The primary challenge the United States faces in the 21st century, according to historian and diplomat Joseph Nye, “is not one of decline but what to do in light of the realization that even the largest country cannot achieve the outcomes it wants without the help of others.”1 Acknowledging Brazil as a genuine partner is problematic for American leaders since the United States exercised tremendous unilateral influence in South American affairs throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, U.S. hubris lingers in relations with Brazil. This residual attitude prompts some U.S. leaders to consider any Brazilian disregard for U.S. interests as an affront. Instead of regarding Brazil’s economic growth as a challenge to U.S. hegemony, U.S. leaders should commend it as a regional achievement. Additionally, some current perceptions of the two countries’ strategic interests as continuing to diverge are historically shortsighted. Such a view affirms a U.S. failure to adapt long-range diplomatic strategies to match the global rise of many countries. Undeniably, the United States needs Brazil—now and in the future.
Economically, Brazil is becoming the most important country to the United States in the Western Hemisphere. It will become the fifth largest world economy by 2015, while Canada will be eleventh and Mexico fifteenth.2 Moreover, “By the end of 2009, Brazil’s economy represented forty percent of the total gross domestic product (GDP) of Latin America and the Caribbean, and fifty-five percent of the GDP of South America alone.”3 Brazil will host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics; accordingly, it is investing billions of dollars in infrastructure and security improvements throughout the country. Additionally, a new oil field has been discovered off the coast near Rio de Janeiro. The find has drawn great interest from the United States, which is seeking oil autonomy fromthe Middle East. This offshore oil field and others will double Brazil’s output of petroleum by 2020.4
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus learns about Brazilian riverine operations at Estacao Naval Riverine Base, Manaus
U.S. Navy (Kevin S. O’Brien)
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proclaimed a “new 21st Century reality—that GDP matters more than military might.”5 Her pronouncement reprioritized economics to the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. She cited Brazil and India as examples of 21st-century economic success.6 As U.S. foreign policy focuses more on economics, the U.S. relationship with Brazil assumes greater importance. If economics has become the primary interest in U.S. foreign policy, then failure to build a stronger strategic partnership with Brazil will be a huge opportunity lost for substantial economic trade and growth. Already Brazil has concluded Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) free trade agreements with Israel, along with a separate trade arrangement with Egypt.7 Additionally, Brazil has entered into special trading agreements with South Africa and India, which are also rapidly growing global economies.8 The European Union and various other countries have recognized Brazil’s rise and future economic potential. They, too, plan to make the most of what Brazil’s economy has to offer.
Tides of History
The United States so far has not viewed its bilateral relationship with Brazil through the lens of history. Brazil’s recent economic growth should not be regarded as a miracle of a Third World country. Rather, its rise represents the reemergence of a global economic and diplomatic player from the early to mid-20th century. At that time, the United States supported Brazil’s preeminence in South America. President Theodore Roosevelt even hoped that Brazil would be the responsible party for supporting the Monroe Doctrine within the region.9 Approximately 20 years later, Brazil became one of the original members of the League of Nations and committed the only Latin American ground forces to the Allied cause in World War II, deploying an entire division to Europe. Unfortunately, Brazil’s rise to preeminence in South America was interrupted by authoritarian military rule that sapped its international credibility for over two decades. Only now has Brazil regained its capability and potential for regional and global leadership. As before, there is a window of opportunity for Washington to redefine the U.S.-Brazil strategic relationship and restore the “Unwritten Alliance”10 that was initially established by Secretary of State Elihu Root, whose work toward greater pan-American understanding contributed to his receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1912.
Today, Brazil sees itself as a regional leader. Its strategy is not to disrupt or disturb any multilateral organizations, despite its growing power, “but to adapt them and employ [its strengths] as platforms to advance Brazilian interests.”11 This strategy nests nicely with two of President Dilma Rousseff’s areas for action: “diversifying relations by forging stronger economic and political ties with other nations of the developing world; and supporting multilateralism by pushing for the democratization of global governance.”12 Brazil has recently proved its unfaltering pursuit of these goals, and this commitment has not been lost on the other 11 South American countries. In view of Brazil’s significant economic progress, its neighbors acknowledge that Brazil is now a serious global player and economic powerhouse. Proximity to Brazil will not only benefit these South American countries, but also position regional relations to eliminate the need to look elsewhere for economic support.
