UK-Brazil Relations - Foreign Affairs Committee Contents

3  Brazil as a global power

43.  Between 1964 and 1985, Brazil was a military dictatorship. As was frequently the case with such regimes in South America, the dictatorship was aligned with the United States, although the Brazilian-US relationship was not as close as that between the USA and other South American countries. The military dictatorship acquiesced in a peaceful transition to democracy in 1985.

44.  Democratic Brazil's foreign policy over the last 15 years has been shaped by three key figures: President Cardoso (1995-2003), President Lula (2003-11) and his Foreign Minister Celso Amorin (2003-11). Under Presidents Cardoso and Lula, Brazil broadly adopted Western "norms" and values in respect of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Brazil is a party to all major humanitarian law and human rights treaties, without any reservations.[52] It is also an active participant in the "Doha round" of trade negotiations and international organisations such as the UN and IMF.

45.  The UK's increased emphasis on relations with Brazil comes after a period of an "activist" Brazilian foreign policy. Under President Lula, Brazil took a more affirmative line on foreign policy. Professor Hurrell described this to us as an "activist, personalist, voluntarist and ambitious foreign policy".[53] Lula's official aim, in the words of his Foreign Minister Celso Amorin, was to "increase, if only by a margin, the degree of multipolarity in the world" while at the same time achieving "recognition" as a valid global policy power.[54] To achieve this, Brazil pursued a "South-South" policy and sought to become the voice of the "global South" or the so-called G77 of poorer countries.[55] Under Lula, Brazil opened 33 new embassies, 5 new permanent missions to international organizations (including the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Human Rights Council) and 19 new consulates. Most of the new embassies were to African countries. Brazil currently has more embassies in Africa than the UK.

46.  According to the FCO, Brazil is seeking to increase the amount of global multipolarity out of a desire for global institutions better to reflect the global balance of power:

Brazil's approach to foreign policy is driven by support for multilateralism, a rules-based international system and respect for other countries' sovereignty. Brazil considers the current multilateral system designed in the developed world's image and not reflecting the reality of the 21st century. The rise of the G20 has boosted their hopes of reshaping such global institutions. Brazil wants the G20 to be the pre-eminent forum for economic matters beyond the global crisis.

Brazil believes it has the right to a place at the senior table, including a permanent seat at the UN Security Council (it is now in the second year of a non-permanent seat).[56]

The FCO is broadly supportive of Brazil's rise as a global power, viewing Brazil as a valuable partner diplomatically and one which shares the UK's core values and aims. Jeremy Browne told us that:

Brazil is quite a good voice internationally in terms of our values. Rather than having the familiar cast list of European countries and North Americans making those points, there is the opportunity for a new voice to make points that we would support.[57]


47.  Brazil is currently one of ten non-permanent Members of the UN Security Council. These countries, unlike the five permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and US—the "P5"), do not possess a right of veto. Brazil's two-year term of office is due to expire at the end of 2011. According to many commentators, Brazil's over-riding diplomatic aim is reform of the Security Council, in order to increase its "legitimacy". This reform would include a permanent UN Security Council seat for Brazil which would act as the voice of the "global South". The Brazilian Embassy told us that:

Consistent and continuous participation of developing countries as permanent members is vital in order to award legitimacy and efficacy to the Security Council. […] There is an almost unanimous view among Member States that the Security Council must be enlarged in order to both better reflect present political realities and to make the organization more representative, legitimate, efficient and effective.[58]

Neil Atkinson told us that reform of the UN Security Council was "the ultimate goal of Brazilian diplomatic policy".[59]

48.  The British Government supports Brazil's application for permanent membership, as part of a wider reform of the Security Council.[60] Jeremy Browne told us that the UK's commitment to reform is long-standing and that it would prefer to expand the permanent representation to 10, to include Germany, Japan, India and Brazil, together with a major African power. He suggested that such an arrangement may require "two-tier" memberships where some permanent members lack the right of veto currently enjoyed by the P5.[61]

