The “soft power” power – Brazil x Iran
Enbtrevista de SUSAN GLASSER com CELSO AMORIM
Susan Glasser: What is the big idea, as far as you see it, for Brazil’s role in the world? Some people have argued that Brazil is a negotiating power, or a symbol of the emerging world order. What is your view?
Celso Amorim: I would say, of course it’s a negotiating power. But it would be very simplistic to think Brazil always looks for consensus for consensus’s sake. We also have a view of how things should be, and we tend to work in that direction. We struggle to have a world that is more democratic, that is to say, more countries are heard on the world scene — a world in which economic relations are more balanced and of course in which countries in different areas can talk to each other without prejudice. And that’s what we try to do in our foreign policy.
But of course Brazil is also a big country with a big economy, a multitude of cultures, and in a way similar to the United States — but also in some ways different because the way people got here and the way they mixed was slightly different. So, Brazil has this unique characteristic which is very useful in international negotiations: to be able to put itself in someone else’s shoes, which is essential if you are looking for a solution.
SG: What does Brazil want from the world right now, and what are you prepared to give to get it?
CA: Well, we give engagement. We give our minds, our thoughts. This costs quite a lot. I could be using — President Lula, myself, and all others could be using our brains for other purposes, political or economic or whatever.
Brazil still has many problems. Inequality is still very big. It diminished a lot during President Lula’s government, but it’s still very big. So there is a long way to go. We know our shortcomings. If you look around, you’ll see more women ambassadors and so on; you’ll see some black people; but there is still a long way to go. But in any case, we have also this capacity to discuss and to have dialogue which was helpful in our own evolution and has helped in our relations with South America, and I think can help with the world at large.
I’ll give you an example. One time, when I was ambassador to the U.N., they were looking for someone to take care of the sanctions committee on the former Yugoslavia. I received a call from the president of the Security Council. I was on a 10-day vacation — a very rare thing — in Greece somewhere, and he said, “No, no, it has to be you, Celso. It has to be Brazil because Brazil is the only one that both the Americans and the Russians will accept.” Because the others either were seen as very partial or, let us face it, too weak to be able to stand the different pressures.
SG: You make a great case for Brazil as a sort of global negotiator with hopes for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But to what extent is that a strategy for your country, or is it really a tactic?
CA: Well, having a seat at the table is a means to have your voice heard and to have your ideas heard — because we believe in them. In the same way that you believe in the American Dream, we believe in the Brazilian Dream and also how the Brazilian example can be useful for others. And maybe because we came after we can do that maybe with some more humility, which helps. We’ll never have the military power that gets near to that of — not even to speak of the United States — but Russia or China. We’ll have to have some military power because that is essential for any state as long as the nation-state exists. But we are aware that it cannot be at that level.
In the present-day world, military power will be less and less usable in a way that these other abilities — the capacity to negotiate based on sound economic policies, based on a society that is more just than it used to be and will be more just tomorrow than it is today — all these are things that help. I don’t think there are many countries that can boast that they have 10 neighbors and haven’t had a war in the last 140 years.
SG: So you’re the ultimate soft-power power.
CA: There have to be some hard elements in it, as well: economic growth, as I mentioned, and we have to have some military power, some deterrent military power. Not because of the region; we don’t think anything can happen, actually. [Latin America is] quickly becoming what I choose to call a “security community” in which war becomes inconceivable. But if other conflicts happen between other countries, we have to be prepared that it doesn’t come to us. So some modicum of military power is necessary. It’s not totally soft. People also say we have our music; I won’t say our beautiful women because that would sound not very like a —
SG: The Brazilian example in the world sounds so similar to what President Barack Obama campaigned on: the embrace of multilateralism, the sense that new institutions of global governance are needed, talking to one’s enemies and not just one’s friends.
CA: At some point he even said: “It’s good,” he said to President Lula, “that you can talk to some people I cannot talk to.”
In ideological terms, I think we are very close to President Obama. We feel a lot of identification and actually saluted and welcomed the election of President Obama in a very strong way. Even though President Lula had a very pragmatic relationship with President Bush, the fact is that precisely because of the reasons that you mentioned — because of what he represents in terms of fighting for equality, fighting inside his country, and also fighting for a more multilateral democratic world — we felt very much at ease, and I would say that this is still the case. It’s not for me to judge, but I do believe that maybe some hard facts of reality imposed themselves on President Obama. So it’s up to him to see how he can deal with them.
SG: What of your experience with multilateralism do you think is useful to the United States? What are the limits of a multilateral world?
CA: It’s more useful to think about the limits of unilateralism. Because when we see the situation in Iraq, what is the country that has benefited the most from the Iraq invasion? It’s probably Iran. Nowadays Iran is seen as the biggest enemy. It’s a strange situation.
So unilateralism also has its limits. But with multilateralism, it’s like asking, “What are the limits of democracy?” Of course democracy has its limits. Of course sometimes I would like to have things done in one month and they take one year because you have to discuss them with other ministries, with NGOs, with trade unions, with the business class, and so on. So it takes a long time. And sometimes it doesn’t happen in the way I have thought precisely. But still it’s much better than having an autocrat acting very quickly, even if it’s an autocrat with good intentions. I would say that multilateralism is for international politics, at the stage at which we live today, more or less the equivalent of what democracy represents inside states. And people could say the same thing of multilateralism that Churchill said of democracy.
SG: The worst system except for all the others?
SG: Tell me about your new partnership, or alliance, with Turkey. How did that come about? With your joint action on Iran, you must, I think, have built a close working relationship with your counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu.
