Will Brazil follow India’s Rafale bet?

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In a country where defense policy has traditionally not been a key aspect of overall foreign policy, seeing a former powerful foreign minister assume the Ministry of Defense is certain to raise some eyebrows. And so it happened when, in August 2011, President Dilma Rousseff chose Celso Amorim, the architect of Brazil's foreign policy under the Lula administration, to replace Nelson Jobim after the latter had openly questioned the capacity of several of his fellow cabinet members.

While Jobim was generally respected by the generals and considered to be a competent manager, several leading members of the armed forces voiced their concern about Amorim, who conservatives often accuse of being an anti-American ideologue. Yet no matter how one thinks about Amorim, there is a good possibility that the appointment of such a visible personality (and today's foreign minister's former boss) will boost the role of defense in Brazil's foreign policy.

This may partly explain why Amorim's recent trip to India 6 weeks prior to the BRICS Summit in New Delhi has gained considerable more media attention in both Brazil and India than Jobim's India trip a year earlier. Military ties between India and Brazil are growing, and India uses Brazilian Embraer aircraft for indigenous airborne early warning and control systems. Yet for several other reasons the timing made the trip special: Only days before, India had annonunced that it would buy 126 French-made Rafale combat aircraft in a $11 billion deal - a deal that, as one would expect, caused considerably controversy among security analysts in India. 

In a somewhat unusual move, India agreed during Amorim's trip to share with Brazil some of its experiences of carrying out the open tender evaluation to select the best aircraft. This matters greatly to Brazil, as it is currently involved in a similar selection process. Brazil would like to buy 36 fighter jets, and Rafale, F-18 and Gripen-NG are still in the race. Just as in India, the process was mired in controversy given its large size and the significant political implications. After President Lula seemed to favor the Rafale in 2009, the Dilma administration put the deal on hold in an effort to reduce public spending.

The big question now is how the decision to have Brazil study documents about India's selection process will affect the tender process in Brazil. India's purchase certainly makes the Rafale seem less risky. A decision to follow India's would not only boost ties between Brazil and France, but it would make India and Brazil the only two countries other than France to boast the Rafale jet, thus creating further potential for stronger ties in the area of military technology.

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Photo credit: B. Mathur/Reuters