49.  An argument sometimes advanced against a permanent Brazilian presence on the Security Council is that Brazil has not shown itself willing to accept the responsibilities attendant upon being a global power: in particular, the duty to play a leadership role in tackling international disputes, and assertively to defend and promote human rights globally. Figures such as Jorge Castaneda, former Mexican Foreign Minister, have stated that Brazil (and fellow "BRICs", Russia, India and China):

remain attached to the rallying cries of their independence or national liberation struggles: sovereignty, self-determination, non-intervention, autonomous economic development. And today, these notions often contradict the values enshrined in the international order.[62]

Professor Hurrell told us that this view of Brazil—as a country "unready" to act globally—was particularly prevalent in the US:

I was in New York all last year and heard lots of language accusing Brazil, such as, "Brazil is an adolescent, it hasn't really learned to grow up, it's got power but it doesn't know how to use it".[63]

50.  We asked our witnesses their opinion on Brazil's readiness to act as a global power or whether the UK's open support of Brazil's claims to a permanent UN Security Council seat was premature. Dr Riethof said that the reality of Brazil's "non-interventionism" was more nuanced than that articulated by Mr Castaneda and that Brazil does not eschew intervention as a concept. She noted that while Brazil traditionally opposed military interventions, it did support non-military intervention on humanitarian grounds, and that, especially within Latin America, it was heavily involved in conflict mediation. She speculated that Brazil hoped to become a recognised "neutral" global power and play a mediator role at the global levels.[64] Dr Riethof acknowledged that "Brazil is involved in conflict mediation through the regional structure of the Union of South American Nations", but added that "I am not entirely sure whether that translates into a recognition of the responsibilities in the Security Council".[65]

51.  Professor Hurrell told us that while "Brazil is towards the sovereignty end of the spectrum, [...] there has been quite a lot of movement towards ideas not of non-intervention but of non-indifference about what happens, so there has been movement there". He also suggested that domestic pressures were forcing a rethink on Brazil's traditional, "non-interventionist" foreign policy and its place in a reformed global order which included Brazil as an acknowledged "power":

There is a big debate, though, about what the responsibility of a permanent member actually involves. It clearly involves activities in peace and security. [...]

The role of a broader membership could well be in providing other assets of this mediation kind and other important assets in terms of representation. So I think the Brazilian view would be to press a broader debate about what "the responsibilities" of permanent membership are. [...]

Is there broad support? Yes, there is much more interest in foreign policy domestically. There is much more support for an active foreign policy. There is much more contestation about things like Brazil's Iranian policy.[66]

He also stressed that this internal debate was not yet complete and that Brazil's traditional doctrine of non-intervention still held sway.[67]

52.  The FCO believes that Brazil is slowly moving towards a less "hands off" stance in its international relations:

President Rousseff has changed Brazilian policy on human rights, as evidenced by the Brazilian vote in favour of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Iran in March 2011.[68]

53.  Brazil's leadership of the UN peacekeeping operation to Haiti (MINSUTAH) has been interpreted by some as a sign that it is more ready to accept a global "leadership" role. Brazil currently contributes around 2,200 troops to UN missions, chiefly to Haiti. In addition, Brazil contributes to the UN naval mission off the coast of Lebanon.

Brazil's positions on Iran and Libya

54.  Brazil's recent foreign policy actions with regards to Iran and Libya provided us with a useful case study of the country's role as an international actor.

