Brazilian Foreign Policy: Traditions

What are the historic conditions of Brazil’s foreign policy?

Like Argentina, we will divide the historic conditions of Brazil’s foreign policy into three groups; strategic, political and economic.

Strategically, Brazil (and Portugal during colonial times) has sought to expand its influence in South America and the South Atlantic. At times this involved aggressive policies with Argentina and other neighbors, but since the end of the Second World War it has achieved this dominance through national industrialization and military arms acquisitions.

Politically, Brazil is perhaps best known for its work in multilateral institutions, its politics of non-intervention, and a doctrine of sovereign equality among nations. It has generally followed these principles since its coming of age as a republic in the late 19th century and continues to work toward the democratization of the global order today.

Economically, Brazil has tried to transform itself from a primary materials export economy to an industrialized one. Briefly, we will discuss each of these factors, moving from the general to the specific.

Because of its unique colonial history Brazil’s foreign policy did not begin to take shape until the early 20th century. According to Celso Amorim, Brazil’s current Foreign Minister, “Brazil’s participation in the [1907] Hague Conference symbolically represented Brazil’s entry onto the international stage.[1] Accordingly, the relevant historic policies that have influenced Brazil’s current foreign policy date largely from this time period onward. Before the founding of the republic in 1889 the country’s major foreign policy focus dealt with European foreign trade and internally with expanding and securing territorial boundaries.

Between 1851 and 1900 Brazil went through a period of expansion, pushing its borders further south and west causing tensions with Argentina in the Rio Platte Basin, a war in Paraguay, and tensions among its other neighbors. This period of expansion helped make Brazil the largest nation on the continent with borders on every South American state except for Chile and Ecuador.[2]

In the post monarchic period the federal government was very weak. Power was divided between state political groups up until the 1929 stock market crash that devastated Brazil’s agriculture export economy the two most important states, Sāo Paolo and Minas Gerais had controlled national politics in what is referred to as the café com leite (coffee with milk) policy. The name reflects the two export products of Sāo Paolo (coffee) and Minas Gerais (dairy). Under this policy, politicians from these states traded the national presidency every four years.

In 1915 Brazil signed the South American Consultation, Non-Aggression and Arbitration Pact (also known as the ABC Pact). As the name suggests, the agreement was designed to facilitate good relations between the three countries as well as to establish spheres of influence in the region. Although neither Chile nor Argentina ratified the agreement, it still influenced the regional tone of international relations until the late 1920s.[3]

The outbreak of the Second World War changed the entire strategic outlook of the region. President Getúlio Vargas (1930-1945 and 1951-1954) negotiated with the U.S. for the training of a Brazilian expeditionary force to fight with the Allies in the campaign in Italy and for funding for the construction of a new steel foundry at Volta Redonda in Rio de Jainero.[4] The economic and military aid from the U.S. continued after the war allowing Brazil to outstrip Argentina in terms of military power in the 1960s by helping it build giving it the largest armed forces and economy in South America.[5]

As mentioned, Brazil’s international tradition began in the early 1900s. One of the great figures of this period was the diplomat Rui Barbosa. Barbosa attended the 1907 Hague conference where he supported the creation of a democratic system based on sovereign equality between nations. While the conference had limited results, it marked the beginning of Brazil’s pursuit of a multilateral agenda which emphasizes more democratic membership, a position which would allow Brazil to more effectively bargain with the other great powers it measures itself against.

In Foreign Minister Amorim’s remarks to the Second National conference on foreign policy and international politics in Brasilia in 2007, he highlighted this historic tradition of multilateral diplomacy in the international arena. Brazil was also one of the founding members of the U.N., supposedly considered for a permanent seat on the Security Council. Brazil has been working to reform the post World War II power structure enshrined in the composition of the U.N. ever since.[6] Brazil actively participates in the U.N. as a means of elevating its international profile, having participated in 30 U.N. peacekeeping missions and served a record of nine times as a rotating member of the Security Council.

Finally, Brazil’s massive economy demands a long term foreign trade policy. To quote Amorim again, “Credibility, consistency, and coordination capacity are attributes that are indispensable for being able to engage in meaningful dialogue with the international community.[7] Their trade policy has been one of the key elements in national development. In the post colonial period up until the late 19th century, exports, helped by high global prices for primary goods, provided much of the state income.[8] Brazil, like the rest of the region, followed a policy of comparative advantage, focusing principally on the export of agricultural and mineral products. First sugar then gold, coffee and dairy products were produced for mass exportation until the Wall St. financial crash of 1929 destroyed the world economy.

The loss of large portions of their global market led many to conclude that Brazil should diversify and industrialize its economy to avoid a similar depression in the future. Urban industrialists wanted high external tariffs and support from the government to protect their new industries from outside competition while the agricultural producers favored low tariffs and foreign investment. Between the competing views, the industrialists won and Brazil began its own period of government sponsored ISI.[9]

The decision to implement a national industrialization process was based on two factors, one social the other economic. Socially, the depression had caused the loss of jobs in rural areas as markets for agricultural products disappeared abroad. This created a general trend of rural to urban migration. The increase in urban populations created social pressures on the government to resolve the poverty and urban unemployment caused by these migrations. This, coupled with collapse of foreign markets set the stage for the next period of national industrialization. Import substitution industrialization provided a solution to both of these problems.[10] The Vargas administration followed a policy of economic nationalism that led to, among other things, the creation of the state-owned petroleum company, Petrobras, which has grown into one of the most sophisticated oil companies in the world.[11]

The industrialization process led to rapid economic growth but also came with persistent balance of payment problems.[12] Overspending led to the accumulation of foreign debt and inflation at home. This trend eventually led to another recession during the 1980s and a subsequent change of macroeconomic policy. As in other countries in the region, Brazil adopted a neoliberal economic model in the 1990s under which it began privatizing state industries.[13] The policies continued under Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the current President Lula da Silva.

By Nathan Gill – Southern Affairs

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Brazilian Foreign Policy: Actors and Institutions
Brazilian Foreign Policy: 2008

[1] Amorim, Celso. Brazil’s Multilateral Diplomacy: A Tribute to Rui Barbosa – Remarks by Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations at the Second National Conference on Foreign Policy and International Politics. Brasilia 5 Nov. 2007. [2] The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume II. Published 1907. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York. Online. [3] Atkins, George Pope. Handbook of Research on the International Relations of Latin America and the Caribbean. 2001. [4] Vanden and Prevost 2002: 487. [5] Finan, John. “Argentina.” In Latin American Foreign Policy: An Analysis. eds. Davis, Harold Eugene and Larman C. Wilson. Johns Hopkins U Press Baltimore: 1975: 264 – 265. [6] Amorim, Celso. Brazil’s Multilateral Diplomacy: A Tribute to Rui Barbosa – Remarks by Brazilian Minister of Foreign Relations at the Second National Conference on Foreign Policy and International Politics. Brasilia 11 May 2007. [7] Ibid. [8] Bulmer-Thomas, Victor, John H. Coatsworth, y Roberto Cortés Conde, eds. The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America: The Colonial Era and the Short Nineteenth Century. vol. 1. Cambridge University Press: New York 2006: 451. [9] See section on open and closed regionalism above. [10] Vanden and Prevost: 486. [11] The Economist. “A big oil discovery.” 12 Feb. 2008. Economist Intelligence Unit ViewsWire. 11 Apr. 2008. [12] Vanden and Prevost: 495. [13] See Chapter for more detailed discussion of neoliberal economic theory and the Washington Consensus.

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