Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress designated Brazil a major non-NATO ally in a clear victory for President Trump’s foreign policy agenda.
Brazil is the only country to be awarded this status under President Trump, bringing the total of states with this designation to 18. Such nations have access to finance, support and weapons technologies normally reserved for America’s allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
President Trump met Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro earlier this year. The two leaders, often portrayed as “populists” by their opponents, found much in common. Bolsonaro made a reference to ‘fake news’ and also announced Brazilian support for Trump’s border wall with Mexico.
Trump was equally gracious.
“I also intend to designate Brazil as a major non-NATO ally, or even possibly – if you start thinking about it – maybe a NATO ally,” Trump said at the time “I have to talk to a lot of people, but maybe a NATO ally.”
However, the declaration made by Trump met with little reaction among NATO allies.
“For practical purposes, I believe that the suggestion made by President Trump to support Brazil’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is not at all feasible — At least for now,” says Manuel Santos the President of the Youth Atlantic Treaty Association of Portugal.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is an alliance of nations bound by a collective defense treaty signed on April 4, 1949. That treaty also defines the geographical scope of its application, and article 10 of the Atlantic Charter under most interpretations only allows the inclusion of new European countries.
“This fact would prevent Brazil from joining the group, unless a complex revision of the text is carried out between the Western Alliance composed by the United States, Canada and all the European member States,” said Santos.
Currently, under the terms of the Atlantic Charter, all 29 NATO states must agree to change article 10 of the North Atlantic Treaty which says only European nations can join except the United States and Canada.
This reality is part of the reason that during the height of the Cold War the United States sought to encourage similar arrangements in South East Asia (SEATO) and the Middle East (CENTO) – the often forgotten forerunners to President Trump’s call for an Arab NATO.
“Brazil could, however, conclude a partnership with NATO, as other countries did in the past. Colombia, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, for example, contributed in some way to the missions and operations of the Alliance, increasing cooperation and security. Brazil and NATO could agree on something like this, which could strengthen international stability on a broader scope,” Said Santos.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said as much in April when he ruled out full membership for Brazil in favor of a “Partnership for Peace arrangement”. The only Latin American state with such an arrangement at present is Colombia which signed in 2017 as that country worried about the intentions of socialist Venezuela. Intriguingly Colombia is not designated a major-non NATO Ally but, Argentina (Brazil’s historic rival) received that designation from U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1998.
None of this closes the door fully to Brazil joining NATO. NATO has already expanded to regions never imagined by the victorious states of World War II who formed the core of the alliance in 1949. Brazil, was one of the victors despite having a fascist government during the war, declaring war on the Axis Powers in 1942. Brazil dispatched an expeditionary force that became a division (the famous Smoking Cobras) of the American 5th Army in Italy. Elsewhere Brazilian airmen and sailors played a role in the Battle of Atlantic.
If anything the designation of Brazil as a non-NATO major ally will give the United States further leverage in Brazilian-American relations. It is also recognition of Brazil as a growing economic power and the country’s growing role as a stabilizer in world affairs as Brazil currently contributes to nine United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world – most notably in the Central African Republic.