Globalist Analysis

Dateline Tehran: Brazil’s Big-League Diplomacy (Part I)

Could Brazil displace the United States as the leader in global diplomacy?


  • Brazil's diplomacy may blow up the current international system's standard operating procedures for distributing power and wealth.
  • Under the banner of globalization for all, Brazil has forsworn the sharp edges of coercive diplomacy.
  • Brazil has opted for a transformative strategy that relies on the consent of a growing number of developed and developing nations alike.

Brazil does not have the bomb, but it pursues an approach to play in global diplomacy’s big leagues — by aiming to transcend the conventional wisdom about power, polarity and the international system.

Since 2006, the administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has opened 35 new diplomatic missions, including embassies and consulates in such outposts as Azerbaijan, Slovenia, the Congo and Sri Lanka.

The foreign ministry — known as the Itamaraty because of its first home at the Palace of Itamaraty in Rio de Janeiro — has also expanded the diplomatic corps by graduating more attachés at its prestigious Rio Branco Institute, up from 35 to 105 per year.

Today, Brazil’s diplomatic army counts on nearly 1,700 diplomats, 120 embassies, 68 consulates and an arsenal of missions and delegations that post the Brazilian flag worldwide. Alongside the columns of Brazilian diplomats, millions of fans of all nationalities — from Anchorage, Alaska, to Accra, Ghana — line up to bear the jersey of the national soccer team and drum up global support for Brazil.

Underneath the global fanfare and Lula’s front-and-center presidential diplomacy is an increasingly ambitious national strategy to place the Brazilian nation-state near the center of international politics through an assertive and decidedly non-conformist, but essentially multilateral, vision of a reformed global political economy.

Under the banner of globalization for all, Brazil has forsworn the sharp edges of coercive diplomacy for a transformative strategy that relies on the consent and active cooperation of a growing number of developed and developing nations alike.

No bombs, no invasions — but Brazil’s diplomacy is loading up on efforts and initiatives that may blow up the current international system’s standard operating procedures for distributing power and wealth.

Brazilian diplomacy has a long history of achieving results without brandishing the sword. From 1902 to 1912, José Maria da Silva Paranhos Júnior, the Baron of Rio Branco and Brazil’s foreign minister during the period, commanded his diplomatic forces through a series of negotiations and international arbitrations.

It eventually demarcated Brazil’s national territory — and set up the official borders with all ten of its neighbors in the South American continent.

Today, according to Brazilian diplomat and advisor to President Lula, Marcel Fortuna Biato, “Brazil’s call for a ‘new global economic and trade order’ mirrors the country’s renewed self-confidence as a non-conformist power. It doesn’t seek simply to take up a place at the top table. Rather, it is confident in its strength as a consensus-builder within the South and bridge-builder to the North.”

Anchoring the Lula government’s diplomatic offensive is a rearguard of regional leadership and coordination. President Lula’s administration has sought to strengthen Brazil’s commitment to further the national development of its South American neighbors, including its traditional adversary and now close partner, Argentina, through persistent efforts to coordinate cooperation and deepen integration.

Through Mercosur, a trade pact among Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, the Lula government has demonstrated a willingness to subordinate its short-term trading interests (what Lula has referred to as the diplomacy of generosity) to the longer-term economic and political project of the regional trade agreement.

Many have criticized the Lula administration for its die-hard support of Mercosur and efforts to deepen the common market’s economic and political foundation. And an accumulating body of econometric trade balance research indicates that Brazil is paying a measurable price for its loyalty to Mercosur and Argentina.

Regardless, Lula and Celso Amorim, Brazil’s foreign minister, are convinced that Mercosur advances Brazil’s trade diversification strategy — but even more importantly, provides the government with the political bedrock for broader multilateral undertakings such as the recently founded Union of South American Nations (Unasul).

Both projects demonstrate the Brazilian government’s relentless campaign to consolidate its regional leadership as a rearguard base for projecting a decidedly global diplomacy.

Editor’s note: Part II of this feature will be published on The Globalist tomorrow.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

About Mark S. Langevin

Mark S. Langevin is Director of the Brazil Initiative and a Research Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

Responses to “Dateline Tehran: Brazil’s Big-League Diplomacy (Part I)”

If you would like to comment, please visit our Facebook page.

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary Cookies

The use of certain cookies is required for the site to function correctly.



Improve content and site performance.