The Strategic Lines of Brazilian Foreign Policy

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (known as Itamaraty) in Brasília.
Photo: Pablo H (Source: This picture is under a Creative Commons Licence.

September 2, 2009
By Clóvis Brigagão

Brazil is considered a global player in international relations, wielding regional power, and progressively gaining international influence. Three strategic lines define its international relations: Increasing nuclear capacity is viewed as a means to create opportunities in the international system; sustainable development in the Amazon vies with security considerations; South-South relations form part of Brazil’s diversified foreign policy.

Democratisation, regional integration, and globalisation have led to changes in Brazil’s international standing over the last decades. Many domestic actors are involved in this process, the most well-known being the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (known as Itamaraty). However, other actors also contribute, i.e.: ministries, public agencies, and companies; state and local federative governments; corporate business represented by federations, councils and associations, representatives of industry, trade, agro-business and the services sector, as well as public and private multinational corporations have enlarged the scope of Brazil’s foreign policy.

The search for greater international profits in the global market, negotiations on agricultural trade and flows of capital, technology, and services are instruments of and, at the same time, challenges for Brazilian foreign policy. Brazil is already progressively gaining international influence. At the same time, its foreign policy has become increasingly transparent, democratic, and representative of the diversity of its society.
Three strategic lines help to define Brazil’s international relations:

  • The nuclear factor. Brazil is an emerging nuclear power, although its nuclear energy programme is used exclusively for peaceful purposes.
  • The environment. Brazil comprises some of the largest environmental reserves in the world and plays a prominent role in building multilateral frameworks for their sustained management.
  • South-South relations. Within the new multipolar configuration, Brazil plays a significant role owing to its geographic, economic, and demographic importance. It also plays a competitive and complementary role in regard to other countries of the South in forums such as G20, BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China), IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and now, at the regional level, with UNASUR (South American Union).

Brazil’s Nuclear Programme

Brazil’s nuclear programme is considered by the elites to be a key instrument in economic development and a means of creating opportunities in the international system. Recent governments have consistently invested in science, technology, and innovation (SC&T&I) with the aim of expanding the nuclear programme. The government has sought to increase thermo-nuclear energy production (rising from the current 2% to 4%) and to reduce external dependence: Brazil has the sixth largest global reserves of uranium. The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency view somewhat critically the possibility that Brazil could develop nuclear capacity in order to bargain for power status and insist that Brazil should ratify the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Brazil even has the know-how to make an atomic bomb but it has pledged not to produce nuclear weapons. Lula da Silva’s government rejects this proposition, asserting that the 1988 constitution, (which states that nuclear activities are exclusively for peaceful means), in addition to the international treaties already signed, provide sufficient guarantees. Furthermore, Brazil and Argentina have established a relationship of mutual trust on both their nuclear programmes and are planning to create a bi-national company for uranium enrichment in order to become competitive in this strategic market and, at the same time, to dissipate fears that an arms race in the region might escalate.

Foreign Policy in Amazonia

Brazil has been criticised for causing damage to the environment, the economic cost of such damage and its effects on climate change. Both within the government and in society generally there is, today, a growing awareness of the country’s responsibilities in regard to climate change and sustainable development. Brazil is aware that it must assume the cost of deforestation in the Amazon.
The Brazilian perspective on the Amazon region differs from the international point of view. Diplomats seeks to win battles in multilateral forums while the armed forces view the Amazon region through the lens of national security and fear the spectre of the Amazon becoming internationalised. The armed forces have acquired a double function; on the one hand they are actors in defence and security, on the other, they promote social, environmental and national integration. These functions, coupled with deficiencies in the public policy system, have contributed significantly to the defence and security capacity of the armed forces, while also enhancing their role in fields such as sustainable development.

South-South Relations

The foreign policy of Lula da Silva’s government stresses the importance of South-South relations as strategic axes and as factors to Brazil’s international standing. However, its results have not been very significant. The G20 meeting, which could have concluded the Doha Round, was decisive in extending Brazil’s power within the international system, particularly in agricultural trade, but it did not prove successful owing to discrepancies over access to various markets and resistance by India, China, and Argentina. In response to concessions by developed countries (EUA, EU and Japan) in the agricultural sector, and as a key to success in the “development round,” the hoped for union of emerging countries did not happen.

BRIC has future potential and may have a role to play in the struggles between major powers. IBSA is an interesting inter-regional configuration, and it has initiated specific development and security co-operation projects.
The analysis of these three strategic lines suggests that Brazil is a relevant international actor seeking to play a greater role in global politics. But it is crucial that the multidimensional interests of its foreign policy are managed appropriately, so that its projects, both current and future, can be implemented in a way that is feasible.

Clóvis Brigagão is a political scientist, director of the Center of the Americas Studies (CEAs) and co-ordinator of the Group of Analysis on the International Conflict Prevention (GAPCon), University of Candido Mendes, Rio de Janeiro.

First published by the Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre, Oslo