Strategic Posture Review: Brazil

Strategic Posture Review: Brazil
Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva speaks during a ceremony in Brasilia, Monday, Sept. 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

In recent years, Brazil has put forward a more ambitious foreign policy with the aim of expanding the country’s presence in global economic negotiations, multilateral institutions and regimes, and regional affairs. [1] An active presidential diplomacy has spearheaded this approach, concerned with simultaneously deepening ties with the industrialized economies and the emergent South. Relations have been reshaped with the United States and the European Union, ties have been deepened with China and India, South-South multilateralism has been renewed and an unprecedented presence in South America has been asserted. A diversified set of “external fronts” has also led to an innovative participation in global politics and economic forums. Nevertheless, Brazil still faces the constraints imposed by the structural asymmetries of the international system, along with the fact that it must deal with U.S. prominence in hemispheric affairs.

Brazil has developed a set of approaches to face global security threats and inter- and intra-state conflict realities, avoiding alignment with U.S. security policies while granting a discrete support to the U.S.-led war against terrorism. In multilateral arenas, most notably the U.N., it has insisted on the need for a conceptual revision of world institutional structures, particularly the reform of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC). Brazilian foreign policy has become concerned with the humanitarian impact of military action and the importance of balancing peace, solidarity and development. Brazil’s pro-active diplomacy allowed its election as a non-permanent member of the UNSC four times in the post-Cold War era: in 1989-90, 1993-94, 1998-99, and 2003-2004. The country is expected to reassume this position again in 2009-2010.

Brazil’s foreign and defense policies have also prioritized regional affairs. South America has assumed unprecedented importance for Brazil, based upon the idea that the country should expand its responsibility in the maintenance of regional political stability by way of the promotion of stronger democratic institutions and values, and the expansion of regional security cooperation. Brazil has refused a securitized approach in dealing with political turbulences in the region and has expanded its responsibilities as a peace broker, offering local political mediations and contributing to institutional and democratic outcomes. In fact, since the inauguration of the Lula administration in 2003, Brazilian diplomacy has been particularly active in the promotion of political governance in South America, leaving behind its previous attachment to the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of other states. This switch became particularly visible in the United Nations’ latest intervention in Haiti, MINUSTAH, in which Brazil assumed the military command.

From Past to Present

Until the last decade of the 19th century, Brazil’s dominant ties were with the European world — particularly Great Britain — and border disputes and settlements occupied almost all of the foreign agenda. The First Republic (1889-1930) was a decisive era for Brazil in the diplomatic arena, and essential premises instituted during this period still provide a necessary backdrop for understanding contemporary Brazilian foreign policy. Besides the settlement of most longstanding territorial disputes with its South American neighbors, Brazil began to exhibit greater interest in engaging in multilateral diplomacy and developing closer ties with the United States. Brazil was an active player in the early years of the Hague Court of Arbitration and was the only Latin American country to participate in World War I. The country also tried to have a say at the Versailles Conference in 1919, and was a founding member of the League of Nations. During this period, the Ministry of Foreign Relations, known as the Itamaraty, consolidated its role as the main state agency in the conduct of Brazilian international affairs.

Brazil’s 1930 revolution paved the way for major political and economic transformations, which took place during the years of the Getulio Vargas government (1930-45). These strongly impacted the country’s foreign and defense policies. At the beginning of World War II, Brazil declared its neutrality in the conflict, trying to extract maximum advantages from relations with the U.S. and Germany until 1942, when it declared war on the Axis powers. Alignment with the U.S. permitted an expansion of Brazil’s military capacity. Besides a major enlargement of the army, the navy also increased and the Brazilian air force (Força Aérea Brasileira-FAB) was created with U.S. support. At the time, the decision to send troops to fight with the Allies on the Italian front simultaneously addressed two aims: strengthening the armed forces and widening the country’s involvement in world affairs. In fact, Brazil´s active participation in the creation of the United Nations system has been recognized ever since by its permanent assignment as the first speaker at the annual U.N. General Assembly.

