Defence Minister Celso Amorim said on Wednesday Brazil’s growing need to protect its borders, the Amazon rainforest, and massive offshore oil discoveries would lead it to gradually increase defence spending by a quarter to reach roughly 2% of the country’s GDP.
During an interview at the Reuters Latin America Investment Summit, Amorim said the country's valuable food, water, and energy supplies could eventually make it the target of a scramble for natural resources. Given the country's recent economic growth, he added, Brazil must spend more on preparedness and its ability to react or dissuade any effort to invade our territory.
Brazil has good relations with all ten of its South American neighbours, and hasn't been to war with any of them since the 19th century, so defence spending has historically been seen as a second-tier priority.
But President Dilma Rousseff's government has come under public pressure to better defend its borders from drugs and other contraband because of a crack epidemic in Brazilian cities.
At present, Brazil spends about 1.6% of GDP on defence; other countries, including Russia and the United States, spend more than 4%, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Last year, the figure reached more than 61 billion Reais (30.3 billion dollars), Brazil's defence ministry said.
In the coming years, Amorim said, Brazil should spend closer to 2% of GDP, a percentage more in line with that of other big developing nations, such as India and China. The minister gave no time-line for when that target might be reached, but said hypothetically it could take as long as ten years.
Increased spending, Amorim said, would also help nourish a nascent but growing defence industry in Brazil that could supply the weapons and equipment necessary to fulfil the government's defence goals.
Because of strict rules that require Brazilian companies to have a share in defence purchases, either alone or through partnerships with foreign contractors, local industries should benefit from the need for equipment including satellites, helicopters, armoured vehicles, and ships. To improve much-needed border patrols, for example, Amorim expects Brazilian companies within four years to have sufficient know-how on their own to supply the country with unmanned drones.
Amorim said the government must work to convince Brazilian society that the ramp-up in spending is worth it, especially because many Brazilians remain wary of the country's armed forces. Brazil's military ruled the country in a dictatorship that lasted two decades, ending in 1985.
Brazil will also work with its neighbours, he added, to ensure that regional cooperation can grow along with military ventures and contracting.
This month, Brazil signed an agreement with Colombia, valued at 10 million dollars, for the purchase of patrol vessels that will be used to monitor the Amazon and its tributaries. Brazilian plane-maker Embraer, for its part, works with Argentine partners in the development of a planned cargo aircraft that is expected to compete with other would-be successors to Lockheed Martin's ageing C-130 Hercules.