- LATIN AMERICA
- MIDDLE EAST
- United Kingdom
- United States
- New Zealand
- South Africa
By Julia E. Sweig
In the last decade, Brazil has recast itself as a global brand and a global power. It is home to the world's fifth-largest land mass and eighth-largest economy and is one of the top global producers of stuff everyone else needs: from animals, vegetables, and minerals to water, energy, and airplanes. The new conventional wisdom suggests that Brazil is now poised to make its name on the global stage and balance the other power in its neck of the woods, the United States. Brazil's ascent coincides with the relative decline of U.S. influence in Latin America and the rise of new centers of power in Asia. This dynamic reinforces Brazil's central foreign policy message: with both place and purpose for a new global player on the world stage, Brazil can be the Mac to the United States' PC -- with an ethos and an international agenda to match.
Brazil's aspirations are fueled by its impressive social and economic gains and its diplomatic accomplishments, as well as the ambition, vision, and personal narratives of its two recent presidents, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula). However, Brazil's attempts to exert its influence on a wide range of pressing international issues may dilute the legitimacy of its efforts in such areas as climate change, peacekeeping, and global governance, where Brazilian participation has been most successful. This is not the first time Brazil has generated so much breathless excitement. The challenge for Brazil now is to not let an exaggerated self-image eclipse its focus on balancing the constraints faced at home with the opportunities available abroad.
The next government has the chance to spare itself the illusory quest to be a global power -- soft, hard, or otherwise -- and instead relish its well-established place at the table. A more modest, although still ambitious, strategy would allow Brazil to shape and influence global institutions, and deepening investments at home would redress its domestic liabilities: glaring underinvestment in human capital and innovation and the still near absence of the state from the lives of millions of Brazilian citizens.
The country's multidimensional identity has long been vexing for U.S. policymakers. Although Brazilians share a solid consensus on the domestic priority of social inclusion, they are not of one mind about how they see themselves. Brazil is a developing country and a developed country. The state is both strong and weak. Nearly half the population identifies itself as black, or at least not white. The country shares its borders with ten South American nations but does not quite see itself as Latin American. Brazil adheres to conservative macroeconomic principles while pursuing aggressive social programs. It boasts a world-class banking and finance sector, with the third-largest stock exchange in the world, but 26 percent of its population still lives in slums. Massive infrastructure projects are under way in Rio de Janeiro, which will be home to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016; yet in the same city, more than 4,600 people died in criminal, drug, militia, and police-related violence in 2008.
However Brazil chooses to handle these domestic challenges and its newfound international clout, Washington will have to come to terms with a new power in the neighborhood and understand that Brazil defines itself in a global context. GREAT EXPECTATIONS
The excitement surrounding Brazil is largely based on its economic achievements and natural resources. Macroeconomic stability, inflation targeting, a floating currency, manageable debt, ample dollar reserves, rapid growth, and a climate of political stability catapulted Brazil in the global psyche from just another Latin American debtor nation to an economic powerhouse. The breathlessness about Brazil's potential picked up speed after 2003, when
Brazilians have coalesced around what one Brazilian pollster described as the "material basis for consensus": a broad-based agreement to invest government revenue in people on the margins. This investment has produced a rapid expansion of a domestic consumer class, which, however, remains neither civically empowered nor adequately educated. Initiatives such as Bolsa Família, a conditional cash-transfer program linked to school attendance and regular medical checkups for children; subsidized loans for housing; and an increase in the minimum wage have reduced poverty by approximately 24 percent since 2003. Brazil is still the third most unequal country in Latin America, but almost 13 million Brazilians have escaped from poverty, and 12 million from extreme poverty, in the last eight years. To date, the rich in Brazil have given up a little wealth, and they may be poised to give up more through what is -- for Latin America and much of the developing world -- an uncharacteristically robust, yet still regressive, system for collecting and paying taxes. Brazil's impressive social gains have become the envy of the developing world, turning Brazil into a laboratory and model for globalization with a social conscience.OUTWARD BOUND
Until the end of the twentieth century, Brazilian foreign policy was based on four primary directives: protect the country's vast territorial holdings, consolidate and strengthen its republic, avoid or settle all conflicts with its neighbors, and maintain a distant but cordial relationship with the United States. A founding member of the
In the 1990s, Brazil evolved from its traditional reclusiveness. The country's success on the home front, together with radical shifts in global politics and economics, has generated a new story line -- one that crystallized under the Lula administration -- that Brazilians invoke to explain the country's near ubiquity on the global stage. This new narrative recalls the manifest destiny of nineteenth-century America, with a Brazilian twist.
