NSA Espionage Must Not Upset Strong US-Brazil Relations

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has cancelled a proposed visit to the US amid accusations that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on top officials in the Brazilian government and its state-owned oil industry. Despite a promise to personally look into the matter, Barack Obama has seemingly not done enough to appease the Brazilian population, something Ms Rousseff is keenly aware of.

The timing of the suspension of the visit is in many ways unfortunate for Brazil, which needs to retain strong trade ties with the US to revive its stumbling economy which is beginning to stagnate after years of strong growth.

Furthermore, the Brazil-US relationship is historically one of the most friendly in the Americas and for the two regional powers to fall out over what is a fairly trivial matter is potentially destabilising.

Before the espionage scandal, Rousseff and Obama had been on good terms
Before the espionage scandal, Rousseff and Obama had been on good terms

Much has been made of the fact that the US was the first country to recognise Brazilian independence from Portugal in 1824. Additionally, the democratic constitution of the Brazilian First Republic, approved in 1891, had much in common with its American counterpart, showing the influence the US was to exert over the ‘new’ states of Latin America which, like itself, had escaped from years of colonial rule.

During the 1930s Getulio Vargas, the Brazilian President, expanded economic ties with the US with American technology allowing Brazil to establish a modern industrial base. When war broke out between Nazi Germany and the European Allies, Vargas allowed the Americans to build military bases in Northern Brazil for use against German U-Boats in the Atlantic. In return, Vargas extracted generous loans and technological assistance to aid Brazilian development.

The Volta Redonda Steel Mill was a result of American loans
The Volta Redonda Steel Mill was a result of American loans

Vargas even sent 25,000 Brazilian troops to fight the Nazis in Italy alongside the US Fifth Army, albeit in 1944 when the tide of war had turned in the Allies’ favour.

There were some more dubious aspects to the US-Brazilian relationship in the 20th century, particularly the 1964 coup d’etat that saw the overthrow of the left-leaning president Joao Goulart by the Brazilian Armed Forces with poorly-veiled American support. Nevertheless, at a time when socialist government was being revealed as inherently weak in other parts of the world, it could be argued that the US did Brazil a favour.

Between 1964 and 1984 Brazil was under military rule, during which time the US was a willing ally, pleased as it was to have another large anti-communist country in close proximity to home. Richard Nixon even went as far as to plan the overthrow of left-wing leaders in Latin America, such as Fidel Castro and Salvador Allende, with the complicity of Brazilian ruler Emilio Medici.

Medici and Nixon - America was keen to lend support to any anti-communist government at the time
Medici and Nixon – America was keen to lend support to any anti-communist government at the time

A return to civilian rule only strengthened Brazil-US relations as the Brazilian economy relied heavily on American loans and technology transfer to avoid the worst of the Latin American debt crisis at the end of the last century. Whilst Brazilian borrowing has remained at an unsustainable level, American debt write-offs and negotiations through the American-dominated IMF have helped prevent economic meltdown.

Such strong relations need to be preserved; the Americas still remains a divisive continent and leadership from its bigger countries is essential. There is no excusing NSA espionage, particularly against the political and economic interests of a supposed ally.

Yet Brazil cannot afford to be too nationalistic and proud. The American market remains essential if South America’s largest country is to join the world elite. Whilst no doubt disappointed by the revelations, the US government knows it can bide its time and has no reason to move quickly towards a full confession and apology.

Such is the way in the ranking of states; the weak can only be principled for so long.

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Drones Replace Warheads in New Military Race: China puts pressure on US and allies

Several analysts this past weekend have discussed the possible emergence of a new “arms race” developing between the US and China. Unlike the nuclear and ballistic missile race that characterised US-Soviet relations during the Cold War, this race involves unmanned drones, the sinister aerial predators capable of wreaking untold damage courtesy of a technician controlling a joystick several thousand miles away.

China has swiftly developed an indigenous drone programme
China has swiftly developed an indigenous drone programme

Whilst China has made no secret of its drone programme, the scrambling of Japanese F-15 fighter jets to airspace over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands last week in anticipation of intercepting a Chinese drone raised alarm bells. Is China using its latest military hardware to further intimidate the Japanese in its territorial disputes?

The Cold War arms race was one of the tensest developments of the 20th century, as American and Soviet leaders rapidly built up their arsenals of nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles and conventional high explosives in an escalating duel for global military supremacy.

Unlike America and China today, the US and Soviets were evenly matched in their technological developments and the vast stockpiling of such deadly weapons led many to fear nuclear annihilation. Whilst some analysts saw the arms race as an inexorable path towards conflict, others believed that an equality of arms helped stabilise the tenuous balance of power that existed between the world’s two superpowers.

Some analysts saw the arms race as a necessary deterrent to war
Some analysts saw the arms race as a necessary deterrent to war

Despite a lessening of tensions in the 1980s, it was only the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) 1, signed in 1991, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union that brought the arms race to a close.

China has taken great strides in its military and technological development in recent years, fuelled by unprecedented economic growth and a hawkish military. Yet the fact remains that America is years ahead in terms of its military strength and capability. The Chinese may be able to produce drones that fly higher and are cheaper to manufacture but they do not possess the stealth capabilities and firepower of their American equivalents.

However, this is not to say that a “drone race” of sorts might not develop. The Department of Defense will soon be making significant cuts to the American defence budget, whilst Chinese military spending will only increase.

Other worrying permutations exist. It is believed that the Chinese have sought the advice of Iranian military officials, who have usurped technology from an American drone that crashed near their Afghan border two years ago. A burgeoning Sino-Iranian military relationship would certainly concern the US and its allies.

Furthermore, the development of drone technology is inextricably linked to the increasingly concerning issue of cyber warfare, in which the Chinese are equally as adept as their American counterparts. Cyber-espionage could lead the Chinese to obtaining further military secrets from the US and, with the country’s industrial capacity, allow them to build highly sophisticated drones at an alarming pace.

China's cyber warfare skills could lead to future conflict being fought virtually
China’s cyber warfare skills could lead to future conflict being fought virtually

The American military pivot towards the Asia-Pacific is helped by the Japanese alliance. Despite constitutional restrictions, the Japanese Self-Defence Forces have an intimidating military capability and can aid the US in slowing Chinese power projection across the region.

What is not in doubt, however, is that the Chinese want military supremacy in their backyard. They have the financial power to begin to make strides against the ageing and ailing economies of Japan and the US and deliver China towards the superpower status so desperately craved by Mao Tse-Tung, something which the Chinese have not enjoyed in centuries.

If the race has yet to start, it soon will.