Why can't America and Brazil be allies?

Brazil: Coming or Conceptless Regional Power?

Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva is rarely at a loss for words, especially when it comes to his foreign policy ambitions. "We have to help our neighbors Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to develop. That is the task of the richest country in the region," he announced on his bi-weekly radio program "Breakfast with the President" in mid-May. Foreign policy has been his hobbyhorse since the former trade unionist and Marxist assumed the highest office in the state around two and a half years ago.

At the moment, however, he has to take care of day-to-day political affairs in Brazil. A corruption scandal, in which politicians from Lula's PT and allied groups are alleged to be involved, has been causing a stir since the beginning of June. The PT, which does not have its own majority in parliament, is accused of buying votes. On Thursday (June 16), Lula's closest advisor, Cabinet Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu, resigned after the opposition had accused him of knowing about the bribery.

The gap between aspiration and reality

Many problems inside: Poverty in a favela

The irony of history: in the same week that the allegations first became public, Lula welcomed international UN experts to the "Global Forum Against Corruption" in the capital Brasilia - a symbol of his politics in recent years, both in terms of ambition and reality wide gap. While domestic political problems have been making headlines for months and Lula's popularity has fallen rapidly, he is still tinkering with his most ambitious foreign policy project: establishing Brazil as the new hegemonic power.

"Lula has chosen foreign policy as one of the central fields of action," explains Günther Maihold, Latin America expert at the Science and Politics Foundation. One of the characteristics of this new foreign policy is the so-called "neighborhood policy": "That means, Brazil tries to stabilize neighboring states and resolve conflicts and does not wait for others to take action."

Middle East, Africa, Asia - Lula wants to be involved everywhere

But Lula's foreign policy offensive is by no means "limited" to Latin America. "Brazil has started a very active Africa policy, it has started a dialogue with the Arab world and it is cooperating with the new powers of the south, for example India and South Africa," said Maihold.

Lula with allies in the fight for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council

Brazil under Lula wants to play a role in foreign policy everywhere and, above all, to be at the forefront. This shows the striving for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council as well as Brazil's involvement in the so-called "Group of 21", a loose association of developing and emerging countries. At the World Trade Conference in Cancun in 2003, the latter developed into a serious opponent of the USA and the EU and played a major role in the eventual failure of the negotiations.

"Great power politics "without substance?

The claim to great power has a long tradition in Brazil. Even at the time of the military dictatorship in the 1970s, it manifested itself in the pursuit of nuclear power. But according to Günther Maihold, something fundamental has changed under Lula. "For the first time, Brazil was able to gain recognition for having made preliminary work and covered costs, for example by providing peacekeeping forces in Haiti. It is no longer just a matter of positioning itself at the expense of others, as it used to be."

Andreas Boeckh, Latin America expert at the University of Tübingen, sees it differently. For him, Brazil currently belongs to the "type of hegemonic power that uses its supremacy to ruthlessly assert its interests". He also criticizes the lack of substance in Lula's "all-round great power policy". "It would certainly be wiser to concentrate on your own region and also to compromise with neighbors such as Argentina," says Boeckh. Argentina is the traditional opponent of Brazil in the dispute over the leadership role in Latin America. In the opinion of observers, Brazil can only claim such a strong position for itself because of the Argentine economic crisis and the associated foreign policy inability to act.

Can Lula's wanderlust be sustainable in the long run?

First South America-Arabia Summit in Brasilia: A lot of hot air?

So, after a good two and a half years in power, is Lula's foreign policy record as meager as the domestic one? One thing is certain: Lula, one of the most travel-loving presidents in Brazilian history, has implemented his ideas in some areas. One thinks, for example, of the American Free Trade Area (FTAA) enforced by the USA: Brazil's opposing position brought practically the entire concept to failure. Other initiatives, however, have fizzled out ineffectively. The first South America-Arabia summit in May, for example, produced few concrete results.

"At the moment, one has to fear that Brazil will overstretch its role," says Günther Maihold. "We also have to wait and see how things continue domestically and whether Lula can afford such a strong foreign policy orientation for a long time to come."