With neither blood spilled nor territory annexed, Brazil consolidated a multiethnic and multiracial democracy, stabilized a strong market economy, and lifted millions into a growing middle class. Brazilians of all stripes argue that by virtue of these accomplishments, Brazil is entitled to be seen as a global power and to act as one.
An increasingly confident Brazil has undertaken an ambitious and far-flung foreign policy agenda. This quest has included efforts to secure a seat on an expanded
Brazil also has a powerful voice in climate change negotiations. The country has an exceptionally clean energy matrix and contains approximately 60 percent of the Amazon rain forest within its borders. At the same time, Brazil's deforestation is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases. Brazil is a champion of affordable access to HIV/AIDS medications for the poor and has led the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti since 2004. After last year's earthquake in Haiti killed 21 Brazilians, the highest loss for Brazilian troops abroad since World War II, Brazil made a $19 million contribution to the UN, announced a $205 million relief plan for Haiti, and committed an additional 1,300 rescue workers. Likewise, Brazilian troops are part of the UN missions in Liberia, the Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, and East Timor, among other current peacekeeping operations. That said, with commercial and diplomatic interests in mind, Brazil has largely stayed silent on crises in Myanmar (also called Burma), Sudan, and Zimbabwe.
Notwithstanding its BRIC brotherhood, Brazil is alert to the double-edged sword represented by China's market power and resource grab. China is now Brazil's largest source of foreign investment -- in ports, rail, reactors, iron, steel, and oil. China has become Brazil's largest export market for soy, oil, and iron and its biggest competitor when it comes to manufactured goods and resources in Africa. After years of remaining silent, this year Brazil joined with the other G-20 countries, including India, Russia, and the United States, to call for China to let its currency float.
Under Lula, Brazil championed a South-South agenda in its near and far abroad. Along these lines, the country promoted pan-ideological South American integration and began forging a loose coalition and dialogue with India and South Africa. Brazil has made major investments in Africa, especially in Portuguese-speaking nations and other resource-rich countries. And the
Lula and Foreign Minister Celso Amorim's two-year initiative to broker an alternative to UN sanctions against Iran was perhaps the single most controversial -- and, to some, inexplicable -- example of the new Brazil's international ambition. Joined by Turkey, Brazil attempted to revive an initiative first proposed by the Obama administration to persuade Iran to send its uranium abroad for enrichment. Following several months of talks, including often contentious consultations with the United States, Brazil and Turkey secured such an agreement in a public declaration signed by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and Amorim. The morning after the deal was announced, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton revealed that China and Russia, both of which Brazil believed would oppose sanctions, supported the U.S.-sponsored resolution. Clinton later called the move by Brazil and Turkey a "ploy" to delay UN sanctions. Brazil and Turkey, which held rotating seats at the
The reaction was even fiercer in Brazil than abroad. The Brazilian elite and media responded sharply to images of Lula hugging and grasping the hands of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as the two leaders celebrated the declaration. The failed diplomatic gambit threatened to isolate Brazil from the major powers on one of the defining international security issues of the day. Critics argued that Lula had squandered the diplomatic capital and prestige Brazil had gained over the last two decades by positioning itself as an independent, influential, and responsible international actor.
