Brazil’s missing voice at the Munich Security Conference


Members of the Quartet on the Middle East and Special Envoy Tony Blair before a meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference on February 1, 2014.

Just like last year, Brazil is, out of the world's top ten economies, the only country without a single participant at the 2015 Munich Security Conference. Equally telling, Latin America is the only region without any representation during the debates. Brazil's decision to stay away undermines its ambition to gain a seat at the table when the world's key decision-makers discuss how to make the world a safer place.


The Munich Security Conference, which takes place on a yearly basis since 1963, is the world's most important independent forum for international security policy makers from around the globe. Rather than signing official documents or a final communiqué, leaders come to Munich for discreet backroom diplomacy. Informal meetings away from the public eye are used to explore opportunities for negotiations vis-à-vis complex security challenges, ranging from the civil war in Syria, the Israel-Palestine conflict, North Korea and Ukraine. In 2014, twenty Heads of State and Government, fifty foreign and defense ministers and ninety government delegations participated.

Equally important, it is at the Munich Security Conference where leaders seek to, in their official remarks, set the global agenda. In 2003, during a panel discussion, Germany's Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer famously told Donald Rumsfeld, in a mix of German and English, that he was "not convinced" of the United States' argument that war against Iraq was necessary. The verbal confrontation would become one of the defining moments of the rift between Germany and the United States in the run-up to the Iraq War. It was also an unmistakable sign that Germany would, along with France, assume a leading role in the anti-war coalition.

At the 2007 conference, Russia's President Vladimir Putin gave a strong-worded and much-remembered speech about the evils of unipolarity, which led to a sharp response by John McCain, who would become the Republican presidential candidate a year later. Equally important speeches have marked the discussions in Munich since then.

This year's debates will focus on hybrid warfare, the future of the Middle East, information warfare, the conflict in Ukraine and the refugee catastrophe. Notably, aside from leading policy makers and UN officials, decision-makers of the defense industry and technology companies (such as Google's Vice President for public policy) are also part of the debates. Today, no country or organization interested in playing a role in the discussion about global security challenges can afford not to be at the Munich Security Conference.

Yet just like last year, Brazil is, out of the world's top ten economies, the only country without a single participant at this year's conference. Equally telling, Latin America is the only region without any representation during the talks. This shows that, when the world's key decision-makers discuss how to make the world a safer place, Brazil's opinion is currently not considered to be crucial, and Brazil's absence undermines its ambition to gain a seat at the table. Equally worrisome, no Brazilian policy makers can use the meeting to build the networks and personal relationships necessary to play a key role on the global stage.

Brazil's absence is perplexing, for the country has both the intellectual capacity and the responsibility to make great contribution when it comes to global security. Indeed, Brazil plays an important role in several ways: The UN Peacebuilding Commission is chaired by Antonio Patriota, MINUSTAH in Haiti is led by the Brazilian Army and the force commander is Brazilian. Brazil's General Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz is the incumbent force commander of the MONUSCO mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, perhaps the most challenging mission in the history of the United Nations. Brazil plays a leading role in the global discussion about internet freedom, and it is one of the few developing countries with a global network of embassies, capable of providing a unique perspective. There are countless Brazilian officials who could have provided that perspective in Munich - ranging from the President herself, Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira, the Minister of Defense Jaques Wagner, Brazil's Permanent Representative to the UN Antonio Patriota, Special Advisor Marco Aurélio Garcia, or the newly appointed Minister of Strategic Affairs, Mangabeira Unger. The mere presence of any of them would have reminded participants that Brazil has an important role to play.

The Munich Security Conference is hardly the one to blame. They may not have offered a Brazilian participant a key speaking slot. Yet, had a Rousseff advisor informally expressed, months prior to the conference, an interest in sending a government high-level representative, the organizers would have certainly sent an invitation.

Brazil's absence does not only carry a political cost. While Airbus, Boeing and Raytheon (a major American defense contractor) are present in Munich, Embraer and other Brazilian players in the defense industry are not. In the same way, Indian and US-American journalists, academics and policy analysts are regular visitors to the Munich Security Conference, who can, unlike their Brazilian counterparts, enhance their respective domestic debates.

Critics may argue that just being at the world's most important security conference is of little consequence. They have a point. Yet considering Brazil's important capacity to enrich the debate, and its far more important engagement on the matter compared to many other countries, decision-makers from world's seventh largest economy -- and Latin America, for that matter -- should no longer be absent from the future discussions in Munich.

Read also:

Munich Security Conference: Brazil’s No-Show

Brazilian Foreign Policy: Into the Dark

The Case against Brazil’s Retrenchment

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Brazilian foreign policy: Game over?

Photo credit: REUTERS/Brendan Smialowski/Pool