In defeat, a teaching moment for Brazil

July 15, 2014

Johanna Mendelson Forman – The Hill, 7/15/2014

Two routs of Brazil in one week, first with the German soccer team and then with the Dutch, can only be viewed as a metaphor for the limits of soft power. The final blow this past Saturday was the Netherlands team trouncing Brazil in a poorly defended game, and a palpable sense of retreat as Brazilians watched their home team crash and burn.

Brazil’s culture cherishes its long romance with futbol. And well it should. It is a nation that produced Pele, Ronaldinho and Neymar. Its Labor government bet the ranch on being host to the World Cup, a jewel in the crown of an emerging power. Unfortunately, the fairy-tale ending of living happily ever was overshadowed by large public protests in 2013 in a nation that wanted more for its children than gleaming soccer palaces and airports. Brazil’s desperate need for more schools, better educational opportunities and increased resources for health have become the grievance of a rising middle class that emerged as a result of policies that made poverty alleviation a central tenant of the Labor platform. First, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and then with President Dilma Rousseff, the country moved 33 million citizens out of poverty, and brought 47 million into the middle class with expectations that exceeded the government’s capacity to respond. And that’s where the trouble started.

Projecting power through persuasion with a global brand like soccer is fine and important. But rising to the level of serious leadership will require more than a World Cup victory or playing host to the 2016 Olympics. With this sporting event over, it is time for Brazil to rethink its mission in a complex international system that welcomes nations with peaceful inclinations, but equally values leadership. And this is where the problem lies for Brazil. For example, in 2008 it created a distinct South American forum, UNASUR, the Union of South American States, with the goal of distancing itself from the politics of the Organization of American States (OAS), which has been dominated by the United States. While UNASUR has voiced its intent to become an institution that can provide a genuine multilateral forum to resolve regional problems, to date its record is slim in spite of rhetoric to the contrary.

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Brazil in comparison to the other major powers – A view from India

June 20, 2014

Ambassador Rengaraj Viswanathan

Brazil has been acknowledged as a “future power” given its inherent strength and potential. The critics, of course, joke that it has managed to remain and will always continue to be only as a “future” power. Expectations raised during economic booms had diminished during cyclical busts and disruption of democracy by dictatorships. The Brazilians had finally thought that they had “arrived” during the euphoric years of the Presidency of Lula in the period 2003-11. But they have been brought down to earth, yet again, since then. It is against this background that the question of “Brazil’s place in the world” is being raised and the Ditchley Foundation of UK organized a conference on the subject in April this year. In this context, it is important to note that Brazil has undergone a paradigm shift and a New Brazil has emerged in the last two decades. This New Brazil has many distinct advantages and stronger fundamentals in comparison to the existing global powers as well as the other emerging and reemerging powers. It is just a matter of time for this New Brazil to be given its due place among the world powers.

Golden years of Lula

Brazil’s global profile reached unprecedented new heights during the Presidency of Lula who pursued proactive and visionary foreign policies. During Lula’s term, the economy had high growth and at the same time poverty and inequality were reduced with successful Inclusive Development policies. The country had discovered enormous pre-salt oil reserves and was already a global pioneer in the use of sugar cane ethanol as fuel. In 2010, Petrobras raised  an unprecedented amount of 70 billion dollars through issue of shares. President Lula was ecstatic when he said ¨It wasn’t in Frankfurt, it wasn’t in New York, it was in our Sao Paulo exchange that we carried out the biggest capitalization in the history of capitalism,”.  Petrobras overtook Walmart and Microsoft to become the fourth largest company in the world in terms of market value.

Brazil had initiated the formation of regional groups such as UNASUR and CELAC as part of its regional leadership role besides strengthening Mercosur.  It took over command of the delicate Chapter Seven UN Peacekeeping mission in Haiti in 2004 and spent over a billion dollars in humanitarian assistance and other expenditure. It co-founded IBSA alliance with India and South Africa in which the three aspiring democratic powers from the three continents agreed to work on common agenda. Brazil had joined India, Germany and Japan in the campaign for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. Brazil has also been an active member of BRICS, the non-western alliance. President Lula had even dared to take an initiative to mediate in the Iranian crisis along with his Turkish counterpart, although it was squashed ruthlessly by US. Brazil was an active player, mover and shaker in global trade and economic fora. There was a new confidence and optimism with which Brazil sought its place among the global powers. Read the rest of this entry »


The bets that failed

March 21, 2014

The Economist, 3/22/2014

SINCE it is the only big power in South America, Brazil inevitably catches the eye of outsiders looking for a country to take the lead in resolving the region’s conflicts—such as the one raging in the streets of Venezuela. Yet leader is not a role that Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s president, is keen to play. She has reasons for her reluctance—and they explain why Brazilian foreign policy has run into trouble.

Ms Rousseff has behaved as a loyal ally to the elected, but autocratic, government of Nicolás Maduro, which faces opposition protests almost daily. Brazil worked hard to thwart any role in Venezuela for the Organisation of American States, which includes the United States. Instead, the foreign ministers of the South American Union (UNASUR) have agreed to promote talks in Venezuela. It is an initiative without teeth: the ministers expressed their solidarity with Mr Maduro, disqualifying themselves as honest brokers in the opposition’s eyes.

