Brazil’s Monroe Doctrine

December 22, 2010 at 6:15 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

In order to understand Brazil’s current foreign policy, one must understand one thing: hubris is not equidistance.

There comes a time in the history of the nation when its success goes to the head of its population. It is sadly a common misconception that that which is achieved with tolerance and pragmatism is a gift from the heavens, fruit not of cautious management but of intrinsic cultural superiority. Take the Spaniards and Portuguese in their imperial overstretch, when at a time in which their economies were giving way to the Dutch and English, they decide to glorify their Catholicism with a nice little Inquisition. Not only was the purge of society not a priority but the persecution of the commercial and intellectual Jewish elites contributed to increase the pace of the loss of economic competitiveness. Not to mention of course gratuitous wars in Morocco or the Netherlands in a period of financial difficulty.

The same applies to America: ended the Cold War and victorious in the tripolar game for global domination (between central Europe’s German bid for power and the eastern European Russian and western European/Atlantic Anglophone ones) America tends to believe in the strength, not of its pragmatic policies, but of its ‘spirit’ and ‘values’.

Just like in Madrid and Lisbon success was perceived as a gift from almighty God to the foremost Catholic powers, so too in Washington it was democracy which had won and not competent offshore balancing. Forget the non-constitutional subversion of leftist movements in western Europe and south America, ignore the valuable authoritarian allies throughout the world; no! it was Yankee democracy that saved the day.

This we shall designate as Pre-eminence Derived Universalism.

Brasilia, following the steps of its Portuguese forefathers, also sees the XXI century world as a defeat of the developed North in favour of the decolonised, developing, post-modern and morally superior South. Of course in the case of Brazil, it is not the zenith of its power that brings forth this delusion, but rather the rapid rise of its geopolitical status.

Putting aside pubescent Brasilia’s controversial takes on climate change (assigning blame and burden of repair exclusively to the West) or its less than pathetic attempt at intervening in the global stage in a clumsy non-alignedish tone to mediate between America and Iran, the focus will be on Brazil’s latest foreign policy controversy: the February 23rd declaration of support by President Lula da Silva to Argentina’s territorial claim over the Falkland islands.

There are two scenarios that may justify this positioning:

I – Narrative Consistency

The Brazilian Presidency is in fact idealist and wishes in a spirit of solidarity to help a fellow developing country against a developed (imperialist) northern nation.

In this scenario Brasilia does not look to calculations of power or of political convenience, it bothers only to assess which party is morally superior according to the regime’s current politically correct ideology. Thus former colonialist and imperialist Britain does not have the right to deny a former colony, sovereignty over what the latter perceives its territory to be.

II – Legal Precedent Building

Another possibility is based on self-interest. Perhaps there are those in the Itamaraty who see in Argentina’s claim a possibility to increase Brazil’s diplomatic leverage over the industrialised north in such a way that Brazil might be able to rally the south behind its leadership in the UN or in trade negotiations with the EU.

There might even be the off chance that Brazil may one day claim south Atlantic islands itself (such as Ascencion, St. Helena or the Tristan da Cunha) and sees in the Falklands the opportunity to establish legal precedent.

I counter that the sensible alternative is:

III – Balance of Power in Detriment of Argentina

Brazil’s geostrategic future is in the South Atlantic. Brazil does not need to direct its focus towards South America because its size makes it an effortless regional hegemon there. In the South Atlantic however, there are rivals and Brazil will not succeed in having a say in world affairs as long as it does not control its own sphere of influence.

It is not just the natural resources or the transit flows, it is the power to be the geopolitical arbiter from the Magellan strait to the Caribbean, from the Cape of Good Hope to Macaronesia.

In order to accomplish this Brazil will have to ultimately confront those that will want to stand in the way. The US will be most displeased with this and the US Navy’s 4th fleet is as much a deterrence against Venezuela’s anti-American impetus as it is a counter-weight against Brazil. Fortunately for Brazil the US seems to be concentrating its attention on Asia (Obama’s choice for the new National Security Advisor reflects this) and thanks to the financial crisis, Robert Gates and future SecDefs will have no choice but to scale down defence spending.

