In the Spotlight: Airplanes and Mind Games; Analyzing Recent Events in Brazilian-U.S. Security Relations

Compiled by Elizabeth Sweitzer – Brazil Institute, 7/11/2012

Photo credit: Don Sullivan

In the years since the post-9/11 security reforms, the U.S. and Brazil have been strengthening relations in the security sector. As Brazil has developed into a prominent actor on the South American continent, the U.S. has increasingly considered Brazil to be a key figure in building relations with Latin America as a whole. In the realm of security, this developing relationship has been characterized by bi-lateral and multi-lateral initiatives, but at the same time has been tested by recent events that portrayed an all-too-silent security dilemma between the two nations. What could this mean for the future of U.S.-Brazilian relations?

In 2010 during the Haitian earthquake crisis, the U.S. and Brazil truly actualized the extent of their defense relations as they worked side by side in emergency relief operations.  The success of this dualism resulted in an increased interest in joint U.S. and Brazilian military training in Brazil, and U.S.-Brazilian joint assistance in monitoring Africa and supporting peaceful interventions.  Indeed, this strengthening has even been met with recent commitment to co-develop defense technology, as the countries recently launched a new Defense Cooperation Dialogue with hopes of creating an innovative partnership.

For Brazil, developing a strong defense agenda is and will continue to be a prerogative. While the country has enjoyed smooth border relations with its 10 neighbors, Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim is interested in enhancing the nation’s defense technologies, border policing, and overall military capabilities: in order to protect the assets of its developing economy, Brazil must protect its forestry, oil, and mining industries.

After the U.S. Air Force shook hands with Brazil’s Embraer on a deal to purchase 20 of their A-29 Super Tucano turboprop planes for use by Afghan forces priced at $355 million in late 2011, Embraer’s competition for the bid, Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft, made waves by suing the Pentagon, under the allegation that the Air Force erred in its decision to grant Embraer the winning bid. To Brazil’s surprise, the U.S. Air Force quickly canceled the deal with Embraer in March 2012, all while the U.S. was pressuring Brazil to purchase their Boeing KC-390 aircraft. At a recent conference in April 2012 with Defense Minister Amorim and U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, Panetta encouraged Brazil to purchase American-made aircraft, underscoring a somber tone of decreased trade between the U.S. and Brazil as a result of China’s influence in the region.

Although the conference seemed to shed light on coordinating enhanced defense relations and the possibility of the U.S.  resuming the Embraer purchase in the future, events just in the last decade underscore tensions in normative awareness between the U.S. and Brazil. Brazil’s foreign policy advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia even went as far as to say that  “political interferences” are to blame for contention surrounding the canceled deal. This apolitical understanding of the incident is supplemented by the idea that Brazil values the principle of sovereignty and its own independence more than the U.S. truly realizes.

While some have portrayed emergency intervention in Haiti in 2010 a success on Brazil’s part, it has also been viewed as competitive in nature as the U.S. and Brazil seemed to be battling for influence. Brazil’s absentee vote in the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1973 on the status of Libya indicates Brazil’s infirm support for humanitarian intervention and principles such as Responsibility to Protect especially after the country had initially voted to indict General Qaddafi to the International Criminal Court in the UNSCR 1970. Further, on a transcontinental scale, Brazil’s presence in Latin America has been characterized as being largely hegemonic rather than a spokesperson of regional leadership. Ted Piccone of the Brookings institute even offers that Brazil’s position toward the OAS has dramatically hurt the power of the organization, while Brazil has also undermined, even excluded the US from economic integration in the region.

Nevertheless, months after the Embraer-U.S. Air Force incident, Embraer and Boeing agreed to collaborate on the KC-390 aircraft program in June 2012. While U.S.-Brazilian defense relations often appear discursive, moments like this indicate that the nations are equally capable of empathizing with one another.

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2 thoughts on “In the Spotlight: Airplanes and Mind Games; Analyzing Recent Events in Brazilian-U.S. Security Relations

  1. “…Air Force incident, Brazil accepted the bid to buy Boeing’s KC-390 aircrafts in June 2012.” – Brazil did not accepet any bid to buy any Boeing aircraft; EMBRAER, the Brazilian Company which is developing the KC-390 for the Brazilian Air Force, signed an agreement with Boeing to market this aircraft worldwide.

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