2012-07-09

Brazilian Defense Minister Seeks to Raise Bar on Military Expenditures

Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim speaks to reporters May 30 at the Ministry of Defense in Brasília. [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim speaks to reporters May 30 at the Ministry of Defense in Brasília. [Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters]

By Janie Hulse

Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim says his country should at a minimum spend as much of its budget on defense as do the other three so-called BRIC group of the world’s largest emerging economies: Russia, India and China.

Amorim made his proposal to match BRIC-level defense spending at a recent hearing of the Brazilian Senate’s Foreign Relations and National Defense Commission. Citing data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) — a Swedish think tank that produces annual reports on global defense spending — Amorim said Brazil spends 1.5 percent of its GDP on defense, while the proportion spent on defense by the other BRICs hovers around 2.3 percent.

This boost in military expenditures would be a reversal from last year’s defense cuts. Brazil, currently Latin America’s biggest defense spender, shaved its 2011 military budget by 8.2 percent, or $2.8 billion, as part of efforts to cool an overheated economy and reduce inflation. As a result, the region’s entire military bill dipped 3.3 percent in 2011, according to SIPRI.

Amorim argues that if Brazil wants to be associated with the likes of Russia, India and China, it must reverse last year’s cuts and up the ante on defense. China and Russia boosted military spending in 2011 by 6.7 and 9.3 percent, respectively, while India’s spending fell a bit due to the same similar inflationary pressures felt by Brazil.

Brazil’s emerging global role

During the recent Defense Commission meeting, Amorim showcased Brazil’s emerging role in the world with an anecdote comparing a meeting he had with former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry 18 years ago with his recent encounter with the current secretary of defense, Leon Panetta.

“When I welcomed Perry, it was said that Brazil did not have to develop its defense potential because there was a superpower which would take care of everything. Our Army would be responsible only for combating drug trafficking and organized crime,” he explained. “Nowadays the point of view is completely different. The current secretary said that, in the contemporary world, other countries need to be able to face defense challenges.”

Some analysts concur, such as Ricardo Rivas, professor of the Universidad de Palermo in Buenos Aires.

“It is reasonable for a country like Brazil, especially given its stature as a BRIC, to augment defense spending,” Rivas told Diálogo. “It must protect its newfound deepwater petroleum reserves, an idea that has been validated recently by the United Nations in its treatment of exclusive economic zones. Increased defense spending should not be equated with increased aggression.”

Driven by a sense of global purpose and importance, Brazil will continue with its decade-long state policy of bolstering its defense forces. The announced spending increase falls on the heels of a recently implemented policy giving fiscal relief to defense companies. In October 2011, President Dilma Rousseff signed a bill exempting companies that locally produce strategic equipment such as weapons, ammunition, satellites, rockets, planes and military vehicles from taxes for five years.

SIPRI: Brazil now ranks 11th in world defense spending

The Brazilian Defense Ministry moved forward with a $7 billion program to develop four new diesel-electric submarines — one of which will be a nuclear fast-attack sub, the first of its kind in the region. In its annual report, SIPRI ranked Brazil 11th among the world’s top 15 military spenders in 2011. Yet its spending is one of the lowest as a percentage of GDP among larger countries — and regional security expert Thomaz Guedes da Costa says it should stay that way.

“The new proposal for a BRIC percentage budgetary benchmark for Brazil's defense spending seems unconvincing,” said da Costa, a professor at the National Defense University’s College of International Security Affairs. “It is hard to argue how Brazil’s defense needs match in nature and threats those of Russia, India or China. Other than organized crime, there is no perception of an acute, internal, collective threat to Brazil's national security that would spur Brazil to stop dragging its heels on defense policy.”

Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, also questions Amorim’s proposal. He wrote recently that Brazil “faces no serious hostilities from any of its neighbors, and its troops are not at war with anyone. It is without enemies. So why increase military spending by 25 or 30 percent, or some $9 to $10 billion annually?”

Big defense projects already underway

Indeed, it will be a challenge for the Brazilian government to convince its citizens of the need to spend more on defense.

It was under former Defense Minister Nelson Jobim in 2007 and 2008 that Brazil successfully launched its current security agenda, focused on creating a defense institution worthy of a world power along with protecting the vast Amazon forest and the country’s deepwater oil finds in the South Atlantic. Hakim mentioned this official strategy but remained unsatisfied.

“Maybe Brazil is more worried than it lets on about the surge in drug trafficking to and through Brazil, now one of the world's largest consumers of cocaine,” he noted. Just recently, Brazil made international news when it launched a large anti-crime military operation in the Amazon along the country’s northern border.

According to a BBC report, more than 8,500 troops are taking part in so-called Operation Agata 4, which entails bombing illegal landing strips used by drug smugglers and seizing airplanes transporting drugs from Colombia and Bolivia, the region’s main drug-producing countries.

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14 Comments

  • Marcelo | 2012-10-25

    When a single person starts to enrich starts to be hunted by criminals, so he must protect himself with security measures. In the same way, a legal entity, a company, when it starts to grow it also begins to be targeted by competition with confidentiality of information and the very same happens with an EMERGING COUNTRY, because “RICHES THAT ARE NOT PROTECTED ARE LOST”. CONGRATULATIONS MINISTER CELSO AMORIM. Marcelo, military.

  • coco | 2012-10-23

    Peru lost in 1879 and does not learn the lesson. We are in 2012 and nothing happens with an authoritarian Government and in Peru corruption is daily bread and their ministries are pest mafias, including the famous Ministries of Defense and Interior.