Historically, Brazil has already exercised leadership in conflict disputes between other countries in the region. In 1942, it played a key role in resolving the Ecuador-Peru war. Brazil arbitrated a peace settlement between them again in 1995.13 Likewise, it has shared hydroelectric power with its neighbors and entered into cooperative security agreements, brokered distribution of fresh water, and managed regional environmental programs. However, Brazil’s government has had difficulty with indigenous minority groups. For example, it is constantly challenged to persuade the Amazon aboriginals that they will benefit from certain regional infrastructure projects. Still, through protracted negotiations, it has generally compensated displaced and dispossessed peoples. Essentially, Brazil is growing into its role as the regional leader.
The United States once held this difficult position in South America, exercising leadership through the Monroe Doctrine and Rio Treaty—and receiving much dissent along the way. Now it is Brazil that is criticized for both taking action and not taking enough action. But Brazil has the wherewithal to successfully manage this transition. History is on its side. Brazil has remained at peace with its neighbors for nearly 150 years. No other emerging power in the world enjoys this kind of accomplishment.
Brazil’s Defense Minister Celso Amorim has recently stated that his government’s goal is to transform South America into a true “Peace Zone.”14 Brazil has largely accomplished this goal. The United States should actively support Brazil’s ongoing objective of a continental Peace Zone. Such U.S. support would help convince the majority of Brazilians and Latin Americans that the primary U.S. interest is not to pursue imperial power and resource domination, but to promote international trade, investment, and security. Indeed, greater leadership roles for responsible countries in the global system actually strengthen U.S. worldwide interests and U.S. domestic security.15
The United States, however, must do a better job understanding how Brazil approaches diplomacy and difficult problems. In terms of interests versus values, Brazil emphasizes its constitutional values more than at any other time in its history. Self-determination, nonintervention, defense of peace, peaceful settlement of conflicts, repudiation of terrorism and racism, cooperation among peoples for the progress of mankind, and granting of political asylum are among the salient constitutional values that Brazil uses to shape its international relations today.16 Out of these, the peaceful settlement of disputes is highlighted in the preamble of its constitution. Indeed, it is the singular driving force behind Brazil’s foreign policy.
For example, Brazil has been exhibiting its constitutional values of nonintervention and peaceful settlement of conflicts when dealing with truculent Iran. As a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Brazil voted against implementing sanctions on Iran in 2010. In its minority vote with Turkey, Brazil claimed that “sanctions will most probably lead to the suffering of the people of Iran and will play in the hands of those, on all sides, that do not want dialogue to prevail. Past experiences in the U.N., notably the case of Iraq, show that the spiral of sanctions, threats and isolation can result in tragic consequences.”17 In this case, Brazil acted according to its core principle of the peaceful settlement of disputes. In addition, along with Turkey, Brazilians did not believe they were allowed enough time to culminate their tentative agreement with Iran. Brasília’s principal complaint was the perceived rush to sanctions.
Likewise, Brazil’s abstention the following year on UNSCR 1973, which authorized UN member states to take all necessary measures to protect civilians under threat of attack in Libya, also demonstrated Brazil’s consistent pursuit of peaceful diplomacy. Explaining Brazil’s abstention, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti argued that “No military action alone would succeed in ending the conflict. Protecting civilians, ensuring lasting settlement and addressing the legitimate demands of Libyan citizens demanded a political process.”18 The ambassador was somewhat prophetic: the militias that overthrew Muammar Qadhafi with assistance from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over a year ago are now the overlords of cities and towns across Libya, while the fledgling police and military are too weak to control them. Libya watchers and international media note that the recent surge of militant violence against foreign diplomats, military, and police officers demonstrates a largely lawless Libya with little stability or security.19 Again, Brazil’s vote affirmed its value of nonintervention and peaceful settlement of conflicts.
