whilst taking into account the complex relationship between the country’s Armed Forces and the Executive branch.

Since the 1964 Military Coup, the civil-military relationship has yet to be seen as a positive factor in the country’s defence establishment. For example, the fact that even though military rule ceased in 1985, it was not until 1999 that Brazil’s Ministry of Defence was even established. Before that, armed forces commanders would report directly to the President and be classed as Ministers (each branch had its own Ministry), thus retaining a disproportionate amount of political leverage. Despite a reduction in leverage in recent years, ‘old-schoolers’ frequently attempt to retain this imbalance of power. The civil-military relationship in the country still represents a rather turbulent sea to navigate, with constant fears of revanchism and mistrust.

The branches of the military have always competed for prestige and, just as important, budget. This competition materialises in the pursuit of self-justified ‘pet projects’. The nuclear-powered submarine is one of those projects where all three branches of the military competed to obtain an edge on nuclear technology, pursuing different courses of action. The Navy emerged ‘victorious’ in this process where building a Nuclear Submarine is seen as the final seal of excellence in in-force technological development as part of the ‘military industrial compound’ dimension of the Navy.

How has Brazilian defence policy embraced this industrial dimension? Each branch creates policy on its own terms, whilst the Ministry play the more passive role of coordination. Once again, the recognition of a national savoir-faire is part of the reason why Brazil has sought to natively develop and build ships. At the same time, the defence sector (across all branches) will only issue tenders for imports of military material that involve heavy technology-transfer and, in most cases, national manufacturing. An intense concern of Brazilian defence stakeholders is that relying on non-native technologies could restrict military capabilities in critical moments, or even create potential weaknesses in Brazil’s defence apparatus. This supports the belief that technological development – even if detached from immediate tactical or strategic considerations – is paramount to the country’s defence grand strategy.

Last but not least, understanding the submarine as a device intended for ‘swaggering’ rather than for actual strategic/tactical purposes could be conceptually useful for in-branch, between-branch and external audiences. The concept of swaggering can be defined as a display of might which:

“…is not aimed directly at dissuading another state from attacking, at repelling attacks, nor at compelling it to do something specific. The objectives for swaggering are (…) displaying one’s military might (…) and buying or building the era’s most prestigious weapons. (…) it aims to enhance the national pride of a people or to satisfy the personal ambitions of its ruler” (Art, 1980, p.10).

From an in-branch perspective, sailors seem more-or-less satisfied to become a blue-water Navy. The myth of a ‘strong / big Navy’ is common, and Naval officers are embedded in a culture in which they aspire to command an aircraft carrier or a nuclear submarine – projecting power far from home – very few see a successful career endpoint as commanders of patrol ships. The Brazilian Navy is also investing in smaller vessels, like the Macaé-class and the Amazonas-class offshore patrol ships yet they cost a fraction of the nuclear programme and are even more insignificant if compared to the broader re-equipment of the fleet. Take a symptomatic grandeur; the Brazilian Navy’s ambition to operate three aircraft carriers and have the southern hemisphere’s largest submarine force by 2050.

From a between-branch perspective, maintaining a big Navy means increased resources channelled from the defence budget. This means more ships, more support structures and, consequently, the need for more personnel, more command posts and more responsibility that, in turn, requires higher salaries. If the force can assert its usefulness and efficiency to the Ministry of Defence, there is a belief that it is more likely to receive greater resources than its counterparts.

President Rousseff proudly declared that Brazil is now part of a limited group of states that have access to nuclear submarines, making comparisons to those who have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, an old aspiration in Brasilia. Rousseff also boasted that natively building submarines was a ‘symbol of a new Brazil being created’, highlighting the importance of ideational factors in the decision to obtain this technology. Even if we are not sure how these vectors of power will be useful, it is likely that – one way or the other – they will, even if only to assert that Brazil is a country that deserves to be considered in the great power club. Great powers have great navies; it always has been so. Making this particular pitch allows the Navy to get buy-in from the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Would the rise of a powerful Brazilian Navy raise complex diplomatic questions? I wouldn’t worry too much about the possibility of nuclear proliferation. Brazil has agreed not to develop nuclear weapons but wishes to retain nuclear technology for other purposes, something that can prove to be complicated within the non-proliferation regime, constantly requiring delicate diplomatic management. Exporting nuclear technology (especially to ‘rogue’ actors) would certainly backfire and cause more trouble than good. I would agree with the argument that Brazil seeks to affirm itself and be part of the club, rather than destabilise the delicate nuclear regime.

