Films about the shock of the USSR and the USA during the Cold War invaded our screens between the 50s and 90s of the last century. The villain is now another and the previous one has become a support. Russia, because it still has a huge nuclear arsenal, is that character. The plot is the competition between the great powers, leaving the so-called “war on terror” in the background, and it unfolds, like a 007 movie, with actions in different parts of the world. Thus, for cinephiles, part of the national strategy of the United States, signed in 2017, by President Donald Trump could be synthesized.
According to the document, China is now the main competitor to be contained. A more difficult task, since the “bad guy” has his economic power as his main instrument. Competition and restraint that naturally affect Brazil and the South Atlantic, as in the first film, which had the cold war as a backdrop. In 1986, led by Brazil, the countries of the South Atlantic, concerned about the possibility that competition between the great powers could generate instability and nuclearization in the region, created the Zone of Peace and Cooperation of the South Atlantic (ZOPACAS), approved by the Assembly of Nations. United Nations, with the opposite vote of the United States of America. Besides peace, ZOPACAS also had as objectives cooperation for economic and social development, protection of living natural resources and the marine environment.
Thirty-four years later, ZOPACAS has made little progress. Competition between the USA and China brings back the risk of militarization, nuclearisation and instability in the South Atlantic, logically, the circumstances are not the same. At that time, Brazil, mainly on the basis of the pragmatic foreign policy of President Geisel, established relations with China in 1974; and developed a strategy focused on Brazilian interests, which contributed to the decades to come with Argentina, the creation of Mercosur and the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).
On the African side, the recognition of the independence of Angola, the defeat of the aside in South Africa and support for the independence of Namibia contributed to the rapprochement with this continent and to the creation, in 2006, of the South America-Africa Summit. In the maritime and naval domain, the Brazilian Navy, in the 1970s, also changed its strategic conception, based on the North American vision of hemispheric defense, into one based on Brazilian maritime interests. The Navy’s basic policy and directives, which outlined this new position, were published in February 1977, almost a month before Brazil denounced the military agreement with the United States.
Today the scenario is different. The world is going through a health and economic crisis, and Brazilian foreign policy has chosen the United States as a priority, leaving South America in the background. Argentine government and Mercosur come under attack by government officials, Brazil quits UNASUR and Summit South America and Africa have lost momentum.
The economic and geostrategic importance of the South Atlantic is undeniable, both for trade flows and for economic exploitation and for global communication systems via submarine cables. The environmental agenda in the region is evolving and concerns about criminal activity are very high. The United States, several NATO countries and China share this perspective. The presence of China and the NATO countries in the region is quite evident. In addition, the United States and Great Britain are present militarily on Ascension Island, in the Malvinas and in South Georgia. In 2009, the US government reactivated the Fourth Fleet, subordinate to US Southern Command, including the South Atlantic and Caribbean “area of responsibility”. China, meanwhile, has advanced its global maritime capability and investment in infrastructure associated with maritime traffic, and late last year held its first naval exercise with Russia and Africa. of the South in the maritime zone adjacent to this country.
China has been Brazil and Argentina’s main trading partner since 2009 since the end of 2019, displacing Brazil for the first time in history. The Asian giant has been Africa’s largest trading partner for ten years
consecutive years and a strategic partner of South Africa, China has invested heavily in infrastructures linked to maritime power, in particular in ports, in order to guarantee the trade flows necessary for its development.
Given the complexity of relations in the South Atlantic, how will Brazil be able to develop its own strategy, at the same time based on international cooperation, in order to develop the best way for the realization of Brazilian interests? In the current scenario, Brazil seems to want to revive the defeated ZOPACAS, despite the current difficulty in effectively managing its relations with the United States and China.
President Jair Bolsonaro mentioned ZOPACAS in his speech to the UN, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Navy has promoted an international seminar on the subject, and there is the possibility of more active naval participation in the Gulf of Guinea with the departure of the Force from Brazil. – Maritime task force of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. The next episodes will show how Brazil will fare on this trip, and whether the Brazilian government will be able to revive ZOPACAS to, at least, avoid the militarization and nuclearization of the South Atlantic.
Admiral and member of the International Economic Assessment Group at the University of São Paulo (GACINT -USP)
Professor at the Institute of International Relations of PUC-RIO
Article originally published in State of Sao Paulo