One of Brazil’s most prescient foreign policy observers and analysts — Professor Matias Spektor from the Fundação Getulio Vargas university in Rio de Janeiro — has spent the last few weeks talking to policy-makers in Washington about Brazil’s rise. As Spektor explains in his latest column for the newspaper Folha de São Paulo, there is generally a favourable attitude in Washington to Brazil’s international rise, but tempered with four main concerns:
- While Brazil’s activism has put it on the international map, there are worries that this has come at the cost of questionable or even negative impacts on Brazil’s core issues — Mercosul, Unasul, G20, the WTO and the UN Security Council;
- Concrete investment in foreign policy resources is not keeping up with official ambitions. Observers in Washington do not understand why Brazil keeps opening embassies in Africa and the Caribbean when it lacks the personnel to staff them;
- Brazil is running into major resistance in its own neighbourhood and diplomatic investments in South America are not helping with Brazil’s wider ambitions;
- Brazil is actively advocating a world less controlled by the North Atlantic with a greater role for emerging countries, but it is not offering a practical vision for how this would work.
Spektor’s comments fit neatly into the debate currently going on under the surface in Brasília. Diplomats at Itamaraty continue to ring-fence foreign policy as a private preserve for their department. Political guidance remains weak with officials very reluctant to press president Dilma Rousseff for additional resources unless their project involves China or the BRICs. Moreover, traditional attitudes of ‘not wanting to impose’, which translates in practical terms into not wanting to absorb the costs of leading predominate. The bottom line appears to be that Brazil has arrived at the main decision tables of global governance, but having achieved its seat now needs to sort out what it wants to do. As Spektor notes, for Washington Brazil’s rise is welcome. It is just that there is uncertainty in what it will mean and if it will last without a clear vision in Brasília and concrete resources to back ambitions.