By Tullo Vigevani and Gabriel Cepaluni
The times are changing. Developing countries like China, India and Brazil are reaching a renewed status. Although China and India normally attracts more attention due to their superior economic growth, Brazil is the closest to the United States in geographical terms. This creates both opportunities and conflicts as the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton realized in her visit to Brazil on March 3th, 2010.
Discussing Brazil-Iran relationship was a top priority in Clinton’s visit to Brazil. Secretary Clinton insists that Brazil join the United States pressure on Iran. Lula's government regards sanctions as a step towards military force. Brazil enjoys an excellent relation with the United States. For example, the U.S. is still one of the most important Brazilian trade partners. In 2009, however, U.S.-Brazil relationship fell victim to disagreements over Honduras, military bases in Colombia, WTO cotton dispute and, as we mentioned, tensions over Iran.
Historically Brazil has insisted on keeping its autonomy from great powers. The Brazilian elite, including the highly trained Brazilian diplomats, always dreamed of Brazil as a global autonomous power in a multipolar world. Autonomy is certainly not a deliberate attempt to thwart U.S. diplomacy, but sometimes collides with U.S. interests. As we show in our book, Brazilian Foreign Policy in Changing Times, the notion of autonomy assumes different forms throughout the Brazilian history. With Lula, Brazil pursues a strategy of autonomy through diversification. According to our definition, this strategy consists of an adherence to international norms and principles by means of South-South alliances, and through agreements with non-traditional partners (China, Asia-Pacific, Africa, Eastern Europe, Middle East etc.), trying to reduce asymmetries in external relations with powerful countries.
This explains the Brazilian foreign policy towards Iran. Since Brazil's relation with the United States is good but stable, Brazil has to establish new partnerships to increase its power in the international scenario. (China has a similar position to Iran. Although we do not claim to be experts on China, we suspect that the same explanation applies to this other BRIC country)
Brazil partnership with Iran poses problems on the subject of human rights, which is often discussed by Brazilian government and society (intellectuals, media, etc.). Nonetheless, the idea of non-intervention is also a trace of the Brazilian diplomatic discourse. In this way, President Lula argues that sanctions against Iran are ineffective, and Iran should not be “pushed against a wall” by the international community. Defending Iran position in a subject that Lula sees as central to keeps Brazil autonomy, he states: “What I want for Iran is what I want for Brazil: the use and development of nuclear energy for peaceful ends”. Brazilian foreign policy is clear in this regard: no nuclear weapons, but the right to use nuclear energy peacefully. This is an issue that will grow in international relations, linked with the environment issues.
Tullo Vigevani is professor of political science at São Paulo State University (UNESP), research coordinator of the Center for Contemporary Cultural Studies, coordinator of the National Institute for Studies on the United States, and cooordinator of the post-graduate program on international relations at the State University of Campinas and the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paolo and Gabriel Cepaluni has recently been a visiting researcher in the department of government at Georgetown University. They are the authors of Brazilian Foreign Policy in Changing Times: The Quest for Autonomy from Sarney to Lula.