Expanding Alliances In 21st Century: US And Brazil Unite To Address National Security Matters


By Juan Pablo Pitarque

The recent signing of a new defense agreement between the Western hemisphere’s two dominant powers, Brazil and the United States, has brought about an important change to Latin America’s relations with the U.S. On April 12, 2010, Brazil took another step to enhance its geopolitical influence by signing the U.S.-Brazil Defense Cooperation Agreement (DCA). The treaty will allow U.S. military cooperation on a Brazilian base with the aim of defending the hemisphere from illicit drug trafficking and to protect both countries’ national interests. As Brazil continues to be a linchpin of economic stability in Latin America and is increasingly viewed as being on its way to becoming a global superpower, the Brazilian government is realizing that its power comes with a price. The cost of such a position carries a price tag in terms of its security costs. Brazil has achieved a sufficiently high profile that it must significantly increase its defense so as to protect its population.

An Uneasy Past

Military relations between the two nations date back to World War II when Brazil participated in the Allied effort by providing troops to fight in the 1942 Italian Campaign. The first defense treaty between the two nations was created in 1952, with the signing of the Brazilian Military Assistance Agreement. The accord enabled the provisional exchange of major weapons and training by the United States to its Brazilian counterpart, as the countries proceeded to form a tenuous alliance that governed their bilateral ties during the Cold War1. However, this alliance was short-lived and suffered multiple blowouts. After Brazil’s 1964 military coup, the U.S. continued to provide military aid in the form of training and supplies in order to support the pro-U.S. governments that were in power. Nonetheless, the U.S. began to limit its assistance during this time.

As defense ties to the U.S. gradually diminished, Brazil began to pursue a nuclear program with the aid of West Germany beginning in 1975. The Carter Administration stipulated that Brazil must improve its poor human rights record and cease its nuclear development efforts in order to continue to receive military assistance from Washington. When Brazil refused to comply with these demands, the U.S. formally terminated its military agreement with Brasilia in 1977.

As the twentieth century came to an end, Brazil maintained its position as a regional power and also began to ascend as an increasingly important actor in world affairs. In the time leading up to the signing of the DCA, the two nations discovered overlapping national security interests, which resulted in the signing of the new and promising DCA on April 12, 2010. In fact, the State Department guaranteed that the DCA would enable “U.S.-Brazil defense cooperation to deepen and expand into new areas of mutual interest.”2

Lula’s Wariness of Uncle Sam

After the October 2009 U.S.-Colombia Defense Agreement, many Latin American nations were more than a little skeptical of the expanded U.S. presence. The U.S.-Colombia agreement established seven U.S. bases across Colombia, each with its own personnel and equipment. Nonetheless, Ecuador and Venezuela claimed that the bases arrangement was nothing less than a preparation for an U.S. invasion of South America, while Brazilian President Lula da Sliva expressed a concern that the Colombian bases would only increase regional tensions. Shortly after the agreement was signed, Lula invited President Obama to the South American Summit to seek reassurance that the base was solely for the war against “drugs and terrorists within Colombia only.” Lula’s concern about the U.S. military presence in Colombia seems to be hypocritical due to the fact that six months later Brazil signed a military agreement of its own with Washington.

However, there is little to worry about. The U.S. sent letters to the concerned nations explaining the role and purpose of the bases, according to Kevin Whitaker, Acting Deputy Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs. Furthermore, the Colombia agreement states that “the cooperation is based upon full respect for the sovereignty of each party,” and stating that Colombia will contractually own the military base and work cooperatively and collegially together with the U.S. The DCA with Brazil follows a similar format. Secretary Whitaker stated at a conference that, “the treaty with Brazil is narrow in its nature in comparison to the agreement with Colombia,” and thus provides a more detailed description as to the role of the U.S. military presence. These explanations are aimed to quell concerns about an intruding military force or an “imperialist” base. Under the Obama administration, the U.S.’ foreign policy has been orientated towards establishing cooperation-based initiatives in which the U.S. provides both military and social aid to other nations in order to address specific issues of national security which threaten the overall prospects for global stability.

The New Global Stage and its Perils

As Brazil steps into the international arena, it will continue to face some of the many issues that plague Latin America, including the major threats of the drug trade and terrorism. To add to its international importance, Brazil will be the host of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic games, two events which place Brazil prominently in the world spotlight.

In order to address issues of defense, one must begin by understanding the geographical enormity of Brazil. The Brazilian territory expands across most of the Amazon bordering every South American nation except for Ecuador and Chile. On the coast lies the Atlantic Ocean, the maritime door to Europe and the United States. These borders have already witnessed a terrorist presence and have become a major artery for the illegal drug trade.