This common thread of values is woven throughout Brazilian diplomacy. Along with 137 other countries, Brazil recently supported a UN General Assembly vote condemning Syrian leaders’ ongoing violations on their citizens’ human rights. It also supported an Arab League plan for a political transition in Syria.20 Brazil’s support, which moved from an earlier abstention in December 2011 on a similar resolution, still focuses on a peaceful political transition, not a violent one. Whether it is resolving a border conflict in South America, dealing with the erratic Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or negotiating with the radical Islamic regime in Iran, Brazil has shown itself consistent in word and deed to its core constitutional values. It is a responsible and rational actor in its foreign policy and regional relations.
Several proposals would set the U.S.-Brazil relationship on a positive path for the next 20 years. They would also allay Brazil’s historic concerns for sovereignty and reciprocity. Implementation of these recommendations would garner immediate reciprocal benefits from the Brazilian government and lay the groundwork for future bilateral cooperation both regionally and globally. Stronger U.S.-Brazil relations would bolster homeland, regional, and international security.
First, Washington needs to formally endorse Brasilia’s bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC. The United States extended this support to India. Brazil’s nominal GDP is projected to grow to the fifth largest in the world by 2015 while India’s will grow only to ninth largest, immediately behind Russia.21 India’s GDP may surpass Brazil’s in the future based on the purchasing power parity (PPP) methodology, but once PPP GDP is adjusted per capita, Brazil will remain ahead of India in 2015.22 Furthermore, “Unlike India, [Brazil] has no insurgents, no ethnic and religious conflicts nor hostile neighbors.”23 It is problematic that India, which has yet to resolve its conflict in Kashmir and Jammu with Pakistan, should receive a permanent UNSC seat before Brazil.24 Any future UN political agreement regarding Kashmir would be severely limited by an Indian veto on the UNSC if this proposed agreement is not in New Delhi’s best interest. Other permanent members of the UNSC—France, the United Kingdom, and Russia—all affirmed their support for Brazil’s bid for a permanent UNSC seat.25 China, however, remains uncommitted to both Brazil and India. Vociferous against Japan’s candidacy for a permanent UNSC seat, China has remained silent with regard to India. It is unlikely that China would support India’s bid for a permanent UNSC seat due to its growing strategic partnership with the United States to counter China’s military rise. Also, China does not want to jeopardize its growing friendship with Pakistan. If Beijing does eventually support Brasilia’s bid to the Security Council, Washington would remain the last holdout. In March 2011, President Barack Obama endorsed the concept of an equal partnership.26 But to be equal partners, Brazil and the United States should be seated side by side on the UNSC as permanent members. Failure to endorse Brazil’s bid to occupy a permanent seat would confirm Brazil’s lingering suspicions that “the United States commitment to a mature relationship between equals is largely rhetorical.”27
Second, at the earliest opportunity, the U.S. President should advance Brazil’s position in the National Security Strategy (NSS) from secondary to one of primary interest. Informed by this higher priority, Brazil’s leaders would be assured of U.S. intentions to improve bilateral relations and cooperation across a wide range of security and economic issues throughout the world, particularly in South America. This reprioritization would also lend legitimacy to President Obama’s pledge to treat Brazil as an equal partner, not a junior one. The NSS declares: “We are working to build deeper and more effective partnerships with other key centers of influence—including China, India, and Russia, as well as increasingly influential nations such as Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia.”28 This statement clearly delineates two groupings of nations. First, it lists China, India, and Russia as key centers of influence. Next, it lists Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia as increasingly influential nations. Both China and Russia already occupy permanent seats on the UNSC affirming that they are key centers of influence.
