Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Soft Power, Hard Aspirations: The Shifting Role of Power in Brazilian Foreign Policy*

Academic journal article Brazilian Political Science Review

Soft Power, Hard Aspirations: The Shifting Role of Power in Brazilian Foreign Policy*

Article excerpt

In the past two decades, and particularly during the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil has been more involved in regional and international issues. Building on strong economic growth over the period, the country has raised its profile, winning the bid to host the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. Moreover, due to its size and increasing economic clout, Brazil has been identified as a leader in South America, and one of the most substantial players in the Global South (MORAN, 2012; SWEIG, 2011; SWEIG and SPEKTOR, 2011)1. Brazil's new prominence in foreign affairs can be understood as the historical culmination of a foreign policy that has traditionally been built around two endeavours: to achieve (i) autonomy and (ii) a significant role in international politics (SARAIVA and VALENÇA, 2011, p.100).

These long-term goals, however, have been consistently challenged at different times by the relative weakness of Brazil's hard-power capabilities (HAMANN, 2012a, p. 02; KENKEL, 2013, p. 276). In the absence of more robust material means, the Brazilian government's main strategies have been directly connected with what, after Joseph Nye (2003, 2004a, 2004b), came to be defined as 'soft power', i.e. "the ability to attract and persuade rather than coerce" (NYE, 2003, p. 66). Soft power works as a complement to hard power and although it may include aspects also identified with forms of economic power, at its core it is based on the attractiveness and legitimacy of a country's culture, political ideals, values, and policies (NYE, 2003, p. 66; NYE, 2004b). For this reason, Brazilian foreign policy has mainly followed strategies that deploy non-material aspects of power (HAMANN, 2012b, p. 71): consensus-building initiatives, diplomacy and persuasion. Considering its history, recourse to soft power seems to make sense in view of Brazil's interests, goals and resources.

This is not to suggest that Brazil has been unable or unwilling to resort to more traditional forms of hard power, and it has exerted its military power in the past when core national interests have been in jeopardy (HAMANN, 2012b, p. 73). Nevertheless, Brazilian policymakers have privileged soft-power strategies in conducting Brazilian foreign policy (BURGES, 2008; VIGEVANI, FAVARON, RAMANZINI and CORREIA, 2008). Soft power became even more important in the 1990s, when the country reengaged with a range of multilateral forums (BURGES, 2008; CERVO and BUENO, 2008, p. 463; SARAIVA, 2010) in an attempt both to intensify trade and political dialogue with South America and the Global South (KENKEL, 2013) and to gain leverage in dealings with the major powers.

Despite growing awareness of Brazil, particularly in global media outlets, little attention has been paid to the traditional strategies it has used in its foreign policy. Scholars, pundits and policy experts have usually cast Brazilian foreign policy as weak or reluctant, particularly in cases where United States or European public opinion and foreign policy elites demanded or encouraged decisive action to curb human rights violations in politically unstable regions of the globe. Brazil's voting record on the UN Human Rights Council (where it has repeatedly abstained on human rights violations in Iran), its attempt to mediate a nuclear deal between Iran and the United States, and its votes on the Security Council challenging intervention in Libya and elsewhere, are just a few examples (MARIN, 2011; MORAN, 2012; SOTERO, 2011; SWEIG, 2011; SWEIG and SPEKTOR, 2011).

This narrow perspective has led analysts and commentators to miss the motivations behind Brazilian foreign policy, among them its traditional non-interventionist stance. More importantly, they have also overlooked a recent shift in Brazilian policymakers' understanding of the uses of power, away from the more traditional strategies used in Brazilian foreign policy and towards hard power.

This article begins by explaining the paradigms - Americanism, globalism, pragmatic institutionalism, and autonomism2 - that have guided Brazilian foreign policy in the past, to explore the role that persuasion and consensus-building have played in Brazil's long-standing emphasis on soft-power discourse. …

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