Brazil had a variety of motives -- historical and geopolitical -- for intervening on the Iranian nuclear issue. Brazil's experience in the run-up to the Iraq war hovered over its view of the U.S. strategy on Iran. Amorim, at the time Brazil's permanent representative to the UN, also chaired the Iraq sanctions committee, and he came to regard sanctions as a slippery slope toward the use of military force. As foreign minister, Amorim sought to position Brazil as a bridge between the West and Iran and in so doing establish Brazil as a confidante and reliable interlocutor. For Brazilians, the nuclear swap deal could have been successful on a number of fronts: preventing Iran from weaponizing its nuclear program; challenging Washington's fundamental premise that sanctions could produce more serious negotiations; asserting Brazil's moral authority as the only nonnuclear member of the BRIC group; and underscoring the
Lula and Amorim also projected Brazil's own nuclear history onto Iran and thus saw Brazil as uniquely positioned to convince Iran to commit to a verifiably peaceful, civilian nuclear program. After all, Brazil had tried to develop a nuclear program in the 1970s, and the effort was pushed underground by the threat of U.S. sanctions. For the Brazilian generals who ran the program and the defense intellectuals who promoted it, the bomb was intended to give Brazil the upper hand in its rivalry with Argentina and help secure its international prestige. However, Brazil's transition to democracy changed its nuclear calculus. By 1967, Brazil had signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which committed Brazil and Argentina to peaceful nuclear programs and created a binational verification program. Brazil's 1988 constitution banned the possession of nuclear weapons, and in 1998, Brazil became a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Brazil had thrown off its authoritarian past, voluntarily abandoned its secret nuclear weapons program, moved from confrontation to cooperation with its neighboring rival, and acceded to the nonproliferation regime. For Lula and his foreign policy team, this history suggested that with the right diplomacy, Iran could be persuaded to follow a similar path.
Perhaps the deepest strategic rationale for Brazil to position itself as a diplomatic broker was Article 4 of the NPT -- which asserts the right of signatories to "develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." Brazil is home to the world's sixth-largest proven reserves of uranium (209,000 tons), and further prospecting may turn up nearly three times this amount. According to the
A successful deal could also have shown those Brazilians nostalgic for the bomb that Brazil's moral authority and diplomatic firepower were enough to secure international prestige. But the Iran initiative instead reignited a debate over whether the country's strategic interests were served by giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. A nationalist sensibility on the left and the right coalesced around the inherent unfairness of the NPT. The benefits that India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have accrued from staying outside of the nonproliferation regime fuel the frustration that without the bomb Brazil can never join the club of genuine first-order world powers. The constitutional and international obligations under which Brazil operates may be sufficient to limit talk of the bomb to just that. Still, frustration with the ineffectiveness and inequity of the existing nonproliferation regime, as well as Brazil's increasing assertiveness to reform it, will remain a feature of the new Brazil. RICH RESOURCES, HOT COMMODITIES
Despite the collapse of the Iran deal and the harm done to Brazil's image, Brazil will continue to play an influential role on the international stage. Climate change has become an area where Brazil has turned its clean-energy and environmental bona fides into a significant international voice. Yet Brazil's climate change strategy is still evolving: although the deforestation of the Amazon has contributed to global warming, more than 40 percent of Brazil's energy supply is derived from renewable sources. The percentage of Brazilians ranking the environment as their top concern more than doubled between 2002 and 2007, to 85 percent, making Brazilians the most environmentally concerned citizens in the world. The Brazilian government remains protective of its sovereignty over the Amazon and, until recently, refused even to discuss deforestation in international climate change meetings. But the shift in opinion has opened the door for Brazil to place stewardship of the Amazon at the top of its agenda.
Brazil's National Plan on Climate Change now outlines a strategy to eliminate the net loss of forest coverage by 2015 and reduce the average deforestation rate by 70 percent before 2017. Its national development bank also administers a $1 billion international fund to finance the preservation and sustainable development of the Amazon. And it has committed to a national greenhouse gas reduction of 36-39 percent by 2020 and positioned itself as a representative of and a bridge to the developing world in climate talks. Although the Copenhagen accord is only a modest step forward on climate change, Brazil's participation and willingness to compromise proved how serious the country is about this issue.
In the coming years, Brazil will play a fundamental role in ensuring international food security. Pastureland covers nearly a quarter of the country, and 150 million acres of arable land remain uncultivated, promising enormous potential for increasing agricultural production in a nation that is already the world's fourth-largest food exporter. Brazil is the largest producer of sugar cane, coffee, and beef. Although China and India lead Brazil in wheat, rice, and corn production, Brazil's agricultural GDP growth between 2000 and 2007 surpassed that of both countries, as well as the global average. In unequal Brazil, however, abundance and deprivation coexist. The Zero Hunger program, which began in 2003, and other initiatives have decreased the number of people who suffer from hunger by 28 percent. This progress, along with Brazil's technological success in adapting mass agricultural production to tropical conditions, has made Brazil a reference point and model for food security programs in Africa and Latin America.
