Keen to establish itself as an actor with greater importance in global geopolitics, today's Brazil seeks a foreign policy in accordance with its present stature and aspirations. The country has emerged from the periphery of the international order to become a global player with an enhanced voice on the international stage, eager to ascend to the epicenter of the most powerful nations, and with some degree of influence upon the global system.
Over the course of the last two decades, Brazil’s strong economic growth and democratic stability have turned the country into an attractive partner for commercial and political relationships. Since 2000, Brazil has played a crucial role in maintaining political-institutional stability, increasing economic growth, preserving power balance, and decreasing socioeconomic differences in Latin America. On a global level, Brazil has emerged as an influential actor in international organizations such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It ties with Japan for the highest number terms served in the United Nations Security Council. Moreover, Brazil is shaping up to be an economic powerhouse, with an ever-expanding economy that is already the world’s sixth largest by nominal GDP, and vast reserves of natural resources that are only beginning to be tapped. Finally, the country has been successful in expanding its ability to act in areas that were previously considered the great powers' exclusive geopolitical space, such as the Middle East.
Given all of this, Brazil can no longer be content with acting as a regional leader. It must take on a leadership role in crafting international policy. The South-South cooperation initiated during Lula’s government illustrates Brazil’s ability to articulate and take the lead through international cooperation on social and political projects spanning Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In addition, Brazil has distinguished itself as a leading actor among developing countries within forums such as the G-20, the G-4 (Brazil, Germany, India, Japan), and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa).
In order to qualify itself as a true global player, Brazil has placed strengthening its ties with the Middle East at the top of its foreign policy priorities. In historical terms, the Middle East has always been considered an area of minor importance to Brazilian diplomacy. There were moments of strong interac- tion from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but Brazil’s relationship with the region became less important with the end of the Cold War, when President Cardoso’s government elected to focus on improving ties to NAFTA and the European Union. Today, involvement in the Middle East is considered strategic for expanding the country’s participa- tion in internation- al politics at large. Home to the largest Arab population out- side of the Middle East, the Brazilian state recently real- ized that the Arab, Muslim, and Jewish communities in the country constitute a valuable political instrument to boost a more assertive for- eign policy toward this region.
Beyond demonstrating political influence, there are other compelling reasons to deepen the Brazilian relationship with the Middle East. Closer ties will serve as a gateway for increasing commercial relations with the region and further Brazilian ambitions for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
The 2010 controversy surrounding the Iranian nuclear program appeared to be a singular opportunity for Brazil to demonstrate its skill and influence in international policy formation. The Brazilian state hoped that serving with Turkey as a trusted and neutral mediator in the conflict would enhance its diplomatic prestige. Although Brazil and Turkey were able to persuade the Ahmadinejad government to accept all the terms originally proposed by the West and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the treaty was ultimately stymied by the refusal of the Western powers to recognize the validity of the negotiations. Perhaps the reluctance was fueled by the unwillingness of many Western powers to admit that Brazil and Turkey could have succeeded where they had failed.
Brazilian foreign affairs specialists soon realized that they needed to diversify Brazil’s role in the Middle East. Thus, Brazil sought to heighten its involvement in several key Middle Eastern issues, including Lebanese political instability, the Syrian civil war, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. While the country’s efforts to enhance its eco- nomic relationship with the Middle East have been met with considerable success, Brazil has found it difficult to achieve many of its diplomatic objectives in this region because of its lack of historic professional expertise in the field.
Expanding Trade with the Middle East
The difficulties in advancing tariff negotiations within the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and in reaching a consensus within MERCOSUR (a free trade agreement between several South American states) and the European Union forced the Brazilian government to consider other trade partners. The Middle East, especially the Arab countries, offered Brazil an alternate path through which to diversify its commercial agenda. Beginning in 2003 with the government of President Luiz Ina?cio Lula da Silva, Brazil worked to change its operational paradigm with Middle Eastern countries in the commercial sphere.
Ambassador Celso Amorim, Lula’s foreign minister, was the architect behind this new approach. He saw an opportu- nity to connect the South American states economically to the Arab League states and advanced this initiative through a series of treaties on trade liberalization and market expan- sion. One of his first moves was to push for the creation of the Summit of South American-Arab Countries (ASPA), an inter-regional forum for cooperation and political co- ordination, with the main objectives of opening markets in both regions to greater commercial exchange and attracting foreign direct investment.
Amorim installed Brazilian foreign policy during Lula’s government as an important instrument for promoting de- velopment. In an article written for the Brazilian Review of International Politics in 2010, he declared that “the robust trade surpluses sustained over the last few years can be, at least in part, attributed to the opening of these new mar- kets. Although Brazilian foreign policy objectives cannot be reduced to a mercantilist view of the world, an active diplomacy, not limited by outdated preconceptions, helped to boost Brazilian business all over the world.”
