One can affirm that Brazil has always demonstrated a strong will to become a country with a great international visibility: Brazil has taken part in both Great Wars, and in the consequent Peace Conferences it helped creating multilateral institutions – first, the League of Nations and, after the United Nations it insists in United Nations’ reform, in which it demands a better representation, and a permanent seat and finally, it is a country engaged in most of the important international matters. Most recently, it has postponed a State visit to Washington/DC, due to the NSA’s case on espionage.
The Brazilian perception of itself as an emerging power can be related to the periods in which Letícia Pinheiro calls globalist and which Guilherme Casarões acknowledges as multilateralist. At the beginning of the 20th century, with Baron of Rio Branco as the head of the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, Brazil was a recent constituted republican nation that tried to mold itself as a more active player towards the world . It had an Americanist posture, with the United States as its main partner, and stopped being submissive to European interests, and started looking for new partnerships in its geopolitical surroundings as a way to gain its space in the world. This changing of paths aggiornamento gave new strength to Brazilian Foreign Policy.
During Getúlio Vargas presidency, Brazil demonstrated signs of an emerging power, in the sense of affirming itself as a ‘system-affecting State’ that is, as an actor that can be taken into account in International Relations. The position called pragmatical equidistance made the Brazilian presidency and Foreign Ministry bargain financial resources between the United States and Germany in order to receive investment in both the Siderurgy area, which was successful with the United States’ help towards the National Siderurgy Company Companhia Siderúrgica Nacional and Vale do Rio Doce Companhia Vale do Rio Doce, as well as in the Brazilian industrialization process. Such improvements could not be achieved if Brazil perceived itself as a submissive actor, unable to get something important for its own national interest from the superpowers.
In the 1950’s, Juscelino Kubitschek strengthened Brazilian self-esteem. With the economical tripod private, public, and external capital, Brazil could develop itself economically and, consequently, gain domestic and international acknowledgement. The Pan-American Operation of 1958 is a symbol of a possible continental union, yet, at the same time, the supremacy of Brazilian interests in its geographical surroundings, even though its creation could be translated as contention of communism in the region, favoring the United Sates objectives there. According to Daniel Flemes , a regional power is the one that, among other definitions, “boasts the necessary capabilities in order to achieve regional power projection” and “it is highly influential on regional issues”. For the author, a country can be considered an intermediate and regional power concomitantly. Regarding Brazil’s case towards the Pan-American Operation OPA, in an emerging power’s context, the ambition of creating aregional fora under the scope of development represented proof that Brazil was a country that could speak in the name of the region and OPA would be the means to promote its capability of influencing the International Relations of that time.
During the Independent Foreign Policy in the 1960’s, Brazilian attitudes conformed with the theoretical concept of an emerging power. Autonomous actions were taken to the detriment of the Cold War’s ideology, which saw the world divided in East-West, the search for different commercial partners East Europe, Africa, Middle East, and, to a lesser degree, Asia was undertaken, and Brazil became an active voice at the United Nations . Two other attitudes, which should be attentive during the Independent Foreign Policy period, are the Brazilian position towards disarmament, non-intervention, and peoples’ self-determination. Such attitudes showed that Brazil did not gather the necessary criteria to promote itself as a superpower, due to a weak military apparatus, the incapacity of influencing rules in the international system and an inconsistent economy, but Brazil could well defend the narrative of being an important emerging actor in the international scenario.
During the period of the military dictatorship 1964-1985, one can highlight the government of Ernesto Geisel 1974-1979, in which its Foreign Policy was based on the principle called “Responsible and Ecumenical Pragmatism”, created by the Foreign Minister Azeredo da Silveira. During this period, Brazil approached countries in the Middle East, mainly due to the dependency on petrol and, in exchange, Brazil exported commodities. It also adopted clearer positions at the United Nations, especially concerning the African decolonization and anti-Zionism, and it deepened bilateral relations with several States. The name given to this Foreign Policy derives from the position of emerging power that Brazil was in that moment: Brazil was pragmatic, in the sense of using its multilateral and bilateral means for its own absolute gain it was responsible, which can be translated by the choice of nationalism to the detriment of the ideological war between the United Sates and the Soviet Union and, finally, it was ecumenical because as it was distancing from the United Sates’ scope by searching new commercial partnerships, and it could promote an universal Foreign Policy .
