When Brazil and Turkey tried to negotiate a complex uranium swap with Iran this past summer, international media focused on Turkey's diplomatic role. That focus was understandable. Turkey is a neighbor of Iran's and is a military and economic power in the Middle East.
Brazil, however, has for over a decade signaled its intention to play a larger role in international affairs. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva expanded Brazil's diplomatic and political reach, with Brazil's strong economy as leverage. Brazil has the world's eighth largest economy in terms of gross domestic product. President-elect Dilma Rousseff has given every indication she will continue his active foreign policy and economic programs. Though ostensibly left-leaning (as is Lula), after her election Roussef announced she would control inflation and limit government spending. She takes office in January 2011.
Brazilians contend their involvement in the high-profile Iranian nuclear negotiations was not global grandstanding. They argue they bring relevant experience to any nuclear-related discussions, be the immediate subject building nuclear reactors to generate electricity, or designing effective programs to stop weapons proliferation, or prying existing bombs from a rogue power. Brazil once had a clandestine nuclear weapons program but ended it, peacefully, without warfare.
Engaging Iran also involved Brazilian regional interests, albeit opaquely. Iran and Brazil's troublesome neighbor to the north, Venezuela, have a budding alliance. Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez understood that Brazilian diplomats bargaining with Iran were demonstrating their ability to marginalize him and his regime. He felt snubbed and declined an Iranian invitation to attend a conference in Tehran. Brazil sees itself in South America as the logical coordinator of regional policy. A jealous Chavez seeks that role.
Poor Hugo. Brazil already possesses the size, population and resources to become a global power, and it is certainly South America's superpower. Over the last two decades, it has pursued several regional goals that have secured its dominance on the continent.
The creation of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR, also Mercosul in Portuguese) in 1995 made economic sense. The organization also gave Brazil a "continental" political platform, which its well-trained and sophisticated diplomatic corps knows how to use.
Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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