55.  President Lula was widely criticised for the closeness of his links with President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Towards the end of Lula's second term as President, Brazil and Turkey attempted to intervene in the ongoing negotiations between Iran and the so-called E3+3 group of countries (the US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany) over Iran's nuclear programme. After refusing to support US-led calls for tighter sanctions against Iran, in May 2010 Lula announced that Brazil had persuaded Iran to send its uranium abroad for enrichment (echoing an earlier suggestion put forward by the US). The initiative was dismissed by the US government. Media commentators roundly criticised Lula's efforts. Newsweek noted that this was part of what they saw as a worrying trend in Lula's foreign policy:

Rather than using Brazil's prominence to press outlier regions to respect human rights and comply with international rules on nuclear power, Lula suddenly seems bent on ducking controversy and accommodating demagogues. He routinely trades bear hugs with Hugo Chavez [and] Brasília's diplomats abstained on a vote "deploring the grave, widespread and systemic human-rights abuses" in North Korea.[69]  

56.  Lula was further criticised for defending Ahmadinejad's "democratic" victory in the disputed 2009 Presidential election, and speaking out for Iran's right to enrich uranium for nuclear energy and downplaying warnings that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.[70]

57.  Brazil's foreign policy doctrine, which is based around the concept of "national sovereignty", was further tested during the recent UN votes on UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973, both of which called for action against Libya. Brazil abstained on the votes on both Resolutions. Speaking following the adoption of UNSCR 1973, Brazil's representative to the UN said that:

Brazil's abstention should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the ruling regime in Libya, but the text of the resolution before us contemplates measures that go much beyond [the prevention of violence] call. We are not convinced that the use of force as contemplated in the present resolution will lead to the realisation of our most important objective—the immediate end of violence and the protection of civilians"[71]

58.  This position has been interpreted by some commentators as a sign that Brazil remains unready to act as a responsible global power. According to the Financial Times it is an indication that "an expanded council would strengthen the hand of the non-interventionists and weaken that of the West".[72]

59.  We asked Professor Hurrell and Dr Riethof how Brazil's actions on Iran and Libya should be interpreted. Professor Hurrell told us that Brazil's attempted initiative on the Iran nuclear programme fitted Brazil's foreign policy narrative and its belief that the country has an important, "alternative" role to play in global affairs:

Even in some of the, what you term, "controversial" policies—the idea that Brazil [...] has a role in helping to manage and mitigate some of the more obvious deep-rooted regional problems that everyone recognises and some of the problems that others, particularly the US, recognise, say in relation to Cuba and Venezuela—its policy is clearly seen as part of a narrative about what Brazil can do. That is not about the great, grand provisions of some new global order, but important provisions of active diplomacy and responsibility in its region.[73]

Professor Hurrell also noted that Lula's engagement with the Iranian regime was not unanimously supported in his own country and should not automatically lead to conclusions about Brazil's wider foreign policy:

Interestingly, of course, Lula's policy generated this enormous debate and controversy inside Brazil about whether it was a good thing or a bad thing—relations with Washington, human rights, and all of that.[74]

60.  Dr Riethof suggested that Brazil's position on Libya stems from "Brazil's traditional rejection of intervention along the lines that were proposed in the resolution".[75] Dr Riethof agreed with Professor Hurrell that many of Brazil's recent foreign policy actions stemmed from a desire to be seen as an "alternative" global power.

61.  Notwithstanding the various criticisms which have been made of Brazil's foreign policy stance, Jeremy Browne told us that he remained confident that Brazil's values were similar to those of the UK, and that Brazil had abstained in the vote on UNSCR 1973, not because of deep-rooted antipathy towards military intervention, but because "Brazil [was] not fully persuaded. If it was, it would not have abstained."[76] Mr Browne went on to say that "there are a handful of countries in Latin America that we really struggle to see eye to eye with on these matters. Brazil is definitely not one of those."[77] He further speculated that Brazil's, to some Western eyes, 'difficult' positions on global matters could be attributed to the fact that it was still in a state of transition towards a fully evolved foreign policy which took account of its increased stature in the world:

the [South American] continent as a whole, inasmuch as one can generalise, has moved massively in the right direction, as we would see it, over an accelerated period of time. Different countries are at different steps in the process of how they respond to those movements, consolidate them and analyse them.[78]

62.  Mr Browne agreed with Professor Hurrell and Dr Riethof that Brazil was currently engaged in an internal debate over its role as a global power:

there is a debate to be had [...] which was that there are times when you do need to intervene to safeguard or advance our values. There are other countries that are not completely hostile to that idea, but would prefer somehow to try to reconcile those two, even when it is a struggle to do so. From observing, Brazil is in that position.[79]