The success of Amorim’s initiatives has been stunning. One of their primary achievements has been to open the Arab market to the Brazilian industrial and manufacturing sectors, which has had a dramatic impact on trade relations. In the first two years after the first APSA summit in Brazil, the trade exchange between Brazil and the Arab countries increased by 60%.
The strengthening relationship between Brazil and the Middle East was also supported by intense diplomatic efforts on the presidential level. While no Brazilian president ever made an official visit to a Middle Eastern country prior to 2003, Lula visited twelve countries in the region during his eight-year term. On top of that, Brazil received more than twelve visits from Middle Eastern heads of state that helped to deepen and stimulate the bilateral relationship.
ASPA has served as another powerful mechanism for forging ties between South American and the Middle East across a wide range of policy areas. Over the past four years, nine ministerial meetings have been held on Culture, Water Resources, Economics, the Environment, Social Affairs, and External Relations. Between 2005 and 2011, trade between South America and the Middle East grew 101.7 percent from US$13.6 billion to US$27.4 billion. During this same period, total trade between Brazil and the Arab countries grew 138.9 percent, increasing from US$10.5 billion to US$25.1 billion. Currently, the ASPA countries have an aggregate GDP of ap- proximately US$5.5 trillion and an estimated market of 750 million consumers. While Brazil has encountered much success in expanding its com- mercial ties to the Middle East, it still faces several challenges in this domain. In particular, if we take into account the total potential of the Arab markets, it becomes clear that Brazil has not been able to fully exploit its export capacity. Although the num- bers have been increasingly steadily in recent years, Brazil still possesses less than five percent of the market share in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, and Iraq. Furthermore, Brazil continues to have trouble ac- quiring direct foreign investments from the Gulf States, which still prefer to invest in countries in Europe, Asia, and North America.
These difficulties are inherent to three basic problems: 1) the absence of treaties regarding the reduction of tariffs and customs; 2) the exces- sive fiscal bureaucracy that slows the flow of capital; and 3) the lack of sectorial strategic policy on commercial promotion. In the next few years, Brazil must make internal changes with the objective of alleviating these problems. Moreover, it should prepare concrete proposals that address these concerns on a multilateral level before the next ASPA summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2015.
While the challenges that Brazil faces in this relationship are serious, they can be viewed as simply part of the learn- ing curve. After all, the Lula administration was the first in Brazil’s history to make concerted efforts to reach out to the Middle East; it will take time for Brazil to fully understand the complexities of the region. It is encouraging to note that Brazil has already seen so much success in the economic realm in a relatively short period of time. Furthermore, it ap- pears that the strengthened economic relationship has begun to reap political rewards for Brazil as well. For instance, in the recent election for the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, Brazilian candidate Roberto Azeve?do won with overwhelming support from Arab countries.
The UN Security Council
Having proven that it can make substantial strides in economic policy towards the Middle East, Brazil now must focus on crafting a coordinated and organized foreign policy strategy for amplifying its influence in the political-diplo- matic plane. Specifically, it is imperative that Brazil ascends to the level of an active operative state in the region rather than remaining simply an observer-spectator.
Under President George W. Bush, US foreign policy strongly upheld unipolarity. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in par- ticular drove the US diplomatic establishment to abandon the vision of neo-Kantian liberal internationalism that had dominated international politics during Clinton’s adminis- tration. The determinedly unilateral approach that the Bush administration took to the Iraq War sparked much controversy and has highlighted the need for a discussion on reforming multilateral institutions, especially the UN Security Council. A new space has been created for the emergence of a new polycentrism. Many countries are becoming increasingly convinced that the traditional power structure of the Secu- rity Council must be diversified so that it may become more democratic, effective, and representative of the new global order. Emerging powers as Brazil, India, and South Africa may now be able to undertake autonomous initiatives previously reserved for dominant powers such as the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
As a recognized pacifist country and a committed actor in the international arena with respect for international law and the sovereignty and self-determination of other nations, Brazil would be an ideal candidate for permanent Security Council status.
Brazil’s strategy for achieving this goal is fourfold: 1) obtain support from all current permanent members of the Council; 2) build consensus for its ascension in the south- ern hemisphere with a special focus on Latin America; 3) take a more active role within United Nations, especially in regards to peacekeeping operations such as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH); 4) play a concrete role in Africa and the Middle East.
Among the permanent members of the Security Council, Brazil has the public support of France, the United Kingdom, and Russia. It has not yet received a message of public support from the United States, which endorsed Japan and Germany during the Clinton administration. However, during Obama’s visit to Brazil in 2011, he stressed that no country in the re- gion has the same capacity as Brazil to play such a key role in international affairs. It is promising to note that Brazil and the United States have long enjoyed deep political and economic relations, so it may only be a matter of time before Washington officially acknowledges the strength of Brazil’s candidacy.
