Brazil: To Be or Not to Be a Bric?

Article excerpt

Brazil will gain a place as a significant player in the multipolar international system taking shape since the end of the cold war simply on the basis of its economic size and material capabilities. However, its potential to influence international outcomes is likely to be determined more by the capacity of the country's elites to identify and harness qualitative assets associated with its stable and democratic governance than by any hard-power assets. Brazil is the quintessential soft-power BRIC. Among the four BRICs, Brazil is the only one positioned to become a potential environmental power in a world increasingly preoccupied with global warming.

Key words: Brazil, BRICs, international relations, economic development

Introduction

Brazil will very likely be a major power by the middle of the twenty-first century, albeit not one of the world's top three. Along with its fellow BRICs countries (Russia, India, and China), as early as 2040 Brazil may overshadow the traditional major powers of Western Europe in terms of its relative material capabilities within the global system.1 Yet unlike China, Russia, or India, Brazil's future political alliances are significantly predetermined: It will be a Western power, closely linked to the United States and Western Europe. Moreover, Brazil's power projection is fundamentally one of soft power and largely depends on the quality of the democratic institutions it has adopted since the return of civilian rule in 1985, institutions that, in the eyes of Brazilians themselves, confer legitimacy on the country's recent diplomatic assertiveness.

Brazil's policy makers already actively participate in and shape international institutions at both the regional and global levels. Curiously, Brazil may achieve major-power status almost accidentally. Despite the country's long history of dreaming of being a great power, relatively few Brazilian policy makers and opinion leaders yet have fully thought through the implications of playing an influential role on the global stage. One possibility is for Brazil to position itself as the emerging environmental power. As owner of the world's last major tropical rainforest, one of the largest renewable reserves of fresh water,2 the planet's most diverse stock of biodiversity, the best energy matrix among major countries, and the most successful industrial-scale production of renewable fuels, Brazil has the assets to play such a role, if it adopts policies to preserve those assets and use them as political tools in a world increasingly preoccupied with climate change.

The Material Capabilities of a BRIC

Is Brazil legitimately included within the set of large emerging powers christened "the BRICs" countries? Brazil possesses, or will possess by early in the twenty-first century, the minimum material capabilities to be considered as a second-tier major power, analogous to the position of France or Italy today. This claim at first appears unfounded, in that Brazil is not a world military power, even to the level of the major Western European states or its fellow BRICs. In terms of military expenditures, Brazil ranks only among the top twenty countries. Its estimated $13.4-billion expenditure in 2006 puts Brazil on a par with Australia, Canada, Spain, and Israel. It falls below the next highest group of South Korea, India, Italy, Russia, and Germany, each of which spent between $20 and $30 billion in 2006. And Brazil is well below Japan, China, France, and Britain, which expended $40 to $50 billion on their militaries. The United States stands alone, having spent $528.7 billion in 2006.3

Of course Brazil has little reason for a large military, as it easily dominates its continent and neighborhood. For example, if we take military expenditure as a very rough measure of military power, then Brazil is approximately three times as powerful as Colombia, four times as dangerous as Mexico, and has more than seven times the strength of either Venezuela or Argentina. …