Will Lula’s Brazil Turn Away From the West?

Joe Biden has promised to bring Brazil and America closer together. ‘Both of our democracies have been tested of late’, Biden told reporters last week as he met with president Lula da Silva for the first time. The two leaders were on the ‘same page’, Biden said. But that feeling isn’t entirely mutual.

When Lula was sworn in as president on New Year’s Day, he promised ‘dialogue, multilateralism and multipolarity’, and there’s good reason to believe he’ll deliver it. In Lula’s first two terms, he was key to founding the Brics, an economic grouping with Russia, India, China and South Africa. In the post-Cold War era, Brics was important in starting an East-South and South-South dialogue and among the few major organisations from which the United States and its main allies were absent. Under Lula again, in 2010, Brazil worked with Turkey and proposed a way to resolve the Iran nuclear crisis, much to Washington’s annoyance. Brazil also more than doubled the number of its embassies in Africa, increased trade there five-fold, and began the building of a plant to make HIV drugs in Mozambique. Lula visited 27 African states, more than all his predecessors combined.

Lula isn’t alone in questioning western global dominance and prioritising the Global South (countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America that mostly lie south of the equator, and which are often less wealthy). Nonalignment – not wanting to pick a side between the West and the rest – is becoming common across the world. Nearly half of African countries and almost all South Asian ones, for instance, did not vote for two key US-backed UN resolutions that condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Gulf states have pivoted substantially toward Russia and China, with major energy partnerships (such as the OPEC+ arrangement) and talk of trading oil in Chinese yuan rather than the US dollar. ‘In Europe, they have their own story, in Russia they have their own story,’ said Suhail Al Mazrouei, the United Arab Emirates’s energy minister. ‘We can’t be siding with this country or that country.’

We’ve seen something like this before, in the sixties and seventies. Those were the heydays of decolonisation, when giant personalities forged in anti-imperial struggles, like Nasser, Nehru, Nkrumah, and Sukarno, led Asia and Africa. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which was led by Argentine economist Raul Prebisch, pushed dependency theory, which advocated trade protectionism for poorer states. The G77 and the Nonaligned Movement, mostly made up of decolonised countries, pushed something called a New International Economic Order at the United Nations. The old nonalignment had a distinctly revolutionary flair, and was a critique of global capitalism.

Read the full piece in The Spectator.