Which brings me to my second point about diplomacy: Brazil wants to be part of the club of great powers and wants to be recognised –acta, non verba – as a peer. Brazil, therefore, doesn’t want to be part of an agreement with NATO that makes them a ‘follower’ rather than a genuine ‘partner’. If NATO wants to approach Brazil for initiatives for expanding cooperation regarding the South Atlantic, it has to do so by courting Brazil’s legitimacy as a regional power and fully-fledged partner in the area. Whether this is a political possibility across both Southern and Northern latitudes over the Atlantic, remains to be seen.

By any rate, it is unlikely that Brazil’s nuclear submarine will be seen as projecting power from its coasts anytime soon. The dual purpose of the Brazilian defence procurement makes it hard to sum up a detailed answer to the question of where Admirals are going. Are they more concerned with the defence industry or with operationality? Are they seeking means to swagger internationally or are they hedging (im)possible futures? Are they in line with, or rather trying to shape, Brazil’s defence and foreign policy grand strategies? If I can allow myself, here’s a cautionary note: it seems more probable that Brazil’s future naval challenges will look something like the 1961-63 Lobster War than like the Battle of the Pacific. Unchallenged control of the South Atlantic is a delusional desire. The ‘quiet expansion’ of the Brazilian Navy is far from quiet, even if it does not get the same amount of attention than the naval endeavours of China and India.

* This was re-published from Security Dilemmas, a blog by the Institute for Conflict, Cooperation and Security (ICCS), at the University of Birmingham.

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Germanwings crash: the ins and outs of the two-person rule

When it comes to nuclear war, it makes sense not to leave it within the ability of a single person. By Scott Wagers/US DoD.

As evidence mounts that Germanwings flight 4U9525 was crashed deliberately by its co-pilot who locked the flight’s captain out of the cockpit, there have been renewed calls to enforce a “two-person rule”, where two members of the flight crew are on the flight deck at all times. Within hours of the crash, steps were taken to enact this: the Canadian government made it a mandatory requirement, and the UK Civil Aviation Authority urged UK airlines to review their rules, although some airlines including budget airlines Ryanair and Flybe already enforced the rule. The idea dates back to the days of the Cold War, where two operators were required, typically with two separate keys, for drastic action such as launching nuclear weapons. The procedure is still in force today, to offer protection against the actions of rogue individuals. But the concept of the “buddy system”, that tells us not to be alone during critical or risky moments, is widely in place – from divers heading underwater, firefighters entering burning buildings or bankers making large withdrawals, and to school-aged children wandering out of sight of adults. In essence, the safety and integrity of actions and environments is improved by requiring the co-operation of two at a time. This way no single individual will be caught without help should they need it, and no one will be in a situation where the actions of a single person in a key role go unmonitored.

Flight rules

While co-pilot Andreas Lubitz may have considered his actions, it’s likely that he moved on the spur of the moment – on quite a short flight there was no way of knowing whether the captain, Patrick Sonderheimer, would have needed to visit the toilet, leaving him alone in the cockpit. But it’s clear that being alone in the cockpit was all that was required for Lubitz to take himself and 149 others to their deaths on the slopes of the French Alps. Had the captain or any other member of the crew been there, they could have reversed any efforts to override the autopilot, or summoned other crew or passengers to help subdue Lubitz if necessary. As it’s impossible to require that neither of the pilots leave the cockpit during flights, adopting the two-person rule seems to be a good move in order to increase the safety of flights from the potential for actions such as this, or in the event that the remaining pilot is incapacitated, perhaps by a heart attack. Current measures protect from actions outwith the cockpit, but provide little defence from those coming from within.

