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Washington Urged to Recognise Brazil as Global Power

Jim Lobe*

WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2011 (IPS) - The United States should recognise Brazil as a global power and treat it accordingly, concluded a major new report issued by the influential Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) here this week.

That treatment should include the full endorsement by the administration of President Barack Obama for Brazil’s permanent membership on an expanded U.N. Security Council, according to the 109-page report entitled “Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations”.

“A formal endorsement from the United States for Brazil would go far to overcome lingering suspicion within the Brazilian government that the U.S. commitment to a mature relationship between equals is largely rhetorical,” according to the report, which was produced by a 30-member CFR task force headed by former World Bank President James Wolfensohn and former U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman.

Among other recommendations, the report also urged “open and regular communication” between the leaders and senior officials of both countries; the creation both of a separate Office for Brazilian Affairs in the State Department and of a high-level mechanism in the National Security Council (NSC) to coordinate the many U.S. agencies that deal with Brazil; and the elimination of the ethanol tariff – a long-standing irritant in bilateral ties – as part of any reform of U.S. biofuels policy.

“Brazil has transcended its status as the largest and most resource- rich country in Latin America to now be counted among the world’s pivotal powers,” according to the report whose lead recommendation called for “U.S. policymakers [to] recognize Brazil’s standing as a global actor, treat its emergence as an opportunity for the United States, and work with Brazil to develop complementary policies.”

That recognition, the report said, also requires that Washington reconcile itself to Brasilia’s independence in the foreign policy arena, including on such issues as Iran’s nuclear programme which, to the Obama administration’s great annoyance, Brazil worked with Turkey to try to resolve last year.

“Because the United States has never really gotten over the idea that Brazil should take a back seat to U.S. policies, …it didn’t treat the difference over this issue like it does its myriad differences with, say, other BRICs,” noted David Rothkopf, a former NSC official who served on the task force.

The BRICs refers to Brazil, Russia, India, and China – the four big emerging powers of the past decade – of which Russia and China are permanent members already of the U.N. Security council, while Obama endorsed India’s permanent membership last year.

“This kind of double standard …is the source of Brazil’s scepticism to date about U.S. sincerity in welcoming its rise,” wrote Rothkopf on his blog. He also stressed that the report’s publication marks “latest rumbling in a tectonic shift with regard to how the United States views the role of emerging powers.”

The new report marks the latest by CFR and other major think tanks, including the Brookings Institution and the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD), running over more than a decade, that have called on Washington to give much higher priority to Brazil – as both a regional superpower and an emerging global power – in its policy- making.

Indeed, within a month of the inauguration of George W. Bush in Jan 2001, another CFR task force dominated by prominent U.S. investors, business executives, lobbyists and former diplomats published an open letter urging the new president to “swiftly” establish a “high-level sustained and co-operative strategic dialogue with Brazilian leaders”.

“Brazil,” the signers noted, “is too important to everything that is gong to happen in South America for a policy of benign neglect,” the letter warned, only to be largely ignored by an administration that soon became far more preoccupied with events in the Middle East and South Asia.

But what was true for Brazil in South America a decade ago now applies increasingly to the wider world, according to the report, which stressed Brazil’s key role on a range of global issues ranging from climate change and energy to food security, poverty alleviation, and international peace and security.

“Brazil is and will remain an integral force in the evolution of a multi-polar world,” the report proclaims. “It ranks as the world’s fifth-largest landmass, fifth-largest population, and eight-largest economy,” on track to become the world’s fifth-largest economy in just a few years given estimated growth rates.

“(I)t is in the interest of the United States to understand Brazil as a complex international actor whose influence on the defining global issues of the day is only likely to increase,” according to the task force, which stressed that “the complexities and importance of Brazil are poorly understood and underestimated in Washington.”

Under Obama, Washington appears to be taking Brazil more seriously, the report suggested, although differences over the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, the secret negotiation of U.S. access to Colombian military bases, and Middle East policy, among other issues, led then- President Inacio Lula da Silva to express considerable disappointment with the U.S. president just before he handed over the reins to his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

Rousseff’s ascension offered an opportunity to “re-set” relations, and, on Obama’s March visit to Brasilia, he brought with him with him no less than eight cabinet secretaries and other top officials – a signal that the administration indeed desired a much closer and more multi-faceted relationship closer to that which has with other emerging global powers, notably China and India.

“We were particularly encouraged by the Obama visit to Brazil, and fact that Obama said Brazil’s rise was in the U.S. interest,” said Donna Hrinak, Washington’s former ambassador in Brasilia, who, along with the task force director, Julia Sweig, briefed journalists Thursday on the report.

Nonetheless, to the hosts’ disappointment, he withheld his full endorsement of Brazil’s permanent membership to the Security Council, as he had India’s when he travelled to New Delhi late last year.

“What the Brazilians care about most is the Security Council seat, along with the elimination of the ethanol tariff,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

The question of the speed with which the U.S. should endorse Brazil’s permanent membership split the task force, with a minority of nine of the 30 members calling for Washington to “immediately begin to lay the (diplomatic) groundwork” for such an endorsement.

The majority called for an immediate endorsement followed by consultations with other region countries and an “intense dialogue” with Brazil itself on “regional and multilateral, and global governance” issues.

The latter course, according to the minority, risked provoking “adverse reactions of key U.S. allies (in Latin America) who would view the choice of Brazil as directly blocking their own multilateral ambitions.”

But five other task-force members, including Hrinak, Sweig, and Rothkopf, said the report’s recommendation for an immediate announcement followed by consultations does not go far enough.

“We feel this sends the wrong message to Brazil and to the world,” they wrote. “If the United States supports, as the Obama administration has said it does, leadership structures in international institutions that are more reflective of international realities, it must support without qualifications Brazil’s candidacy.”

*Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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