On 27 September 2012, the Munk School of Global Affairs hosted distinguished guests Professor Matias Spektor, Ambassador Piragibe Tarrago, and Paulo Sotero to lead discussion on the question “What does Brazil want?” The event was the first in the “Brazil in the 21st Century Global Arena” seminar series, which aims to communicate some of the key issues and implications of enhanced Brazilian influence within the global system.

Vice-President of University Relations, Judith Wolfson, and Professor Ron Pruessen, Director of International Partnerships and Research and Deputy Director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, opened the event by recognizing the significance of the partnerships between Brazil and the University of Toronto. These partnerships include research collaborations across the full spectrum of academic disciplines, a growing number of academic exchange opportunities, and programs for faculty interaction. The Munk School of Global Affairs serves as a focal point for these partnerships, offering a platform for joint research ventures, student exchanges, and the visiting professor program.

Matias Spektor, Director of the International Relations program at the Fundação Getulio Vargas and one of Brazil’s most insightful commentators on global affairs, opened the discussion on what Brazil’s rise means for a range of challenging global governance issues, from climate change and nuclear proliferation to poverty reduction, financial regulation, and humanitarian intervention. Global trends have led Brazil to want to take a greater role in shaping world politics and Brazil is increasingly required at any negotiating table that aims to produce credible global commitments.

However, the question of what a rising Brazil wants remains unanswered. Will Brazil want to embrace the norms, institutions, and ideologies that govern global order today? Or will it seek to transform the “rules of the game” in a revisionist fashion?

Spektor noted that the dominant view in academic and policy circles today is that Brazil will seek to “rock the boat” rather than to maintain the status quo. The dominant mainstream perspective is that as Brazil emerges, it will complicate the existing global order. Spektor challenged the accuracy of this viewpoint, considering instead what it is that Brazil wants in the global system.

Spektor described five underlying historical themes that help to shed light on this question. First, Brazil’s commitment to capitalism in the post-war liberal institutionalist era was a thoroughly nationalist brand of capitalism and industrialization, influencing its national identity today. Second, the identity – and myths of identity – that situate Brazil as part of the West, but not purely Western, shape many aspects of Brazilian international relations. Third, Brazil has moved to embrace liberal norms in the global arena, but often disagrees with the United States on how to implement those liberal values and norms. Fourth, aligning with the BRICs is an effective method to get Brazil’s voice heard in the global system, but presents its own set of challenges when Brazilian opinions differ from the other BRIC states, as they do now with the Syrian crisis. Finally, following the 2008 economic crisis, Brazil has come to question the idea that the global liberal order is the most effective way of ensuring global stability.

With these basic understandings, Spektor argued that Brazil wants four key elements to define its rising trajectory in the global system. First, it seeks greater authority at the major global tables. However, by failing to present a coherent vision for global economic stability or for managing climate change, Spektor argued that Brazil has not made a great case for why it should be granted greater authority. Second, Brazil wants to contest dominant understandings of what responsibility signifies in global affairs, viewing the norms that allow for the suspension of sovereignty and humanitarian intervention as fundamentally illiberal and representing tools for hegemonic reassertion. Third, recognizing the importance of informal channels of power in the global system, Brazil wants membership in informal clubs of nations, such as the expanded G8 and G20. Finally, based on the fundamental identity and objectives of Brazil, it seeks a defiant position with regard to the United States, though Spektor acknowledged that in so doing, there may be a disconnect between the discourse and reality of this defiance.

Spektor recognized that certain developments could change the logic of these positions, including rapid social change, the state and stability of global capitalism, and the role of the US in the global system.

Special guests Ambassador PiragibeTarrago of the Brazilian Embassy and Paulo Sotero, Director of the Brazil Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, shared their views on these propositions and the prospects of Brazil’s evolving global status

Please follow go here for a full webcast of the seminar.

The Munk School of Global Affairs looks forward to welcoming Professor Ricardo Costa Gazel of Fundação Dom Cabral, Ambassador Afonso Cardoso (the Brazilian Consul General in Toronto), and Kevin Clark, Senior Vice President of Global Transaction Banking at Scotiabank, for the second installment of the Brazil seminar series, entitled “Brazil in the 21st Century Economy.” Please visit munkschool.utoronto.ca/events/ for full event information.