Brazil. An emerging democratic, global superpower

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

23 Pages, Grade: 1,0

Ferdinand Frisch (Author)


1. Introduction

Throughout the latest scholar papers, newspaper or political science journal articles Brazil has been termed “an upcoming global power” or “international player” (see Bandeira 2006, O’Neil 2010, Brigagão 2009 and partly Zaverucha 2009). While the term “upcoming global power” is often linked with aspects of economic, environmental and multilateral engagements (i.e. international organizations or trade regimes) within these articles, it also includes Brazils self-perceived military power and its role in Latin America (regional level) or even the world (international level). Moreover, scholars critical analyze Brazil’s intentions as well as the role Brazil will play on the intentional stage in the upcoming years (see Schneider 1976, Baer 2009 and Vaz 2004). Demands have been made by scholars trying to focus on the multilateral role of Brazil in order to “control” its behaviour while emphasizing Brazil’s repeatedly emerging domestic problems (i.e. inequality, criminalization, corruption or unsteady institutions). Additionally and for this paper most importantly, Brazil’s self-perceived role within the international sphere is mainly linked with its regime form, democratic. Therefore scholars argue that with the democratic transition in the late 1980’s, domestic actors and groups emerged on the scene, demanding a larger international role in order to sustain, develop and increase Brazil’s international reputation and power (see Brigagão 2009, Zaverucha 2009 and Baer 2009 ). Nevertheless it remains worth to question how these demands take place and how they actually cause a change within the country’s foreign policy. Additionally, it will be interesting to see how Brazil absorbs and transfers these internal demands in foreign policies, i.e. when we consider theoretical terms like “peaceful democracy”. My focus of analysis is therefore directed towards the following set of questions: How can we operationalize the term “upcoming superpower”?

What are Brazil’s main domestic actors and how where these actors influenced in their demands after the democratic transition in 1985?

What changes within the domestic area in Brazil after 1985 caused a potential switch in the country’s foreign policy?

How does the potential new role Brazil plays in the international relations look like? Does it fit in the traditional theoretical perspective we have about democracies or is it an exception? Can we make a general prediction for Latin American new democracies as far as the foreign policy behaviour and self-determination is concerned?

My paper is basically structured in four coherent points. First of all, I try to frame Brazil’s newly defined role and/or potential shifting foreign policy with a brief literature review. Second, I try to give my paper a theoretical framework in order to create hypothesis and later answer my outgoing questions. My analytical tools are based on the theoretical approach by Zaverucha and Da Cunha 2009 et al. in order to analyze Brazil’s domestic actors and their competing influence before and after the democratic transition. Additionally and in order to specify the distinct characteristics of the Brazilian democracy, I use Karl’s theoretical framework which categorizes the newly emerged and freshly transformed democratic systems in Latin America (see Karl 1990). Third, I analyze Brazil’s domestic and foreign agendas after the democratic transition and try to find differences and distinctions compare to the military regime period before (this includes all the social and political actors as well as their interests and influences on Brazil’s foreign policy). I will not only use quantitative data (military expenditures, budget data or foreign investment) but also qualitative data which try to evaluate Brazil’s shifting role and self-understanding such as the ambivalence between universalism and autonomy.

I might then conclude with numerous theses about a re-evaluation of the principle of “peaceful democracies” or “peaceful demanding democracies” in order to develop a possible prediction for Latin America.

2. Brazil - a global superpower?

As mentioned above, Brazil has been termed numerous times over the last decade as an upcoming global superpower. In fact, Schneider 1976 et al. already named Brazil “the first Southern Hemisphere star in the world galaxy and the first new major power to emerge on the international scene since the rise of China after World War II” (Schneider 1976, p.13). Other, more recently published authors do not differ or vary on this assumption, calling Brazil either a “regional powerhouse…” (O’Neill 2010, p.1) or a “global player on the international stage, wielding regional power, and progressively gaining international influence” (Brigagão 2009, p.1). While mainly all of the existing scholars do not differ in their view of Brazil’s role in the world and the region, they seem to differ on the reasons for this perception. O’Neil sees Brazil as a powerhouse “because of its economic strength, its hemispheric leadership and its growing strategic role through multilateral international forums” (O’Neil 2010, p.1), although Brigagão identifies more strategic reasons: “increasing nuclear capacity is viewed as means of creating opportunities in the international system; sustainable development in the Amazon vies with security considerations; South-South relations from part of Brazil’s diversified foreign policy” (Brigagão 2009, p.1.). Others like Hanson or Vigeviani see Brazil’s quick economic recovery from the global financial crisis as a reason for its demand for more influential role on the international stage (see Hanson 2009 and Vigeviani 2009).

Nevertheless, the term “upcoming global superpower” or superpower in general needs preliminary thoughts and evaluations in order to understand Brazil’s real motivations on the international scene, theoretically and realpolitisch. Moreover, I will filter the existing literature on Brazil for commonalities as far as the term superpower or global power is concerned in order to create a basis for further analysis (i.e. Brazil’s “type” of democracy and its causes - see chapter 2 and 3).

Relating to Bandeira, “three factors must be considered in assessments of the power hierarchy among states: territorial extent, economic power, and military power. These are the factors that allow states to act independently and influence other states and thus determine the way in which the condition of being an international power is expressed” (Bandeira 2006, p.12). According to Banderia, a state’s power and reputation among other states depends on internal and external factors. External factors including the state’s military power (like successful military engagement, military budget or diplomatic weight and power), which “sums up the value of its territorial extent and its economic potential” (Bandeira 2006, p.12). Due to military power, a state can become hegemonic, whether in alliances (strategic or economically) or agreements (either trade or peace agreements).

Internal factors consider the government’s ability to establish and sustain its “internal hegemonic function” (Bandeira 2006, p.13). As far as Brazil is concerned, both external and internal factors make Brazil powerful in comparison to other states in the world. Brazil has the eight largest military power in the world (see and its military expenditure is ranked 12th in the world (see Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2008). While this does only represent 1% of the total military expenditure of all countries in the world combined in total numbers, “within the region however, its position has much more weight, as it stands for around one third of the total military expenditure of Latin America” (de Sousa 2009, p.1). Moreover, Brazil’s military engagement has been evaluated positively throughout scholar’s research work. Brazil’s first leading role in the United Nations Peace Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) in 2004 represents a major military contribution and pushed Brazil’s international reputation tremendously.

Additionally, and also referring to Deutsch, the country’s size and population affects the country’s possibility to mobilize resources (voter base or GDP) for a specific policy. Other authors, like Brigagão, are adding strategic aspects to the military power definition of states, i.e. Brazil. Thus, Brigagão identifies three defining lines of Brazil’s foreign policy, which are directly linked to its power status: The nuclear factor (Brazil as an emerging, albeit peaceful, nuclear power), the environment (Brazil as a possessor and contributor of large environmental reserves) and the South-South relations (Brazil’s increasing importance in the world due to its geographic, economic and demographic utilities).


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Brazil. An emerging democratic, global superpower
Arizona State University  (School Of Politics And Global Studies)
Latin American Politics
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Ferdinand Frisch (Author), 2010, Brazil. An emerging democratic, global superpower, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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