A leader without followers? The growing divergence between the regional and global performance of Brazilian foreign policy

Andres Malamud – Latin American Politics and Society, Fall 2011 Issue

Brazilian diplomats and academics alike have long regarded regional leadership as a springboard to global recognition and influence. But while the strategic goal of becoming a legitimate regional leader has failed, the ultimate goal of becoming an intermediate world power has fared better. This article analyzes the growing mismatch between the
regional and global performance of Brazil’s foreign policy in order to answer two questions. First, what are the causes of this divergence? The explanation may be structural conditions—e.g., a larger and growing economy in regard to smaller or laggard neighbors; or policy behavior— a change in the diagnoses or the perceptions of the Brazilian foreign policy elite, whose interests or confidence in the region may diminish as global opportunities arise. Second, what are the potential consequences of this mismatch? Either Brazil stays the course, reaching out to the region to bring it together and face the world with a single voice, or goes it alone.

The first part of this article tackles conceptual issues regarding leadership and power in international relations, setting the context to analyze Brazil’s emergence as an intermediate global power and ensuing foreign policy changes. The second part shows that the hardships imposed by an unruly neighborhood and the preferential treatment conferred by world powers and institutions have led to a shift in Brazil’s initial strategy, so that the country’s external focus has become increasingly global. Brazil’s regional influence is tested by measuring three dimensions: performance in region building, regional support for the country’s extraregional goals, and the existence of contenders for regional leadership. Global influence is assessed by looking at Brazil’s participation in top international groups and organizations. A summary of these findings shows that Brazilian foreign policy has increasingly combined damage control in the region with mounting global activism.


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