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Monday, November 1, 2010

Rising Brasil Must Explain What It Wants

Rising Brazil must explain what it wants
By Marco Vicenzino
Published: November 1 2010 13:48 | Last updated: November 1 2010 13:48
Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s next president, inherits the diplomatic challenges of her predecessor but not his charisma. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva charmed the world in recent years. He has raised his country’s standing and will be a tough act to follow. But a sustainable foreign policy cannot be based on the strength of a single personality.

For Brazil remains a diplomatic enigma. Keeping others guessing may have short-term benefits, but it also risks a long-term trust deficit. Policymakers around the world struggle to understand Brazil’s foreign policy and the dynamics behind it.

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Greater clarity is needed on what Brazil represents. One prominent example causing dismay was Brazil’s co-operation with Turkey in defying the permanent five members of the UN Security Council on Iran sanctions. This incident underscored the need for Brazil to present a coherent international agenda and, above all, to communicate it effectively. The country’s traditionally gifted diplomats will be crucial in this task.

Yet foreign policy was conspicuously absent from the election campaign. The excuse that ordinary Brazilians are not concerned about the outside world is no longer acceptable. By failing to address foreign policy substantively, the presidential candidates short-changed themselves and voters, entrenching the perception of a country indifferent to the world beyond.

Brazil’s leaders from across the political spectrum have an obligation to conduct a real and responsible debate on Brazil’s role in the world. They must declare not only where they stand on important international issues but why. Their explanations will be of interest not only to ordinary Brazilians but to the sovereign partners and foreign investors who have played such a critical role in Brazil’s rapid development.

To be effectively engaged with Brazil, international business needs greater certainty. Playing the nationalist card to garner votes, particularly with natural resources, complicates matters for outsiders.

The historical and unprecedented $67bn flotation of Petrobras must be used as an instrument for growth and development. Brazil’s new president must avoid politicising the lucrative state-oil giant; above all, it must not be used as a tool to reward cronies at home. The risk of irreversible damage to Brazil’s evolving reputation as a reliable destination for foreign direct investment remains real.

Brazil is determined to translate its increasing economic weight into greater diplomatic clout as a leader in the developing world and beyond. As its global influence grows, so will disagreements with the US and others. The fear of many traditional powers is that attempts by rising powers to challenge fundamental precepts of global security will destabilise the fragile international system and increase the potential for turbulence.

In such circumstances, the diplomacy of Brazil’s next president must go beyond bear-hugging foreign leaders and upstaging traditional powers. Diplomacy is more than a photo-opportunity. A more sober and less hyperactive approach is needed. The diplomacy of a responsible rising power must focus not only on its own security but its obligations to wider international stability.

In retrospect, Mr Lula da Silva did an exceptional job in making ordinary Brazilians feel part of the system. He helped elevate many to a better life. His successor must obviously build upon this. However, Ms Rousseff will also need to make citizens realise that they are direct stakeholders in Brazil’s growth – not just at home but abroad. Tough decisions lie ahead for Brazil. Lula’s successor must rise to the challenge.

The writer is director of the Global Strategy Project, a geopolitical research and analysis organisation based in Washington, DC