The East-West conflict had a major impact on Brazilian diplomacy, as Latin America became a U.S. sphere of influence. Undoubtedly, democratic rule in Brazil, which lasted from 1945 to 1964, was affected by the tensions imposed by the Cold War’s left-right ideological disputes. Automatic alignment with Washington in world and regional forums coincided with Brazil’s strong ideological identification with Western values and anti-communism, and led to a consistent anti-Soviet foreign policy. Military cooperation between U.S. and Brazil strengthened U.S. influence in Brazilian military training and defense doctrine. Hemispheric security doctrines were absorbed into national security policies, and Brazil played an important role in the buildup of the Inter-American System, which involved the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance (1947) and the Organization of American States (OAS, 1948). Nevertheless, Brazil’s disappointment regarding U.S. economic cooperation and support for industrialization opened the way for the expansion of Brazilian nationalism, hand in hand with the growing involvement of the state in long-term development policies.

By the mid-1950s, President Juscelino Kubitschek (1956-60) assumed new foreign policy postures regarding economic development. Cognizant of Brazil’s position within the U.S. sphere of influence, Kubitschek advocated the importance of economic cooperation in the context of hemispheric affairs and promoted the Pan-American Operation (1958). The influence of the Cold War in foreign policy options for Brazil did not impede the country from reinforcing its relations with the industrialized European nations, particularly France and Germany.

In the early 1960s, during the Jânio Quadros (1961) and João Goulart (1961-64) administrations, new international orientations known as the “Independent Foreign Policy” were applied to all aspects of Brazilian foreign affairs. Its aim was to expand the country’s autonomy in the international arena and to reduce the constraints imposed by the bipolar international order. Brazil started to identify with other nations of the developing world in Latin America and Africa, with a growing sympathy for the Non-Aligned Movement and the critique of neocolonialism, racism and the East-West arms race. These orientations were reversed by the U.S.-supported military coup in 1964.

During the first phase of the military regime (1964-74), Brazil abandoned its autonomous foreign policy premises and reverted to a policy of alignment with the United States. Convergence with Western values defined the ideological profile of Brazilian diplomacy, and the government of Castelo Branco (1964-67) aligned itself with the United States on military and economic questions. Gradually, economic diplomacy became a new priority for Brazilian foreign policy. In the late-1960s, military rule entered a dramatic period with the suspension of the State of Law, which had a major impact on domestic political life. In economic policy, the regime was deeply committed to Import Substitution Industrialization (ISI), with major incentives to foreign investments, an aggressive trade policy and the escalation of external debt to finance state enterprises. This was the period (1968-73) of rapid and increased economic growth known as the “Brazilian Miracle.”

Beginning in 1974, during the administration of Ernesto Geisel (1974-78), Brazil transformed its foreign policy to one grounded in autonomy, pragmatism and universalism. This presupposed the end of automatic alignment with the U.S., a non-ideological foreign policy (i.e., disconnecting from the Cold War agenda) and close ties with the Third World. These principles were maintained and reinforced in the years to come, sustained by harmonious cooperation between the Foreign Ministry, the military and the business sector. Brazil’s strategic ambitions were also expanded, as the country initiated its nuclear program with the cooperation of Germany. In this same context, military cooperation with the U.S. was denounced in reaction to U.S. human rights pressures, as Brazil expanded its presence in international markets as a supplier for military equipment.

Brazil’s relations with the U.S. increasingly became characterized by reciprocal disdain. In the late 1970s, Brazil did not approve of U.S. actions in Central America, deplored U.S. intervention in Grenada and did not adhere to the sanctions on Afghanistan. On the other hand, Washington opposed Brazil’s sensitive technology programs and aggressively opposed Brazilian protectionist policies applied to information products and intellectual property.

In 1985, as Brazil initiated its transition to democracy, foreign policy orientations were hardly changed, with any innovations carefully negotiated between the Foreign Ministry and the military authorities. Brazil developed closer relations to Latin American countries, particularly Argentina, participated in regional coordination initiatives to deal with the Central American crisis and voiced its frustrations over the lack of political attention toward the Latin American debt crisis. At the same time, technological autonomy policies, supported by the military and the scientific community, were vigorously pursued together with an innovative process of nuclear cooperation with Argentina.

Gradual enforcement of bilateral confidence-building measures deactivated previous fears of a nuclear arms race in South America. Under the 1988 Constitution, Brazil committed its use of nuclear power to exclusively peaceful ends. At this point, the Brazilian military had become more concerned with the sovereignty of the Amazon region in reaction to the expansion of international environmental campaigns and nongovernmental organizations.