Then there are those countries that want the south Atlantic to continue as multilateral as possible. Brazil’s long time rival Argentina is one of them and South Africa is the only possible other. These two countries are the only ones to be capable of projecting a modern navy into the South Atlantic and last month they signed a new military cooperation agreement. Neither of them would be happy to trade one hegemon for another. But while the RSA’s navy needs to worry about protecting naval transit around the Cape and in securing its Indian Ocean flank, Argentina’s has no such concerns and is ready to rival with Brazil, at least in so far as it prevents Brasilia from achieving naval primacy.

Brazil has a special interest in securing a balance of power in the Atlantic Ocean since this would almost certainly result in its pre-eminence in the south Atlantic rim. During the 90s Brazil cleverly resisted America’s ALCA free trade pact in favour of Mercosul’s European connection. Today this imperative of Brazil’s foreign policy is very much alive in Brazil’s dealings with France. The military, industrial and commercial cooperation between Brasilia and Paris is ideal in economic terms given the two economies’ complementarity but also in geopolitical terms for it offers a solid counter-weight to American influence. Given that America is now more concerned about Asia and that France and Britain are coming closer strategically, Brazil should take the opportunity and enact a rapprochement with Britain rather than seeking to isolate it.

This is why Brasilia’s championing of Buenos Aires is in fact counter-productive for its interests. One shouldn’t empower a potential rival, especially at the cost of a potential ally.

What is more, not only is there no danger of Britain or France intervening in south America – while the XIX century US did not have the same certainty – but Argentina’s claim is not even reasonable. Britain had been around the archipelago and even established claim over it long before Argentina was even independent. Both the ‘uti possidetis, ita possideatis’ (what one has owned, one shall continue to own henceforth) and the ‘in pari turpitudine, melior est causa possidentis’ (in equal claims to an object, the successful claim is from the party which already owns said object) legal principles deny Argentina legitimacy over those islands. Not to mention the fact that the islands have been inhabited by British nationals for over a century.

Hubris is not equidistance. If Brazil truly wished to be equidistant it’d worry about its own regional rivals instead of pursuing a values based foreign policy. If the PT (Labour Party) government wanted equidistance, it wouldn’t take sides. No, the Itamaraty is enacting a clearly left-wing policy which will hurt Brazil’s national interest in the long-term. Hugo Chávez recently stated on his TV show that ‘Caracas-Brasília-Buenos Aires is the articulating axis of south-American unity, the land of utopia where a new world is being created‘.

Brasilia’s constructivists, now promoting the UNASUL and the South-American Defence Council, will inevitably stumble across the geographical and historical imperative of adjacent friction and when that happens, their linear normativism will be useless in the defence of Brazil’s national interest.

Perhaps Brazil – like America – is still prone to revolutionary exceptionalism, in which case one will anxiously long for a tropical Kissinger…


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  2. dptrombly said,

    Very interesting post… However, you’re probably correct to note Brazil sees far more value in the idea of a “united south” in Latin America than a strategy of balancing. Brasilia seems to remain intent on being the “country of the future” and a world-class power, or at least having the prestige of one. That image is much harder to maintain when you need to engage in balancing in your own back yard.

    • M. Silva said,

      Thank you.

      This is why I have left Brazil out of the Universalism Index. They want a bigger role but seem to still be contaminated by ‘end of history’ constructivist delusions.

      It is sad really because this disease seems to especially afflict the West and it is worrisome since while the rest of the world is preparing for power politics, both the decaying west and the rising west still seem to put values before interests.

      I hope the PSDB will do a better job in a near future. In a way, the PT behaved in much the same way the DPJ in Japan. Having not been in power for ages, they thought a foreign policy overhaul could be sustained only by values.

