France Alters Latin America’s Strategic Balance Amid Arms Build-Up

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Some analysts fear that military cooperation between Brazil and France may change the strategic balance in Latin America.

In recent months, tension has grown in the region because of arms purchases by Venezuela’s flamboyant President Hugo Chavez from Russia, and the accord signed by Colombia and the United States that allows the US to use Colombian military bases. Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim defended his nation’s recent shopping spree by saying that its new nuclear submarine will be equipped with conventional weapons only, while noting that Brazil has “constituional prohibition” against the fabrication and use of atomic weapons. Besides, Brazil is a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Brazil recently inked with France the most important military pact in Brazil’s recent history. The agreements signed by the the Brazilian foreign ministry and the French Quai d’Orsay provides for the delivery of 50 EC-725 helicopters, four conventional Scorpene submarines and a nuclear-powered sub. These will actually be built at shipyards and a naval base located near Rio de Janeiro. The entire deal is valued at approximately $10 billion and will be completed in stages out to 2021.

The “strategic cooperation” was signed on September 7 by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy as part of Brazil’s Independence Day celebrations. The principal focus of the accords is a transfer of French technology allowing the manufacture of French weapons systems on Brazilian soil. With the agreement, Brazil will have the most powerful war fleet in Latin America, comprised of modern frigates, corvettes, missiles, torpedos, and advanced helicopters.

Brazil’s new arsenal will enable that country to satisfy a growing concern over the security of Pre Sal – an enormous deposit of sub-salt fields of petroleum and natural gas that extends some 600 miles along Brazil’s coast on the sea bottom. Some field are located more than 20,000 feet below sea level. Haroldo Lima, managing director of the National Petroleum Agency (ANP), claims the new reserves could surpass 100 billion barrels (Bb) of high-quality recoverable oil. (By comparison, Venezuela has 142 Bb, although this number is said to be rapidly increasing.) At current market prices gross receipts from the sale of Brazil’s oil would exceed 3 trillion dollars-150 percent of Brazil’s annual GDP.

The Franco-Brazilian military pact could also magnify Brazil’s capacity for vigilance and defense of its biodiversity and commerce, which is conducted most through seaports. For its part, France expects to transform Brazil into a springboard for its commercial ventures in Latin America. French products could then be re-exported to the other countries on the continent. Among these are the EC-725 helicopters, which will be built in Brazil by Helibras – a subsidiary of the French firm, Eurocopter. President Sarkozy announced that France will purchase ten KC-390 military tranport aircraft to be built by Embraer. According to Sarkozy, this will allow France to replace its ageing US-built C-130 transport craft.

Rafale versus F-18

The Brazilian Air Force intends to purchase 36 combat aircraft. The three leading candidates are the Rafale built by France’s Dassault, the F/A-18 Super Hornet built by Boeing, and the Gripen built by Sweden’s Saab. The deal will run to approximately to $4 billion.

At the beginning of September, President da Silva indicated his preference for the Rafale, in appreciation for France’s agreement on technology transfer. During Sarkozy’s visit, the Brazilian president went so far as to announce that negotiations on the purchase of the Rafale were going forward, even while the aircraft has not yet been sold to any other country. Nevertheless, the Brazilian government appeared to turn in its horns and made the clarification that the selection process for the aircraft will be through technical evaluation done by the Brazilian armed forces.

At the same time, the US appeared to reinvigorate its campaign to swing attention to its Super Hornet. In a note released by the US embassy in Brasilia, the Obama administration expressed its disposition towards technology transfer for US-made SuperHornet to be sold to Brazil. President da Silva said, of the prospective sales by the US or France, that Brazil would eventually receive the jets “gratis.”

Autonomy and global role

With this military agreement, Brazil is consolidating its regional leadership abilities and takes an important step towards a global role. “Brazil must, in the 21st century, be transformed into a great power,” said President da Silva, “We have everything we need.”

It is in this context that France’s solicitude towards the South American giant can be explained. In the first place, the multi-million dollar French arms deal dovetails with Brazil’s plans for a greater strategic autonomy vis-a-vis the US. It is a clear signal about Brazilian intentions for foreign relations hemispherically and globally. Secondly, France is lending its support to Brazil to take a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, should the body allow new membership. Brazil is also making a pitch to expand the G-8 (which includes the Canada, France, German, Italy, Japan, Russia, the US and the UK) and create a G-15 that would pull in Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Mexico, and South Africa.

Since the onset of the global recession, France has called for a greater participation of emerging powers in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Lula and Sarkozy will have to present a united front at the next summit of the G-20 (which brings togethers the biggest economic players of the world) at Pittsburgh on September 24-25. Therefore, the newfound alliance between Paris and Brasilia transcends mere military objectives. It comes as a political, commercial and financial convergence that seeks to magnify Brazil’s profile in bodies of global governance and to promote business for both countries in Latin America.

Source: Cutting Edge

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