As Brazilian democratization consolidated, its foreign policy premises were reshaped, all in the broader context of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the end of the Cold War. International affairs in Brazil were aimed now at stimulating closer relations with industrialized countries and leaving behind previous autonomous stances in world politics and economics. Significant foreign policy changes were carried out, motivated by the need to deepen Brazil’s international competitiveness and to improve the country’s access to global markets, finance and technology. The environment, human rights, and nonproliferation were no longer addressed with defensive postures, and international pressures were responded to with positive diplomatic initiatives. Brazilian involvement in the Global Environment Summit in Rio (1992) was a clear example of this shift.

In regional affairs, the most important step was the formation, together with Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, of MERCOSUR (Southern Cone Common Market) [2], with the aim of deepening the commitment to regionalism integration. In this same context, cooperative security initiatives were carried forward between the Brazilian military and other MERCOSUR members, leading ever since to larger interstate coordination in defense matters. Shared participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations became frequent, as well as joint military exercises in border zones, especially in the Triple Border region joining Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.

Brazil’s international affairs during the Cardoso government (1995-2002) rested on two major domestic pillars: economic stabilization and democracy consolidation. In the international security realm, since the mid-1990s, Brazil developed a pronounced agenda regarding adherence to international nonproliferation regimes. In 1994, Brazil joined the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), in 1997 it signed the Anti-Land Mine Treaty and, the following year, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). At the same time, Brazil increased its involvement in U.N. peacekeeping operations, participating in the U.N. Observer Mission in El Salvador, the U.N. Observer Mission in Mozambique, the U.N. Mission in Angola (where it sent 1,300 soldiers, the largest military force it had sent abroad since World War II) and the 1999 U.N. peacekeeping mission in East Timor. Brazilian diplomacy tried to combine its interests and concerns in the world order with a positive relationship with the United States, which included a constructive approach to the buildup of a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA). Regional integration was maintained as a priority — particularly MERCOSUR– though mainly concentrated on the expansion of intra-bloc commerce.

Once the Lula administration was inaugurated in 2003, Brazilian foreign policy assumed an affirmative posture in world economic, political and security affairs. This has led to an expansion of global and regional interests and responsibilities. Gradually, the formulation of a broader national strategy took shape as Brazil’s international initiatives coincided with a process of diffusion of power in world affairs that has opened up increased room to maneuver for a new set of emerging powers.

In this same context, the landscape of regional politics and security gradually underwent significant changes. Though the region has traditionally played a marginal part in Washington’s strategic policies, the blunders of U.S. foreign policy during the Bush administration led to renewed skepticism and political contestation regarding the U.S. approach to neoliberal globalization and its post 9-11 security priorities. As a result, the reach of anti-Americanism as a polarizing force in domestic politics was widened throughout the region.

This new political landscape has been accompanied by the expansion of South American defense budgets, and in this, Brazil has assumed a renewed profile. While the region expanded its combined military budget by 50 percent in the years 1999-2008, Brazil has increased its own by 29.8 percent during this period. [3] At present, the Brazilian armed forces comprise 342,300 men: 217,800 in the army, 61,000 in the navy and 63,500 in the air force.

On the domestic front, it is crucial to mention that the Lula government’s foreign policy priorities have created a polarization among the “attentive public” of Brazil’s foreign affairs. At the center of these debates have been conflicting assessments of the country’s political gains and economic incentives. For the first time, international choices have become a matter of internal politicization, leading to a clear differentiation between neoliberal and neodevelopmentalist inclinations. Though more committed to the second option, the Lula government’s stance also reflects the ambiguities and contradictions imposed by the broad political spectrum that it has relied upon during its first (2003-2006) and present term (since 2007).

Dealing with Global Security and World Politics

By trying to trace its own course of action, Brazil has reinforced its support for multilateralism to deal with crisis situations in international politics and security. Brazil has become an active supporter of enhanced multilateral initiatives, particularly the expanded role of the United Nations in world politics, and it has increased its own participation and responsibilities in U.N. initiatives. For Brazil, a reconfiguration of the juridical and parliamentary structure of the U.N. system has become a permanent demand, including its ambition to be one of the new permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, should the number of seats increase. Besides being part of the so-called G-4 — together with Germany, Japan and India — Brazil has also become a participant in various emerging power coalitions such as the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) formation and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). [4]

Brazil has also expanded its presence in the global arms market, both as a supplier and a recipient. It is worth mentioning, among its recent deals, contracts with France involving up to $10 billion to buy 50 military transport helicopters and five submarines, including the domestic construction of a nuclear-powered submarine to be built with French technology. An additional $2 billion deal for the acquisition of 36 Rafale fighter jets is currently being considered.

