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Intensifying the Brazilian Presence in the World Stage – a Vision of the Future

Ambassador Ronaldo Sardenberg wrote this technical note to be presented at a seminar on agriculture, technology and information (Iowa, October 2017)


by Ronaldo Sardenberg

In this technical note, the topic is divided in two parts: the first regarding the evolution of the world stage; and the second regarding, specifically, Brazil’s international insertion. The second – Brazil’s intensified presence in the world stage – will present a framework by the rapidly changing tendencies in the world order. The outlook for Brazil depends on the assurance that the country is inserted in the world stage.  

The World

To the current observer, it is evident that world problems and its perspective of changes have never been so evident, in times of peace, as in the year of 2017. It would not be prudent to interpret the current changes in both political and strategic scope as conjunctural only.

Considering that the USA is still preponderant in the world, and that its behavior has been erratic, the signs that a “reform” in North American foreign policy is coming are clear. It is predicted, in this scenario, the beginning of a political and diplomatic instability for the country. The possible repercussions of the aforementioned stability are disquieting for the rest of the world.

A cold analysis suggests that President Trump’s policies deviate from the ones adopted by the USA over the last decades, without the preexisting problems being handled or solved (one has to remember, in hindsight, situations like Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, or South and North Korea and Vietnam, as well as Ukraine, Iran, Israel and Palestine). All of these were, or have been, areas of significant conflicts in the world scenario.

The nuclear issue presented by North Korea has quickly escalated world tension to a new level, which creates growing apprehension for its neighbors and the western world. Due to this situation, which is becoming rather grave, it has become apparent, according to some experts, the lack of interest from China in pressuring North Korea into toning down its speech, either because they do not want to be mere executors of the US strategy or because they simply do not have the political, diplomatic, economic, commercial and/or military will to do so. At the moment, the US/North Korea relationship has gone down to the level of exchanging insults and threats between both countries’ rulers.

China’s position is objectively embarrassing, considering that: (a) the current situation has strong repercussions both locally and globally; and (b) the predicted perspective that the country will be one of the world leaders in 20 to 30 years.

In the current crisis context, it is safe to say that, in this period, each and every Chinese macropolitics will have to go through the expected filter of its insertion, as a ruling power, in the world order.

In a recent issue of The Economist, it is mentioned that “the Western world closely follows China’s economic ascendency. However, while Chinese companies are awe-inspiring, fears grow in the West that the economy will be dominated by an economy that “doesn’t play fair”. Whenever this occurs, rulers and companies must act -, China, however, is winning at their own game”, says the British magazine.

Russia plays a different game, be it a recovery one, since the insertion of the USSR as a world superpower in the world stage, although it has its economic limitations. It holds as a priority its borders, as well as the Russians who live abroad, as the ones in Ukraine and Crimea. This priority is even higher in Crimea, which has been part of Russia since the 19th Century. Recently, Moscow has had an unprecedented and significant, according to some, participation in the last American elections.

The European Union is going through Brexit, and the sudden distancing, and growing instability, of the United Kingdom. The Brexit terms will be negotiated for a long while still. Moreover, the EU is also going through the elections in France, Netherlands, etc. France has made it abundantly clear that it does not agree with the Trump Administration’s foreign policies. In the German elections, there has been a resurrection of the Nazi Party, which will now have seats at the Parliament.

At this point, we have to look at countries that will have defining roles for the project of intensifying Brazil’s presence in the world stage. Japan and India, as well as the neighboring countries, play an important role to define Brazil’s foreign profile.


Starting with multilateral diplomacy, Brazil has a differentiated interest in the United Nations (UN), given that both have an environment of peace, prosperity and world security. Such an environment is compatible with the fundamentals of Brazilian foreign policy. The structure of the UN has both power, represented by the ability of veto given to the permanent members of the Security Council, and democratic tendencies, which are a fundamental characteristic of the General Assembly, composed of all the members of the United Nations. In the General Assembly, each member can have a vote to express their opinion.

