Vieira’s Mission in Munich

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Brazil's Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira must assure the international community that, despite the current economic and political crisis, Brazil will continue to play a role in global security debates. He also needs to convince worried observers that the country has a clear strategy to address the outbreak of the Zika virus -- and combat sensationalist reporting that has the potential to unduly hurt Brazil's image abroad and complicate the implementation of a sound global strategy to deal with the challenge.

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For three days starting today Munich will be the center of global politics as the city hosts, for the 52nd time, many of the world's most important decision-makers in the realm of international security policy. About 600 international senior policymakers are expected at the conference this year, among them almost 30 heads of state and government, about 70 foreign and defense ministers and five directors of intelligence services (see the complete list of participants here). 700 reporters from 48 countries are accredited for the conference. Discussions will range from Europe's response to the refugee crisis and the war in Syria to arms control in cyber space. Today, US secretary of state, John Kerry, announced that diplomats in Munich have agreed to a ‘nationwide cessation of hostilities’ in Syria, starting in a week.

Of the world's top ten economies, Brazil was the only country without a single participant at the Munich Security Conference over the past two years. Latin America was the only region without any representation during the debates. Brazil's absence sent a clear message to the other participants that the country did not seek a place at the table where the world's most complex security challenges were debated. This undermined Brazil's campaign for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council: Brazil was, in 2014 and 2015, the only G4 member that lacked representation.

Brazil's participation this year -- Foreign Minister Mauro Vieira will be on a panel on global trade -- is a key step towards assuring the international community that Latin America's largest country is not turning inwards and continues to play a leading role in addressing global challenges. Vieira has meetings scheduled with his counterparts from several countries, including Germany, Saudi Arabia, Armenia, Georgia, Jordan and The Netherlands.

Those who argue that Brazil's presence does not matter will be surprised to see a picture of Antonio Patriota on the cover of the 2013 post-conference's online report, who was -- along with Joe Biden, Sergey Lavrov and Jose Manuel Barroso -- one of the few mentioned specifically in the executive summary of the discussions. Indeed, what is often overlooked -- particularly in Brazil -- is that the country already plays an important role in global security debates. The UN Peacebuilding Commission was chaired by Antonio Patriota and MINUSTAH in Haiti is led by Brazil. Brazil's General Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz was, until recently, 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. Generally seen as a guarantor of democratic stability in South America (despite its incapacity to avoid disaster in Caracas), it will be forced to play a key role in the deepening humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

At a time of global concern about the proliferation of conflicts and a growing notion that today's international institutions struggle to provide much-needed stability (the The Munich Security Report suggests that we are at the dawn of a new era of instability), Brazil's presence thus serves as an important symbol that it continues to engage proactively despite suffering from what may be the worst recession in the country's history and a profound political crisis. Vieira must thus work towards altering the dominant global narrative about Brazil: Tellingly, Brazil only appears once in the Report -- not as an actor capable of solving problems, but as one of the 10 major risks affecting global affairs in 2016:

Brazil: President Dilma Rousseff is fighting to avoid impeachment, and the country’s political and economic crisis will worsen in 2016. If the president survives, her government will not gain the political boost needed to tackle the country’s growing fiscal deficit. If she is ousted, an administration led by Vice President Michel Temer will not fare much better.

While debates in Munich revolve around security, Vieira will no doubt be confronted with growing international worries about the Zika virus. As Matias Spektor pointed out yesterday in Folha de São Paulo, avoiding misinformation on a global scale is a major concern and the Foreign Ministry is Brazil's best tool to implement a global communication strategy. As Brazil's Ambassador to the United States wrote recently in Americas Quarterly,

This is an emergency, but Brazil and the world have the know-how and are able to muster the human and material resources to meet the challenge. (...) While any reaction based on misinformation may disrupt our daily lives without helping to solve the problem, effective measures require scientifically consistent data, transparency, rational planning, and decisive action. The international community must unite in this global effort and draw the right lessons to improve the international framework for preventing and fighting epidemics and tropical diseases. Brazil will continue to do its part with resolve and determination.

Implementing a coherent global communication strategy to combat distracting misinformation is about far more than protecting Brazil's image -- it is a tangible element of developing a plan, together with the WHO, to address the global outbreak of the Zika virus while limiting the negative impact on the region's economy.

Considering this particular concern, and the urgency to deal with the refugee crisis, the conflict in the Middle East and a host of other global security challenges -- which, we must remember, can impossibly be solved by the G7 alone -- Mauro Vieira's presence in Munich is a much-needed positive signal to the international community.

Read also:

Brazil’s top 10 foreign policy challenges in 2016

Book review: “Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power” by Michael Reid

Brazil and Argentina must prepare joint plan as Venezuelan debt default looms

Economic crisis cannot justify Brazil’s absence from global security debate

Photo credits: Marcelo Camargo/Agência Brasil