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date: 28 October 2020

Brazil on the International Stagelocked

  • David MaresDavid MaresDepartment of Political Science, University of California, San Diego

Summary

Four elements of Brazil’s identity—its large size, its self-perception as part of the Western world, its vulnerability to European intervention and to the changing world economy, and its success in defending itself through diplomacy—have all contributed to shaping its aspirations in the international domain. Participation in the councils of the great powers became a means by which Brazilian diplomats could pursue a world order that was more favorable to its interests.

But even though domestic aspirations and foreign perceptions have held out the prospect for Brazil becoming a major power, it has lacked the capabilities—particularly on the military and economic dimensions—to pursue a traditional path to greatness. Militarily, Brazil has been only episodically consequential, and less so as we approach the present. Given South America’s remoteness from the geopolitical centers of global conflict, Brazil has faced little pressure to improve its modest security capabilities beyond what was necessary to fend off its smaller neighbors. Brazil’s efforts to advance through partnerships with other states have been hobbled by a historical reluctance to pool its sovereignty. In addition, turbulent domestic politics or major economic crises have periodically undermined Brazil’s credibility and capabilities, interrupting its rise.

How has Brazil sought to overcome the gap between its ambitions and its capabilities? Brazil was a prominent exponent of the practice of ‘soft power’. It positioned itself internationally as a proponent of equality among nations, international law, and the peaceful resolution of conflicts. To this, Brazil has added a formidable cultural output and most recently, democracy, prosperity and social inclusion. This is an attractive package, particularly for other developing countries who want to find a similar status. This chapter follows Brazil’s attempts in the 20th century and up through President Dilma Rousseff to parlay this approach into a say in shaping the rules governing the international order.

Subjects

  • Latin American History
  • Diplomatic History
  • International History

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