  • Marcelo Sommer | 2012-10-23

    I agree with Costa. Military spending should not be comparative. Between China and Russia, and between China and India there are potential direct conflicts, as the borders between these countries are not pacified. Thus, their spending responds to a circumstance that does not affect Brazil. Against UK, USA there is nothing to do but have a "discouraging force," because war is unlikely. Amorim, as a diplomat should propose better the inclusion of Brazil in the world according to the established tradition of the Itamaraty - forgotten some time ago. That of defending natural resources by bullets is pure shit. It is necessary to defend them with diplomacy and contracts. Nor even in 100 years Brazil has prospects of forming a force to compete with any country from NATO, or Russia, or China. It is difficult to compare with Chile, Ecuador or Cuba... that even recently had best armies than ours. There is a lot of poverty to attack before playing toy soldiers. You have to know if the Brazilian people and the same armed forces want to extrapolate their role. It is not in the hands of one or two Ministers but of a constitutional limitation, which is very narrow. Inside there is space, not outside.

  • alex | 2012-10-12

    IF WE CREATED THE “BLUE AMAZON” WHY NOT DEFEND IT?

  • DENNIS BERRIOS | 2012-10-06

    DO NOT IGNORE THESE COMMENTS, BECAUSE THEY ARE TRUE. I AM A NICARAGUAN LATIN AMERICAN BY GOD'S GRACE, AND I AM PROUD OF IT AND THEREFORE I WOULD DEFEND MY COUNTRY AND LATIN AMERICA, EVEN BY GIVING MY LIFE IN THE BATTLE. BRAZIL AND ALL LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES WILL HAVE TO TAKE DRASTIC MEASURES BECAUSE THE VITAL RESOURCES OF MANY WORLD POWERS WILL BE EXHAUSTED SOON. THAT IS WHY WE WILL BE TARGETED BY THE OVERWHELMING MILITARY POWER OF THOSE SUPER POWERS… MAY JEHOVAH GOD BLESS LATIN AMERICA UNITED... PEACE AND FREEDOM.

  • andré Luis | 2012-09-28

    Beyond the Amazon jungle, oil and other sources of natural resources there is also the one that soon will be more expensive than the own oil: water. Brazil has one of the largest reserves of fresh water in the world, the guarani aquifer which covers up Brazil and reaches Paraguay. It occupies an area larger than many countries from Europe. If Brazil does not take care of its defense, it will be an easy target of those who deplete its natural resources.

  • aaaa | 2012-09-14

    THIS ONE ONLY SPEAKS THE TRUTH

  • Mauro Ferreira | 2012-09-09

    South America will be the next Middle East. There is abundant water, oil and mineral reservoirs. Argentina and Uruguay own one of the largest fresh water reservoirs on the planet. Venezuela possesses immense oil riches. Peru and Bolivia have minerals that can supply the world’s needs. Brazil and the South American countries must continue their efforts for a military alliance and be prepared, because without any doubt we will be targeted on the future.

  • Mauro Ferreira | 2012-09-09

    South America will be the next Middle East. There is abundant water, oil and mineral reservoirs. Argentina and Uruguay own one of the largest fresh water reservoirs on the planet. Venezuela possesses immense oil riches. Peru and Bolivia have minerals that can supply the world’s needs. Brazil and the South American countries must continue their efforts for a military alliance and be prepared, because without any doubt we will be targeted on the future.

  • Pedro Oscar Pérez | 2012-08-16

    Historical and current events show and ratify the claims of possible and/or potential aggressors of Latin America that systematically are revealing that it is the continent of food and natural resources coveted by those who are not willing to negotiate in good faith but by means of pressure and aggression. The vile "Arab Spring" is a bloody exercise of global pseudo-leaders to monopolize resources that are beginning to be scarce and to lose their bet with the business of war. Brazil is without doubt the strategic cohesion flagship of Latin America where today UNASUR can provide the political and tactical support to deal with the challenges of the immediate future. As an example we have the position of the United Kingdom towards Ecuador: if they do not do what we want, we will do it by force. Disregarding any progress of the relations of international law since World War II. Brazil has a responsibility to make decisions in the area of Defense, not only for the Brazilians, also in the consolidation of South America as a continent in full development and improvement that can be set on fire under the most absurd excuses.

  • OSCAR LUIS | 2012-08-15

    IF YOU WANT PEACE BE PREPARED FOR WAR; GOD BLESS BRAZIL AND LATIN AMERICA UNITED.

  • Raúl Manrique | 2012-07-31

    While it is true that Brazil is not in war and apparently does not have any enemies, it is also true that it could happen that in a medium or long term it were attacked by another more powerful nation interested in appropriating its resources or achieving power in the region, as already has happened to other nations in recent history. A stronger military and a greater scientific and technological development could serve as deterrent so that such a thing doesn't happen. It seems to me as a lack of caution to address these issues now when they have resources and peace, and not when it lost them and it is too late. Also Brazil has become the protective umbrella of South America, or it should be. It is the only country that can have a real chance of responding to a major aggression in the region.

  • Paulo Roberto | 2012-07-19

    Peter Hakim, honorable President of the Inter-American Dialogo, is against Brazil spending resources with Defense, the USA spends millions and why can’t Brazil do it? They think we’re fools, the Amazon Rainforest is here, the World’s richest minerals, and the pure water that only exist in Brazil, the oil, and he still says we don’t need to arm ourselves? Get some sleep, Peter……. Congratulations to the Minister of Defense and to the Federal Government.

  • maricieloyessamin garcia bringas | 2012-07-12

    Very well because they support people