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Brazil’s New Role as a First World Power in Latin America

Brazilian efforts to adjust their relations with foreign governments and institutions follows a strategy of projecting Brazilian influence within the concert of nations as a First World power. Brazil wants a greater voice and increased participation in international decision making at both the regional and global level. Globally, they have actively sought a reform to the United Nations Security Council structure and want to change an international structure based on neorealist power dynamics decided over half a century ago. Regionally, the geopolitical changes in South America, with the decline of the United States’ relative influence in the region, coupled with increased trade and investment flows with China, has encouraged Brazil to pursue a strategic vision as a regional power. Brazil wants to split the hemisphere into 2 spheres where they serve as the southern hub to the South American spoke countries. Brazil views South America as distinct from a Latin American classification which includes the Caribbean and Central American states. The fuel for Brazil’s economic growth has been its ability to maintain control of its macro-economic decisions and ability to implement domestic development strategies. This has increased trade with China which replaced the U.S. as its biggest consumer of imports and exports. While Brazil’s economic growth and relationship with China has afforded its government the ability to address many socio-economic concerns, and provided it with increased opportunities to become the regional leader it wants to be; the changes Brazil seeks to the global decision-making structure and pursuit of regional leadership through integration will not be realized. While Brazil’s economy will remain the strongest in South America for years to come, the acceptance by the other states of Brazil as a leader and regional integration will remain elusive. Regional integration theoretically allows states to capitalize on geopolitical advantages to reduce manufacturing costs and maximize comparative advantages. Through collective action and a division of labor, states will experience faster growth through reduced costs and privileged access to markets within their region. However, fragmentation through a diversity of interests, division of labor, and asymmetrical economic power levels within the South American region has and will continue to lead states to seek sub-regional arrangements and multi-lateral trade deals that take advantage of their geopolitical economic advantages. Expanded trade, economic, cultural, and human flows will continue to flourish within the region, but states will not cede to formal integration through the establishment of institutional rules and formal regulations based on a common political accord. This only ties their hands and exploits those on the lower end of the division of labor. Regionally integration under Brazilian leadership faces opposition from nationalist governments, like the Bolivarian Bloc, with grassroots constituencies based on outspoken criticism of the open global market model. The ALBA states do not want to trade one controlling system or power for another. Brazil will not only face opposition from other governments wanting to protect their economies, but also from local constituents. States want to preserve their economic political sovereignty; defined as the ability to implement development projects, and protect constituencies in domestic power centers. As Brazil’s democracy continues to mature, the responsibility to adhere to domestic constituencies will become more pressing. Brazil’s relationship with China will also fail to deliver a true partnership towards change. Brazil’s relationship with China is more reflective of a market competitor than a partner and forcing the government is take several measures to control Chinese investments that may impact future national security. China sees Brazil as a market for its goods and a source of natural resources for its continued development. While the relationship supports economic growth, political ideology and domestic politics stand opposition. The two countries share many common interests, but differ on issues like human rights, climate change, and nuclear proliferation. As a democracy that promotes human rights, Brazil is at odds with a Chinese regime that commits many abuses and controls a population through strong central leadership. Aside for the economic relations, China’s refusal on the expansion and reform of UN Security Council let Brazil know the reality of the global system; it is easier to build walls than to tear them down. Those that control policy and the world system only stand to lose by changing the system. For these reasons, China and Brazil will be limited in their partnership to the economic comparative advantages that each brings to the table. Brazil will continue to press for change and a stronger voice in the international system while pursuing a leadership role within South America. However, due to the weight of historical rivalries like that with Argentina; deeply-rooted sovereignties; and national identities in the region, the prospect for a true South American community under Brazilian leadership is bleak. The tensions inherent in an integration process involving asymmetric countries in terms of political and economic power, will lead each state to pursue relationships that exploit their comparative advantages and offer the best returns. Brazil will continue to utilize multilateral institutions and pursue peaceful cooperation on environmental issues and nuclear proliferation. As evidenced by its leadership role with the relief effort in Haiti, if Brazil wants to be considered a leader, it will have to be ready to burden the cost of one.

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