CA: Yes. Let me say, we, as part of our diversification of partners, we already had made some approaches to Turkey and vice versa because I think they were more or less in the same process. So there was an exchange of presidential visits, which had never taken place before.
SG: Yes, it’s such an unlikely couple.
CA: Well, you know, sometimes unlikely couples are the most interesting ones!
What happened is that we both were trying to see how we could help in this problem of Iran. I think Turkey has its extra motives — it’s a neighbor of Iran and a Muslim country and so on and so forth. But let me tell you about the case of Brazil.
We were last year about to become a nonpermanent member of the Security Council. We think that when we are in the Security Council, whether permanent or not, we have to contribute to peace and security in the world and not just deal with our own interests.
I have followed this subject for a long time, and it was a problem that I always thought had no solution until I heard about the swap agreement. I discussed the [nuclear material] swap agreement with [then EU foreign-policy chief Javier] Solana — which was proposed, you understand, by the United States as a reply to Iran’s request to buy fuel. So I had these discussions with Solana, with [former International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed] ElBaradei, and I found there was a possibility of working for something. And I thought maybe a country like Brazil, which has this capacity for dialogue with several countries, could somehow help.
And so I discussed this subject with the Iranians. President Ahmadinejad came here. And I made trips to Iran, and I really found that it was in principle possible to pursue that role.
I had, just by chance, a trip to Turkey at the beginning of this year. When we compared notes in relation to Iran, I found out that both of us were trying to do the same thing and work along the same lines to use the swap agreement that was proposed by the United States, which was almost accepted by Iran. We saw that that was a possibility. So we found out that we were doing more or less the same thing, and we tried to coordinate our acts. And both being countries that look to have, how should I say, a more creative role in the world.
SG: For many people it was a sign of “the rise of the rest,” that there was a different world order in which there would be other players and not just a small handful involved in negotiating major world solutions.
CA: I don’t think we had an objective to show that. But that’s really true, I believe, and that will happen more and more. Of course, we keep aspiring to be a permanent member of the Security Council. But in any case, what was clear is that the nonpermanent members of the Security Council in an important case like that didn’t have any say whatsoever. We were invited to see the resolution after it was really ready. I came to know it through the news agencies. Only later on were we invited to make suggestions. Of course, it was suggestions that had no importance whatsoever, so we preferred not to make any. So I think it’s a good lesson also on the lack of transparency of the Security Council. What I saw in this case, and I say that very openly and without any resentment of any kind, is that the fact that you have five permanent members with veto powers discussing only among themselves lends itself to all kinds of bargaining, which is not the best kind. Negotiation is natural. Of course you have to negotiate. But you know, if I am looking for exemptions for my own firms, this is not good for world order.
SG: Did the experience leave a lasting bad taste, do you think, between Brazil and the Obama administration?
CA: No, I don’t think there is any bad taste. Of course, we were disappointed because we thought we were doing precisely what was, at least in spirit, the role that was being sought. So we were disappointed that there was no time even for examination. Actually, in Brazil you have a saying for when you don’t like something, a book for instance; you say, “I haven’t read it, but I didn’t like it.” So that was what happened with the Tehran declaration. Before it was at least analyzed in all its implications, it was refused.
And another moment was when, after I think three or four weeks, the Vienna group — the United States, Russia, and France — wrote back to the International Atomic Energy Agency. They didn’t wait for Iran’s reply. They presented their letter in the morning, and before midday they were adopting the sanctions. So, again, even if Iran would say, which of course would be unlikely, they said something like, “We’ll accept everything,” still the sanctions would be there. I think there was this haste to approve the sanctions that we didn’t like.
But this is natural. We don’t take that with resentment. But of course we cannot accept when people say, “Well, you knew that it would not be sufficient” or “You knew that we would not accept” because that did not correspond to the signals we received. Now, even Ahmadinejad is already saying that he’s ready to interrupt the 20 percent enrichment if there is a swap agreement. As I said, the P5 [the five permanent Security Council members] was, I think in the latest meeting, during the General Assembly, they said that they were prepared to look at the revised swap agreement — you don’t even need to call it revised. We won’t charge copyright.
SG: If there’s one persistent criticism of President Lula’s foreign policy, it has been the surprise at his unwillingness to criticize violators of human rights. It’s one thing perhaps to negotiate with President Ahmadinejad over nuclear proliferation issues, but ––
CA: I don’t agree with that criticism. Because first, it’s not true. We have criticized very often. But we don’t think that just pointing your finger at someone will actually improve human rights on the ground. So, you know, it’s a different view. And we are a very strong proponent, as you know, of the Universal Periodic Review, in which everyone will be analyzed: Brazil, Sudan, the United States, Germany, everyone. What we don’t like is singling out one country. We have been critical; we have made recommendations to Iran; we have made recommendations to Cuba — we have ongoing political dialogue with Cuba in which no subject is taboo. But that’s the way we act. There are things we are able to say to them that we would not be able if I just go to the world podium and say, “Here I am; I’m a great guy. I’m a self-righteous guy. And you have to do what I say.”
President Lula, as you know, went very publicly, for instance, on the story of the stoning of the lady in Iran, even to the point that it might sound like a little bit of interference to our Iranian friends. But we thought in that case it was justifiable and that we had, let us say because of our good relations with them and what we had tried to do, we had the moral authority to do so. Others don’t, to be quite honest. They won’t be heard. They may think they have the moral authority, but they won’t be heard. President Lula is heard. How many foreign ministers, how many countries can have meetings on the same day with Bill Gates and President Ahmadinejad?
Celso Amorim is Brazil’s foreign minister.
Susan Glasser is editor in chief of Foreign Policy.