In past years, Brazil has experienced terrorist threats, as illustrated by the arrest of individuals linked to terrorist cells in 2002. These threats have led the country’s security forces to look for more security safeguards in the hemisphere.

Terrorism recently has undergone a redefinition by the U.S. State Department. A terrorist is now any insurgent who “employs subversion, sabotage, [or] open warfare.”3 Additionally, these violent acts are targeted to inflict “massive damage to the United States, [their] allies, [their] interests and the broader international system.”4 This shift in definition has had important implications for Brazil. First, the country’s rise in global stature and as a partner-in-arms of the United States places it at risk of falling victim to al-Qaeda’s infamous “globalized insurgency.”5 The fact that Brazil is preparing for its advent as a world superpower and in the near future will host several major international events makes it a prime target for terrorist acts. Judging from other historical events, such as the 1972 Munich Olympics bombings, Brazil must protect itself from such threats.

Furthermore, the definition of terrorism now has swollen into encompassing groups, such as the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), that previously were considered local revolutionary guerrilla forces. However, there is evidence of FARC presence, not only in the Andean region, but also in the Southern Cone. Recently, Paraguayan authorities, in combination with Colombian intelligence, captured a FARC leader who undoubtedly was in Paraguay to train members of the rebel Paraguayan People’s Army (EPP). Thus, Brazil may be facing terrorist threats from well-established regional terrorist groups as well as homegrown groups.

With regards to narcotrafficking, the largely un-policed border between Brazil and Paraguay has allowed the flow of 40 tons of cocaine and 15% of the world’s supply of marijuana to access the rest of the world, thus Brazil-Paraguay border has become yet another victim of the drug trading lanes. Recently, the Paraguayan drug enforcement squad declared that the amount of cocaine confiscated so far in 2010 already tops the total amount confiscated in all of 2009 which further emphasize how the drug trade will continue to prosper along the Brazil-Paraguay border; problem that in turn will continue to demand increased security. The illicit trade on Brazil’s border will ultimately threaten its stability, especially at a time when global attention is focused on the country. These threats will call for a tighter grip on the nation’s defense establishment.

The DCA Helping Brasilia

Many Brazilian foreign policy strategists expect the DCA to fulfill the country’s main goal of preparing for the global threats of the 21st Century. First off, the U.S. military base would be “under Brazilian command” and “resemble the US facility in Key West, Florida where representatives of several Latin American countries and several US military agencies monitor the skies and waters of that region.”6 Therefore, Brazil will retain its sovereignty while still hosting a joint task force where the national interests of the U.S. and Brazil would be mutually fostered.

Furthermore, the DCA includes:

• Cooperation in the fields of research and development, logistics support, technology security, and the acquisition of defense products and services;
• Information exchanges on topics such as operational experiences, defense technology, and international peacekeeping operations;
• Combined military training and education, and joint military exercises;
• Exchanges of instructors and students from defense institutions;
• Commercial initiatives related to defense matters.7

These objectives invariably serve to promote Brazil’s self-defined foreign policy objectives. Brazil’s 1988 Constitution serves as the nation’s guiding source for protecting its foreign policy and outlines its goals in Article IV. The Constitution emphasizes “national independence… defense of peace… [and] repudiation of terrorism.”8 According to the nation’s leading newspaper, O Estado de São Paulo, the goal of the DCA base is to strengthen security against drug trafficking in the region by triangulating efforts with bases in Key West, Florida; Lisbon, Portugal and Rio de Janeiro. Another provision, one which outlines the U.S.’ agreement to send weapons to Brazil, will drastically improve the Brazilian military’s ability to combat future threats.

The agreement also fulfills Brazil’s long-term goals of establishing a viable defense system against terrorism and other regional threats. The sharing of U.S. intelligence, modern equipment, and training will appreciably improve Brazil’s military capabilities as well as the U.S.’ ability to uphold its national security goals.

The DCA Helping D.C.