During the 1980s, a period which included Brazilian democratization and the end of the Cold War, Brazil could value, even more, its surroundings. In 1986, the Argentinian-Brazilian Integration and Economic Cooperation Program PICE created a foundation for what culminated in Mercosur 1991. At the end of the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s, Brazil was betting on leveraging its regional position as a way to become an important world player. In the democratic federal constitution of 1988, Article 4, the government acknowledges Latin American as the most important region for Brazilian International Relations. Beyond this regional scope, Brazil also approached:
i. Africa: highlighted by the creation of the South Atlantic Peace and Cooperation Zone ZPCAS, of 1986, and the strengthening of relations with the countries which the official language is Portuguese
ii. China: through the signature of an agreement for the development of a binational satellite “China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites CBERS”, and, lastly,
iii. Multilateralism: in Ambassador Gelson Fonseca Jr’s words, multilateralism was the way of Brazil to “renew its international credentials” . The dynamism, or universalism, of Brazilian multilateral policy, during the 1980’s, was a period called “autonomy by distance”, in which Brazil gave more attention to multilateral fora, like the G-77, the UN General Assembly, and the G-24 .
In the 1990’s, Brazilian Foreign Policy is categorized by the term “autonomy by participation”, in which Brazil projected itself as a State able to deal, assist and solve international issues. This was seen under the legal apparatus of the UN, through Peace Missions in Angola, Mozambique and East Timor. The use of multilateralism, to engage Brazil in international themes, was deepened during the democratization period Sarney’s government and persisted in subsequent governments.
During Lula’s government, the combination of high economic growth rates and the strong emphasis in development was a symbol of high Brazilian self-esteem both domestically and internationally. The president and his Foreign Minister, Ambassador Celso Amorim, promoted what Tullo Vigevani called “autonomy through diversification” , by emphasizing south-south relations by having a cooperative, proactive and propositional posture, and by maintaining the reciprocal confidence between Brazil and its traditional partners United States and Europe.
Returning to the concept of soft balancing, Brazil, through BRICS, IBAS, BASIC, and G-20, has gained more bargain power that, in turn, gave more legitimacy to its actions. These coalitions, created during the 2000’s, collaborate to reduce world asymmetries, as they also look for a more just and inclusive order, characteristics which are well seen by all international actors, but mainly by the group participants and developing countries. Brazil also adopted a universalist strategy by increasing the number of diplomatic representations and it defended democratization and the reform of international fora, mainly the Security Council, the World Bank and the IMF. Moreover, Brazil presented more a mature and more autonomous posture by reinforcing commercial and diplomatic ties and there was greater effort to improve institutionalization of the regional blocs, such as UNASUR, CELAC and Mercosur.
From the historical line drawn above, one can notice that Brazil has been projecting itself as an emerging power since Baron of Rio Branco 1900’s. The Brazilian challenge, however, is to decide whether it wants to continue to be an emerging power or to achieve a greater level beside the superpowers. In the short-run, due to its demilitarized position, it’s impractical to consider Brazil becoming a superpower. Yet, a more assertive position in the region can lead Brazil to be a regional power, which can guide it to a possible system-affecting posture at a global level. Although its South American neighbors are still reluctant to see Brazil as a representative of the region, Brazil does meet the qualifications to represent the region, like its collaborative position in the regional blocs and its diplomatic proximity with partners that share similar values in their respective continents India and South Africa. As Brazil already gathers important characteristics, it is hoped that it will slowly receive its well-deserved political and economic acknowledgement.
Patricia Galves Derolle is student of the MBA in International Relations at Fundação Getúlio Vargas, in São Paulo.
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