Brazil is home to an astounding 18 percent of the world's available freshwater resources -- thanks to its many rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Indeed, hydropower generates 40 percent of the country's energy. Although the global water market is still developing, projections of drought and heightened demand make water one of the world's most valued and scarce natural resources. Access to water for Brazilians themselves remains inadequate -- only 2.5 million of 28 million rural Brazilians have access to running water. Nonetheless, UN predictions that climate change could lead to armed conflicts over water mean that Brazil stands to translate this soon-to-be scarce resource into influence well beyond its borders.
Brazil is now preparing to cash in on another gusher: oil. In 2007, Brazil discovered massive oil reserves 150 miles off its southern coast, 16,000 feet below sea level, and buried beneath more than one mile of unstable salt -- known as pre-salt reserves. The find could give Brazil the eighth-largest oil reserves in the world, up from 24th (its current ranking), and produce billions of dollars of oil wealth.
Extracting this oil has become even more expensive and complex since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite the few countervailing voices raising the environmental drawbacks of big oil, Brazil is placing a heavy bet on oil to drive its domestic agenda.
Brazil has begun to address some of these perennial burdens. In 2001, inequality began dropping for the first time ever; between 2003 and 2008, ten percent of Brazil's population rose out of poverty; a majority of Brazilians now belong to the lower middle class; and Brazil weathered the 2008 global financial crisis better than most. Investments in infrastructure have picked up: the Suape industrial complex in the northeast and the 1,600-mile Interoceanic Highway, connecting eastern Brazil to Peru, both under construction, are just two examples.
Still, Brazil remains the tenth most unequal country in the world -- and more than one-quarter of Brazilians live below the poverty line. Although Bolsa Família has put almost all students in the classroom, the quality of education remains poor, with Brazilian primary education ranking 119th in the world. In a study of countries selected by the
Creating the opportunity for poor Brazilians to join the professional and technocratic work force will mean, as Brazilians themselves have long argued, reengineering the paradoxically exclusive public education system. The state now overspends on higher education, funding public universities that primarily benefit students who were able to afford private education in the early years and were thus prepared to pass the rigorous qualifying exams. Multinational and Brazilian companies poised to profit from Brazil's boom have a long history of training workers directly and raiding one another for the country's scant engineers. To be sure, Brazil is now harvesting the dividends of investments in science and technology made by its military governments in the 1960s and 1970s; Embrapa (the agroscience innovator),
Along with educational deficits, violence and insecurity still plague many Brazilian cities. The northeastern region of Brazil, historically the most economically underdeveloped and the most politically feudal, has the fastest economic growth in the country. Yet the region also has the country's highest homicide rate. Although some in Brazil complain that the government can be overly intrusive, in Brazil's favelas -- sprawling shantytowns that snake around the margins of the country's major cities -- the state is either absent or seen as a threat.
In Rio de Janeiro, more than one million people (nearly one-fifth of the city's population) live in favelas. Many of these neighborhoods -- some new, some decades old -- are now run by gangs. Easy access to arms contributes to high levels of violence. So-called resistance killings -- police killings attributed to self-defense -- annually exceed 1,000 in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro combined. Seven favelas have been "pacified" since Rio was awarded the 2016 Olympics. Pacification entails occupation and armed raids, along with the provision of basic goods, including water and sanitation infrastructure, thoroughfares, street lighting, health and education services, Internet communication, and housing upgrades. This is just the start of an aggressive push to occupy and bring greater safety to 40 favelas surrounding Rio. But the problems of the favelas -- weak institutions, informal economic activity, and poverty, to name just a few -- require more than pacification and temporary occupation. The intractability of the favelas, despite decades of public policies aimed to redress it, is a permanent reminder that the health and legitimacy of Brazil's democracy depend on its fulfilling its still illusory promises to the millions of Brazilians living on the margins. BEYOND SAMBA, SUN, AND SOCCER
the United States is no longer the only go-to power for resolving crises, providing security, or setting the development agenda for Latin America. Most Americans still cling to the visceral but incorrect notion that Brazil should behave primarily as a Latin American country. Washington needs to understand that Brazilians think of themselves less as Latin Americans and more as Brazilians: a hodgepodge of African, European, Middle Eastern, Asian, and indigenous cultures. Brazil's strategic thinkers recognize that the nature and quality of its relations with its neighbors will define Brazil in the twenty-first century as much, if not more, than the bilateral relationship with the United States.