China is a unique case. Despite recently surpassing the United States to become Brazil’s largest trading partner and integrating itself in BRICS alongside Brazil, Beijing is reluctant to promote reform if it would result in the inclusion of Japan or India. Nevertheless, behind the scenes, China has no qualms about Brazil’s ascension to the Council, since Brazil was one of the first to have recognized the communist country’s practice of a market economy, an essential factor for acquiring WTO membership. Indeed, Brazil was an early supporter of China’s entry into the WTO.
Regarding Latin America, Brazil has succeeded in constructing a solid consensus in this geo-political space. Argentina and Mexico would typically be considered Brazil’s main regional rivals, but neither has been able to garner widespread support from Latin America or Africa. Moreover, Argentina would likely face a United Kingdom veto due to continued animosity over the sovereignty of the Malvinas Islands, while the US government is wary that Mexico’s rise as a regional power could undermine its own authority.
A key strategic device that Brazil has embraced since the creation of the United Nations in 1945 is to remain at the heart of issues of international peace and security via involvement in major peacekeeping operations. For Brazil, peacekeeping operations have always had a multidimensional character: they involve not only stabilizing the security of a country, but fostering economic, social, and political development as well. Indeed, as one of the most important and visible roles of the United Nations, peacekeeping has become a pillar of Brazilian diplomacy. The first major UN peacekeeping operation that the country was involved in was the First United Nations Emergency Force, which separated Israelis and Egyptians in Suez between 1957 and 1967. Brazil supplied an infantry battalion of 600 soldiers.
Currently, the Brazilian state participates in 10 of the 18 active UN peacekeeping operations. In Haiti, Brazil has made important contributions to the success of MINUSTAH in partnership with other Latin American countries. Brazil has held the military command of the Mission since its inception in June 2004 and has 1,200 soldiers on the ground, not counting officers of the General Staff.
Another important peacekeeping operation that Brazil is engaged today is the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). Following the 2006 Israeli-Hezbollah war, the Security Council significantly enhanced UNIFIL and expanded its original mandate—maintaining peace along the border between Lebanon and Israel—to include confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, restoring international peace and security, and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. Here, Brazil is responsible for the Maritime Task Force, which assists the Lebanese Naval Forces in preventing the smuggling of illegal shipments, particularly armament shipments, and monitoring the sea borders between Israel and Lebanon. The Brazilian government is also considering sending land troops in 2014.
The fourth key strategy objective in fostering its Council candidacy is to open a truthful political and commercial relationship with the Middle East and Africa. Brazil has broken down this goal as follows: 1) open diplomatic relations with all countries in the African Union and the Arab League, 2) stimulate trade with the Middle East and Africa and create a fund through the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES) to finance infrastructure projects in order to stimulate production and employment in the Arab countries of North Africa. Furthermore, through the Brazilian Agency for Cooperation, the country has supported numerous projects for public management, democratic reforms, and state modernization in Africa, even going so far as to forgive the debt of many African countries.
Regarding the Middle East, Brazil traditionally maintained a very well-balanced position in recognizing the importance of the security of Israel as well as Palestinian rights, and Lula further increased Brazil’s visibility in the Israel-Palestinian peace process. During Lula’s term in the office, Brazil hosted a series of high level political meetings that included visits by Israeli and Palestinian presidents. In 2010, Lula became the first Brazilian president to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.
However, under Lula, Brazil’s position shifted from neutrality toward a more pro-Palestinian position. It has emphatically criticized the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and recently recognized Palestine as a state along the 1967 borders with Eastern Jerusalem as its capital. Lately, several Latin Americans countries have followed the Brazilian position.
It is important to note that there is no country in Latin America or even among the G-4 that would be able to aggregate as much support from Africa and the Middle East as Brazil can. The support of these two regions will be critical in determining elevation to permanent Security Council status, since they together represent approximately 70 voter- countries in the UN system.
Its heightened involvement in the region has forced Middle Eastern countries to significantly change their perception of Brazil. The country has ceased to be a peripheral third world actor, known only because of football, samba, and the Amazon rainforest. With Euro-American centrism declining with every year that passes from the Cold War, the time is ripe for the Middle East to embrace Brazil’s increasingly prominent role on the international stage.
Since the last decade, Brazil has been actively engaged in an agenda of diffusion of global power and of gaining more influence in global governance both in the economic and political realms. Brazil’s role in the world has undeniably attained new heights. The economic growth, trade cooperation with new markets such as the Middle East, and diplomatic activeness in the multilateral system consolidate the Brazilian position as an important global player. In order to properly defend Brazilian interests in a rapidly changing and unpredictable region, it must quickly upgrade the level of the knowledge of its foreign policy operators. In order to respond appropriately to the transformations in the region, Brazil absolutely strives for better comprehension of the cultural, political, social, and religious aspects of Middle Eastern societies. Otherwise, Brazil risks losing the importance that it has worked so hard to gain in the region. Not only does this engagement serve to improve Brazil’s position in the international community, but the Brazilian values of peace, universalism, solidarity, development, and respect for inter- national law make Brazil a necessary actor in the construction of a new and peaceful order in the Middle East.