It’s 2025 and Brazil is celebrating becoming the world’s fifth biggest economy. Meanwhile, somewhere off the coast its new nuclear submarine moves silently through the Atlantic waters. At the UN, the country’s president declares it the era of Brazilian power and thanks the General Assembly for agreeing to hold future meetings in Portuguese and for agreeing to move half of the UN’s functions to Brasília. The nation’s troops, working alongside those from Turkey and Indonesia, patrol war-ravaged streets and keep the peace across Asia and Africa. And, where once Coca-Cola billboards decorated cities across the globe, now they boast posters for açaí.
Foreign diplomats in Brasília often puzzle over why Brazilians still insist on labelling their country an “emerging power”. These days, they note, simply calling it a “power” would be more accurate. But as the country’s economy booms (by 2025 it could be the world’s fifth biggest), could Brazil become a superpower? Could Latin America go from being America’s backyard to Brazil’s?
Rubens Barbosa, Brazil’s former ambassador in London and Washington, thinks that’s a little way off. “We are beginning to flex our muscles. But it will take some time to have a more influential say,” he says. “Brazil is a peculiar animal – its strength is economic not political.”
For many the first step in Brazil’s elevation to superpowerdom would be it finally securing a permanent position on the UN Security Council. “The tendency is for Brazil’s rise to continue, irrespective of what happens with the Security Council,” says Antônio Carlos Lessa, an international relations expert from the University of Brasília, arguing that the country’s blossoming economy, coupled with its environmental awareness, will continue to bring the country closer to what he calls the “global power club”.
An increasingly vocal Brazil would transform international decision-making. Lessa believes Brazil would bring a “tone of moderation” to the Security Council. But with global power membership, Brazil’s profile would be likely to change. “Brazil won’t always be able to say ‘no’ – to be the country of abstentions,” he says.
Overseas influence and responsibility would also likely bring troubles at home. “If you asked your maid whether in three years she would be prepared to see her son fighting in Azerbaijan and might come home in a black bag, she would say: ‘What!? Where?!’” Lessa notes.
But those are worries for the future and at the moment Brazilians are still waking up to the new future that awaits the nation. And if that involves snatching some power from Washington, Paris and London, so be it.
Brazil’s global clout
With brand Brazil in finer shape than ever, everyone seems to be queueing up to shake hands with the country’s diplomats. And if the country can manage to secure a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, the whole world might just come around to their way of thinking Brazil is already well on its way to becoming a diplomatic superpower. Speak to officials at the UN in Geneva and they will regale you with stories about how expert the nation’s diplomats have become at getting their way. Often it’s by sheer weight of numbers – Brazil’s diplomatic corps is muscular and numerous. And if you want to see how many people these days want to be friends with Brazil’s heads of mission, join the very long queue to shake the hand of the ambassador at any embassy shindig (the line went round the block at last summer’s knees-up in London).
Brazil’s future as a diplomatic player has several things in its favour:
People like Brazilians. Even most of its often squabble-prone neighbours are happy to court Brasília’s favour.
They know how to use soft power. From high culture to telenovelas, Brazil makes friends without even trying.
They are democrats who understand what laws are and that they should be obeyed. This gives Brazil clout with first-world nations who would rather do business with them than those other pesky Bric partners China, Russia and India.
They love a deal that doesn’t include Washington. This gives Brazil sway with lots of other new boom economies such as South Africa and Turkey who want to see a new politics.
So far, Brazil has been cautious in its public displays of diplomacy. Along with Turkey, it attempted to secure a deal with Iran over its nuclear programme. But this was not a success – in part because some of the older hands were not delighted by the arrival on the scene of a diplomatic upstart. But with such a receptive audience, especially in the southern hemisphere, their voice and opinions will be increasingly important.
There are several developments that could boost Brazil. The first is the growth of Latin America as a proper economic and political force (Mercosur is not an EU rival no matter what its backers say). Brazil would be the natural leader (although it would be tricky getting the Argentines signed up to this).
Then there’s the lobbying for Brazil to have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Everyone agrees that reform is coming, but when and who gets permanent seats is still disputed. However, Brazil, Germany, Japan and India are seen as the frontrunners. Again, Argentina, Chile and Mexico are wary of Brazil’s elevation. If it gets its way, Brazil would be the undisputed leader of Latin America, able to check Washington’s aspirations and also able to rewire the whole global diplomatic outlook. In one move, Brasília would suddenly become the capital to court.
Six key figures
From career politicians to industry experts, the six figures below can help transform Brazil into a superpower with a difference
A former leftwing guerrilla during the dictatorship, Brazil’s first female president was elected to office in January 2011. Rousseff has promised to eradicate extreme poverty in her nation and help transform Brazil into a developed nation.
The dashing grandson of former president Tancredo Neves, Aécio is a key figure in the PSDB opposition party and is widely tipped as Brazil’s future leader. A former governor, Aécio is currently a senator for the state of Minas Gerais.
With Brazil’s economy booming and mineral exports through the roof, this 54-year-old mining entrepreneur with assets of $30bn could fulfil his long-held dream of toppling Mexican Carlos Slim as the world’s wealthiest man.