  3. Archangels in America – America’s Realists’ Crisis of Conscience « The Westphalian Post said,

    […] discussed before, ‘Pre-eminence Derived Universalism’ tends to corrupt the gains acquired through pragmatic […]

  4. M. Silva said,

    Rousseff assures Argentina is a ‘strategic actor’ for Brazil’s foreign policy
    (Her first presidential trip will be to Buenos Aires)

    Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff affirmed that Argentina is one of the “strategic actors” of her country’s foreign policy and anticipated that her visit to Buenos Aires will be focused in the commercial cooperation, the nuclear energy area and the coordination of multilateral organizations.
    “Argentina is one of the main actors, one of the strategic elements for our foreign policy,” Rousseff told the Brazilian press during a rally in Porto Alegre, where she met with the Governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Tarso Genro.
    Her first presidential trip will be to Buenos Aires, where she will arrive on Monday along with Foreign Relations Minister, Antonio Patriota; Treasury Minister, Guido Mantega; Social Development Minister, Tereza Campelo; Energy Minister, Edson Lobao; Science and Technology Minister, Aloizio Mercadante; and Development, Industry and Commerce Minister, Fernando Pimentel.
    Rousseff admitted that in the past, Brazil “had turned its back to Argentina, and only looked to Europe and the United States,” but now “we have to sense that the development of our country implies the development of the region.”

  5. M. Silva said,

    Analysis: Brazil goes nuclear

    by Michael Moran

    Brazil is building nuclear attack submarines that promise to dramatically alter the balance of power off the South American coast.
    It’s a British admiral’s nightmare scenario: In the not too distant future, a nearly bankrupt Argentine government invades the oil-rich Falkland Islands. For the second time in half a century, Las Malvinas — the islands all of Latin America regard as a stolen piece of Argentina — spark a war.

    With budget cuts, the Brits have no aircraft carrier. Across the Atlantic, Brazil does have one, the Sao Paulo, along with a fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines being built in partnership with Argentina.

    These weapons give Brazil the ability to impose an updated version of the Monroe Doctrine on regional waters. Call it the “Lula Doctrine.”

    With its new confidence and military ambition, Brazil is a vocal advocate of Argentina’s claim on Las Malvinas. While few can imagine Britain and Brazil ever coming to blows, pieces of that nightmare scenario are starting to take shape.

    In 2009, Brazil announced plans to build a fleet of five nuclear attack submarines. Expected to start entering service in 2016, the submarines promise to dramatically alter the balance of power in the South Atlantic. (Currently, only the U.S., China, Russia, India, the U.K. and France operate nuclear-powered warships, the vast majority of them submarines.)

    The last time this scenario played out, Britain won the day. Back in 1982, when the Argentine junta led by Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri invaded the islands, Britain mustered a small but powerful fleet of aircraft carriers, submarines and surface ships to support a Royal Marine landing force that retook the islands. The retaking of the Falklands became emblematic of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s determination that the once mighty British military not sink to third-class status.

    Yet it also left a deep scar on the Latin American psyche. Brazil and other Latin American countries backed Argentina during the war but had little real ability to help militarily. In particular, the region never forgot the single most deadly action of the war, the sinking of the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano, a hulking relic of World War II, by a British nuclear attack submarine, killing 323 sailors.

    (GlobalPost in Buenos Aires: Meet the forgotten veterans of the Falkland Islands War [3])

    Until recently, the Falklands conflict was regarded by most experts as unlikely to spark further trouble. But the discovery of oil in the North Falklands Basin in 2007 changed this. Combined with Argentina’s near perpetual state of fiscal distress and Brazil’s new assertiveness on the world stage, sensitivities over the disputed islands have risen.

    In January, for instance, Brazil refused a small British warship, HMS Clyde, permission to dock in Rio de Janeiro. Neighboring Uruguay turned away the British destroyer HMS Gloucester in 2010.

    In Britain, meanwhile, the commander of the 1982 Falklands fleet, Admiral Sir John Woodward, published an op-ed in June warning that current defense cuts likely would leave the Falklands helpless in the face of a new Argentine invasion, leading to political pressure to reinforce the British garrison.

