Spanish – The fire in the Amazon ignited a concern across the world and culminated in a major debate: is the “lung of the world” an international commodity or does Brazil have power over it?
French President Emmanuel Macron is spearheading the struggle for international protection of the Amazon. The antagonism between him and Jair Bolsonaro, president of Brazil, arises precisely when both were about to finalize a trade agreement between Mercosur and the European Union (EU) that put Macron in a problematic situation because Brazil is larger than all of Europe, it would compromise French farmers.
While Macron pursues protectionism at home, he promotes internationalism abroad with the resources that suit him, such as the Amazon.
The Brazilian pollster Data Folha published a survey which proposed Macron as the person in charge of putting out the fires in the Amazon, instead of President Bolsonaro.
It is worth noting that this is the same pollster who announced the decline in Bolsonaro’s popularity. In its clear leftist stance, it always favors the Workers Party of the now-imprisoned Lula da Silva. The pollster also predicted Bolsonaro’s defeat at the polls. Therefore, the president appealed to satire to highlight the trustworthiness of the pollster.
To delve deeper into the subject of the Amazon and international interests, the PanAm Post consulted Alberto Hutschenreuter, Doctorate (summa cum laude) in international relations, professor at the National Foreign Service Institute (ISEN), and author of numerous books on geopolitics, including A Lost World: Strategic appraisals of the contemporary international environment.
Although there are fires in Angola, Siberia, Alaska, and neighboring Bolivia, all attention is on Brazil. Why, whom does it suit, cui bono?
Macron (I mention him because he seems to have taken on the role of environmental justice) says nothing about the fires and (repeated) incidents in Russia that affect the environment with radioactivity, or about the Chinese acid rain that affects the countries in the region. Who would dare to get involved against these countries with power?
Brazil is different. It is a potentially powerful country, densely geopolitical, but it still lacks the higher strategic rank to have “strategic deference” to it, which is what sets states apart. Thucydides -historian and military strategist of Ancient Greece- remains very valid in the 21st century, especially concerning his old and categorical statement: “there are countries that do what they can and others that suffer what they should.”
Datafolha: Brasileiro acha Macron mais preparado que Bolsonaro para lidar com a questão da Amazôniahttps://t.co/WhsZWcuFq0
— Revista Fórum (@revistaforum) September 1, 2019
There are catastrophic situations in various parts of the world. But not all of them, often in the most resounding silence, have “global visibility.” It happens with the mortal victims of transnational terrorism: judging by the visibility and the commotion, those who suffer in France or the United Kingdom do not seem to be the same as those who do so in Nigeria or Mauritania. But it is the issues of hierarchy, power, geopolitics, and interests that determine which places matter. In other words, there are geopolitical sites and anti-geopolitical sites.
Macron, president of a country that has conducted more than 200 atomic tests, the most recent one in 1995, has never said anything about the detonations carried out for decades by “legal possessors” of nuclear weapons: France, the United Kingdom, China, the United States, and Russia. Those who blew up arms before the signing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Nor has he said anything about the significant improvement that these countries are making in these deadly systems, achieving “less for more”: “fewer devices, more destructive power.”
– Segundo o mesmo Datafolha que diz que eu seria derrotado se as eleições fossem hoje, eu perdi as eleições de 2018. Muito confiável! ? pic.twitter.com/EnmTxuXmER
— Jair M. Bolsonaro (@jairbolsonaro) September 2, 2019
So, apart from the subject of weapons, it seems that there are facts that pollute and others that do not. Deforestation and uncontrolled fires in the Amazon are a severe danger to the world, but detonations are not so dangerous (I would like to remind you that there are scientific studies on the aftermath of the nuclear tests in France on the atolls of Mururoa and Fangataufa, located more than 16,000 kilometers from France). Does anyone speak about this issue?
No one talks about these because international relations are above all power relations and not relationships based on law and rights.
What are the economic and legal risks – in terms of sovereignty – of “global humanitarian interventionism?”
These are risks that are growing. They are considerable, and we must pay close attention to the evolution of those concepts that tend to arise in idea spheres that function in preeminent powers.
The degree of the threat can enable disproportionate power and render national sovereignties very relative. During the fight of the United States against global terrorism, between 2001 and 2010, US power almost produced an event that rarely occurred in international relations: the international system almost came to identify with the interests of this power, as at the time happened with the Roman Empire or with the British centuries later.
I want to say that in this case, the magnitude of the threat meant that nothing could interfere with the United States’ pursuit of security. If a country (not preeminent) did not guarantee that it could neutralize terrorists operating on its territory, the United States would do so “in its own way.”
China and Russia did not have much to worry about. They are actors with the capacity to generate strategic deference on the part of others. Additionally, as Brzezinski says, there is separatist terrorism in these territories (Caucasus, Sinkiang, etc.) and, therefore, the US “crusade” against terrorism “qualified” them for local extermination.
