Brazil’s rise as a ‘soft power’ on the world stage

| January 4, 2013 | 0 Comments
Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Since the emergence of the BRIC as a group to be reckoned with in the global economy, Brazil’s economic, social, political and diplomatic actions have drawn added attention from governments, think tanks and the media. Not being a military power (it has no nuclear weapons), unlike most of its BRIC partners (Russia, China and India), Brazil’s profile has, nonetheless, risen as a player capable of influencing the outcomes of negotiations or giving an authoritative voice on many important issues. In that sense, Brazil’s stances and actions on international issues have qualified it as a soft power.

In fact, Brazil’s participation in multilateral and regional institutions and in bilateral initiatives has been recognized as instrumental in enabling decisions and steering the discussions towards balanced results. Such capacity can be attributed, first, to the rise in Brazil’s economic standing.

Today it is the 6th largest economy in the world. It is a major producer and exporter of various agricultural and mineral commodities. It has a diversified economy and industrial base and is becoming a major energy producer. These economic assets attracted US$67 billion of foreign direct investments [FDI] in 2011, making Brazil the second largest recipient of FDI among developing countries, after China.

Second, the country has made large strides domestically in addressing longstanding problems of income inequality, poor social indicators, human rights and political instability. The persistence of those problems had impaired the country’s profile in world affairs and the prospects for its economic growth. The solutions that Brazil has found in addressing those problem areas have enhanced its international reputation and made it a valuable interlocutor in major discussions.

Much of the country’s recent economic development can be credited to policies that have improved social inclusion. This has been achieved by, among others: better access to education, real increases in the minimum wage, credit expansion to consumers, universal access to health services, universal coverage of social security benefits and the implementation of conditional cash transfers, such as the Bolsa Família, a social welfare program aimed at those at the bottom of the income pyramid.

Though Brazil still has a long way to go in establishing a socially just society, it has been successful in improving certain social indicators. It has reached the first and fourth of the UN Millennium Development Goals, respectively, halving the population ratio living on less than one dollar a day, and making a two-thirds reduction in child mortality. About 30 million to 40 million people have been lifted out of poverty and have become part of the middle-class in the last decade.

More important, the lowest strata of the population has seen its income raised at a higher rate than that of the top echelons on the social chart.

Third, Brazil has shown greater capacity to articulate positions in various international negotiations and to influence their outcome, as well as to promote bilateral or regional initiatives. In the WTO Doha Round, for instance, Brazil has played a critical role in creating a third force in the negotiations on agriculture. It has also helped strengthen the hand of developing countries in withstanding the pressures from developed countries that could have demanded higher concessions from their developing counterparts, particularly when it comes to other sectors under negotiation (tariffs and services, for example).

Brazil’s foreign policy has of late shown a new facet. It has evolved from the traditional position of strict observance of the principles of non-intervention and national sovereignty to also comprise that of “non-indifference.” Following this principle, Brazil has fostered peaceful settlement of disputes, reconciliation and acceptance of different political perspectives. In 2010, it joined hands with Turkey to convince Iran to agree to exchange enriched uranium, thus ensuring the civilian purposes of the Iranian nuclear program. Though immediately superseded by the UN Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against Iran, the Turkish-Brazilian endeavours have remained a positive attempt at peace by middle powers and have given some leeway for further negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, U.K., the U.S. and Germany.)

In the Latin-American region, Brazil has presented itself as a staunch advocate of democracy and solidarity. It has championed strengthening regional institutions. It has also opposed coups d’états perpetrated or attempted against constitutionally elected presidents in some Latin-American countries. Also, it has joined forces with other countries of the region to put an end to the unjustifiable embargo to which Cuba is subjected. In Haiti, Brazil has assisted Haitians to keep their reconquered democracy, to consolidate political stability and to restore conditions for sustained development by means of bilateral and multilateral co-operation with the United Nations and other partners, such as India, South Africa, Cuba and Canada.

In Africa, Brazil has led the UN Peacebuilding Commission talks on Guinea-Bissau and the efforts of the international community to bring peace and stability to that Portuguese-speaking African country. Likewise, it has expanded its co-operation to help many African countries improve their agriculture, education and health, and has set up strategic partnerships with Angola and South Africa.

On the environment, Brazil has played a prominent role in negotiations on climate change. In joining South Africa, India and China to form what’s known as the BASIC group of countries, it has helped to avoid a demands for disproportionately higher commitments from emerging countries in terms of CO2 emission reductions at the Copenhagen Conference in 2009. Brazilian leadership was also key in arriving at the consensus document on sustainable development adopted at last summer’s Rio+20 Conference. Attended by 45,000 official and non-governmental delegates, the event brought together, for the first time, governments, civil society and the private sector in agreement on the summit’s main objective, namely: a plan that commits all to the eradication of poverty as an imperative element of sustainable development. It also highlighted sustainable development to stakeholders when they were making decisions on economic, social and environmental issues.

Brazil reasons that the concerns and interests of the international community will be better addressed by strengthening multilateral and regional institutions. This explains its active participation in discussions pertaining to, among other things, the environment, trade, law of the sea, disarmament and human rights. In addition, it believes that multilateral and regional efforts can more adequately ensure international peace and security and provide legitimacy and efficacy to the resolution of conflicts.
That is why Brazil continues to call for reform to the United Nations Security Council, with the inclusion of new permanent and non-permanent members. Such change is necessary to make the Council more representative and its decisions more legitimate and efficient in reflecting the views of a wider and more geographically diversified spectrum of the international community.

In conclusion, Brazil, emboldened by a growing economy, a more socially inclusive society and an ability to broker constructive diplomatic initiatives, has raised its profile in all global and regional fora, and has become an important partner in the quest for solutions to the main issues of the contemporary world.

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