    But Brazil’s submarines change the naval balance of power in the region even more dramatically than Britain’s own defense woes. British strategists worry that Brazil’s may now impose its own version of the U.S. Monroe Doctrine on the region’s waters — in effect, demanding that foreign powers simply steer clear of its backyard as the U.S. did in the 19th and 20th century.

    Late last year, Brazil signed a deal with a French defense contractor for help constructing the first of the five boats. This follows a 2008 deal with Argentina to jointly develop the nuclear reactors which will power the vessels.

    Brazilian officials have been careful not to portray the subs as a response to any outside threat as they continue to support Argentina’s Malvinas claim in international bodies. Instead, the subs have been characterized as a way to secure the enormous “pre-salt” offshore oil fields discovered by the country over the past several years.

    (GlobalPost in Rio: Is Brazil the next elite oil-producing nation? [4])

    President Luiz Inacio “Lula” da Silva, who led the push for the nuclear sub program, said before leaving office that the subs were “a necessity for a country that not only has the maritime coast that we have but also has the petroleum riches that were recently discovered in the deep sea pre-salt layer.”

  6. M. Silva said,

    Argentina has no more claim to the Falklands than Canada does to Alaska

    Here’s an interesting idea you might not have considered before: let’s force Alaska to become a part of Canada. It is, after all, separated from the rest of the United States of America by some 500 miles and connected to Canada by a border more than 1,500 miles long.
    Perhaps this suggestion sounds ridiculous? It shouldn’t, at least if you support Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. With the UK having just deployed one of its most powerful warships to the region, and Prince William having begun a six-week deployment to the islands in his role as an RAF search-and-rescue pilot, frustrations are once again boiling over in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires.
    Standing against a backdrop of the Falkland Islands coloured in the Argentine flag, Argentina’s president, Cristina Kirchner, has accused Britain of “militarising” the South Atlantic, and has vowed to take her complaints to the United Nations.
    But Ms Kirchner’s claims to sovereignty over the Falklands are bogus, and she should know it. The reason why the notion of handing Alaska to Canada sounds so absurd is because the Alaskans have no desire to become Canadian, and the rest of us respect that fact.
    There is, as it happens, a term for such sentiment in international legal parlance. It is called “the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples”. If Ms Kirchner cared to look, she would find this written down in Article 1.2 of the Charter of the United Nations, to which her country is a signatory.

    Ms Kirchner argues that because the Falkland Islands are located much closer to the coast of Argentina than they are to the coast of the British Isles they should therefore be Argentinian. This is nothing more than a modification of the so-called ‘saltwater fallacy’, which holds that a country has less claim to a territory if it is separated from it by the sea than if it is connected to it by land or is situated close by. This is how the Soviets managed to keep a straight face when condemning the United Kingdom and France of colonialism during the Cold War, whilst maintaining their own de facto empire in Eastern Europe.
    There are, however, those who accuse the UK of being selective in its application of the principle of self-determination. This argument has been considerably weakened by the British Government’s decision last month to permit Scotland to hold a referendum on independence, but it still has its proponents. They argue, for instance, that if the people of West Doncaster were to announce their aspiration to join France, the British Government would never permit it. There are three problems with this rationale.
    First, it is an example of reductio ad absurdum. The people of West Doncaster do not want to join France, and it is highly unlikely that they will discover such an aspiration in the foreseeable future.
    Second, there is always a strong argument for not disrupting the established order without good reason. If, by some quirk of history, West Doncaster was a part of France and wished to remain so, there would be a good case for the UK respecting that fact, provided neither the West Doncastrians nor the French were generating conflict or economic turmoil in the maintenance of their claim.
    Third, even if the West Doncastrians did wish to become independent of the UK, let alone join France, attendant circumstances would need to be considered. When considering the state of Quebec’s desire to become independent of Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1998 that Quebec did not have the right to secede unilaterally. The court reasoned that as an integral part of Canada, the impact of Quebec’s secession on the country as a whole would also need to be taken into account; hence there was a constitutional duty to negotiate terms acceptable to both sides.
    Importantly, this principle would not have applied had the Canadians been exerting their claim to sovereignty over Quebec through the use of violence or discrimination. Only a state whose government “represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on the basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its own internal arrangements, is entitled to protection under international law of its territory”.
    This is why the decision of Kosovo to unilaterally declare its independence from Serbia, or the decision of South Sudan to become independent of Sudan against the latter’s wishes, are different cases. There, not just discrimination but violence was used to assert sovereignty, and that changes the rules of the game.
    On this basis, Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falklands is weaker still. Not only do the islanders wish almost categorically to remain British; not only is their claim reinforced by nearly two centuries of history; and not only is the UK exercising that claim on the basis of equality and without discrimination, but the counterparty in this dispute, Argentina, has used force in an effort to assert its rights, and lost. That attempt took place 30 years ago, when Argentina’s military dictatorship unilaterally began a war to settle a dispute they had failed to win through negotiations, which cost more than 900 lives.
    As for the notion that Argentine inhabitants of the islands were evicted at some point in the distant past by European settlers: this is nonsense. When the English first landed on the islands and laid claim to them in 1690 they were uninhabited. Argentina, itself now populated by many millions of people of European descent, was not even a country at the time.
    Ms Kirchner should not be surprised, therefore, that the British Government refuses to reopen negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands now. Argentina has lost this fight in more ways than one, and it’s time they respected that fact.