If Brazil is to become the world’s first “green superpower”, rainforest defender and former environment minister Marina Silva is likely to play a major role in the debate between development and conservation.
José Mariano Beltrame
The architect of a pioneering “pacification” scheme in Rio’s favelas – providing a permanent police force there – Rio’s current public security secretary could become a global reference point for urban policing in the developing world.
Brazil’s former ambassador in Washington, Patriota is currently foreign minister. Married to a North American diplomat, Patriota has played a key role in trying to build bridges with the US, which could boost its bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat.
From regional dominance to global competence
There’s no question that Brazil is the regional leader when it comes to military hardware. But more than simply buying vehicles and arms from overseas, Brazil is determined to nurture its domestic industry – and it has its sights set on a homegrown nuclear submarine
Brazil’s march towards regional military superpower status is well underway. The Army, Navy and Air Force can now all boast that they have shiny new equipment on order – or in service – to defend itself and the country is aggressively pursuing a buy-Brazilian policy as a step toward self-sufficiency.
The centrepiece of the Army’s modernisation is the Viatura Blindada Transporte de Pessoal Média de Rodas (VBTP-MR) project to acquire a family of around 600 armoured personnel carriers, with a great deal of indigenous development and equipment including the UT30-BR unmanned turret, developed through the Brazilian subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit.
The first 16 VBTP-MR vehicles are due to arrive this year and production is set to run until 2030. Brazil’s heavy forces have been bolstered with the first 60 of 269 ex-German Leopard 1A5 main battle tanks. The local artillery and rocket industry is also fairly advanced, offering a range of systems from IMBEL’s mortars to a 300km-range cruise missile from Avibras.
The Navy, meanwhile, is the largest in South America and has developed a working reactor that underpins its aspirations to join an exclusive club when it launches its first nuclear submarine – the first in the southern hemisphere – in 2025. Steel was cut for the first of four new Scorpène conventional submarines in May 2010. Work is being shared between France and Brazil and the first boat should be delivered in 2016.
Brazil’s surface fleet centres on the aircraft carrier São Paulo¸ which emerged from a five-year refit last year. It remains the only carrier in southern hemisphere service. The Navy is also poised to replace its ageing frigates and, in early March, the CEO of Italy’s Fincatieri shipyard said that he expected a contract for up to five FREMM-based designs shortly.
Air Force modernisation had a setback earlier this year when President Dilma Rousseff pushed back the service’s key F-X2 fighter competition schedule for this year to 2013 or 2014. But Brazil already has one of the most capable air forces in the South America. The most numerous fighters are F-5Es, which can trace their roots back to the 1970s but were upgraded in 2008–9.The air force has also flown 12 Russian Mi-35M Hind attack helicopters since last April and is planning to be the launch customer for Embraer’s developmental KC-390 airlifter from around 2015, introducing a new capability to airlift forces around the world and refuelling its fighters on patrol. Those fighters will also soon carry a new cutting edge air-to-air missile known as A-Darter, being developed by Brazil’s Mectron and South Africa’s Denel.
Raul Juste Lores
The business and economics editor at ‘Folha de São Paulo’ offers a fantasy look at how Brazil could use its power and carnaval spirit
Brazil is on course to have the world’s fifth biggest economy by 2025 – and possibly before – something few Brazilians would have dared dream even a few years ago. The football World Cup in 2014 and the 2016 Olympics in Rio will boost confidence further still.
Brazil has plentiful supplies of the natural resources (iron ore, soya beans, food and water) that the emerging powers of China and India will gobble up as they urbanise. And Brazil could even form a soya bean OPEC, along with Australia, the US and Argentina.
Brazil could become the first hedonistic superpower. As its economy has flourished, the tropical giant has not sacrificed week- ends, a culture that combines hard work with smiles, holidays, music and a laid-back lifestyle. Imagine if Brazilian-style carnaval (dancing samba and kissing strangers on the street while wearing little and drinking caipirinhas) spread around the globe?
China has helped to change the power relationship between developed and developing worlds, but it still has to face up to some ethical questions and its relationship with the world. It is also in the middle of a new crackdown on freedom of expression and the Asian titan will take a long time to create cultural brands that appeal outside its region.
Despite being a European colony for three centuries, Brazil does not resent the developed world in the way that other emerging powers do. Having few enemies and little baggage also helps the country be less biased in how it acts within international institutions.
It is time for a Latin American superpower. The region has only one dictatorship (Cuba) and the populism of Hugo Chávez is a fading influence in a small cluster of countries. Indeed, the continent is far more democratic and stable than most parts of Asia and Africa.
When Obama visited Brasília and Rio in March, before Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff had been to Washington, it was clear that something had already changed. Even though some of Obama’s team tried to make Brazilians feel as though the emperor was coming, his grand speech – due to have taken place in a public square in Rio – had to be moved to a theatre because it was feared the crowd would be too small.
With newly acquired powers and wealth, Brazil has more responsibilities to bear, including to its own people. Brazil should hire urban planners from Europe and Japan and innovators from the US.
Our cities are plagued by favelas and traffic jams, and we need to learn how to create good public spaces and proper housing. Innovation is mandatory if you don’t want to be just a commodities exporter.