USSOUTHCOM director, at Conference of Directors of Peacekeeping Operations, discusses opportunities for cooperation
U.S. Army (Kaye Richey)
Listing Brazil in the NSS as only an “increasingly influential nation” after considering the evidence of its economic power is unsound. Regardless, designating India a “key center of influence” is consistent with U.S. support for India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC. Furthermore, the United States and India are already strategic partners because of shared concerns over a potentially hostile China. However, there are enormous differences in security, diplomatic, economic, and democratic contributions to international order between South Africa and Indonesia, on one hand, and Brazil on the other. The strategic designation of Brazil as an increasingly influential nation and not a “key center of influence” supports former U.S. Ambassador Luigi Einaudi’s view that “Washington’s identification of Brazil with Latin America and the Third World hampers its appreciation of Brazil’s importance to the United States.”29
Consider this: South Africa’s and Indonesia’s economies are respectively the 28th and 18th in the world. Significantly larger, Brazil hosts the world’s seventh largest economy.30 Acknowledging Brazil’s global status in the NSS would foster a stronger relationship. It would place Brazil on equal ground with other major global players such as China and Russia. And it would require Congress, the Department of State, and the Department of Defense to give greater attention to our new equal partner to the south.
Interestingly, the 2011 U.S. National Military Strategy (NMS) actually supports South American regional structures and implies Brazil’s leadership: “We welcome efforts by Brazil and our other regional partners to establish economic and security mechanisms, such as the South American Defense Council (SADC).” The SADC is a suborganization of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).31 It was modeled after the European Union, whose long-term goals of continental integration are similar. Another regional South American organization not mentioned in the NMS is MERCOSUR, in which Brazil has become the natural leader due to its expansive economy. Through these organizations, Brazil has exercised regional leadership by addressing regional problems “without having to turn to extra-regional powers, such as the United States.”32 In the NSS, President Obama specifically cited Brazil’s exceptional role in Latin America: “We welcome Brazil’s leadership and seek to move beyond dated North-South divisions to pursue progress on bilateral, hemispheric, and global issues.”33 These policy statements clearly indicate that the United States prefers to work with any organization, sovereign or multilateral, that is proactively working to solve problems. UNASUR, MERCOSUR, and even the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States are potential U.S. partners for hemispheric and regional progress. President Obama has welcomed Brazil’s leadership in these organizations in executive policy documents, but his statements have not been matched by specific actions.
Appointing a U.S. Ambassador to UNASUR, as Washington already does for the European Union and Organization of American States, is one measure that would immediately demonstrate practical U.S. support for regional “economic and security mechanisms,” as stated in the NSS. There are several benefits for the United States. Latin American multilateral institutions such as UNASUR provide an alternative to Hugo Chavez’s version of Bolivarianism within the region, which is a definite concern of the United States. Instead of criticizing the policies of the Venezuelan regime directly, Brazil has decided to use its own example of establishing generally good relations throughout the world to encourage Chavez to act more rationally than he would if confronted directly about his radical tendencies. This approach has apparently worked.34 By participating as an active observer in regional organizations, and by establishing formal diplomatic relations with UNASUR, the United States would do much to extinguish any lingering doubts about the “Colossus of the North.”35
Brasilia’s regional activism enables Washington to focus its diminishing foreign aid budget on the unstable parts of the developing world. These proposed diplomatic initiatives are good faith measures crafted to lay the groundwork for greater friendship. They should allay Brazilian concerns regarding sovereignty and reciprocity. Additionally, more positive U.S.-Brazil relations will facilitate future bilateral cooperation on economic and defense measures regionally and throughout the world.
Strengthened military relations naturally flow from improved diplomatic relations. As regional leaders, the United States and Brazil can focus their combined security efforts and resources against common threats to both nations—and to the entire Western Hemisphere. Intelligence-sharing during the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games, coordinated counterterrorism measures in the Tri-Border Area (TBA, the name given to the area surrounding the border shared among Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay), and disrupting narco-trafficking between South America and Africa are among the more pressing cooperation initiatives that can bring greater security to both countries and to the hemisphere. Close security and defense cooperation in the future, absent the historic shadow of U.S. imperialism, would help in reestablishing the Unwritten Alliance dynamic between the United States and Brazil that flourished in the first half of the 20th century.