A human deterrent

Had Sonderheimer been replaced by a member of the cabin crew that morning, would Lubitz have believed that he had an opportunity to do what he did? The two-person rule, more than only enforcing, also dissuades and serves as a deterrent. Undeterred, a pilot set on crashing their aircraft could still override the autopilot, but – except in situations where they were able to overpower their fellow in the cockpit quickly – it would only be a matter of time before it was detected, reversed, or the absent pilot was able to return to the flight deck. So it’s perhaps surprising that the two-person rule is not mandatory in the aviation industry worldwide but is left up to individual authorities. In the US, the Federal Aviation Administration made two in the cockpit a requirement a year after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 – along with the flight deck door reinforcement that contributed to the crash of flight 4U9525. The experience of those airlines that have adopted the rule is that it requires minimal effort or organisational change. All that is required is that a cabin crew member takes the absent pilot’s place in the cockpit, and may leave only after they return. It is an easy fix with the potential to prevent cases such as this – a similar Egyptian Airlines incident in 1999 left 229 dead, and there have been at least eight other “pilot suicides” in the last 40 years – as well as other situations that could arise. It’s clear that this has been rapidly taken up by airlines outside the US in the last 24 hours: EasyJet, Virgin, Air Transat, Emirates, Norwegian Air Shuttle, Air Canada, Air New Zealand and Lufthansa, the parent of Germanwings, have all announced they would implement the two-person rule. But ideally this would be adopted as a mandatory procedure worldwide – and sooner rather than later – as it can be done almost without cost, and with the potential to prevent the repeat of such tragedies. The Conversation This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Russia can count on the BRICs… to say nothing.

The crisis in Ukraine, if it escalates further, could spell trouble for the BRICs*.

Brazil is home to some 500,000 Ukrainians (the third largest Ukrainian diaspora in the world) and the two countries have committed to a long-term partnership in space technology development (rockets and satellites). India, similarly, has established long-term defense contracts and cooperation agreements (in areas such as nuclear safety) with Ukraine. Indo-Ukranian ties, it is true, pale in comparison to Russia’s long term political and military relation with India; but they are not negligible.

In contrast, China has very little to lose (China’s investment in Ukraine has been hugely exaggerated, based on unconfirmed figures and details of aid and investment that have likely not come to fruition, as is the case with most Chinese OFDI). But China is not sympathetic to Russia’s support for irredentist movements in East and, especially, Central Asia, and staunchly opposed to the redrawing of state borders on the bases of ethnic ties (if Putin wanted Chinese support he should’ve couched his actions in terms of historical rights and strategic value).

Neither of these countries is likely to speak out publicly against Russia. As I have argued before in several places, the BRICS are experts in avoiding elephants in the room. BRICS summits, like the one to take place later this year in Fortaleza (Brazil), are a forum for talking about pie in the sky ideas, not solving actual problems of global order or disputes between the member countries. Probably the only thing the BRICS agree on is that it hurts their cause to air their grievances in public (though they don’t agree on what that cause is).

But neither are they likely to come out in support of Russia. In 2008, when Russia crashed China’s party and fought with Georgia over South Ossetia in the middle of the Beijing Olympics, China withheld support and pressured the other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to do the same. China has and will likely continue to hedge and distance itself from the present crisis.

India kept remarkably quiet during the 2008 war despite having no discernible stake in Georgia (it had just very recently signed a nuclear deal with the US), so it is even more and will likely to do so now. The Russian press will trumpet the recent declaration by National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon that Russia has “legitimate interests” in Ukraine (which is true but meaningless), but India’s position will likely be one of favoring peaceful negotiation and multilateral dialogue.

Brazil was also absolutely silent during the Russo-Georgian war. In 2008, Brazilian foreign policy was arguably at the peak of its activeness and visibility. President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva was treated as an international rockstar and David Rothkopf even went so far as to anoint foreign minister Celso Amorim as the “world’s best foreign minister” (whatever that means). The situation today is very different. Not only does Brazil have much more of a stake in Ukraine than in Georgia (where it had no real interests), but Brazil no longer has the international presence it had years ago. President Dilma Roussef has pulled Brazil back from the international spotlight, and Brazil today gets more international press for its domestic unrest than for its foreign actions. Brazil has been especially cautious in engaging with issues of international security in the past few years, abstaining in the UN Security Council vote on Libya in 2011 and distancing itself from the crisis in Syria. The inaction on Libya, which many observers in the US viewed as a bold stance was actually tame and passive if compared to Brazil’s mediation efforts and “no” vote on sanctions against Iran a year earlier. So far Brazilian officials have issued no statement regarding the situation in Ukraine–the Foreign Ministry’s Twitter account is probably the only one in the whole world not bursting with tweets about Ukraine. We can expect them to remain largely quiet until after the crisis is over, and only retroactively support whatever mutual understanding is arrived at.

At the end of the day, this crisis will not be the death of the BRICs but it will make many people stop caring about whether it’s alive.

*Yes, I’m ignoring South Africa here, and usually do when discussing the BRICs. I’m still waiting to be convinced that I shouldn’t…

Russian revisionism and the status security dilemma

Steven Ward has smart things to say about this whole Ukraine thing. He argues that Putin is acting out of distress over continued Western denial of Russia’s place in the sun.

Though he doesn’t make it explicit, his article puts into question claims about the “open, inclusive and flexible” character of the “American liberal order” that is supposed to allow for the peaceful accommodation of rising challengers. It’s pretty clear that this now-standard liberal trope downplays the very real limitations to status and power mobility within the liberal order or, at the very least, the existence of such perceptions in key countries like Russia, China, Brazil, etc. Whether these perceptions have a basis in fact or not, they are deeply consequential.

That said, though I clearly sympathize with the argument (and made it myself here before), it begs the age-old question of whether Russian revisionist behavior is a product of status obstruction and spiral dynamics or motivated by something else entirely and just exacerbated by these dynamics. In the latter case, more accommodationist policies could potentially be dangerous as well. You can call it the status security dilemma if you want. I don’t have the answer to what are the underlying motives any more than Ward does, but this is a central piece of the theoretical and policy puzzle that essentially determines everything else. Just saying that “Putin isn’t Hitler or Tojo” isn’t terribly informative.

Moreover, part of the problem with this argument is that status, security and economic goals are all hard to disentangle here (and usually elsewhere), such that it might not be possible to concede more status to Russia without making concrete policy concessions that carry real security and economic implications for Europe and for the US. Token concessions meant to stroke Russia’s ego (like G8 membership) are just not enough anymore. This is the exact same problem the US is facing with China, in that all possible cheap concessions have been made, and now any further adjustments to the international political (and institutional) order require the US (and Europe) to give up some influence and autonomy over real policy issues. As we know, however, power and influence can be reallyreally hard to part with. Grand bargains that reshape the field are not easy to accomplish, and usually involve some bloodshed (see also here and here).

Putin: The unlikely liberal-internationalist

Putin’s op-ed on Syria is the subject du jour. The article is meant as a reminder to Americans that they need to uphold the order they helped create in the post-WWII, and that this requires self-restraint and respect for international law. Bypassing the UN Security Council and going against the express opposition of public opinion and leaders the world over could throw the whole system out of whack, he tells us. Pursuing diplomacy and not unilateral force in Syria will help build trust and bolster the international legal system. How dare he?! That’s John Ikenberry’s schtick!

This is probably a Russian leader’s most awkward attempt at communicating directly with the American public since Konstantin Chernenko sucker punched Joan Rivers on the Johnny Carson show.

All kidding aside, Putin’s op-ed doesn’t hold a candle to Khrushchev’s 1959 Foreign Affairs article on Peaceful Coexistence, where he not only berated the US for being too aggressive and unwilling to cooperate on disarmament and to refrain from interfering on the affairs of other nations, but added insult to injury by suggesting that this was the case because America was too chicken to let history play out on its own terms.