Civilians Get a Foot in the Door: Reforming Brazil’s Defense Ministry, 2007–2010


In 2007, the political moment was right for President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to build Brazil’s Ministry of Defense into an institution that would give civilians a significant role in defense policy—more than two decades after the end of military rule. The ministry had existed since 1999 but had failed to provide effective civilian leadership in setting defense policy and overseeing defense institutions. The president, known to Brazilians as Lula, set the stage for the reform by way of a strategy document that called for institutional changes in both the ministry and the armed forces. Then he appointed a well-known and respected minister, Nelson Jobim, to implement the new policies. Jobim worked with a military adviser to unify control of the armed forces, promote greater cooperation and closer coordination among the three service branches, and press civilians and military officers to work together in creating defense policy. By the end of Lula’s presidency in 2011, key tasks remained, but the joint staff held key strategic planning functions, the three branches were cooperating on important matters, and military officers, civilians in government, and outside experts were collaborating in the formulation of defense policy.

Tristan Dreisbach drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro in May and June 2016. Case published August 2016.

joint staff
armed forces
Focus Area(s)
Civil Service
Critical Tasks
Building trust
Creating civilian capacity
Removing officers from government
Subordination to civilian control
Core Challenge
Trust and legitimacy
Country of Reform
Case Studies
Tristan Dreisbach