In spite of some minor adjustments, the United Nations Charter, adopted in 1945, is, still, untouchable. Its Purposes and Principles are still the most efficient guarantee of peace and security in the world available to all countries.

Brazil is neither a permanent member of the Security Council nor is it a mere interested observer in the United Nations. It holds a position in practically every aspect in the UN and sees the organization as its main forum for dealing with big international problems.

Amongst these problems is the environment, with emphasis on global warming. It is to be criticized the proposal of withdrawing what has been agreed upon in Paris, at the end of last year.

Another topic of global proportions is commercial protectionism, which is sometimes veiled, and it is of great interest for countries with a weaker economy. At the moment it is worrisome the resurfacing in American politics of “America First”, spearheaded by President Trump. This worry is not sated with the statement from American sources that say that other countries can, in their own way, promote themselves on the same terms in the world stage.

Another aspect that is worrisome is the attitude of the new American administration in relation to Iran, as they are trying to dispute the nuclear accord signed by the US and the other five permanent members of the Security Council countries, plus Germany (group of 5+1). Under the allegation that this agreement, laboriously negotiated in the Obama Administration, is not in American interests, President Trump is trying to make it void. Brazil is in favor of the credibility of the accord.  This current situation by the US discourages North Korea to sit at the table to negotiate nuclear accords. The Iranian government has already declared that they will not accept a renegotiation of the nuclear accord.

Foreign press has been showing the volatile situation, to say the least, of the refugees from Asia and Africa, who are migrating to Europe to great local losses. These continents are, for different reasons, extremely important to define Brazil’s new international profile.

A strong current of refugees is desperately fleeing Myanmar towards Bangladesh.  Brazil has, over the last decades, been welcoming refugees from Haiti, Venezuela and Muslim countries, and has kept its “doors-open” policy, even with a rise in Muslim hate crimes.

Relations with Venezuela have entered the scope of Latin American countries in contact with the US. It seems that the Americans want these countries, especially the neighboring ones, to impose economic sanctions to Venezuela. On themselves, the US has already created unilateral sanctions.

The problems with the international situation, as grave as they may seem, are far from over in the topics already mentioned. Other serious issues to be in our agenda are, for instance:

(a) gun smuggling that enforces drug trafficking and allows this trafficking to face repression forces against armed crime.

(b)  the reform in UN peace operations, which is being prepared by the US (and which the Trump Administration deems as a key priority) and, separately, by Russia, is of great interest to Brazil due to the experience gathered in the 13 years of presence in Minustah, in Haiti. It is a surety that this reform will summon a great effort from the Brazilian government so that both our diplomatic and military options can remain open in this area.

(c) the situation in Venezuela. It is clear that Brazil has great interest in the future of its relations with Venezuela, especially due to the great influx of Venezuelan refugees in our territory. We also do not want an American intervention in our neighboring country.

(d) it is known that the disarmament theme has new prominence in the world agenda. It is expected that the Treaty on Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will open new room for discussion on the topic. The actions by North Korea will push for more international discussion in favor of nuclear disarmament.

Ambassador Ronaldo Sardenberg wrote this technical note to be presented at a seminar on agriculture, technology and information (Iowa, October 2017)

Ronaldo Sardenberg joined the Brazilian Foreign Service in 1964. He was Ambassador in Moscow from 1985 to 1989 and to Spain from 1989 to 1990. He was the Permanent Representative of Brazil to the United Nations from 1990 to 1994; and from 2003 to 2007. He was also the Representative of Brazil at the United Nations Security Council from 1993 to 1994; and President of the UNSC on October 1993.
Ambassador Sardenberg was Minister of Science and Technology of Brazil from 1999 to 2002; and Minister for Special Projects in 1999. He also served as Secretary for Strategic Affairs of the Presidency of the Republic, from 1995 to 1998.