China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) project was late in coming to Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). First announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, OBOR, later renamed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), did not arrive in the LAC until 2018, when, at a meeting of the China-CELAC (Community of Latin America and the Caribbean) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi claimed that BRI would “inject new energy into the China-CELAC comprehensive cooperative partnership and open up new prospects.” Given the impressive rise of the People’s Republic of China to the world’s second largest economy—first, by some measures—and the difficulties that many LAC countries were experiencing, it is hardly surprising that Wang’s offer was greeted with enthusiasm. If brought to completion, the integration of the LAC region into BRI would comprise 65 percent of the world’s population and 40 percent of global GDP.
This article was originally published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) on 22 June 2017.
SIPRI’s recently published data shows a decrease of 7.2% in Brazil’s military expenditure in 2016 compared to 2015. The reasons behind this cut are quite complicated, since the country is embroiled in a mix of a political and economic crises. This blog post briefly discusses some of the features driving Brazil’s military spending downwards and how the current context may affect the future.
Brazil’s economic growth—and crash
First, we need to understand why Brazil’s military spending went up in the first place. Between 2000 and 2010, Brazil had significant economic growth, especially during President Lula’s term in office. Not only did the country’s economy grow, but inequality dropped. For instance, in 2007 the national Gini coefficient–an index created to measure income inequality–reached its lowest level in 30 years. These outstanding growth results enabled the government to allocate large resources to military projects, like the KC-390 aircraft, the Integrated System of Border Monitoring (SISFRON) and the Guaraní armoured vehicle production. In fact, between 2002 and 2013—the year Lula took office and the beginning of Petrobras corruption scandal, respectively—Brazil’s military spending increased by 28%.
With contingents of up to 3200 soldiers, over twice the number of the country’s current contribution to the UN Stabilisation Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), the Brazilian Armed Forces are at present occupying large parts of the favela agglomeration Complexo da Maré in Rio de Janeiro. After the mission in Alemão and Penha (Operação Arcanjo, November 2010 – June 2012), this is the second occasion on which the Armed Forces have significantly contributed to the Pacification programme.
The Swiss blog Offiziere.ch has recently published a piece by Paul Pryce, analysing the Brazilian Navy’s current endeavours whilst trying to figure out what bearing it is sailing. Pryce evaluates the ‘quiet expansion’ of the Brazilian Navy, and whilst he delivers a brief but sound level of analysis, he fails to deliver an accurate reading of some of the key underlying issues. These issues include the ‘military industrial compound’ dimension of the Navy, the often unspoken aspects of civil-military relations in Brazil and the competition for budget between branches.
Earlier this year, Dilma Rousseff replaced the chiefs of the armed forces for the first time as President of Brazil. The most anticipated was her pick for the influential position of Army Commandant. Rousseff’s choice raised a few eyebrows because she broke with the established practice of appointing the most senior officer for the job. It unexpectedly fell to candidate General Eduardo Dias da Costa Villas Bôas, just third in terms of seniority, to lead a fighting force of nearly 190,000 active personnel. With eight years ahead as the most senior commander of Brazil’s military, Villas Bôas will have to address several challenges if he expects to cement Brazil’s status as a major world power.