When Brazil hosts the World Cup and Olympics, it will be in the U.S. national interest to assist its efforts in countering terrorism, curbing drug-trafficking, and reducing international crime. The United States provided similar support to South Africa during the World Cup in 2010, assisting in preventing devastating terrorist attacks on that world stage. South African security services benefited from security grants and extensive training: “Specifically, Anti-Terrorism Assistance has provided Underwater Explosive, Critical Incident, and Special Events Management, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and related equipment training.”36 Both the 2006 World Cup in Germany and the South African event transpired successfully with low-key U.S. security assistance. There were no terrorist attacks despite ongoing large-scale operations against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time. When President Obama visited Brazil in 2011, one of the agreements resulting was a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the United States and Brazil concerning world sporting events cooperation. Security was one of the MOU’s six focus areas of cooperation. This MOU is foundational for the U.S. Departments of State and Defense to provide any future support desired by the Brazilian government.37
One of the great strengths of the United States resides in its intelligence databases, whose holdings and effectiveness have grown substantially since 9/11. For the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil, an intelligence-sharing mechanism would help deter terrorism threats. Successful physical or virtual sharing could continue afterward to address other regional security threats, such as drug-trafficking and organized crime. Of course, extending temporary intelligence-sharing after the events may be problematic due to Brazilian memory of its authoritarian past, when the military regime collected intelligence to deter internal dissent.38 U.S. officials have the next 4 years to convince the Brazilian government of its benign intentions. With less than 2 years before the opening kick of 2014 World Cup, beta testing of this provisional intelligence-sharing arrangement should begin immediately to track terrorist threats likely to originate in the Tri-Border Area.
Exposed Southern Flank
The United States has long worried about the Tri-Border Area. In these border towns, laws are minimally enforced, money is laundered, and weapons, drugs, and people are trafficked. Organized crime and Islamic extremism have thrived there due to a lack of effective law enforcement from the three border nations.39 Concerns increased after 9/11 that al Qaeda could transit porous borders, perhaps through Mexico, to attack U.S. interests in North America.40 Today, as the specter of war with Iran rises because of its purported pursuit of nuclear weapons, the concern has moved from attacks by al Qaeda to attacks by Hizballah and its patron Iran. As recently as October 2011, Iran was accused of authorizing and financing an assassination attempt against the Saudi Arabian ambassador to the United States and contemplating further attacks in Argentina.41 Successful terrorist attacks against Argentina were carried out in 1992 and 1994 by a Hizballah militant organization supported by Iran. Terrorists exploited the TBA during each operation.42 The most telling evidence of potential terrorist attacks out of the TBA surfaced during a Hizballah militiaman’s interview by Spanish television station Telemundo. The militant stated emphatically that if the United States attacked Iran, Hizballah would conduct retaliatory attacks inside the United States.43 Counterterrorism expert Edward Luttwak described the TBA as Hizballah’s most important base outside Lebanon, from which they have already supported terrorist attacks: “The northern region of Argentina, the eastern region of Paraguay and even Brazil are large terrains, and they have an organized training and recruitment camp for terrorists.”44
The historical evidence of terrorist activity emanating from the TBA is chilling. If the current crisis with Iran is not resolved by the time of the World Cup and Olympics, the Brazilian government will need substantial help in preventing terrorist attacks aimed at disrupting the games and attracting a global audience. Even now, Hizballah terrorists may be inclined to strike at Israeli or American targets in the Western Hemisphere in retaliation for a recent UNSC resolution that placed additional sanctions on Iran. Hizballah attacked its targets in Argentina for lesser reasons in 1992 and 1994. This is why intelligence-sharing with Brazil must start now. The last time the United States held a 3+1 Group Meeting (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and the United States) on TBA security was in 2004.45 This group should reconvene at the earliest opportunity to assess the current terrorist threat within the TBA and determine the probabilities of Hizballah becoming operational if Iran is attacked. Nevertheless, collaborative intelligence initiatives must extend to the World Cup and Olympic timeframes if Iran continues to violate UNSC resolutions concerning its nuclear program. It is in both countries’ national interests to prevent attacks against their homelands. Certainly, Brazil does not want its territory used as a springboard for attacks within the region. Full cooperation in this security arena would assist in preventing the unthinkable until the Iran crisis over dual-use nuclear material is resolved.
