I visited Brazil recently in my role as the dean of The Fletcher School. It reminded me of trips that I made between 2006 and 2009, when I was Commander of the US Southern Command, with oversight for military cooperation between the United States and Brazil.
One of the questions I was asked on this most recent trip led me to do more thinking about the role of Brazil in the south Atlantic. As former NATO Supreme Allied Commander from 2009 – 2013, I thought a great deal about the northern Atlantic, but not enough about the southern portion. Particularly as both South America and Africa continue to engage globally, with rising population and more people lifted out of poverty, the southern Atlantic will grow in importance. But what is the role of Brazil?
First and foremost, it must be said the impact of Brazil across the southern Atlantic is up to the people of Brazil, not to outside observers. But with deep respect for Brazil, I would venture to offer a view of some of the challenges and opportunities that seem to exist.
One of the most obvious opportunities is the potential for responsible exploration of natural resources. Topping the list are oil and natural gas. Both exist along the coast of Brazil and within its Exclusive Economic Zone, as well as further south and along the African coast. There is also the potential of mining in deep water, as well as fishing and wind energy. With its large industry, Brazil can increase its role as a leader and partner in these sectors.
A challenge that crosses the South Atlantic is the flow of narcotics, mainly cocaine. Brazil already works to block the transit of these substances, that not only hurt users but from which profits finance other crimes, fuel corruption and undermine fragile democracies. The work of Brazil with the international task force based in Key West, Florida, is noteworthy, and the engagement of Brazil on the African side of the flow would be useful.
A third area covers the political and diplomatic spheres. Within Latin America and the Caribbean is Brazil's great influence in regional organizations. There is clearly a role for Brazil also in West Africa, along the entire coast. Support for the development, leadership and cooperation on common issues for safety are areas in which the Brazilian involvement is valuable.
A diplomatic problem that continues to haunt the region is the situation in the Malvinas / Falklands. There has been no tangible improvement in the disagreement between the UK and Argentina that led to the war three decades ago. There may be a role for Brazil — perhaps along with the U.S. — to promote a long-term solution to this problem.
Of course, there will always be good business opportunities in the south Atlantic Exploring ideas about free trade associations between South America and Africa would be positive.
In the security area, there is potential for dialogue and military cooperation between Brazil / Latin America / Caribbean and Africa. Some of the dimensions could include joint UN peacekeeping operations, as exists in Haiti; training and information sharing activities such as mine-clearance, communications and maritime and air operations; disaster relief; humanitarian operations; medical diplomacy; and technical and financial assistance.
All this is dependent on the desires of the Brazilian people, the leadership of the nation and the resources available. I look forward to seeing how the strong capability of Brazil is used in the international sphere and specifically in the southern oceans.
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