Increased involvement in global matters has not prevented nationalistic stances from becoming more visible in the Lula administration’s formulation of foreign and defense policies. In political terms, presidential diplomacy reached its peak in Brazil’s international affairs in recent years. From an institutional standpoint, the Foreign Ministry remains the main state agency in charge of Brazil’s international affairs, whether these are related to political, security or economic affairs, or of a bilateral, regional, or multilateral nature. This obviously imposes a statist profile to external negotiations and to the motivations behind the definition of national interests. Yet, it is also true that diplomatic activity has become more specialized according to the diversity and complexity of the country’s international agenda, and is subject to greater societal and political pressures in a context of intense inter-bureaucratic competition and the deepening of democracy.

Throughout the 20th century, the Brazilian military perceived their country as a regional power, thanks to its classical power assets, such as the size of the territory, population and economy, and the possession of natural resources. Nevertheless, defense capacity always lagged, as the armed forces were more successful in defending their political autonomy within the state structure than in an assuring expansive budgets for acquisition and production of military equipment. The replacement of inter-state rivalry with Argentina in the 1980s for a dynamic, bilateral, cooperative security agenda reinforced the sense of territorial satisfaction — an outcome of peaceful frontier settlements reached with its 10 South America neighbors. Hard-power projection was even more curtailed when Brazil deepened its commitments to international security regimes, particularly the NPT, reinforced by the consolidation of democratic rule.

Regarding security matters, the Defense Ministry — created only in 1998 — has gradually expanded its political and institutional presence in international and regional affairs, particularly with reference to the protection of borders against international crime. Also, closer cooperation between the Defense Ministry, the Secretariat for Strategic Matters and the Foreign Ministry has increased, more than ever, the link between domestic defense matters and the international affairs of the country. The recent National Defense Plan (NDP,2009) explicitly formulated an innovative approach in this regard.

The picture seems now to be changing, though. The idea that South America should be perceived as a Peace Zone remains one of the pillars of Lula’s recently launched Defense Policy. But the identification of potential external threats — whether coming from organized criminal activity in border areas or from eventual acts of foreign aggression against national sovereignty and territorial integrity — call for a renewed capacity of response and military power. The NDP previews a new architecture for the Brazilian armed forces, with a focus upon a greater doctrinal, operational and strategic unity within and among the three branches, the expansion of military technology and production, and the improvement of defense capabilities in the Amazon area. This last concern is the reason behind a broad spectra of initiatives, including the build-up in the next 20 years of a second Brazilian fleet to be harbored near the Amazon river mouth, the enforcement of an inclusive indigenous population policy, and the incorporation of the Blue Amazon concept (which involves the expansion of Brazil’s ocean jurisdiction in accordance to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).

Since 2000, there has been a permanent apprehension with respect to U.S. military activities linked to Plan Colombia, even more so since the 2009 announcement by the Colombian government that the U.S. will have free access to seven of its military bases. The Brazilian government has always been quite defensive towards Plan Colombia. Its renewal in 2006 was perceived as both a threat to Brazil’s sovereignty, as it increased U.S. military presence in a territory close to Brazil’s Amazon borders, and a stimulus to the expansion of FARC activities in the area, now connected with Brazilian drug trafficking organizations. Brasilia also regretted the fragmentation impact that the polarization between the Uribe and Chavez governments had on the regional political environment, which made the build-up of a South American Community as envisaged by the Lula administrations more difficult.

In fact, the U.S. and Brazil have not shared the same assumptions when addressing conflict-zone areas, such as Colombia, or politically uncertain scenarios, such as Bolivia and Venezuela, even if Washington increasingly recognizes the necessity of maintaining an open channel of communication with Brazil to deal with the regional political agenda, particularly in situations that pose threats to democratic institutions. For Brazilian foreign policy, this has created the challenge of carrying forward its regional policy while avoiding collision with Washington, a task made more difficult during the Bush administration in the context of the U.S.-led war against terrorism.

