By Adriana Erthal Abdenur and Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto
In the fluid, highly uncertain context of the post-Cold War period, rising powers have begun to engage more intensely in region-building, redefining their strategic vicinities through a combination of inter-state cooperation and military build-up. Although this topic has been addressed in depth with respect to China’s behaviour in the Pacific and Russia’s actions in the Arctic, relatively little has been published on region-building efforts by rising powers in the Southern Hemisphere. In the article Region-Building by Rising Powers: the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean Rims Compared, published last March in the Journal of the Indian Ocean Region, we compare the strategies that these two countries have pursued within their respective maritime spaces: the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Although the geopolitics of those two regions are vastly different—broadly put, the Indian Ocean is marked by much sharper tensions and competitive dynamics—we find that these two rising powers have increasingly turned to the seas, and more specifically to maritime perimeters, as they work to increase opportunities and influence abroad.
In the case of Brazil, the government has drawn an analogy to the Amazon—long its foremost defence concern—to launch the “Blue Amazon” campaign, geared at convincing primarily domestic audiences of the need to improve naval dissuasion power in the South Atlantic, particularly in light of the discovery (announced in the mid and late 2000s) of substantial oil reserves on and off the Brazilian continental shelf in the Atlantic. Concurrently, Brazil has launched a naval upgrading programme that centres on the development, in cooperation with France, of a nuclear-powered attack submarine. Finally, Brazil has stepped up its cooperation with states all around the South Atlantic perimeter, in South America as well as in Africa, both bilaterally and multilaterally. Bilaterally, Brazil has become an important provider of South-South development cooperation to these states, but it also helps coastal states in Africa to conduct their own continental shelf surveys and to upgrade their naval forces. On the multilateral front, Brazil has worked to revive the South Atlantic Zone of Peace and Cooperation, a Cold War-era construct that had lost steam after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Through this effort, Brazil has tried to strengthen local states’ positions in favour of a non-nuclear South Atlantic, and one where the presence of “external actors” is minimized. This takes place just as tensions over the Malvinas/Falklands have resurfaced between Argentina the United Kingdom. Greater attention to the South Atlantic has also meant that Brazil has reaffirmed its commitment to improving its Antarctic programme, including by cooperating with its South American neighbours.
As for India, it exhibits many of the same strategies as Brazil, although—unlike its South American counterpart—India, itself a nuclear power, has to contend with the presence of Pakistan on the perimeter of the Indian Ocean Rim. Another strategic concern is the operational presence established by the Chinese navy within the Indian Ocean since China joined anti-piracy efforts off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. This presence has heightened competitive dynamics that are reflected not only in India’s own attempts to build up naval power, but also in these two countries’ vying for development cooperation in partner states all around the Indian Ocean Rim, from Africa to Southeast Asia. Multilaterally, India has worked to revive the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IOR-ARC) by enlarging its agenda—previously focused on economic cooperation—to include security issues. It has also backed the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium, a naval forum established in 2008.
Both Brazil and India face several factors that constrain the reach and effectiveness of their region-building efforts. As developing countries, they have domestic priorities and resource constraints, and as democracies, their governments are subjected to internal challenges to the region-building practices already mentioned. In addition, both rising powers are contested by other large states within their respective regions. More broadly, these states have also encountered some scepticism abroad regarding their real capacity to assume greater responsibility in regional security affairs, especially because they continue to rely on Northern actors for the provision of some equipment and coordination efforts, as in the case of anti-piracy initiatives. In addition, it remains to be seen how strong an influence Brazil and India—both rising powers that aspire to become norms-makers rather than rules-takers—will have in shaping the multilateral normative frameworks related to maritime spaces, especially within the framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Nonetheless, at a time when NATO states and other global powers are either war-weary or focusing on other regions, these rising powers find a window of opportunity to enlarge their strategic vicinities in light of their own interests. It is worth noting that Brazil and India, despite the geographic distance separating them, are also increasingly connected, particularly via the loose groupings that have proliferated in the post-Cold War. Through the BRICS, they have deepened as well as broadened their dialogue, including on security issues. Via the India Brazil South Africa (IBSA) Dialogue Forum, they have engaged even more closely with naval issues. Through the IBSAMAR exercises, Brazil and India send warships across vast distances to rendezvous off the South African coast in a series of exercises and simulations that serve not only to build up mutual trust and increase interoperability, but that also underscore the geographic, climatological, and strategic interconnectedness of the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean. These emerging linkages suggest that maritime spaces are acquiring a new significance for rising powers, with concrete consequences for the states and societies along their perimeters, as well as for countries from other regions that play a role within these spaces.
Literature and Further Reading
Abdenur, Adriana Erthal and Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto. 2014. “Region-Building by Rising Powers: The South Atlantic and Indian Ocean Rims Compared.” Journal of the Indian Ocean Region 10 (1): 37–41.
Abdenur, Adriana Erthal and Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto. 2014. “Brazil’s growing relevance to peace and security in Africa.” NOREF Report, Oslo, March 2014.
Vieira, Marco A. and Chris Alden (2011) “India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA): South-South cooperation and the paradox of regional leadership.” Global Governance 17: 507-528.
About the Authors
Adriana Erthal Abdenur (PhD Princeton, AB Harvard) is a Professor of International Relations at the Pontifical Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro (PUC- Rio) and researcher at the BRICS Policy Center. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Danilo Marcondes de Souza Neto (MA, BA PUC-Rio) is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies (POLIS) at the University of Cambridge, UK. He can be contacted at email@example.com.