|Lula, centre, helped to broker a nuclear fuel-swap deal with Iran and Turkey [EPA]|
The recent visit by Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, to Iran is part of a broad multilateral foreign policy that he believes is commensurate with his nation’s ever-growing importance in a changing world axis.
Brazil under Lula’s eight year reign has promoted trade between Israel and Latin America, while supporting talks with Hamas and Palestinian statehood. It has balked at US urges for sanctions on Iran over their nuclear programme, which Washington believes has nefarious intentions, while on Sunday it brokered an agreement in which Tehran exchanges low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.
Diplomatic ties have been created with more than 40 nations, including North Korea, and Brasilia maintains good relations across divides, for instance with foes Venezuela and Colombia.
Like India, Brazil is advocating for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and wants reform of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to better represent developing nations.
For as Lula said in an interview with Al Jazeera this week, international geopolitics is shifting and global governance needs to change with it.
“We want that the world is represented at the UN Security Council,” Lula, who has travelled to more than 80 countries during his presidency, said.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s one or three from Africa or Latin America. We want to open the club and allow other people to join in.
“Can you imagine that if we had two or three countries as permanent members and they don’t have nuclear bombs? It would be much easier to negotiate the agreements on non-proliferation.”
Emerging world player
Brazil’s huge agricultural and mining sectors and economic stability under Lula – its national gross domestic product (GDP) has almost tripled since 2001 – has allowed for its emergence as a world player.
It has gone from a nation that less than a decade ago was dependent on international loans to one that is pushing to become a major global donor – last week it became the first country to contribute to Haiti’s post-earthquake reconstruction fund.
It is one of the Bric (Brazil, Russia, India and China) group of nations – the only developing economies with GDPs of more than $1 trillion per year and which Goldman Sachs, the investment bank, has said have provided 45 per cent of economic growth worldwide since the financial crisis began in 2007.
The Brics – who have large domestic markets and together foreign reserves six times the size of the IMF – have previously advocated changing the dollar as the primary global reserve currency.
This group, along with Ibsa (India, Brazil and South Africa), Unasur (The Union of South American Nations), and Aspa (the Summit of South American-Arab Countries), has raised Brazil’s profile in global affairs and is seemingly aiding a more multipolar world.
“We were very much reliant on EU and the US and I thought that due to the potential that Brazil has we have to diversify and not to be dependent on anyone,” Lula, who will leave office in October this year, said.
“We should have good relations with everyone. And today Latin America is our main partner. Today China is our main individual partner. Today in Africa we have trade balance flow above $20bn.”
Silio Boccanera, the London correspondent for Brazil’s Globo News, said that at home the moves have drawn a schism between advocates who believe it to be a natural progression for an emerging power and detractors who think more loyalty should be placed with traditional – and wealthy – allies.
He said that the recent mission to Iran was viewed with much scepticism as an attempt to posture global influence, and that it will prove delegitimising to Lula should Tehran be found to be constructing nuclear weapons.
However, Boccanera added that multilateralism is not only a good thing for Brazil but “inevitable” and among Lula’s potential successors “this goal of having a stronger voice in world affairs is widespread”.
Driving Brazil is the idea that the international system of the 1990s and early noughties – simply a core liberal west – has gone. Nationalism is again on the rise.
“This is not the end of history it is very much an acceleration of history and the direction of that acceleration is the axis or centre of gravity of global politics shifting from the North Atlantic to the east and the south,” Mathais Spektor, the director for international relations at the Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro, said, referring to a theory propagated following the end of the Cold War about the coalescence of states.
This gravitational pull may be slanted towards China – which accounts for nearly half of the Bric’s annual GDP – but the mutual forces of different nations provide multifarious benefits.
In Iran’s case relations with nations such as Brazil provide a buffer to US power, according to Hady Amr, the director of the Brookings Institute in Qatar which researches geopolitical issues.
“For Iran the motivation would be that anything that increases other countries’ roles in global politics reduces America’s role in global politics.
“For many years it was just the US and Soviet Union and then it was just the US. So from Iran’s perspective if there are five, ten other countries now that can get in the scrum and push it is better for them.”
Sharing global stewardship
|Some Brazilians have viewed Lula’s visit to Iran with scepticism and fear it could backfire [EPA]|
Brazil’s involvement may be unlikely to prevent sanctions against Iran but it conveys its international prominence. It has managed to do this while keeping good, if relatively distant, relations with the US.
Nancy Soderberg, a former US ambassador to the UN and deputy national security advisor, said that while the US and Brazil have “major disagreements” they are still committed to finding common ground and can maintain “a strong partnership”.
Whether or when Brazilian foreign policy will afford them a permanent seat at the UN Security Council is more opaque.
Expansion of the Security Council was last seriously considered in 2005. Then a proposal to include Brazil, India, Japan and Germany – at that time the so-called G4 nations – without veto power was obstructed by disagreements on African and Middle Eastern seats.
“Lula is correct that the current structure of the UN is outdated. It reflects a world of decades ago. It is well past time for an expansion of the UN Security Council’s permanent seats, including a Brazilian one,” Soderberg said.
“President Obama [of the US] has already elevated the status of the G20 and the US and Brazil must work together to help shape a global architecture – political and economic – that reflects today’s 21st century realities.”
The emergence of the G20 conveys the greater clout and incorporation of a broad number of nations in world affairs decision making. It also portrays the US’ openness to sharing the burden of global stewardship.
Reports also emerged last month that Barack Obama had proposed that if Israeli and Palestinian indirect peace talks were to fail, a global conference on resolving the conflict would be held.
The summits of entities such as Bric and Ibsa have been the scene of at times incoherent chatter rather than action and doubts remain over their efficacy due to conflicting strategic interests. But if the UN structure remains rigid they may begin to assume an increasing responsibility for global issues.
For Brazil, as its economic links proliferate so do its national interests. For example, a war between Israel and Iran does little for its beef exports to those countries.
These dispersed interests forge its global regard, but as Lula asserts, they alone do not provide the geopolitical might necessitating Brazil’s greater role in global governance.
“It doesn’t depend on the size of a country’s economy. It depends exclusively on the strategic importance of each country in their respective continent. And Brazil is a very important country.”