Cooperation in breaking the Brazil–West Africa narcotics connection is another area where national interests converge. In 2009, Brazil became the primary embarkation point for South American cocaine headed for West Africa, where “there is evidence by the U.S. Drug Enforcement [Administration] . . . that Latin American traffickers are collaborating with [al Qaeda] in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Hezbollah to smuggle cocaine to Europe.”46 The executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime also confirmed that terrorists from Africa used money from drug-trafficking to resource operations, purchase equipment, and provide salaries for their ranks.47 It is common knowledge that the United States conducts counterterrorist operations against AQIM and seeks to stop any funding derived from the transshipment of cocaine from Latin America. Although Brazil itself does not produce significant amounts of cocaine, it does have 10,500 miles of mostly unsecured coastline. In addition, three of the world’s top producers of cocaine border Brazil: Bolivia, Colombia, and Peru. Brazil has invested more heavily in enforcing its borders since its economic boom, but the United States could assist by continuing the same intelligence-sharing mechanism that has been proposed for the World Cup and Olympics. Additionally, Brazil’s unmanned aerial surveillance program is currently in its infancy; it could benefit from the experience and systems of the mature U.S. programs. Building on the predicted intelligence successes of the World Cup and Olympics, this cooperation could expand to neighboring countries. Eventually, it could evolve into a hemispheric security network serving the national interests of all participating nations.
Brazil’s Initiative for Cooperation
The last area of convergence and cooperation is not American, but Brazilian. Brasília is as interested as Washington in a stronger relationship. Former foreign minister Celso Amorin, who is now the defense minister, recognized that there is enormous potential for structured cooperation between Brazil and the United States in areas of the world such as Africa, where there is great need for development and stability.48 Minister Amorin has cited the trilateral cooperation agreement among Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, and the United States as an example of productive cooperation. This was a first of its kind agreement for the United States and Brazil in Africa.
These trilateral agreements make strategic sense because bilateral agreements between the United States and relatively poor countries usually elicit criticism that the world’s only superpower is engaging in exploitive neocolonialism. Having itself been a Portuguese colony, Brazil is viewed as a moderating influence on perceived expansive U.S. foreign policy. It is also considered a friendly observer to the Non-Aligned Movement of 120 countries that are distrustful of superpower diplomacy.49 Plainly spoken, if Brazil is part of a U.S. agreement with an impoverished country, that country feels more comfortable making an agreement with the United States because Brazil, a guarantor of U.S. intentions, is part of it. Brazil welcomes this role because it enhances its position as a regional and world leader, establishes a singularly special diplomatic relationship with the United States, and fulfills two of its foreign policy action areas.50 And its role as a third-party broker does not end with Africa or other poor regions. Brazil sees itself as a viable broker for peace as evidenced by its last-ditch diplomatic effort with Iran, which attempted to resolve the uranium-processing crisis.
Minister Amorin shared his idea to expand trilateral frameworks with Secretary of State Clinton during President Rousseff’s inauguration. Although Secretary Clinton seemed open to it at the time, there is no evidence of further action. One hopes this was not an opportunity missed with Brazil. It aligns impeccably with President Obama’s pursuit of more partnerships and greater burdensharing.
With the war in Iraq over and the war in Afghanistan winding down, the United States has the opportunity to reassess its global strategic interests. U.S. leaders must carefully scrutinize Brazil’s potential as a long-term strategic partner. A new era of security cooperation with Brazil supports the interests of both nations and strengthens the Western Hemisphere. Collaboration on World Cup and Olympic security is vital to the whole world. Many hemispheric homelands are at risk if war breaks out with Iran for whatever reason. Also, drug lords moving narcotics from South America to Europe through Africa represent new relationships of convenience that provide funds for AQIM and other terrorists that further converge U.S.-Brazil interests. As Brazil grows, so will its security concerns. It has become a responsible international player that is seeking greater diplomatic and security cooperation with the United States. It is willing to help secure the hemispheric and global commons to ensure freedom, stability, and prosperity.51 However, the United States, acknowledging its domineering past in this region, must give a little to gain a lot. Only then can the Unwritten Alliance be restored.JFQ