Regional hegemony

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By LIVIA PERES MILANI, LUCIANA WIETCHIKOSKI & ANA PENIDO*

Why are the “American” military training in our Amazon?

Announced with surprise by the Brazilian media in general, between the 6th and 16th of November, 294 military of the United States Army (USA) passed through Belém, Macapá and Oiapoque for a joint training exercise with 1200 Brazilian counterparts. This activity is part of a series called Combined Operation and Rotation Exercise (CORE), which aims to carry out annual joint exercises until 2028, alternating between Brazilian and American territory as headquarters. But after all, what do they want here? What does this episode represent for Brazilian defense policy?

Cooperation or hegemony?

Interactions between the US and Brazilian military go back especially to the period before the Second World War. Since then, it has been common to send Brazilian officers to short-term and specialization courses in that country, as well as Brazilian participation in regional multilateral exercises organized by the United States. Although both armies highlight the cooperative nature of these activities, in reality, they integrate an intrinsically asymmetrical dynamic.

American military partnerships and programs correctly correspond to their national interests and the parameters established in their normative defense documentation. The educational initiatives carried out by them in Latin America are planned and coordinated by the Southern Command. In other words, the activities that involve US financing and participation in the region directly reflect the problems, threats and defense solutions developed by the US.

That country describes the episode that gave rise to this text as an exercise “planned and directed by the United States Army, sponsored by the United States Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), at the operational and tactical levels with the objective of increasing the interoperability of US and Brazilian forces”. Interoperability – increasing the capacity to act jointly – refers to a notion of horizontality that is not expressed even in the text, as the US direction is explicit, with the Brazilians being responsible for implementation. In practice, by introducing and training military personnel from other nations from a specific perspective, in essence, the US exercises, through strengthening strategic, tactical and operational consensus, its regional hegemony. They are, therefore, vertical relationships, with a subordination character.

 The choice of the territory where the exercise was carried out also reflects the priority interests of the United States. For the Department of Defense, training in the Amazon is an important opportunity to acquire knowledge of the terrain and expand its jungle combat capabilities.

This American interest is not new, but it has intensified in recent years, especially in the context of the regional, predominantly economic, expression of global disputes between the USA and China; in expanding relations between Venezuela and Russia, including military ones; and with the increased relevance of themes related to climate and the environment since the Joe Biden government.

In response to the perceived challenge to its hegemony, the USA has notably mobilized the military instrument. The Department of Defense – and Southern Command, which reports to it – has excelled in the formulation and public discussion of the country's strategy for the region, as exemplified by Commander Laura Richardson's increased public appearances in the media and in think tanks. Ensuring access to fundamental natural resources today is a top priority in the Southern Command. In an interview with think tanks CSIS, the commander indicates that Latin America is of great importance for the national security of the United States not only due to its geopolitical proximity, but also its natural resources.

The general cites as examples the rare earths, lithium, copper, gold and other ores present in the region. Many of the resources are in the Amazon region shared by eight countries: Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Suriname. Among her action plans to guarantee influence in the region, the general highlights the importance of “partnerships” between the military. According to her, conferences and exercises are relevant, with security cooperation being the main instrument to leverage regional presence.

Brazilian foreign policy and international interactions in defense

To analyze the meaning of the joint bilateral exercise, it is also necessary to understand the Brazilian perspective. It is worth noting that the rapprochement between the militaries of the two countries occurs at a time of resumption of a foreign policy that aims to be assertive. Since Lula took office for his third presidential term, there has been a general orientation towards diversifying partnerships and increasing relations with the global South.

There is not necessarily a move away from the United States, as shown by the country's choice as the third presidential destination – after visits to Argentina and Uruguay – and first trip beyond South America. The current government, however, hopes to generate greater balance in relations with traditional partners and with more recent partners, such as the countries that make up the BRICs: Russia, China, India and South Africa.

The objective of balancing relations with powers of the status quo and rising powers, however, face difficulties in the field of Defense. There are obstacles to overcoming the dependence that exists on the USA, where much of the equipment, training, and doctrine itself come from. The initiatives towards rapprochement with China are discreet, which reflects the tendency of the Brazilian military to prefer cooperation with the already traditional power, and the already prominent US emphasis on using the military instrument as a factor in maintaining regional hegemony.

 The need for interaction with emerging powers does not seem internalized or desired by the Brazilian armed forces. Despite the invitation extemporaneous to the Chinese to participate in an event offered by the army that was attended by officers of different nationalities, and the trip of Brazilian officers to China to discuss the issue, interactions in Defense are still sparse in comparison to what happens with the USA and its NATO partners in Europe.

Think about our sovereignty

The change in the configuration of forces at the global level has practical and evident effects for Brazil, the most relevant of which was the establishment of China as the main trading partner, as well as an important political partner for the achievement of common objectives at the international level through the BRICs +. This political-economic development contrasts, however, with the permanence and intensification of old dependencies in the field of Defense, exactly at a time when the United States seeks to instrumentalize this field to reaffirm its hegemony.

In order to achieve a foreign policy based on the search for autonomy and the construction of cooperative relations with the global South, the Palácio do Planalto needs to go beyond Itamaraty, transforming the landmarks of defense policy, which is only possible with an effective civil conduct over the Ministry of Defense.

*Lívia Peres Milani is a postdoctoral researcher at the San Tiago Dantas Program (UNESP – Unicamp – PUC-SP), author of Argentina and Brazil vis-à-vis the United States (2003 – 2015): between autonomy and subordination (Appris), 2012. [https://amzn.to/47S7Vpv]

*Luciana Wietchikoski is a postdoctoral researcher at UFSC.

*Ana Penido is a postdoctoral researcher at the San Tiago Dantas Program (UNESP – Unicamp – PUC-SP), author of Nobody regulates America (Popular Expression), 2021. [https://amzn.to/47SiEA7]


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