THE BRAZILIAN DEFENCE MINISTER AT WEST POINT: A COMMENT
"Brazil is not a serious country."
General Charles de Gaulle, attributed, 1963.
The Brazilian Defence Minister, Nelson Jobim came to the American military academy at West Point the other day to speak to cadets and attendees of a conference dealing with the early 20th century Brazilian diplomat, writer and politician, Joaquim Nabuco ("Nabuco and the New Brazil", see:www.americas-society.org), sponsored by the Society of the Americas, the Brazilian Endowment for the Arts and Columbia University. In the course of his visit, Minister Jobim, gave a hour long speech (in Portuguese) to the assembled guests, in which he gave a well-spoken and fluent tour d'horizon, laying down the parameters of both current and future Brazilian defence policy. In essence, as per the Minister, Brazil, with a per capita income of approximately $10,000.00, per annum, and, with the world's eighth largest economy (according to the CIA, it is ninth largest, see: www.cia.gov), Brazil occupies an increasing position in the world. Currently, Brazil spends 1.70% of its growing GDP, on military spending. Making its defence expenditure the 14th largest in the world (see: www.globalsecurity.org). As per the Minister, Brazil, while possessing 4,000 square miles of coastline and having borders with ten countries in Latin America, totaling over 9,000 square miles of borders, inhabits a 'low-risk security environment'. Given the fact that Brazil has not fought a war inside of its own hemisphere in the past one hundred and twenty years, this statement appears to be an important truism. Notwithstanding these embarrassment of riches, security-wise, the Minister emphasized that Brazil intended to pursue an ambitious military programme of expenditures, partly via purchasing erste-klasse military equipment from France, Sweden and perhaps Russia. The rationale for this being that Brazil had to: i) guard its autonomy: security and otherwise; ii) protect its off-shore energy deposits in the South Atlantic; iii) protecting the Amazon's river mouth. Finally, and most importantly, the Minister stated that "a national strategy of development equals a national strategy of defence". And, vice-`a-versa. These three primary reasons, provided the rationale for the following build-up in Brazilian defence capability: a) submarine development programme; b) creation of a second fleet and a second marine division; c) creating a 'core naval capability'.
What is the outside observer to make of the Minister's comments? I for one, have difficulty imagining that there is any need whatsoever for Brazil to increase its current level of military spending. As was noted above, Brazil has for all intents and purposes a 'low-risk' security environment. And, has had one since for all intents and purposes since the 1970's. The only possible security risks, are internal and not external. From my perspective, Brazil would be much, much better off, employing its growing, national wealth in endeavoring to assist the livelihood of its people. A people, who are still, in terms of world rankings of per capita income, way down the queue: one hundred and ninth out of two hundred and twenty-nine, just above Cuba and below African countries such as Gabon (see: www.cia.gov). With rampant poverty still to be found in its cities, it is difficult to see what possible reason for Brazil to seriously consider either playing some type of 'machtpolitik role', or to spend a greater portion of its GDP, on military expenditures. The only positive upshot of the latter, could possibly be that via the export market, to a degree military expenditures could potentially pay for itself. Although that currently does not appear to be the case (Brazil does not even appear on the one to fifteen list of largest exporters of military equipment. See: www.sipri.org). Overall, one can only hope that Brazil's new President (to be elected on the 31st of October of this year), shall wisely decide that the country is better-off for the time being to remain under the American military and security blanket & tutelage and refrain from pursuing dreams of military grandeur, which this country can ill-afford to indulge in. At least not for a very long time to come.