The challenges of Brazilian foreign policy

Blanca Alaníz, Quadrados series, digital photography and photomontage based on the work Baindeirinhas by Iván Serpa, Brasilia, 2016.


Rescuing the dignity of the Casa do Barão do Rio Branco and inaugurating new political paradigms of formulation and action

Two are the great challenges, in structural terms, to be taken into account for the Brazilian foreign policy that will begin at the dawn of January 1, 2023. The first, to rescue the dignity of the Casa do Barão do Rio Branco and, the second, inaugurate new political paradigms of formulation and action.

About the first one, although it seems easy, it is not trivial. Even though world diplomacy well understood that we were living in a period of exception for the Brazilian State, the stains did not dissolve so quickly. Memory, when very negative, embitters the taste of time. That's how it was when the country came out of the dictatorship. And José Sarney's foreign policy had to take great care of, if not erasing, at least minimizing the damage caused by the country's withdrawal from multilateral institutions, especially the UN. During most of the disastrous night of 21 years, we were absent from the Security Council and on the sidelines of advances in international humanitarian law. After all, here the most abject violations of human rights were carried out.

The efforts of the Sarney government were remarkable. A true “watershed”, a “new historical process”, of “transcendental importance”, said the illustrious jurist Antonio Augusto Cançado Trindade. He, and others, highlighted not only the country's adherence to international human rights legal instruments, but also considered effective participation in the formulation and defense of concepts in the field.

In the next Lula administration, mutatis mutandis, similar challenges loom. The difference between the period of the military dictatorship of 1964 and the Bolsonaro military government is that the latter did not withdraw from the international debate on human rights (to stay on the subject), he acted and promoted a catastrophe in the area. It is not necessary to repeat the speeches and positions of the president and his assistants, reflected in the international press, of a sexist, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, religious intolerance nature, among others.

But the fact is that the practices followed the lines. In an alliance with the USA (of Donald Trump), Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Uganda, among other countries, Brazil promoted the Declaration of Consensus of Geneva, with an extreme right agenda for human rights, which aroused serious criticism on the part of of Non-Governmental Organizations and social movements, such as, for example, Amnesty International. This is just one example of how Bolsonaro's foreign policy was not one of isolation, but of active participation based on an international agenda that often contradicts the fundamental rights expressed in the Federal Constitution of 1988 and the instruments of international law. .

On the other hand, what was talked about behind the scenes of international organizations is that the diplomatic protocol itself was shaken. In international presidential missions, ritualistic and ceremonial practices were lacking, to say the least, creating embarrassments for our tradition and diplomatic history. In short, there is much to be corrected, trying to minimize the serious damage left.

While correcting serious errors, foreign policy faces another challenge. Maybe bigger. It is not only necessary to resume a democratic agenda of international insertion, emphasizing the strengthening of multilateralism and participation in international institutions, but it will also be necessary to update, and even innovate, the project of active and proud foreign policy, so well conducted by Chancellor Celso Amorim (2003-2010). Let me explain: the promotion of a variable geometry and a new global governance, which can be exemplified by the creation of the G20, the G4 and the BRICS, at the global level, and UNASUR, at the regional level, needs to be rethought in light of the contemporary variables and their complex scenario.

With the war in Ukraine and with the Chinese imperial strength, it will be necessary to find an international cooperation agenda for the BRICS in which development gains centrality vis a vis the shared conceptions of a new international order. As regards the project of a new, more inclusive and democratic order, perhaps the G4 members will gain more prominence, in particular Germany, as well as other partners in Latin America and Africa.

One of the most relevant reforms for the international system concerns the UN Security Council, with the creation of new permanent seats. The first international appearance of president-elect Luiz Inácio, at COP 27, set the tone. Lula was bold, not only invoking the necessary inclusion of new members, but questioning the very power of the veto. This is a new fact in Brazilian foreign policy. Incidentally, the G4 proposal has always been cautious about the topic. But Lula acts wisely. Because if we are not aggressive in the bargain, even proposing something that in practice (given the politics of power, to remind M. Wight) is unattainable, perhaps we will not conquer the much-desired permanent vacancy, even without changing the structure of the veto power. You have to dare.

In any case, the complexity of international geopolitics will make us find new international alliances to promote the urgent reforms of international institutions and achieve a more active voice of transnational movements and non-governmental organizations in global governance, another topic of unique importance. Lula knows better than anyone that social dialogue (the mainstay of democracy) and the interaction of multiple actors – the trade union movement, youth, academia, NGOs, indigenous peoples, the black movement, the private sector, among others – constitute a dynamo for the development and for the solutions of the most urgent problems of nations and peoples. It is time for the “empowerment” of social actors in international relations.

The MERCOSUR integration process will deserve priority attention. On the one hand, it is smart to build a long-term agenda, somewhat distant from party politics, as the European Union has done. This strategy will establish stronger foundations that can make Integration survive, in times of economic and political crises (with governments of the extreme right). In this context, social cohesion policies, linked to an intensive infrastructure agenda (in line with new information and communication technologies), are essential.

In the social and commercial field of integration, care must be taken not only to listen to the various actors, but to make them participants in the process. A expertise of the trade union movement and the private initiative are of unparalleled richness. By far, there is no bureaucrat who knows the insides of MERCOSUR as well as trade unionists and the productive sector. There is a long way to go in standards of social and labor rights, promoting regional citizenship. Representation instances, and in particular PARLASUL, need reforms to gain more legitimacy and responsibilities.

As you can see, a dose of boldness will be needed. The problem is that boldness is recurrently criticized, even more so when it comes to foreign policy. But it is based on it that the country is better projected and significant changes are produced.

As an inspiration, remember some of the great moments and achievements of the PEB in recent decades. Starting with the Pan American Operation (which at some point will be better considered by the literature in the area), an initiative by President Juscelino Kubitschek that inaugurated the “most consistent exercise of presidential diplomacy” in recent history, in the words of Sérgio Danese. Long before the Copenhagen School and the Theory of Securitization, Juscelino Kubitschek (with the help of Frederico Schmitt and young diplomats – see Rubens Ricupero’s latest book on this subject), innovated international politics by promoting the interdependence of the concepts of security and development . Then, the independent foreign policy of Jânio and Jango, well formulated and conducted by Afonso Arinos, Araújo Castro and San Tiago Dantas.

In the midst of the Cold War, Brazil said at the UN that not everything was East or West in international relations, that “the world had other cardinal points” (Araújo Castro, speech at the UN in 1963). Chancellor Azeredo da Silveira, during the government of Ernesto Geisel, and his responsible pragmatism, also deserves consideration, in rescuing universalism and promoting important relations with the socialist countries and ending, finally, with the sad chapter of our history regarding to decolonization. Finally, the Lula government and the haughty and active foreign policy promoted by Celso Amorim.

In addition to the alliances already mentioned in this article from that period, negotiations in the nuclear field with Iran, CELAC, the UNASUR Defense Council, and the promotion of the concept and principle of solidarity in international relations (little fond of mainstream da Realpolitik). All these characters and their policies were, some more, others less, harshly criticized in their time. But it is no less true that, in the course of history, they have become recognized protagonists of the nation.

The combination between the recovery of the highest tradition and diplomatic prestige with the daring characteristic of artists and scientists – creation, invention – constitute two major challenging axes of the foreign policy of the new dawn. May the first rays of sunlight on January 1st emanate tranquility so that managers really know who we truly are, valuing our constant participation and contributions to international relations, and that, likewise, serve as an inspiration, to understand that “those who know how to make hour and does not wait to happen”.

*Carlos Enrique Ruiz Ferreira Professor of International Relations at the State University of Paraíba.


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