The United States has also undertaken new foreign policy initiatives in order to satisfy global requirements. The new approach aims to create a successful military alliance in the Western hemisphere similar to NATO with Europe. According to strategic analyst and Princeton professor, John G. Ikenberry, “NATO and the US-Japan alliance are at the core of [an] alliance system [which] will be expanded and strengthened.”9 The U.S. uses the structure of traditional Cold War alliances and expands upon these alliances by having them expand to other regional powers such as Brazil. Therefore, the DCA with Brazil will entail a “cooperation of security or security cobinding.”10 The unfettered rise of Brazil is inevitable and, via the DCA, it will be incorporated into an alliance system “rather than operating as a dissatisfied revisionist state on the outside,” like Venezuela.11

Another driving force behind the DCA is Washington’s uncanny feeling with regard to Venezuela’s transformed foreign policy and increased defense spending. Chávez recently reallocated approximately $4 billion in defense spending for Russian AK-47 rifles, Mi-24 attack helicopters, S300 surface-to-air missiles, and SU-27 fighter jets. This colossal investment in modern warfare has many nations on the continent worried about their intended end use. Although it does not create an arms race within Latin America per se, it does, according to some U.S. strategists, increase tensions among regional governments. Chávez’s outcries against the U.S., such as claiming that the U.S. has spy planes in the region, are now backed with a dangerous arsenal.

However, conventional military forces are not the only worry in the region. The Chávez government has an alleged relationship with Colombian FARC rebels, and the rebels have purportedly used the Venezuelan jungles as a safe haven. These rebel forces have also been reported to have AT-4 light anti-tank rockets, rifles and other arms, some of which formerly belonged to the Venezuelan military.

Venezuela is vying for political potency in the region as it aims to influence other governments to replicate policies of its own leftist-style government. Chávez’s objective has achieved relative success in Ecuador and Bolivia. The role of the regional military in the area is a major factor in determining whether Brazil or Venezuela will have stronger influence in the region. This factor contributes to Chávez’s decision to upgrade its military and why, in recent years, Brazil’s defense spending has also increased by 58%. Venezuela’s questionable political stance and alliances, enforced by a modern and dangerous military arsenal, could allow it to become a radical power in the region, threatening not only regional stability, but also competing against Brazil’s own ascension to power.

The U.S. base in Brazil will provide the U.S. with a foundation from which it can work hand in hand with Brasilia in thwarting the efforts to develop new routes for drug shipping northward. Additionally, the U.S. base in Brazil would serve as a Forward Operation Location (FOL), such as the ones already established in Curaçao and Aruba, which are military facilities targeted at curtailing drug activity in the region. These bases have proven to be quite successful in the war against drugs by acting as centers of intelligence operations. Furthermore, since Brazil has long been a powerful nation in Latin America, Brazil enthusiasts close to the White House would advocate that the U.S. should ally with Brazil in the “interest of regional security.”12 Therefore, the base in Brazil would not only serve to aid in combating drug trafficking, but also would help establish a more stable balance of power in what has been at times a politically unstable region.

Brazil’s Defense Future

The Defense Cooperation Agreement is just the first step in changing the topography of U.S.–Brazilian relations. The rising power of Brazil has driven it to modify its national priorities. In doing so, it must prepare to fend off the vertigo of its rapid rise and engage in discreet policy shifts that will protect its dignity and at the same time uphold its basic interests, such as the wars on drugs and terrorism. With its cooperation with Brazil, the U.S. has created a new regional ally that will pursue similar interests. Moreover, this evolving alliance proves that Latin America may have reached the point that it no longer needs to feel that its fundamental sovereignty is being threatened as it was in the previous century. Those who maintain that the U.S. will continue with its hegemonic activity in Latin America, such as Ecuador’s President Correa and Venezuela’s Chávez, may be mistaken. These leaders are still being propelled by historical bona fide resentments to come to these conclusions, but a new age may now be dawning.

For too many years, Latin America and the United States have shared an unsteady and often bitter relationship. Brazil has increasingly become a major player in dealing with global affairs in a pacific and non-judgmental manner. One example of this is Brazil’s efforts to resolve Iran’s nuclear talks in search of a way out from the present stalemate. In a subtle way, Brazil has declared that Latin America is no longer Washington’s backyard. As Latin America strives for security along with democracy, the U.S. and Brazil are destined to continue to play a key role in how both of these elements unfold as dynamic factors in the region’s future. Exactly what role the DCA will play is by no means certain. However, if limited to only anti-drug matters and not as a facility to carry out the type of misguided and ill conceived adventures which have sullied the U.S.’ good name in the past, the DCA has the potential to aid in security improvement and social development, benefiting both regional superpowers.

References for this article are available here.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Juan Pablo Pitarque


COHA, or Council on Hemispheric Affairs, was founded in 1975, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA), a nonprofit, tax-exempt independent research and information organization, was established to promote the common interests of the hemisphere, raise the visibility of regional affairs and increase the importance of the inter-American relationship, as well as encourage the formulation of rational and constructive U.S. policies towards Latin America.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *