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Brazil: more conscription as a result of the modernisation of the Brasilian military?

The New York Times reported on 18 December that Brazil is planning to modernise its military. According to the report, this will include a national debate on conscription, with the aim to enforce the countries existing conscription laws.

According to War Resisters' International's 1998 world survey on conscription and conscientious objection to military service, all men aged 18 must present themselves to the military junta for the compulsory military registration. To get a work permit or any other state provided service or benefit, all men of over 18 must show proof of military registration. Those who do not register are considered dead and have no civil rights.

After registration a selection procedure establishes whether or not an individual is enlisted into one of the three branches of the armed forces. In 1989 only 103,970 conscripts, out of a register of 1,437,297 18-year-olds, were recruited, the vast majority getting exempted on medical grounds. This means that less than 10% of those registered are called up for military service.
According to the New York Times, the new strategic vision, more than a year in the making, calls for Brazil to invest more in military technology, including satellites, and to build a nuclear-powered submarine fleet that would be used to protect territorial waters and Brazil’s deepwater oil platforms. The proposal also calls for an expansion of the armed forces to protect the country’s Amazon borders and for retraining troops so they are capable of rapid-strike, guerrilla-style warfare.
The Brazilian Army would be reshaped to be a more mobile, quick-strike force. Only about 10 percent of its soldiers are now trained for rapid deployment. The entire army would be reconstituted at the brigade level to be able to strike quickly, “so that a warrior would also be a guerrilla,” Mr. Mangabeira Unger said.

The plan also involved enforcing existing laws on mandatory conscription to draw people from all classes, not just the poorer ones, to make for a more highly skilled fighting force.

This will be a novel debate for Brazil about national sacrifice,” Mr. Mangabeira Unger, the minister of strategic affairs and a co-author of the plan, said. “There has been no moment in our national history when we have squarely had the kind of debate that I hope we will have now.
Brazil recognises the right to conscientious objection in peace time. Article 143 of the Brazilian constitution reads: "It is within the competence of the Armed Forces, according to law, to provide an alternative service for those who, in peacetime, after being enlisted, claim grounds of conscience, understood to be based on religious faith and philosophical or political beliefs, for exemption from purely military activity."

The 4 October 1991 Decree No. 8.239 and the 28 July 1992 Regulation 2.681 further specify the regulations for these cases of conscientious objection. Conscripts who are COs may in peacetime be required to perform substitute tasks - what they are being decided by the armed forces.

COs' lawyers in Brazil have noted that the present system is deficient in that the option of substitute service outside the armed forces is unavailable. Many COs oppose any connection with or service in the armed forces.
If Brazil is to enforce conscription more, then it is highly likely that there also will be more conscientious objectors.

Sources: The New York Times: President of Brazil Unveils Plan to Upgrade Military, 18 December 2008, War Resisters' International: Refusing to bear arms, country report Brazil, 1998

Veröffentlicht in CO-Update, January 2009, No. 44