Brazil – a strategy under construction

Image: Filipe Coelho


There is no official document that defines and explains President Lula's new foreign policy

The Brazilian State does not have a document that periodically defines its “international strategy”. There was an attempt, during the second Lula government, but the document was forgotten after the 2016 coup d'état, and even more so, during the government of Jair Bolsonaro, who was in favor of an unconditional alignment of Brazil alongside the United States and Israel, and even defended the country's isolation from the international community.

This situation, however, changed radically after the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in January 2023. Even so, there is no official document that defines and explains President Lula's new foreign policy, although it is possible to map its objectives, and its strategy, based on some government initiatives, and, above all, based on some crucial statements made by it and its main assistants in the international field.

During 2023, President Lula made 15 international trips and visited 24 countries on five continents, made a large number of speeches and statements, and gave dozens of interviews inside and outside the country, defining the basic lines of his thinking and strategy of its foreign policy. A line of thought that was reinforced by some additional interviews, given by Celso Amorim, special advisor to the Presidency of the Republic for International Affairs, and by the Minister of Foreign Affairs himself, Mauro Vieira.

Lula gave his most important speeches at the UN, at the G-20 meeting in India, at the G-7 meeting in Tokyo, at the League of Arab Nations, at the Union of African States, at CELAC, at CORICOM, when he assumed the presidency of the G-20, in 2004, and the presidency of COP 30 to be held in Belém, in 2026, and also in the meeting he had with South American presidents, in Brasília, called by Itamaraty himself.

On all these occasions, Lula and his main international advisors demonstrated that they were fully aware that Brazil is not a military power nor does it intend to be one. It is a large country from the point of view of its territory, population and natural resources, but it has neither the capacity nor the intention to project its power or military influence outside its borders, even in the case of South America. On the other hand, Regarding the issue of the country's military security, everyone is fully aware of Brazil's historical relationship with the United States, and the fact that Brazil is in the direct “nuclear protection or guardianship zone” of the United States.

It is in this geopolitical and military context that President Lula has been conceiving and building his project to transform Brazil into a great pacifist power, with the capacity to influence and forge ideas and international consensus. This is the case with your proposal for global mobilization against hunger and in favor of equality and sustainability; along with the idea of ​​making Brazil a great “mediator” and peacemaker of the international conflicts that are multiplying around the world.

Lula is a humanist and a radical pacifist, and he is a charismatic politician, but at the same time he is a skillful and pragmatic politician. His international project has nothing to do with the “third worldism” of the 20th century, nor does it seem that he intends to be just a leader of the “world periphery”, now dubbed the “Global South”. On the contrary, all of President Lula's pronouncements have been guided by a universalist, cosmopolitan and egalitarian stance, despite the fact that he is fully aware that “cosmopolitanism” or universalism itself is inseparable from the hierarchies, asymmetries and conflicts that are part of of countries' struggle for power and wealth.

Lula's international strategy considers that the “sovereignty of nations” is a fact, a right and an objective, and proposes that Brazil moves between the nations of the north and south, east and west, without making ideological or political distinctions. discriminate against countries based on their political regimes, ideological affiliations or cultural and religious affiliations. Lula does not hide his affinity with Joe Biden's United States, nor his proximity to Vladimir Putin's Russia, Xi Jinping's China, Emmanuel Macron's France, Recep Erdogan's Turkey, Ebrahim Raisi's Iran, Olaf's Germany Scholz, or even of the England of Charles III.

He does not support any type of fixed strategic alliance in the international field, much less polarized ideological blocs. And maybe that's exactly the position sui generis of the Brazilian president, which allows him to make harsh and realistic statements and criticisms, which are generally avoided by the great owners of world power, who tend to hide their double game and contradictory morals behind apparently neutral language.

According to data presented by the Brazilian delegation at the last G-20 meeting, held in the city of Rio de Janeiro, there were 183 international conflicts in the year 2023, the vast majority without any type of arbitration. Right now, we are witnessing a massacre in the Gaza Strip, which is condemned by the majority of humanity, but no one can contain the vengeful fury of the Israeli government, not even the American government, nor the United Nations, whose decisions are disrespected by Israel for decades.

This decision-making paralysis of the world system is what has been denounced by President Lula, at the same time that he insists on the urgent need to build a new system of norms, rules and institutions capable of managing these global conflicts, before the world takes – a increasingly – the path of “world war”, as a way of imposing the primacy of the victors, within the international system, as happened after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Everything indicates that President Lula is fully aware that the problem in the world today is not the lack of “rules” – the rules exist.

It is the absence of institutions that are capable of interpreting them in a consensual way and that are accepted by the international community. This role has been fulfilled by Europeans and North Americans for the last 300 years, but as the head of European Union Foreign Policy, Spaniard Joseph Borrel, recently said, “the era of Western global dominance has come to an end”, as it has come to an end consensus or acceptance of the discretion of Western powers. Knowing that simply replacing “unipolarity” with “multipolarity” will not automatically solve the problem of war and peace, President Lula has drawn attention to this gigantic challenge facing humanity.

Finally, let's return to the American continent, where the Lula government took the first steps of its foreign policy in the traditional direction of Mercosur and Latin America. Where it was proposed to build a strategic alliance with Argentina, which would become a point of reference and economic and political leadership for the entire continent. But once again, as had happened in the past, this project was aborted by a political change, which in this case came from Argentina.

It seems that Lula then understood that the political-ideological correlation in South America had changed and that, furthermore, it would be impossible to make Mercosur move forward with three countries governed by ultra-liberal presidents. And that even within the left there is a huge difference between his international vision and that of presidents Gabriel Boric and Gustavo Petro, with him being closer to Gustavo Petro than to the young Chilean president.

More than this, however, it seems that President Lula also understood that the old dream of “Latin American integration” was always a utopia, much more than a viable project. A technocratic utopia, defended by ECLAC economists since the 1950s, and an ideological utopia defended by the Bolivarian governments of the continent since the end of the XNUMXth century. Two versions of the same dream that never fit in with the harsh and crude reality of the primary-export economy of almost all South American countries, nor with the discontinuous nature of the territory and coastal population of the entire continent. Not to mention that this idea has always been opposed by the vast majority of the continent's ultraliberal elites, and has always depended on the strength of the Brazilian economy, which is the only one with the capacity to push this project uphill.

It is understandable, therefore, why President Lula chose the city of Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, and the plenary meeting of the Organization of African States, to make one of his most vehement speeches condemning the Palestinian genocide, and defending the need of a new world order, just as had happened the previous day, in the city of Cairo, when his words were also received with enthusiasm by the member countries of the League of Arab Countries.

* Jose Luis Fiori He is professor emeritus at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo) []

Originally published in the magazine 21st century international observatory, no. 4.

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