The differences between the U.S. and Brazil in global politics deepened after 9/11, as Brasilia avoided full-scale alignment with U.S. security policies, preferring instead to shape its own approach to containing terrorism. Brazil cautiously supported the invasion of Afghanistan and was against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The U.S. government, for its part, became particularly concerned with the need to improve intelligence and police control in the Triple Border area, between the cities of Puerto Iguazu (Argentina), Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil), which the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considered a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Mutual counternarcotics efforts increased between Brazil and its MERCOSUR partners, with special attention given to the presence of money laundering, illegal arms, and drug trafficking activities in the area.

At the same time, the Lula administration has maintained a balanced position in dealing with Islamist terrorism and Middle East policy. On the one hand, it aimed to enlarge its visibility among Arab countries, as demonstrated by the 2005 Summit of South American-Arab Countries, to which Brazil refused to invite the U.S. as an observer. On the other, Brazil refused to adopt an approach towards terrorism that would have justified its use as a legitimate method of resistance against foreign occupation, as many Arab countries desired. Brazilian diplomacy has also made a special effort to have a voice in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, particularly in response to the major humanitarian crisis in Gaza in 2008.

Last but not least, it is important to point out that Brazil’s foreign trade policy is an important piece of its global economic as well as its political orientation. The country has become an active player in world trade negotiations, even more so since the creation of the WTO. [5] Brazilian foreign trade policy should be understood in the context of the macroeconomic changes the country went through in the early 1990s. Since then, Brazil has steadily advanced towards free market economics, moving forward in liberalizing its economy without giving up its industrial development strategies. Brazil has also been an outstanding player as an exporter of agricultural goods. Besides its involvement in numerous trade disputes, Brazil became especially active in the international community regarding the promotion of revised rules of the game for the multilateral trade system.

The country has concentrated its attention on two main subjects in multilateral trade negotiations: ending the subsidization of agriculture, which is particularly aimed at the EU and the U.S., and promoting flexibility of demands regarding new issues on the agenda. Brazil basically perceives itself as a small global trader in need of greater access to markets and has kept a defensive posture towards new trade restrictions. When consensus for a new round of global trade negotiations was finally reached, at the Cancun Ministerial in 2003, Brazil assumed a leading role — together with India and Argentina — in the creation of the G-20, a group of 20 WTO member states concerned with the distortion of trade practices for agricultural goods, the uneven conditions of market access and the dramatic problems of food security. In the face of the current world financial crisis, Brazil has played its part as an emerging power in the talks and search for remedies which have been carried forward by the G-20 since late-2008. [6]

Becoming a Regional Power

For Brazil, regional affairs, and particularly South America, has assumed unprecedented importance in its foreign policy design. During the 1990s, Brazil’s regional policy gave priority to regional integration, the creation of a South America Community, and particularly to the establishment of MERCOSUR. Ties with the Andean countries were developed either as part of MERCOSUR’s inter-regional negotiations, as part of those pursued with the Andean Community (CAN), or as a reflection of specific bilateral interests. In this context, Brazil’s identity as a Latin American country was gradually replaced by that of a South American power, along with the idea that the country should expand its responsibility in the maintenance of regional political stability by way of stronger democratic institutions and values. Also, bilateral ties with Argentina deepened even more as their historical rivalry was supplanted by a “strategic partnership,” combining asymmetric interdependency, an online political coordination and permanent security cooperation.

As Brazil dramatically expanded its economic and political presence in South America, new challenges have emerged. Acknowledgement on the part of its South American partners of its role as a regional leader has been held back by a combination of structural asymmetries, enduring misperceptions and political differences. Furthermore, lack of domestic support among business, political and intellectual sectors has also contributed to a slowdown of Brazil’s regional ambitions. The difficulties for Brazil in South American regional politics have been aggravated by the spread of ideological polarization, typified by and often driven by the Venezuelan government of the last decade. Though the Lula administration has dealt with it using a large dose of pragmatism, it’s a problem that has also motivated reconsiderations in Brazil as to the pros and cons of expanded regional leadership.