Brazil brings plenty of historical baggage to its relationship with the United States. Many Brazilians who came of age during the political struggles to unseat the generals running the country in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s saw the United States as an obstacle to Brazilian democracy and now lead Brazil's most important political parties, social movements, state institutions, and businesses. Even Brazilians with deep ties to the United States share an underlying belief that Brazil has little to gain from an old-fashioned alliance with Washington.
Despite their very real ideological differences on foreign policy, both Cardoso and Lula kept Brazil's distance from the U.S. agenda in Latin America. Through the 1990s, when Latin America generally followed Washington's free-trade, democracy, and counternarcotics agenda, Cardoso's government refused to participate in the Clinton administration's Plan Colombia, resisted the Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal, and opposed the U.S. embargo against Cuba and the 2002 attempted coup against Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, which was initially applauded by the
Like Cardoso, Lula sought to distance Brazil from the United States on regional issues while also putting a Brazilian stamp on a number of regional institutions, including Mercosur, the
Regardless of whether the next government aligns with or distances itself from U.S. policy in the region, the permanent expansion of Brazil's own interests in Latin America is now paramount. Well beyond its historic and commercial ties with Argentina or its political and economic hegemony in Paraguay, its commercial and financial participation in the economies of its neighbors has taken off. Between 2000 and 2009, Brazilian trade with Mercosur countries rose 86 percent, its trade with the
The informality of the economies along Brazil's borders makes them a breeding ground for organized criminal gangs and for trafficking in people, guns, drugs, and other contraband. Conscious of the vast asymmetries in the neighborhood, Brazil has recently begun to build an elaborate network of military bases along the country's extremely porous 9,000-mile border.
In Latin America, the competition for diplomatic leverage and political influence is just getting started. Indeed, Lula and Rousseff's foreign policy architects argue that Brazil's interests in Latin America necessarily propel the country into low-intensity competition with the United States. After decades of taking its cues about how to think about the region primarily from U.S.-oriented elites, the United States is playing catch-up to acquaint itself with a substantially changed region. Latin American governments are now accountable first and foremost to a newly empowered electorate -- including the poor, the working class, the new middle class, indigenous groups, and social movements -- and not to Washington. Proximity and interests have likewise compelled the new Brazil to learn to live with this changed political environment.
It is unlikely that either Brazil or the United States will succeed in dominating diplomacy in Latin America. Old multilateral institutions such as the
On some issues, real conflict will continue to exist between the United States and Brazil. But on balance, Brazil is neither fundamentally anti-American nor pro-American. While Brazil was challenging the United States from Honduras to Colombia to Iran, for example, it was simultaneously negotiating the first defense cooperation agreement with the United States since 1977, working with the Obama administration to resolve a dispute over the cotton market, and maintaining an open channel of communication on climate change and international economic institutions.
The bilateral relationship is likely to hover in this undefined space of neither friend nor adversary. The Obama and Lula governments have coined the term "global partnership dialogue," a fuzzy way of acknowledging some interest in building up layers of scaffolding around a house in the very early stages of construction. The missed opportunity and mixed signals of the Iran episode reflect strategic differences between the two countries. But global issues still provide fertile ground for them to cooperate, especially on climate change, in the G-20, through modest joint efforts in alleviating poverty, and in treating infectious diseases in Haiti and Africa.
The biggest and most immediate test for the next Brazilian president will be to balance an ambitious domestic agenda with the need to secure Brazil's international position. Indeed, Brazil is in the catbird seat of global powers: it can afford to modernize its defense and security establishment without being forced to make wrenching guns-versus-butter choices. To substantially deepen the investments in its people -- on which its new social contract is based -- Brazil may well have to lower its near-term sights regarding global leadership. Ultimately, the outcome could be the same: a strong, self-confident Brazil that makes a sizable contribution to peace and prosperity, not just in the region but globally. Perhaps the single most important way the United States can influence Brazilian foreign policy is to make clear, in word and deed, that Washington regards Brazil's rise not as a zero-sum game that threatens U.S. interests but rather as the emergence of a not-quite-natural, albeit sometimes necessary, global partner.
JULIA E. SWEIG is Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow and Director for Latin America Studies and the Global Brazil Initiative at the
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