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.