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Geopolitics of Brazil: Basic Geopolitical Approaches

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Brazil is the biggest country in South America, occupying half of the continents land mass, being also the 5th largest country in the world by both size (8.547.403 km²) and population (more than 209.000.000). The country encompasses a diverse range of geographical features such as more than 5 biomes, many river basins and systems, mountain chains etc. From all of those, the most important are its position in the South Atlantic, the Amazon rain forest and the Amazon River basin in the north, the Cerrado (tropical savanna) in the country’s center, mountain chains in its coastal line and south-eastern core.

Concerning its human related characteristics, Brazil is the most industrialized country in the region and has considerable energy potential since its oil and gas abundant, also counting with a humongous hydroelectric potential due to its copious river systems, moreover, the country is one of the pioneers in the field of biofuels.

One important feature of its demography is that most of the Brazilian population dwell in the coastal line which extend itself for more than 7000 km, thus evidencing the fact that the country is still not fully integrated and some areas are not yet occupied and economically productive. This is due to its colonial history, since the littoral was the first settled area by the Portuguese and was also the most important for them, later also the south-east, where abundant natural deposits of gold and diamonds were discovered and explored. These two colonial characteristics are still reflected today, in the demographical, industrial and wealth distribution of Brazil.

The Portuguese legacy deeply shaped the national identity of Brazil, specially, in relation to its South American neighbor; the linguistic and cultural differences have always been a barrier for building relation with other countries in the region. Moreover Brazil, don’t have just only the Lusitanian heritage and the diverse nature of its population have always posed an obstacle in the creation of a unified identity. These factors led the Brazilian society to be very inward looking, more focused on its own reality, self-identification and national aspirations and could be also be one of the reasons to its political polarization. The fully integration of Brazil both physically and nationally has always been a challenge to its rulers.

Considering all these features, the Brazilian State and its intelligentsia based on its respective ideologies had formulated geopolitical models and strategies to deal with its national peculiarities, maximize its potentials and prompt Brazil as a great power and player in the international system.

Two of these geopolitical approaches are the early ‘Brazilian geopolitical school’ based in the ideas of Golbery, which was the base to the military regime age policy doctrine during the cold war and inspired some of the ideological framework of the current government of Brazil (2019-), and the other is the meriodionalist or South-to-South geopolitical approach that was developed in the 2000s by scholars of the most important universities of Brazil and had some influence on the foreign policy of the last elected government (2003-2016).

The Golbery’s Geopolitical Doctrine

During most of the 20th century, geopolitical thought was a matter monopolized by the military, its proposers and theorists being often generals, such as Golbery do Couto e Silva, one of the idealizers of the national security doctrine (during the Cold War). For General Golbery, the State allied with the military should form a national elite responsible for creating a national identity based on civic nationalism, which unites the citizens under Permanent National Objectives, in his vision the State was responsible for economical and developmental planning, thus exercising National Power.

Concerning the Golbery’s geopolitical doctrine, he divided its objectives in both internal and external. The internal doctrine focuses on the role of the Sate in planning the economical and infrastructure development of the country, having in mind two main objectives:

  1. Total territorial integration, specially between north and south, expressed by the creation of roads (R. de Medeiros, 2015: 47), such as, for example, the Trans-Amazonian Highway, which was built to connect the north and led the strait towards the Central Brazilian heartland (another Golbery’s concept based on Mackinder’s notion of heartland).
  2. State planning to make possible the populational occupation of the west and north of the country, settling around the river basins and strategical regional centers and roads – the national integration would depend on the economical valorization of the vast geographical spaces of the Brazilian inland (Vânia Rubia Farias Vlach, 2003: 9).

The external doctrine is based in ideological foundations of the Western (Occidental) identity. Golbery saw Brazil as part of the Christian Western civilization, even though if in the peripheries of the realm he stated: “We, are also The West”. In this vision, the general saw in the bipolar reality a United States representing the West and its classical and Christian values against the communist materialism of the East embodied by the USSR, in this scenario it was a national and civilizational duty to act under the alignment of the USA (Thiago Bonfada de Carvalho, 2010: 98,99).

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The ideological foundation mentioned foreshadows Golbery’s strategy of its external geopolitical doctrine – becoming a great power as an allied of the United States. The general stated that since the US have ended their American continental isolationism, projecting its power to Europe and Asia to ‘contain’ the Soviet Union, there was a relief of the American continental tension and the US domination doctrines (the Monroe Doctrine) transition to a multilateral collective security focused one. This would leave space for Brazil to become a power in the South Atlantic and forging an alliance with the US based in: defending the South Atlantic (the rearward of the West), strengthening Pan-Americanism to secure the influence of the West in the continent, giving the Americans access to the strategical points in its coastal line (specially, in the North-East which is the nearest point in continental America to Africa) as well as the Amazonian estuary and establishing a deal related to the exports of resources such as manganese and other metals (Thiago Bonfada de Carvalho, 2010: 101-103).

