Monday, December 1, 2014

Classical Geopolitics in Brazil

by Bertil Haggman

The German geographer Friedrich Ratzel in his book Politische Geographie (1897) developed a number of concepts of space, that interested both the founder of geopolitics, Swedish Professor Rudolf Kjellén, and Sir Halford Mackinder of Great Britain. The latter’s central term was heartland, more or less Russia (or later the Soviet Union), although the more exact area of the heartland was in Siberia. Russia (and later the Soviet Union) was a land power that threatened British sea power. Mackinder introduced factors such as communications, populations and industrialization.

The American Admiral Alfred T. Mahan was a geopolitician before the term was introduced in 1899 by Kjellén. Mahan’s thesis was broadly that the sea power could maintain control through a number of naval bases around the Eurasian heartland.

Mackinder’s geopolitical theories during the post-Second World War era had a decisive influence on world politics. The Soviet Union threatened the Western maritime alliance created by the United States, NATO being the military arm of that alliance. This alliance used containment to stop the land power Soviet Union from controlling the Eurasian rimland. Moscow had  after World War II replaced Nazi Berlin as the main threat to the sea alliance. The basic struggle in global politics is land power against sea power. This contradiction will continue to play a major role in world politics also in the 21st century.

Definitions of geopolitics abound. One that takes into account the political side of the term is Professor Phillip Kelly 1): geopolitics is the impact of geographic factors on a country’s foreign policy. Several South American geopolitical experts have presented their own definitions.

Geopolitica brasileira had two founders, Everardo Backheuser and Carlos Delgado de Carvalho. The former was greatly influenced by the Swedish father of geopolitics, Rudolf Kjellen. Backheuser focused on southern Brazil, border disputes with neighboring countries and the formation of Amazonia.

The large land mass of Brazil was secured already during the colonial period. Between 1854 and 1907 the territory was further enlarged in settlements of territorial disputes with Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela and French Guiana.

After World War II geopolitical theorists of the Escola Superior de Guerra (ESG) came to play an important role in developing the theory of Brazilian geopolitics. Leading names were Carlos Delgado de Carvalho and General Golbery de Couto e Silva. With Carlos de Meira Mattos General Couto e Silva based their projections on the large size of the country. Important was also Brazil’s support for the Western alliance in the struggle against international communism. To strengthen Brazil quick integration of Amazonia had to be supported.

Building the infrastructure was crucial. This included roads in the interior and as well as airfields. Brazil’s strong position in South America today would not have been possible without the development during the 1960s and 1970s.

Couto e Silva in 1964 presented his views on how to best integrate and develop Amazonia:

- to articulate the ecumenical basis of the continent-wide projection of Brazil. The Northeast and the South would have to be connected to the center.
- it would be important to colonize the Northwest to integrate it with the rest of the country.
- the new frontier population would hold the frontier following the axis of the Amazon River.

Brazilian geopoliticians have also expressed an interest in Antarctica. During the government of Jose Sarney Brazil promoted the creation of a South Atlantic Zone of Peace and Co-operation (SAZOPC).

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