Mr Lapsley noted that while "many Latin American countries are uncomfortable with hard-edged intervention", there was a role for Brazil in promoting its "soft power" and acting as an exemplar to others:

One of the things that we have been talking to Brazil about is the way that it, as a model for economic and political transition, in common with many other Latin American countries, has an awful lot to offer the Arab world as it goes through its own political and economic transition. Perhaps it is in that kind of way that those countries can most helpfully get involved.[80]

63.  Mr Browne further stated his support for Brazil as a global actor and expressed his approval of recent changes in Brazil's foreign policy under President Rousseff:

I do not want us to feel that it is only countries like the United Kingdom, France and the United States that are allowed to have a global view and that somehow the Brazilians should not be thinking beyond their own continent. It is entirely legitimate for them to have that wider role, but it is how they choose to exercise that wider role. My view is that the choice they took a few years ago was not wise. Voting on the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights was the right way to go and the best decision that they could have made. I hope that that is indicative of Brazil using its global role in ways that are more compatible with our objectives in the future.

These comments by Mr Browne echoed the proposal by Dr Riethof that the UK should openly welcome Brazil's rise. She told us that the UK should:

recognise Brazil's various foreign policy roles and various formats and regions and to use that also to support a Brazilian role at a global level, even if that does not immediately translate into a permanent seat at the Security Council. As you probably know, US support for Brazil as a permanent member has not been expressed openly, and China is apparently also not necessarily supporting a Brazilian bid, so some support may be useful for a Brazilian campaign in that direction.[81]

64.  We conclude that the UK's explicit support for Brazil's permanent membership of the UN Security Council, as part of wider UN reform, is to be welcomed. We believe that Brazil has a potentially valuable role to play on the global stage, drawing upon the prestige and legitimacy conferred by its rising economy, its commitment to democracy, and its status and experience as a member of the developing "South". We recommend that the Government should continue to seek to act in close partnership with Brazil at the UN and in other international fora, and should encourage Brazil increasingly to take on the responsibilities associated with being a major global power. In this context we welcome the recent development of Brazilian foreign policy under President Dilma Rousseff, particularly with regards to the promotion of human rights in other countries.

52 (Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights) Back

53   Q 95 Back

54   Andrew Hurrell, "What kind of rising state in what kind of institutional order?" Rising States, Rising Institutions, p 9 Back

55   The "G77" was established in 1964 as a caucus of 77 developing countries within the UN. There are currently 131 members of the G77, including some "developed" or "semi-developed" countries, including China, India and Brazil. Back

56   Ev 46, paras 22-23 Back

57   Q 125 Back

58   Ev 50, para 29 Back

59   Q 17 Back

60   Ev 46, para 23 Back

61   Q 131 Back

62   Jorge G. Castaneda, "Not Ready for Prime Time", Foreign Affairs, September/October 2010, pp 112-113 Back

63   Q 97 Back

64   Q 104-106 Back

65   Q 106 Back

66   Q 107 Back

67   Q 107 Back

68   Ev 46, para 25 Back

69   Mac Margolis, "Rogue Diplomacy", Newsweek, 7 May 2010 Back

70   See: "Lula defends Ahmadinejad's Nuclear Goal, Plans Visit to Iran", Bloomberg, 23 September 2011, and "Ahmadinejad in Brazil: Why Lula defies the US", Time Magazine, 25 November 2011. Back

71   Maria Luisa Viotti, Speech following adoption of UN Resolution 1973, Back

72   "BRIC abstentions point to bigger UN battle", Financial Times, 18 March 2011 Back

73   Q 100 Back

74   Q 103 Back

75   Q 104 Back

76   Q 144 Back

77   Q 144 Back

78   Q 144 Back

79   Q 145 Back

80   Q 147 Back

81   Q 107 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 18 October 2011