By Sarah de Sainte Croix, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Last Monday, April 12th, Brazil and the U.S. signed a comprehensive defense cooperation agreement (DCA) designed to strengthen military ties between the two countries, in spite of lingering tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
The U.S. defense secretary Robert Gates declared, “This agreement will lead to a deepening of U.S.-Brazil defense cooperation at all levels,” adding that it offers, “(a) transparent, positive model for engagement throughout the Americas.”
This is the first such agreement between the two nations since 1977, when Brazil’s military regime canceled a 25-year-old cooperation accord with the U.S. in a backlash against Jimmy Carter’s human rights policies. In the intervening years the two estranged militaries have had little to do with each other, but in a news conference last week Gates stressed that, “The agreement is a formal acknowledgment of the many security interests and values we share as the two most populous democracies in the Americas.”
The pact includes clauses covering research and development, information exchange, shared military training and joint exercises, student and instructor exchanges from defense institutions, naval ship visits, and combined commercial initiatives relating to defense. It also talks about, “Collaboration relating to military systems and equipment,” but remains pointedly quiet about the fact that U.S. aviation giant Boeing looks set to be snubbed on a US$4 billion contract to supply fighter jets to the Brazilian air force in favor of the French jet Rafale manufactured by Dassault.
The agreement appears to favor Brazilian interests at a time when the country needs to be seen to be matching its military might with its growing economic clout. Fernando Arbache, an anti-terrorism expert said, “It doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’re weak, people can take advantage of your deficiencies. To be an economic power you have to be a military power.”
He adds, “Future wars are going to be as much about the management of information and intelligence as they are about armaments. And Brazil doesn’t know how to do that. The U.S. is the perfect country to help us minimize that risk.” He says that Brazil is aligning itself strategically to the U.S. in the same way that Europe has with NATO.
The DCA follows a similar agreement between Columbia and the U.S. signed last October, which gives the U.S. access to seven Colombian bases. Both parties emphasized that the aim was to bolster the fight against drug trafficking and rebel factions, but many of the neighboring countries (including Brazil), expressed alarm at the increased U.S. military presence. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, was suspicious of the threat of a U.S. invasion and likened the move to an act of war. Last week’s agreement gives no such access to Brazilian soil.
Following the signing of the Brazilian accord in Washington, Gates set off on a South American tour to try to strengthen security agreements with Peru, Colombia and Mexico. A Pentagon statement said, “The United States seeks partnership with the other nations in the Americas to address the complex security challenges that all our countries face.”
Political analysts agree that Brazil seems to be flexing its burgeoning muscle as an up-and-coming world power. With its refusal to bow to international pressure over Iran and its latest decision to sign up with the U.S. over military matters Brazil looks to be asserting its autonomy.