Brazil Rising Emergence on Global Stage Leaves Brazilians Divided

Brazil's very recent emergence on the global stage has fueled debate in the country between those advocating adaptation to international norms and those who view Brazil's real interests as conflicting with the current world order.

By Maria Regina Soares de Lima

Brazilian capital Brasilia: Finding its role in a new world order

Brazilian capital Brasilia: Finding its role in a new world order

The key aim of Brazilian foreign policy has long been to achieve international recognition as a major player in international affairs. This aim stemmed from its belief that it should assume its "natural" role as a "big country" in the world arena. Now, as a result of the concurrence of a changing international environment and an altered domestic polity, Brazil seems closer than ever before to achieving this aim. It is gaining increasing international recognition and is poised to emerge as a "big power." However, there remain several challenges that need to be addressed in order for Brazil to meaningfully participate in global governance. This article outlines the factors that have led to Brazil's rise, the conceptual basis of Brazilian foreign policy, and the challenges ahead.

It is clearly visible that Brazil is increasingly recognized as a major player in the international arena. It is included among the "outreach five countries" along with China, India, Mexico, and South Africa, which participate in "constructive engagement" with the G-8. Engagement also seems to be the goal of the European Union, which has established strategic partnerships with countries such as South Africa, Brazil and India. It is interesting that the increased attention given to Brazil is not necessarily linked to military capacity, but rather to Brazil's ever greater importance in the global economy.

This rising importance has been triggered by two major changes in the international environment. The first is economic globalization and the spread of capitalism. Many developing countries abandoned their previous economic models and took to capitalism after the end of the Cold War. As a result, many of these peripheral countries, such as Brazil, became strongly integrated into the international economy through their participation in global chains of production. This has led to a new intermediate layer of emerging economies such as the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) and the Large Peripheral Countries. Some of these developing countries evolved their own forms of state-coordinated capitalism through which governments perform not only the regulatory role of the state, but also foster policies for social inclusion, and more assertive foreign policies. A consequence of this has been the questioning of the traditional models of economic growth and development. The space available for countries such as Brazil to showcase their own paths of development in the international arena has increased.

The second major change in the international environment that had a positive impact on Brazil was the demise of authoritarian governments and the successful transitions to democracy in Latin America and Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Latin America's position under US influence during the Cold War had been detrimental for democracy in the region. Today, Cold War-style military interventions are no longer possible. In this new context progressive governments have not only been elected but have also been able to carry out their terms.

It was in this new international context that Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government was elected to power in 2002. As Brazil has become more integrated into the global economy, its negotiating positions have gradually become more assertive -- both in the domain of trade and in the political forums of the United Nations. In the future, Brazil might benefit further from the rising importance of energy and food production in global geopolitics. It is already a large producer of bio-fuels. If the expected discovery of oil off the Brazilian coast is confirmed, Brazil will also play a major role in the production of conventional fuels. In food production, Brazil stands out not only as a competitive agricultural and mineral commodities exporter but also as an important agricultural producer. Naturally, the potential benefits of these strengths will also depend on the policies followed by the Brazilian government.

Brazilian Foreign Policy

It is possible to identify two main strands of thought in Brazilian foreign policy. The first could be called "cosmopolitanism" or a "search for credibility," which places emphasis on the need to view the country from the outside. According to this view, Brazil does not have a surplus of power, and therefore needs to assert itself through international cooperation on the basis of international rules and institutions. In concrete terms, this implies that Brazil should adjust to the world by adapting itself to the constraints of global governance, and it should complete the cycle of structural economic reforms initiated in the 1990s in response to the demands of global capitalism. This concept also advocates that Brazil should play a constructive role in the international order, which could lead to the forsaking of traditional Brazilian foreign policy principles such as nonintervention, in order to promote democracy or on the grounds of humanitarian intervention.

The second strand of thought places much more direct emphasis on an "autonomous foreign policy." However, the Brazilian perception of autonomy should not be confused with autonomy as defined by realist theorists of international relations. It does not mean attempting to avoid any dependence on other countries and seeking complete self-sufficiency. Rather, it means conceiving Brazil's position in the world "from the inside," i.e. based on its specific interests. It implies pursuing Brazil's interests within a global structure that is perceived to be restrictive and does not favor these interests. The pursuit of autonomy should lead to Brazil's active participation in the creation and application of international norms that are closer to Brazilian interests and values.

This second strand of thought has been the guiding principle for the Lula government's foreign policy. In brief, the government has attempted to: (1) affirm Brazil's national interests; (2) undertake collective action with other countries from the South to transform the world order; and (3) work toward a global balance of power through the formation of regional power poles.


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