In the first years of the 21st century, South America faced a new phase of political instability, particularly in the Andean region, which led to institutional breakdowns, massive popular protests, political violence, and local turmoil accompanied by strong anti-American sentiments. [7] Regional and subregional instruments and regimes — such as MERCOSUR, the Andean Community, the Rio Group, and the Organization of American States (OAS) — were incapable of preventing or containing these developments, which were both a cause and a consequence of the deepening political fragmentation within the region. In general, domestic actors did not abandon democratic institutions, yet the intra- and extra-regional perceptions led to growing ideological polarization. Washington was unable to deal easily with this reality, categorizing some of these processes as “radical populism” and regarding them as an emerging threat in the inter-American environment.

In this context, Brazil became crucial as a stabilizing force in South America, as it insisted on finding political solutions that avoided U.S.-led securitized interpretations, particularly during the Bush administration. This was most evident in September 2008, when Bolivia experienced turmoil resulting from its chronic institutional crisis. The participation of Brasilia in the political and economic life of Bolivia, as a consequence of its new energy interests — specially connected to investment in gas — and Brazil’s determination to act so as to maximize Bolivian democratic governance were gradually recognized by the White House as positive and functional.

The “indiscipline” of Latin American governments, especially those in the Andean area was a sign of a U.S. leadership crisis, its inadequate use of coercive measures, and the costly consequences of misguided strategic priorities determined by Washington. At the same time, the irrelevance of South America to the White House — with the exception of Colombia — manifested in the U.S. Strategic Policy Priorities broadly diffused in 2002 marginalized the region even more with regards to Washington’s new priorities. What should be underlined is that Washington’s leadership crisis in the region, accompanied by a lack of both political interest and political energy to deal with the “turbulent peripheries,” contributed to Brazil assuming the status of a regional power. In fact, the South American policy of the Lula government, combined with Brazil’s new economic presence in the entire region, allowed for a convergence between Brazilian aspirations and U.S. needs.

Brazil has proven that it has the intention in the coming years of advancing the construction of its South American leadership, with the expectation of simultaneously advancing its international presence. It is worth underscoring that this ambition will be less costly and risky for the country the less it collides with U.S. priorities. Also, Brazil wishes to act as a mediator capable of pulling strings to de-ideologize the dialogue between the U.S. and certain countries in the region, especially Bolivia, Venezuela and Cuba.

Indeed, Cuban affairs are likely to become a new issue on the Brazil-U.S. agenda. Lula’s government has invested politically and economically in Cuba in recent years, as well as in other parts of the Caribbean, and there has been special interest in building partnership in biofuel projects with the Cubans. In political terms, Brazilian diplomacy has been playing an active role in the reincorporation of the Havana regime into the Latin American community, as was observed when Cuba was accepted as member of the Rio Group in 2008.

Brazil has strongly supported the buildup of a South American Union (UNASUR) to improve intraregional political and defense coordination. This initiative has carried over into the recent creation of the South America Defense Council (2008), a regional body which aims to coordinate intraregional dialogue on security matters. For Brazilian defense policy, the SADC has become a major instrument to strengthen its strategic interest in South America.

The expansion of Brazil’s regional cooperative security agenda has evolved hand in hand with its increased involvement in peacekeeping activities. Undoubtedly, the convergence between Brazil’s regional and global defense interests deepened ever since the country decided to assume the military command of the U.N.-led post-conflict reconstruction mission in Haiti, known as the MINUSTAH.[8] In addition to commanding the mission, Brazil has also sent an annual average of 1,200 troops to Haiti since 2003.

From the Brazilian foreign policy perspective, the concern over differentiating the country’s action in Haiti from other examples of foreign intervention — propelled by imperialist motivations — has been present from the start. The responsibilities assumed by Brazil, together with other South American countries in Haiti, are closely connected to a new set of expectations the international community has placed on middle income countries (MICs) with consolidated democratic institutions and values. Since 2003, the prominent participation of Brazil, together with Argentina and Chile (the so-called ABC) in the recovery of internal stability and the rebuilding of institutions in Haiti has become emblematic of a regional post-conflict cooperation initiative, and an innovative example of the post-Cold War generation of multidimensional interventions.


Brazil has proven that it has the intention of advancing in the coming years towards the expansion of its South American leadership, with the expectation of advancing its international presence.