    George Grant is a Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society in London.

  7. M. Silva said,

    Love Me, Love Me Not
    by Nima Khorrami Assl
    Why Iran might lose its South American friends

    At a time of growing pressure on Iran and increased international isolation, Tehran must make the most of what diplomatic goodwill it can still lay claim to. Unfortunately for the Iranian government, its influence in South America seems to be on the wane.

    Recent remarks by President Ahmadinejad’s top advisor and close ally, Ali Akbar Javanfekr, have shed some light on yet another setback for Iran at a time of increasing diplomatic and economic isolation. In a highly publicized interview, Mr. Javanfekr, a controversial figure in Iranian politics, has bluntly criticized Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, accusing her of “destroying years of good relations and striking against everything that [former Brazilian President] Lula accomplished.” Given the special bond between Ahmadinejad and Javanfekr, his remarks should be considered as the official view of the President’s office—if not the regime, for which it would have been undiplomatic to stage such an attack on the Brazilian leader. Mr. Ahmadinejad was keen to have a photo opportunity with his Brazilian counterpart while touring Latin America, but Brasília (unlike in 2009) simply refused to host him. Needless to say, this has angered the President’s inner circle—not least because standing next to the female leader of a flourishing democracy would have boosted the President’s standing domestically and internationally.

    Brazilian officials might have decided that wherever their national interests allow, cooperation with the United States could serve their UN Security Council ambitions.The whole Brazil-Iran fuss began in 2003, when Petrobras obtained exploration and drilling rights in the Caspian Sea in a $34 million agreement. However, it was in early 2009 when political affection between the two countries caught the world’s attention. Fairing strongly through the 2008 global financial storm, confident of its rising global power, soaring popularity at home, and relatively free of domestic political strains as he was in his last year at the office, President Silva, in line with his outward looking foreign policy agenda, which had already strengthened Brazil’s foothold in Africa , and Brazil’s foreign policy principle of South-South approach to globalization and development, sought to increase Brazil’s presence and influence in the Middle East.

    To be sure, Brazil’s newly-articulated regional strategy was not limited to Iran. This is evident in the Brazilian-backed Mercosur free trade agreement with Israel, the offer of free trade agreement to Jordan, as well as the decision to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Yet, Iran was prioritized for a number of reasons.

    Registered as the seventh-largest uranium reserve in the world and in possession of indigenous enrichment technology that it had mastered before joining the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1997, Brazil has been trying to become a global supplier of nuclear fuel. Silva saw a profitable market in Iran’s nuclear industry. Moreover, based on its own experience in the 1960s when US attempts to constrain its civil nuclear development led Brasília to establish a secret nuclear program in the 1970s, Brazil was—and still is—skeptical of Western sanctions, seeing them as a prelude to war and a major incentive for Tehran to obtain a nuclear deterrent. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Brazil saw a rare opportunity in Iran’s standoff with the West to make a broader argument about the nonproliferation regime that, according to Brazilian officials, has become a politically-driven tool in the hands of the United States to selectively lay down the law on weaker states.