Brazil’s wrong-headed calculation is that the protests will fizzle out. Mr Maduro took a UNASUR statement on March 12th as a green light to launch another crackdown. Faced with a deteriorating economy and mounting unpopularity, Mr Maduro’s rule is likely to remain repressive. Given that Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party (PT) claims to stand for democracy and human rights, he is a strange ally.

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Brazil, Argentina push for join cyber shield for South America

November 25, 2013

Shobhan Saxena – The Hindu, 11/24/2013

Alarmed by large-scale spying on their state-owned oil and mining firms and monitoring of personal communication of their top leaders and bureaucrats by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA), South America’s two biggest countries are urging all other countries in the region to form a joint cyber shield to deflect such surveillance. The move, led by Brazil and Argentina, is the first such effort by a group of countries since NSA revelations about mass surveillance began to come out in June.

In a crucial meeting in Brasilia on Friday, Argentine Defence Minister Agustin Rossi met his Brazilian counterpart, Celso Amorim, and the two leaders agreed to incorporate all the 12 countries in the continent, which together form the UNASUR (Union of South American Nations), in their bilateral treaty on cyber defence.

In August, when top-secret documents released by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden had revealed that Brazil was one of the most-monitored countries by U.S. intelligence agency, the two ministers had met in Buenos Aires to discuss how to jointly fight the existing and potential cyber threats — mostly coming from the North.

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Is Brazil a regional hegemon?

October 31, 2013

Oliver Stuenkel – Post-Western World, 10/31/2013

Brazil’s economic rise over the past two decades has caused the country’s foreign policy making elite to seek a more prominent role for Brazil in the international community. On a global scale, it has sought to assume more responsibility and engage in international institutions, often criticizing established powers for not providing it with the status it deserves. Brazil’s newfound status has also caused Brazilian governments to reassess its regional role, although Brazil remains ambivalent about which strategy to adopt in South America. There is clearly a gap between Brazil’s global ambitions and its reluctance to adopt a more assertive role in its region. The country’s strategy in the region remains indecisive, combining restrained support for Mercosur, the creation of the Union of South American States (UNASUR) and the South American Defense Council (CSD) with a growing notion that a clearer vision is necessary to mitigate neighbor’s fears of a rising Brazil. Brazilian policy makers disagree on how they should characterize and understand their region – some see it as a source of problems, some as a shield against globalization, and some as a launching pad for global power. Brazil’s self-perception as a ‘BRICS country’ has fueled worries that it will pay little attention to regional matters (given that its trade interdependence with the region is far lower, percentage-wise, than that of its neighbors), causing critics of Brazil’s global focus to call it a ‘leader without followers’.

While Brazil has kept UNASUR relatively toothless, its decision to exclude Central America and Mexico from this institution is a clear sign that policy makers in Brasília have defined South America as Brazil’s immediate sphere of influence. With the majority of the continent’s landmass, population and economic output, and Venezuela’s faltering attempts to turn into a second pole, it is largely up to Brazil to define and design ‘South American Regionalism’. Brazil thus in theory holds a key coordinating role regarding important regional challenges, ranging from China’s growing economic importance, poverty, inequality, integrating the economy and security threats such as drug trafficking and smuggling.

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Is Brazil the new regional champion of democracy?

October 29, 2013

Oiliver Stuenkel – Americas Quarterly, 10/29/2013

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in September 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama appealed to rising democracies around the world to help spread the democratic message, declaring that “we need your voices to speak out,” and reminding them that “part of the price of our own freedom is standing up for the freedom of others.”1

Many observers regarded this as wishful thinking. Democracy promotion, they argue, is a typically Western endeavor. While governments and NGOs in Europe and North America spend billions of dollars every year on democracy-related projects, emerging powers have traditionally avoided such projects—underlining the view held by some skeptics that there is no place for democracy promotion in a “post-Western world.”

Yet even the skeptics might find reason to pause when it comes to Brazil. Latin America’s largest nation has quietly turned into democracy’s “defender-in-chief,” in sharp contrast to emerging democracies in other regions, such as Turkey, South Africa or India—none of which regard democracy promotion beyond their borders as a priority.

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Hardening Brazil’s soft power

July 16, 2013

Celso Amorim – Project Syndicate, 07/16/2013

It is, perhaps, a truism for Brazil’s citizens that their country is and always will be a peaceful one. After all, Brazil has lived with its ten neighbors without conflict for almost 150 years, having settled its borders through negotiation. It last went to war in 1942, after direct aggression by Nazi U-boats in the South Atlantic. It has forsworn nuclear weapons, having signed a comprehensive nuclear-safeguards agreement with Argentina and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Through the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) and the Union of South American Nations (Unasur), Brazil is helping to integrate the region politically, economically, socially, and culturally.

But is soft power enough for one of the world’s major emerging countries?

To be sure, Brazil’s peaceful foreign policy has served it well. Brazil has used its stature to advance peace and cooperation in South America and beyond. Its constructive stance derives from a worldview that accords pride of place to the values of democracy, social justice, economic development, and environmental protection.

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Celso Amorim is Brazil’s Minister of Defense. He was previously Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1993 to 1994 and from 2003 to 2010.


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