The Lula administration has been particularly active in the promotion of political governance in South America. This is probably the most important foreign policy front since the inauguration of the Lula administration, because it contrasts with Brazil’s traditions and previous behaviors predicated upon the principle of non-intervention in the affairs of states. At present, Brazil’s defense policy in South America combines a policy of deterrent capacity along its northern borders with a cooperative agenda with its southern neighbours.

However, Brazil will have to move cautiously in the region. Its involvement in local crises, together with growing trade and investment activities with its South American counterparts, has not been met with automatic acknowledgement of regional leadership. This could also lead to new complications in Brazil’s global affairs. If Brazil does not succeed in gaining support and acknowledgment in its regional neighborhood, the U.S. will become more hesitant to recognize its role as a regional leader. On the other hand, it will be Brazil’s aim to build up such leadership in non-competitive terms with the U.S.

Brazilian foreign policy also seeks to find equilibrium between its role as a regional power and a global player. Brazil stands out as a Southern emerging power in world politics and economics. Yet the fact that Brazil does not rely on “hard power” attributes imposes limitations to its ambitions. The countries`recent steps to reshape its defense capabilities aim to reduce these limitations. Yet the successful balance between the global and regional fronts still depends upon its ability to expand its “soft power” assets. These include its diplomatic capacity to promote the improvement of the global multilateral architecture (specially U.N., IMF, WB and WTO), its commitment to defending democratic values and political stability in South America, and its efforts to assure the expansion of North-South and South-South cooperation for development. So far, Brazil has played a positive role in the creation of South-South coalitions and in bridging North-South negotiations through the use of its assertive diplomacy. Nevertheless, the lack of hard power assets, such as those possessed by other emerging powers like China and India, could lead to a counterproductive overstretching of such attributes in the near future.

Monica Hirst is a professor in the Department of Political Science and International Affairs at the Torcuato Di Tella University in Buenos Aires. She has been a professor at the Argentine Foreign Service Institute of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and a visiting professor at Stanford University, the University of São Paulo and Harvard University. She has been a freelance consultant for the United Nations Development Program, the Ford Foundation, the Andean Development Corporation (CAF) and the Foreign Ministries of Argentina and Colombia. She has published extensively on Brazilian foreign policy, Latin America-U.S. relations, and regional security and integration issues. Her most recent books are “The United States and Brazil: A Long Road of Unmet Expectations” (New York: Routledge, 2004), and “Crisis del Estado e Intervención Internacional: Una mirada desde el Sur” (Buenos Aires: Edhasa, 2009).


[1] See: Hirst, Monica & Soares de Lima, Maria Regina (2006), “Brazil as an intermediate state and regional power: action, choice and responsibilities”, International Affairs vol. 82, nº 1, pp. 21-4; Hurrell, Andrew, “Lula’s Brazil: a rising power, but going where?”, Current History, February 2008.

[2] MERCOSUR (Common Market of the South) is an inter-governmental trading block created by the Asunción Treaty in 1991. It is formed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela (whose membership is yet to be approved by the Brazilian Congress). Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are associate members.

[3] “SIPRI Yearbook 2008, Armaments, Disarmament and International Security”, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Available online at:

[4] IBSA was created in June 2003 through the adoption of the “Brasilia Declaration” by India, Brazil and South Africa. It is a trilateral, developmental initiative between these three countries to promote South-South cooperation and exchange. Official site:
The anachronism BRIC refers to the fast growing developing countries Brazil, Russia, India and China and it was first coined in 2001.

[5] Brazil has been a WTO member since its creation in January 1995. Between then and April 2009, Brazil has been involved in 87 dispute cases: 24 as a complainant, 14 as a respondent and 49 as a third part. See: WTO, “Dispute cases involving Brazil”. Available on-line at: (accessed 20/05/2009).

[6] Established in 1971 the G24 is formed by: Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Iran, Lebanon, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad & Tobago and Venezuela. Official Site:

[7] Examples include Argentina (2001), Bolivia (2003, 2005), Ecuador (2000, 2005), Haiti (2004), Paraguay (1999), Peru (2000) and Venezuela (2002).

[8] The MINUSTAH is the UN’s fifth mission in Haiti that has the objective of re-establishing institutional order and democracy in the country. Three elements guide its action: the maintenance of order and security, the encouragement of political dialogue with the aim of a national reconciliation and the promotion of economic and social development.

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