In a country where defence policy has traditionally not been a key aspect of overall foreign policy, seeing a former powerful Foreign Minister assume the Ministry of Defence is certain to raise some eyebrows. And so it happened when, in August 2011, President Dilma Rousseff chose Celso Amorim, the architect of Brazil's foreign policy under the Lula administration, to replace Nelson Jobim after the latter had openly questioned the capacity of several of his fellow cabinet members.
While Jobim was generally respected by the generals, several leading members of the armed forces voiced their concern about Amorim, who conservatives often accuse of being an anti-American ideologue. Yet no matter how one thinks about Amorim, there is a good possibility that the appointment of such a visible personality (and today's Foreign Minister's former boss) will boost the role of defence in Brazil's foreign policy.
Open tender experience
This may partly explain why Amorim's recent trip to India six weeks prior to the BRICS Summit in New Delhi has gained more media attention in both Brazil and India than Jobim's India trip a year earlier. Military ties between India and Brazil are growing, and India uses Brazilian Embraer aircraft for indigenous airborne early warning and control systems. Yet, for several other reasons, the timing made the trip special: only days before, India had announced that it would buy 126 French-made Rafale combat aircraft in a $11-billion deal.
In a somewhat unusual move, India agreed during Amorim's trip to share with Brazil some of its experiences of carrying out the open tender evaluation to select the best aircraft. This matters greatly to Brazil, as it is currently involved in a similar selection process. Brazil would like to buy 36 fighter jets, and the Rafale, F-18 and Gripen-NG are still in the race. Just as in India, the process was mired in controversy given its large size and the significant political implications. After President Lula seemed to favour the Rafale in 2009, the Dilma administration put the deal on hold in an effort to reduce public spending.
The big question now is how the decision to have Brazil study documents about India's selection process will affect the tender process in Brazil. India's purchase certainly makes the Rafale seem less risky. A decision to follow India's would not only boost ties between Brazil and France, but it would make India and Brazil the only two countries other than France to boast the Rafale jet, thus creating further potential for stronger ties in the area of military technology.
(Oliver Stuenkel is Professor of International Relations at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, in São Paulo, Brazil.)