Brazil and Turkey, a Natural Defense Partnership Deepens

The defense ministers of Brazil and Turkey met in Brazil last month, where they signed a letter of intent to improve bilateral military ties and increase technology transfers. In an email interview, Oliver Stuenkel, an assistant professor of international relations at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, discussed the military relationship between Brazil and Turkey.

WPR: What is the extent of the current defense relationship between Brazil and Turkey in terms of military-to-military relations and defense-industrial ties?

Oliver Stuenkel
: The defense relationship between Brazil and Turkey is still small and incipient, yet in 2003, Brazil and Turkey signed an agreement to work together in defense matters. As with the broader bilateral relationship, there is significant potential for stronger cooperation in defense. The recently signed letter of intent formalizes a move to “develop cooperation between the defense industries of both countries, including technology transfer and joint projects.”

An initial focus will lie on initiating personnel exchanges between the armed forces, developing platforms for regular meetings and knowledge exchange, and working together on issues around cybercrime. For example, Turkish soldiers are set to participate in a Brazilian military center that focuses on jungle warfare in the Brazilian Amazon. Both Brazil and Turkey are keen on increasing their capacity to develop modern military technology on their own rather than depending on foreign equipment. In some areas this is already the case — as with Brazil’s Embraer — but neither country currently possesses cutting-edge knowledge in naval technology, space technology, defense against cyberattacks or unmanned aircraft. The ability to develop such technology would not only provide both countries with greater strategic autonomy, but also allow them to export high-tech military equipment.

WPR: What are the main opportunities and challenges for the two as they attempt to strengthen the relationship?

: While they face very different regional security threats, both countries are intent on modernizing their armed forces. Brazil, for example, is keen on strengthening its naval capacity as it seeks to boost its dissuasive force to protect the natural resources located off the Brazilian coast in the South Atlantic. With commercial shipping trends dramatically increasing the strategic importance of the South Atlantic, the Brazilian government is also beginning to articulate a vision for a South Atlantic Security Space. It is currently building a fleet of nuclear and diesel-engine submarines to give it a meaningful presence there.

At the same time, both Brazil and Turkey may increasingly assume political tasks that require them to increase their military capacity. Brazil is engaging in defense cooperation with many of its neighbors, and has led the Minustah peacekeeping mission in Haiti since 2004. The Brazilian army is now withdrawing from Haiti, but we can expect to see a growing number of Brazilian peacekeepers in many future conflicts around the world.

NATO-member Turkey has an active deployment in Afghanistan, and its soldiers participate in U.N. peacekeeping missions around the world, including difficult missions such as the ones in Lebanon, Darfur and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

WPR: What are both sides looking for from heightened defense ties, in terms of both political goals and concrete outcomes?

: Since the end of the Cold War, and particularly over the last decade, both Brazil and Turkey have sought to diversify their partnerships. Turkey continues to be a candidate for European Union accession, but it has also established stronger ties with other rising powers such as India and China. In addition, it has built an impressive diplomatic presence in Africa, indicating that Turkey may seek to extend its sphere of influence to all the territory that once formed the Ottoman Empire. Brazil, for its part, has spent the past decade strengthening ties to Africa as well as emerging states such as China, India and Turkey. In addition, the Brazilian-Turkish partnership is an important element in both countries’ strategies to strengthen their global economic and political presence. For Turkey, Brazil is the most important actor in South America, while Turkey is Brazil’s preferred partner and platform to strengthen its presence in the Middle East.