Greg Grandin: Brazil Stares Down the U.S. on Libya

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including most recently, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan 2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.]

...Even before Obama landed in Rio, Brazil, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, joined with China and Germany to abstain from the vote authorising "all necessary measures" against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, its opposition to the bombing has hardened. According to the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Brazil's foreign ministry – still, for the most part, staffed by the diplomats who charted Lula's foreign policy – recently issued a statement condemning the loss of civilian lives and calling for the start of dialogue.

Lula himself has endorsed Dilma's critical position on Libya, going further in his condemnation of the intervention: "These invasions only happen because the United Nations is weak," he said. "If we had twenty-first-century representation [in the Security Council], instead of sending a plane to drop bombs, the UN would send its secretary-general to negotiate."

His remarks were widely interpreted to mean that if Brazil had been a permanent member of the Security Council – a position it has long sought – it would have vetoed the resolution authorising the bombing rather than, as it did, merely abstaining from the vote.

These comments were the first indication that the ex-president, still enormously popular and influential in Brazil, planned to continue to openly weigh in on his successor’s foreign policy.

Argentina and Uruguay likewise have voiced strong disapproval of the intervention. On one level, this censure reflects Latin America's commitment to the ideal of non-intervention and absolute sovereignty. But on another, less elevated and more commonsensical level, it reflects a belief that the diplomatic community needs to return to a standard in which war is the last rather than the first response to crisis....

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