It would not be the first time Brazil and Argentina vie to clinch privileged ties with Washington, though for its economic weight and its president's conservative fervor, Brazil may be ahead in this game.
BUENOS AIRES — Alexander Wendt, an academic who applied a constructivist model to the analysis of international affairs, divided global diplomacy in three distinct strains: Hobbesian, Lockean and Kantian. The relationship between two states can be defined by enmity, rivalry or friendship. Within these conceptual frameworks, we can say that there was never enmity between Argentina and Brazil, that rivalry prevailed during several decades last century and that friendship has reigned since the 1980s.
Today however, it appears we may see a return to a rivalry, which would be both badly misguided and very inconvenient for all. The most disconcerting signals are coming from Brazil in the framework of the delicate triangle of ties between Brasilia, Buenos Aires and Washington. Historical cases have shown that in asymmetrical, triangular ties, the two weaker angles can and must act jointly to expand their negotiating leeway with the stronger point.
Otherwise the latter will increase its dominance, obtain its preferences and finally extract the weaker parties' acquiescence in matters of greater importance. The path to pleasing the great power merely leads to more subordination. Under President Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil appears inclined to repeat a typical Brazilian strategy of the 1960s and 1970s. In January, after taking office, the Brazilian president told an interview that "my understanding is that we must have supremacy" in South America.
In the diplomatic and military arenas, he has shown an unusual degree of rapprochement with the United States, in spite of the reservations, though not criticisms, of some quarters in the Brazilian armed forces.
The path to pleasing the great power merely leads to more subordination.
In February, for the first time in history, a Brazilian soldier, General Alcides Valeriano de Faria Júnior, was appointed a deputy-head of the U.S. Southern Command. In March, a bilateral accord was signed on launching satellites, missiles and ships from the Brazilian Alcántara base, and this was approved in August by the Brazilian lower legislative chamber's Foreign Relations Commissions. In May, the Brazilian Defense Ministry signed an agreement with the New York State National Guard in the framework of the Pentagon State Partnership Program. The same month, the presidential son Eduardo Bolsonaro, head of the said Foreign Relations Commission, said he favored the country having a nuclear bomb. In July, Donald Trump designated Brazil a Major Non-NATO Ally (MNNA).
One should recall that in December 2016, the Argentinian Defense Ministry signed its own accord with the Georgia State National Guard. In February 2015, parliament had approved an agreement allowing China to establish a space station in Neuquén, duly installed in 2017. The United States had designated Argentina an MNNA in 1998, during the presidency of Carlos Menem.
In diplomacy, Bolsonaro announced while campaigning that his government would seek to strengthen ties with the United States. His first post-electoral visit was not to Argentina, which is typical protocol with new Brazilian presidents, but to Chile, the United States and Israel. In the case of Israel, he had promised, like Trump, to transfer the Brazilian embassy to Jerusalem, though at the end only a trade office was opened there. Last April, Bolsonaro said his intention "alongside the Americans, is to find a crack in the Venezuelan army, because that is what is sustaining" the socialist president Nicolás Maduro. Ultimately, he observed, it is the army that determines whether or not a country lives in democracy.
For its part, Argentina has been making what I term peripheral and unilateral concessions to the United States since mid-2017, thinking this was the way to safeguard its interests. Regarding Venezuela, Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said in July that the Lima Group of regional states "is committed to reaching a peaceful solution" there, but, he stressed, "use of force will always remain as a recourse for the appropriate moment."
It is the army that determines whether or not a country lives in democracy.
In economics, Bolsonaro had touted while campaigning "less Mercosur and more bilateral agreements." After the Mercosur-European Union trade agreement, the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warned regional signatories on a July visit to Brazil to beware of "poison pills' in the pact that could impede their having a trade deal with the United States. Brazil's Economy Minister Paulo Guedes responded unilaterally by saying Brazil was "officially" initiating talks for a free-trade accord with the United States. Indeed tensions with the EU over the environment could give Brazil an excuse to seek a trade pact with Washington regardless of Mercosur. Bolsonaro and Guedes have already threatened to ditch the regional grouping should the leftist Alfredo Fernández win the Argentine presidency in October.
A priority for the next Argentine government will be to seriously evaluate the relationship with Brazil, with one crucial concern: to avoid a return to the past. This absolutely requires de-politicizing the country's foreign policy and redesigning its bilateral strategy toward Brazil.