Is Brazil Ready For Prime Time? (A Conversation with Anne-Marie Slaughter)



Brazil is hungry to lead. It’s orchestrating this summer’s World Cup, leading 32 nations as they battle for fútbol victory. It will host the 2016 Summer Olympics. And late last year, it helped spark the global movement to Balkanize Internet governance. But is Brazil also ready to lead on climate change? What about nuclear non-proliferation? Human rights? In other words, is Brazil prepared to be a constructive actor on the international stage, or has it become a gadfly?

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Anne-Marie Slaughter, New America President and CEO (moderator): Brazil is a great case study when we look at the hopes and apprehensions surrounding debates about expanding, and democratizing, what we might broadly call the executive committee of global governance. And we know this is not merely a regional concern. Jorge, I know you have strong feelings on the subject, so why don’t you go ahead and get us started.

Jorge Castañeda, former foreign secretary of Mexico and currently professor of global studies at New York University: In my view, Brazil is not ready to play a constructive role on the world stage. As I wrote two years ago in Foreign Affairs, it is not ready for prime time, because on the major multilateral issues of the day – human rights, climate change, non-proliferation, trade, collective defense of democracy – it remains stuck between its old-fashioned, Third World, Non-Aligned, anti-interventionist stance, and the inevitable responsibilities of even a regional power, let alone an international actor. Why does it want to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, if when it occupies a non-permanent slot, it frequently abstains on the main issues of the day (the decision to intervene in Libya being a recent notorious case in point)?

A.M.S.: Oliver, I find myself wondering if Brazil is playing a leading economic role in the region, why do other Latin American countries turn toward Asia in creating a Pacific Alliance that doesn’t include your country? On the other hand, if Brazil were “grounded” as The Economist has posited, or as Jorge suggests, how can it play such an important role in West Africa and also on global energy issues? Can you help me out in sorting out where Brazil really stands?

Oliver Stuenkel, assistant professor of international relations at Fundacao Gertulio Vargas in Sao Paulo: Brazil is prepared to play a relatively constructive role on the world stage – in fact, it is already doing so. It’s misguided to characterize our country as an “irresponsible stakeholder.” As I have recently written in the Americas Quarterly magazine, Brazil has turned into a strong supporter of democracy in the region, largely by creating treaty clauses punishing countries that do not uphold democratic standards. Brazil has supported the concept of an international “responsibility to protect” in the vast majority of cases when it was on the Security Council. Brazil abstained from resolution 1973 on Libya not because it was against an intervention per se, but because it feared that a broadly authorized military intervention with unclear terms of enforcement would become a slippery slope towards regime change. While Brazil’s foreign policy is far from perfect, it is certainly no less constructive than that of established powers, which can also fail to consistently promote good principles such as democracy or international criminal justice.

A.M.S.: Ambassador Viswanathan, I am eager to get your thoughts on Brazil’s role in the world generally, and also on how this debate about the standards we apply in judging emerging powers resonates with India.

Rengaraj Viswanathan, former ambassador of India to Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay: India sees Brazil as a constructive player and partner in global affairs, one in an enviable position. Brazil has some advantages over India in its pursuit of a global role. Brazil is free from internal ethnic, religious, linguistic and ideological conflicts which consume most India’s energy. Secondly, the developmental challenges such as poverty, health and literacy issues facing India are massive in absolute terms and will take a much longer time to resolve. India has to cope with, and provide food, education, healthcare and infrastructure for 15 million additional people every year, which is simply mindboggling. While Brazil has abundant water and land to feed several hundred million more people, India has a serious water shortage.

While Brazil has an energy surplus of oil, gas and ethanol, India struggles with energy insecurity. More importantly, Brazil is free from terrorism while India is a victim and target of internal and external terrorism. The hostile neighborhood makes India spend billions of dollars in defense expenditure while Brazil is lucky to have a friendly neighborhood.

Brazil will have a definite role as a global player in energy and food security, given its surplus and huge reserves of land, water and fossil fuels as well as its technologies and best practices in agribusiness and energy.

But I sense that Brazil is not in a hurry. There is not so much debate and eagerness in Brazil for permanent membership of UN Security Council, unlike in the Indian public and media, which is forcing the government to press the issue.

A.M.S.: Ambassador Viswanathan paints a far brighter picture for Brazil than for India. Is this a case of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence? Or does Brazil indeed enjoy all those advantages? Most intriguing to me is Ambassador Viswanathan’s point at the end of his post where he observes that Brazil is less keen on obtaining a Security Council seat, and presumably exercising the global responsibilities that come with it, than is India. Oliver, do you agree?

O.S.: I agree with Ambassador Viswanathan to some degree. Of course Brazil is located in a far more benign neighborhood that poses fewer constraints on its foreign policy. Its internal situation is also less challenging than that of India.

Yet, on the other hand, India also benefits considerably from its location. It can get away with refusing to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), developing nuclear weapons, and it still gains U.S. support in its campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Brazil, on the other hand, has been a “responsible stakeholder” and signed the NPT in 1998, yet the United States has refrained from explicitly supporting the Brazilian candidacy. This is proof, in Brazilian foreign policymakers’ eyes, that the United States cares little about global governance, but more about its particular national interest, in this case balancing China by strengthening India.

In addition, India’s hostile neighborhood allows Indian foreign policy makers to justify large defense expenditure to the public. In this sense, it is actually easier for India to become a major military power than for Brazil, where even small modernization projects of its armed forces are harshly criticized. Yet without defense expenditures, it will be increasingly difficult for Brazil to play a leadership role in crisis regions.

Finally, I disagree that Brazil is somehow less keen than India in its quest for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Brazilian diplomats in New York are almost constantly involved in promoting the issue, and in April, the Brazilian Foreign Ministry organized a meeting with civil society to discuss new strategies to accelerate the process. I think rather than being less keen, Brazil’s approach is somewhat different from India’s. But permanent Security Council membership remains a key foreign policy goal for Brazil.

A.M.S.: Is it possible to imagine serious South American economic integration, much less any degree of political integration, when Brazil is so much larger than other potential members? Germany dominates decision-making in the EU now, but the relative size of Germany to other EU members is far less than the relative size of Brazil to countries like Venezuela, Colombia, Chile and Argentina.

O.S.: I think Brazil’s size is not a real obstacle to economic integration, in the same way that NAFTA is doable despite the massive asymmetries between its members. Rather, the major limitation to true economic integration is each nation’s differing economic philosophies and (in Brazil) a reluctance to exercise outright regional leadership. When it comes to political integration, I think none of the countries in the region are ready to compromise their sovereignty at this point. As a consequence, The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has been purposefully designed in a more superficial way.

A.M.S.: Jorge, I’d like to circle back to you to close. How much do you think this challenge to democratizing global governance is a Brazil-specific problem? Do the same forces and mindset (say, on questions of sovereignty) that you believe are holding Brazil back from asserting a meaningful global leadership role apply to all other new rising powers? Would you say the same about Mexico, for instance?

J.C.: Yes, I think Brazil’s un-readiness for a global role is also applicable to other so-called emerging powers, ranging from Mexico to India, and including South Africa, and in a very different sense, Russia and China. These countries have not yet fully abandoned their non-interventionist, non-aligned past, and refuse to assume global responsibilities, be it on human rights, collective defense of democracy, climate change or even trade or non-proliferation. There is nothing wrong with their stance, it has strong historical, cultural roots, but it is different from that of even a regional power. What is the purpose of wanting to be a permanent member of the Security Council, only to abstain on all the tough issues?

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