It is, perhaps, a truism for Brazil’s citizens that their country is and always will be a peaceful one. After all, Brazil has lived with its 10 neighbors without conflict for almost 150 years, having settled its borders through negotiation. It last went to war in 1942, after direct aggression by German U-boats in the South Atlantic. It has forsworn nuclear weapons, having signed a comprehensive nuclear-safeguards agreement with Argentina and the International Atomic Energy Agency. Through the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), Brazil is helping to integrate the region politically, economically, socially and culturally.
However, is soft power enough for one of the world’s major emerging countries?
To be sure, Brazil’s peaceful foreign policy has served it well. Brazil has used its stature to advance peace and cooperation in South America and beyond. Its constructive stance derives from a world view that accords pride of place to the values of democracy, social justice, economic development and environmental protection.
Brazil’s unique approach to promoting these ideals is an important source of its soft power, reflected in the broad international support that has placed Brazilians atop international institutions like the Food and Agriculture Organization and the WTO.
Yet no country can rely on soft power alone to defend its interests. Indeed, in an unpredictable world, where old threats are compounded by new challenges, policymakers cannot disregard hard power. By deterring threats to national sovereignty, military power supports peace; and, in Brazil’s case, it underpins the country’s constructive role in the pursuit of global stability.
That role is becoming more necessary than ever. Over the past two decades, unilateral actions in disregard of the UN Security Council’s primary responsibility in matters of war and peace have led to greater uncertainty and instability. Likewise, little progress toward nuclear disarmament has been made, in spite of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Brazil’s abundance of energy, food, water and biodiversity increases its stake in a security environment characterized by rising competition for access to, or control of, natural resources. In order to meet the challenges of this complex reality, Brazil’s peaceful foreign policy must be supported by a robust defense policy.
Brazil’s National Defense Strategy which was updated last year states that the modernization of the Armed Forces is intrinsically linked to national development. Thus, it emphasizes the need to strengthen the domestic defense industry. In accordance with this strategy, Brazil is enhancing its conventional deterrence capabilities, including by building a nuclear-propelled submarine as part of a naval program commensurate with its responsibilities in the South Atlantic.
Brazil coordinates closely on defense matters with its neighbors, both bilaterally and through the Union of South American Nations Defense Council, which aims to promote confidence-building, transparency, a joint regional defense industry, and, most important, a common defense identity.
One potential mechanism for advancing these objectives is a South American Defense College, now under consideration.
South America is becoming a region where war is unthinkable — what the political scientist Karl Deutsch once called a “security community.” Having visited every South American country as Brazilian defense minister, the most effective deterrent on the continent is cooperation.