May 21, 2013
Dilma’s DC defence deal
Dilma Rousseff’s two-day trip to Washington and Boston should really be viewed in the reverse mirror. The near-sighted Mr. Magoos can take their magnifying-glasses to what it wasn’t — it was not a state visit but an official working trip. US President Barack Obama did not invite his Brazilian colleague to any evening banquet but to a hands-on lunch in his office. Both presidents stayed mum on Brasilia’s aspiration to a permanent Security Council seat; Dilma uncomfortably reproached Washington’s exchange rate policies and the USAF contract with Brazil’s Embraer aviation manufacturers (which fell through a few weeks ago) was not revived. And that list could continue.
Nevertheless, the joint statement signed by both presidents on Monday allows us to focus on Dilma’s first presidential visit to the United States with another lens — Washington’s quest to have Brazil as a security and defence partner in tandem (i.e. under control).
Using the slogan of 21st Century Partnership, Rousseff and Obama entrusted their respective defence ministers (Celso Amorim and Leon Panetta) with the task of directing and reporting on the new Defence Co-operation Dialogue (DCD) between the two countries. Yes, co-operation — no misprint there. So what happened to all that fuss in 2008 when then President Lula railed against the return of the US Navy’s Fourth Fleet in the South Atlantic before the outcry over the Alvaro Uribe government permitting “gringos” to set up seven military bases in Colombia? And how does Brasilia propose to fit this DCD into the Unasur Defence Council, pushed by Amorim himself when Lula’s foreign minister? That’s the really tricky question for several South American capitals.
Still the same
“I don’t see any real changes in all this,” defence expert Fabián Calle tells the Herald, “Brazil stopped being a US strategic ally almost half a century ago.” He adds that while the Brazilians are “polite rivals” these days, the tension between Brasilia and Washington remains the same with one “seeking to create a South American region while the other strives to preserve its hemispheric concept”.
Nonetheless, the first DCD meeting is scheduled for April 24 in Brazil. There it will advance a joint project for “bilateral defence co-operation based on respect and mutual” confidence to establish a forum of discussion and to “identify opportunities to collaborate in defence issues throughout the planet.”
The statement does not overlook the nuclear question. Apart from explaining that “both countries defend non-proliferation, nuclear security and disarmament,” they “expressed support for the review cycle of the Treaty for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), and the goals identified in the Action Plan adopted by the VIII NPT Review Conference, which includes the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the beginning of negotiations on a treaty banning the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.”
Leaving aside its gobbledygook, this “nuke” paragraph ratifies the Brazilian stance on not signing the Additional Protocols to the TNP (if they did, they would be opening the door to surprise inspections of their nuclear plants on suspicion of use for military aims). “In other words, they’re ratifying the ratified”, explains Fabián Calle, not without adding that the CTBT seeks to exclude new players but keep Brazil in the game.
“In this sense, the US has strategic patience with Brazil, no doubt about it”, he concludes.
And that is not all. The statement also promotes greater trilateral co-operation in security matters and highlights the recent launch of a pilot plan for integrating systems to monitor and control coca cultivation in Bolivia. In slightly plainer English, Washington in association with Brasilia is delegating what until 2008 was the task of US organisms like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), bounced off the Bolivian altiplano by the Evo Morales presidency.
This is not only a sign of US confidence in Brazil but also a Bolivian shift towards more pragmatic and less ideological positions. It also exposes Argentine isolationism (an anachronism in today’s globalized world) — in late 2010, Security Minister Nilda Garré also played to the galleries by clamping down on the DEA, as well as cutting off all security and intelligence co-operation and training with the US. A matter of philosophy, of course.
As for the Brasilia-Washington relationship, it was well summarized by the foreign ministers of the two countries.
“Brazil is a responsible player”, said Hillary Clinton, “which is having a growing impact on world stability and security.” Brazil’s Antonio Patriota did not lag behind: “The US will continue to be a power but Brazil also has its strong points,” adding that “we want to be a constructive and peaceful link between the different poles of a multipolar world”.
Regardless of whether these visions are contrasting, complementary or united by need or shared fears, perhaps the defence and security points agreed this week in Washington match more than ever the conclusion of The Economist magazine: “Never was Brazil as important for the US as now and never was the US less important for Brazil”.