In Golbery’s point of view this North-South alliance would be beneficial for the US since Brazil didn’t have intercontinental ambitions of domination and had a tradition of being a friendly nation. As to Brazil, Golbery thought that this alliance would recognize a Brazilian space of influence not colliding with the northern ambitions, also that the country wouldn’t fall in the trap of being exploited, since he saw the Brazilian market as non-competitive and not so attractive for imperialism like Africa.

This alliance never happened and Golbery himself recognized that, and argued: “Maybe the great architects of the North American greatness lacks knowledge of our will to accept fully the responsibility that we bear”, suggesting that Brazil should prove itself worthy for the USA and also use methods of cohesion together with other South American countries to convince them. In his vision only with the support of the USA and the implantation of capitalism around the globe, the Third World would stop being a victim of communist subversion and thus a threat to the US and the rest of the Western world.

The Meridionalist Geopolitical Approach

With the democratization process of Brazil in the 80’s geopolitics stepped down from the government central planning and became a subject of Academia. For the last two decades Professor André Martin from the São Paulo University has gained certain prominence with his geopolitical theory known as meridionalism (Nuno Morgado, 2017: 176). Martin defines meridionalism as a geo-ideology, term which the professor coined himself. It is essentially an anti-US hegemony ideology based on the concepts of: meridionalism as being a part of the Southern Hemisphere and meridionalidade (meaning ‘middling’), a common characteristic of the states of the South, which can be defined as: economic and military fragile, and of political and diplomatic limited relevance. Martin divides the world in the dichotomy of a rich north and poor south (which was historically a victim of exploitation) and aims to achieve a multipolar world, alluding to a Southern solidarity in the form of ‘hemispherical cooperation’ and strive against USA and Northern domination and imperialism.

The meridionalist theory is much more focused in projecting Brazil to the exterior than elaborating about internal plans and overcoming national challenges, according to some scholars the meridionalist approach is against the Brazilian nation and sovereignty since its proposer is supportive of the idea of a total Latin American integration (Nuno Morgado, 2017: 180,183). Though just related to power projection some internal planning was established which Martin called the ‘anti-Golbery’s plan’, which consists in the creation of a powerful navy to control and defend the oceans between the sparse landmasses of the Hemisphere and the construction of railways with continental dimensions (Brazil has a deficit of railways since the military leaders invested mainly in roads).

Concerning his vision of Brazil’s external objectives, the professor suggests that the country should become a “Friendly Hegemon” and change the balance of powers in the world and that “Brazil’s role is crucial for World peace” and the country need a power plan to achieve its ambitions (E. Albuquerque 2014:11). In one of his lectures in the National Congress (2012) Martin stated that the Southern American Integration gives the unique opportunity for Brazil to focus on other goals such as the Atlantic defense, intercontinental diplomacy and to use its soft power to coordinate the South. In addition to that, the State should strive to form an alliance with India, cooperate and ascend together to the UN Security Council, as well as driving foreign policy towards South Africa, Australia and Antarctica (Nuno Morgado, 2017: 179).

Moreover, Brazil and the Southern States should be also financial and technological independent from the North, thus measures should be taken to: explore the rich reserves of uranium in the Hemisphere and enhance the nuclear potential, make use of the biodiversity riches and develop the chemical and pharmaceutic industry etc. With that the South could avoid exploitation, maintain autonomy and self-sufficient development (E. Albuquerque 2014: 11).


All things considered, it can be concluded that both geopolitical approaches, Golbery’s and meridionalist envision and aim at fulfilling Brazil’s potential and transforming it in a major power. It can be said that although the Golbery’s doctrine dates from the 50-80’s and in many aspects seems outdated, it has much more insights and guidelines concerning the internal development of Brazil that are still relevant today than the merdionalist theory, which can be described as far more ideological and has been sometimes described as even careless for the Brazilian peculiarities and not scientific in some aspects by some scholars (Nuno Morgado, 2017: 181-183).

However, regarding ideology, the same can be said about Golbery’s pursuit of the idea of “Brazil being part of Western civilization and being recognized as in equal footing alongside the US and other Western powers”, since Brazil was and still is a developing country – dealing with poverty and other issues, moreover it had been historically a colony and an area of influence of other powers. Golbery though, recognizes the relevance of Brazil and its peoples being different from other Latin American countries, thus with different mentality and goals, whereas Martin embraces the Latin American identity and integration which aren’t such widespread concepts in Brazil.

Finally, it can be said, that both theorists consider important the position of Brazil in the South Atlantic and that should be explored somehow. Both models had an impact in Brazilian internal and foreign policy and reflect the reality of its time, having ‘meridionalist tendencies’ during the last elected government (2003-2016), furthered regional integration, established the IBSA Dialogue Forum and the approximation to Western African countries. Since the inaugural speech of the new minister of foreign affairs in 2019, the recent elected government give signs of returning to the Golbery’s doctrine after 25 years, however the result of the deals with China and India compared with the ones proposed to the US and the European Union have shown that Brazil is almost fated to continue what was built in the last two decades, or to establish something in between as a form of syncretism.

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Geopolitics of Brazil: Basic Geopolitical Approaches. (2022, October 28). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 30, 2023, from
“Geopolitics of Brazil: Basic Geopolitical Approaches.” Edubirdie, 28 Oct. 2022,
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