In milder terms, humanitarian intervention has two sides. It is necessary and laudable when a population, at risk in an intra-state war, is assisted, and its human rights are protected. However, sometimes the veil between human rights and interests is delicate.
We saw this in Libya. The UN Security Council approved the intervention to safeguard the lives of the Libyans. However, amid the action, this end was modified, and those who were fighting against Gaddafi were assisted. We know how history ended, and we see that today, post-Gaddafi, Libya is in pre-Gaddafi Libya, chaos of inter-tribal struggles.
Due to this change in objectives in Libya, a resolution authorizing the intervention in Syria was not possible. In other words, interests prevailed over the principle of responsibility to protect.
The most significant risks and this is where the Amazon comes in, happen because concepts like “sovereignty in suspense” evolve. Namely, there are countries (not preeminent, of course, and geopolitically relevant) that have severe difficulties in managing their resources, their spaces (terrestrial and oceanic), their currency, their security, their energy, etc., and “have to be assisted” (legally) by other countries because this difficulty ends up affecting the region and the world.
While Brazil faces interference from multilateral organizations such as the UN, NATO, and the EU, what should it do to maintain peace and economic stability?
It is up to you per se to ensure the maintenance of your large spaces. The region cannot be absent. For decades Brazil has been occupying its spaces through plans that combine economy with security. It is a “geopolitical country with geopolitics.” Moreover, this is a tremendous national asset. It is not what I call a “country of zero geopolitics,” that is, a country with vast land, marine area, and air, but without a conception of the land, sea, and air power. It is not a country that believes in goodwill among states. And it does well to think that way.
But it needs to build more national power. And for that, the growth of its economy is vital. So far, it has been more of a promise than a reality, but Brazil has all the components to become a full-blown middle power. To do so, the region will have to let go of its suspicions. Let no actor feel that this growth will go against them. It is worth remembering that in South America, there is a substantial idea of sovereignty among states. It is a late “Westphalian” conception. In this search for ascending national power, dormant undertakings should be reactivated, for example, the system of Amazonian cooperation, since the Amazon is distributed among eight countries, although it is true that a large part in Brazil.
In short, it is a “continental country,” and a country with this condition (Argentina also has it) is condemned to develop capacities to protect it. Frederich Ratzel’s statement always comes to mind: “if a country does not occupy its spaces or exploit its resources, others will do so for it.”
Bolsonaro’s military advisors warned that the leading international security challenge facing the country would be an “uncontrolled environmental catastrophe. Were they slow to react or was there international interest in exposing it on the eve of the G7 and why?
The hypothesis was always well defined, although perhaps not sufficiently disseminated. This hypothesis and the relative one with the incessant advance of “shared sovereignty,” “sovereignty in suspense,” etc. have always been present as a crisis hypothesis in the thinkers of Brazil. But it is a vast country, with an ecological area in many isolated locations. It is also true that economic interests (deforestation) tend to take precedence over “national security first.”
I believe that there will be experiences of this situation, and one of them will be the revival of the development of the Amazon with a sense of security. It is also clear that the environmental phenomenon is one of the significant dimensions of security in the 21st century. Safety inside: fires, occupations, exploitations, etc. Security for the outside: direct and indirect interference, the Amazon as the patrimony of humanity, “global commons,” etc.
I also think the French president overreacted. The strategic level of France is not the same as it used to be at the time of General Charles de Gaulle (when it was already exaggerated). We must remember what this great statesman said when World War II ended: “in Europe, there were two countries that lost the war; the others were defeated.” What he meant was that global power would no longer be in Europe.
The G7 suffers from the lack of solutions to the multiple crises they face. Therefore, they turn their gaze to issues that affect us. Of course, this does not mean that fires are not important.
In Orwellian terms, are we heading towards 1984-style blocks or will it be more subtle and can Brazil put a stop to it?
I think in Orwellian terms some countries are immersed in it. And for some time now. I am referring to the true meaning of this term: the establishment of thought patterns and even emotions that are not one’s own, but installed from another place in people, in societies.
In an international time without regime, without hopeful hypotheses, with “politics as usual,” as Stanley Hoffmann said, national structural crises, etc., people are prone to intellectual lethargy. That is to say, the worst of paths, the one that leaves us at the mercy of those who never relax their reflection and can only appreciate life and political life through domination, power, ambition, etc.
Then occurs the most forceful and subtle of dominations: others thinking about oneself. Therefore, another author similar to Orwell, Ray Bradbury, said very well, “there is something worse than burning books: not reading them.”
I trust that the significant socio-economic-cultural problems faced by Latin American countries, some more than others, will not drag societies into a vacuum. However, much will depend on the necessary emergence of political elites that know where and how to lead countries. Today, there are no elites. Opportunists predominate, granitic individualists — people who carry out triumphalist political campaigns without making the slightest proposal of anything. Worse still, promising disaster. And I don’t know if this is worse than the closed societies of 1984.