    For its part, the Iranian regime was thrilled to receive such positive attention from Brasília. Tehran has traditionally used its trade policy as a way of discouraging some countries from cooperating with sanctions or aligning themselves too closely with the anti-Iran camp. As such, it wasted no time in opening up its market to various Brazilian businesses and trade volume between the two countries increased substantially reaching $2.1 billion in 2010. Following Brasília’s announcement in early 2009 that it had begun uranium enrichment on an industrial scale, Tehran was hopeful to expand nuclear cooperation with Brazil. Iran was also keen to establish ties between Brazilian and Iranian banks, so as to gain indirect access to the US financial system.

    It was in this context of warming relations that Brazilian and Iranian presidents exchanged official visits in 2009 and the Tehran Declaration was signed. This new activism had two broad objectives: to present Brazil as a mediator and enabler to justify its calls for a permanent UN Security Council seat, and to diversify Brazil’s trade relations and seek new partners for the Brazilian economy.

    Since the election of the new President, however, diplomatic and trade relations between Iran and Brazil have followed a downward trajectory. In a sense, this should not come as a surprise. As someone who has been tortured herself, President Rousseff had made it crystal clear that she would “distance herself from Lula’s more exotic foreign policy initiatives,” and that would “influence Brazil’s diplomatic partnership with Iran.”

    There are two other factors at play: Brazil’s own decision to build nuclear-powered submarines and a general shift in Brazil’s foreign policy orientation.

    On 16 July 2011, plans for a Brazilian nuclear-powered submarine that had been postponed since the 1970s were reintroduced in a public ceremony attended by the Brazilian President and the Defense Minister. Brazil’s recent disinterest in Iran and its nuclear program could thus arise from its desire to deflect excessive attention on—and speculation about—its program, and Brasília’s end-goal in building nuclear submarines.

    Negative reactions to Brazil’s rather short-lived adventurism in the Middle East, on the other hand, seem to have convinced Brasília to reduce its role in the region and instead devote all its energy to its near-abroad and Africa, especially that Brazil is self-sufficient in oil. Brazil’s cozying up with Iran, its support for Tehran Declaration, and its pro-Palestinian stance angered Washington and Israel. The further Silva went in his Iran-Middle East initiative, the more problems he created for Brazilian businesses, which are heavily integrated with the West. Not only did Washington not appreciate the nuclear deal with Iran, but it also threatened to restrict Brazil’s access to US financial and technological sectors at a time when Brazil’s new discovery of underwater oil and gas deposits has made it dependent on American high-technology firms.

    Watching the recent Indo-American rapprochement, Brazilian officials might have decided that wherever their national interests allow, cooperation with the United States could serve their UN Security Council ambitions better than mediation on issues that are of paramount strategic importance to the US government. Surely, business friendly government of Brazil can help Washington in Latin America and Africa in return for US backing of its UNSC bid.

    During the final years of Mr. Silva, Brazil experienced a steep learning curve in the region, realizing that it has neither the administrative structure nor the trained and experienced diplomats to handle the religious, ideological, and political complexities prevalent in the Middle East. The new administration has therefore set its eyes on Africa, especially the Portuguese-speaking nations, while reducing its Middle East agenda to trade only. Brazil hopes that its experience in biofuels and food security will offer alternative solutions to Middle Eastern countries, while continuing to sell its coffee, sugar, and meat—all of which are in high demand in the region. Over the medium term though, Brazil could make a political comeback in the region through a partnership with Turkey. Ankara has been seeking to increase its presence in Africa since 2005. As a relative newcomer, however, Turkey is likely to rely on Brasília’s soft power in order to achieve its goals in certain parts of continent. Cooperation in Africa, in turn, might pave the way for the emergence of a Turku-Brazilian partnership in the Middle East and North Africa.

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