In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Brazilian Foreign Policy

  • Introduction
  • Foundational Works
  • Journals
  • Reference Works
  • Brazilian Foreign Policy in Historical Perspective
  • Relations with South America
  • Relations with Argentina
  • Relations with the United States
  • Relations with Other Partners
  • International Security and Defense
  • Regional Integration
  • Brazilian Economic Foreign Policy
  • Brazil and the Global Economic Order
  • Brazil and Global Issues: Multilateralism and the International Institutional Framework
  • Brazil and Global Issues: International Development Cooperation
  • Brazil and Global Issues: Climate Policies
  • Brazil and Global Issues: Human Rights
  • Brazilian Foreign Policy Analysis
  • Brazilian Identity and Foreign Policy

Political Science Brazilian Foreign Policy
Antônio Carlos Lessa, Niels Søndergaard
  • LAST REVIEWED: 09 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0266


Brazilian foreign policy is internationally recognized, in comparative terms, for its stability, continuity, and a high degree of predictability, which can be observed throughout the different periods in which it has been categorized. The country’s international engagement from its independence in 1822 to the proclamation of the republic in 1889 was guided by a coherent behavioral pattern in liberal-conservative molds. In the subsequent period, which was initiated with the overthrow of the monarchy and extended until 1930, the interests that nurtured the country’s engagement abroad became strongly intertwined with those of the agro-exporting elite. With the hegemonic transition in this period, Brazil shifted from the British and toward the North American sphere of influence. The period that began in 1930 and extended to the end of the Cold War constituted a new model of international insertion. Within this model, the country’s international engagement assumed a supplementary character in relation to the national strategy for economic development, and its foreign policy thereby became conceived and formulated with a high degree of instrumentality as part of the aspirations for furthering the process of industrialization. Brazil’s adaption to the international post–Cold War context was a complex process, yet it is possible to detect a relatively homogenous strategy during these decades that informed the foreign engagement of governments marked by otherwise different ideologies. The growth of specialized academia from the 1990s on has spurred scientific production concerning international issues in general, and regarding foreign policy in particular. It is also important to emphasize the idea that the stability and coherence of Brazilian foreign policy is part of a narrative produced by both diplomats and scholars, and this has been reproduced intensively in the specialized literature over the years. This narrative facilitated the emergence of a certain notion of Brazilian foreign policy exceptionalism and the proposition of analytical axes that have been used in different traditions of foreign policy analysis to justify the notion of perenniality and continuity of the country’s international actions. It is possible to verify from this narrative the proposition that there are principles, ideas, and values that organize the strategies of international insertion and that give coherence to an international identity. It is important to emphasize that an important group of scholars has tried to problematize this question, discussing what would be the mythological nature of foreign policy in order to explain its continuity.

Foundational Works

The historiography of Brazilian foreign policy is marked by three very distinct phases. The first extends from the foundation of historical studies in Brazil, in the 1840s, until the middle of the 1940s. During this phase, books published by agents of the state (especially diplomats and military figures) appeared. The first edition of Ribeiro 1936, about Brazilian foreign relations, dating from 1844, is probably the first work that is entirely dedicated to foreign policy. Lima 1902 presents a history of positivist rigor. Calógeras 1927 introduces conceptual and methodological innovations in the writings of diplomatic history. The study of the delineation of national frontiers surges as an object of systematic inquiry with the publication of Accioly 1938. An effort of methodic comprehension of the formation of Brazilian diplomacy is presented in Mendonça 1945, a book that was originally published in Mexico, and which only recently had its first Brazilian edition. A second phase of historiography was initiated within the context of the establishment of an academic diplomacy in Brazil, with the Instituto Rio Branco, an institution that gave birth to a large number of Brazilian history professors, and that motivated the deepening of studies conducted on diplomatic history. The historiography of this phase, characterized by a nationalistic and apologetic motivation, is essentially descriptive, but also possesses scientific rigor. Vianna 1958 and Carvalho 1959 are important landmarks from this period. The third phase of foreign policy historiography began in the 1960s, when the national university system expanded and the first postgraduate courses (master’s and PhD) were consolidated, as was research in history at the university level. At this moment, the center of production shifted toward universities, with the introduction of new foci and modern research methods. Some seminal works resulted from pioneering research, such as Cervo 1981, about the national Parliament and foreign relations. The specialized historiography produced at universities in the United States and in Europe also expanded consistently beginning in the 1960s, when access to Brazilian documentary sources was facilitated for foreign researchers and seminal works such as Burns 1966 were published. Hilton 1975 presents innovative interpretations of the insertion of Brazil in the international system of either British or North American dominance.

  • Accioly, Hildebrando. Limites do Brasil: A fronteira com o Paraguay. São Paulo, Brazil: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1938.

    The Brazilian diplomat, historian, and legal scholar Hildebrando Accioly wrote this volume about Brazil’s borders with Paraguay, with a basis in documentation found in the archives of the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Itamaraty. The book examines the first border treaties, which date from the colonial period, the first negotiations between the two governments upon the independence, and the War of the Triple Alliance (also known as the “Paraguayan War”), as well as the negotiations that extended until 1927.

  • Burns, E. Bradford. The Unwritten Alliance: Rio Branco and Brazilian American Relations. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

    Burns’s book is contemporary with various others produced by North American and European historians from the 1960s, with a rich research that includes primary Brazilian and foreign sources. The book examines how the special relationship between Brazil and the United States took shape during the period when the Barão do Rio Branco (José Maria da Silva Paranhos Jr.) served as chancellor, proposing that, at this point, an “unwritten” alliance was formed between the two countries.

  • Calógeras, João Pandiá. A política exterior do império. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Imprensa Nacional, 1927.

    Beyond standing as an innovative historian and highly attentive observer of the methodological evolution introduced by German historiography in the late 19th century, Calógeras was also a public figure who acted as deputy, diplomat, and war minister at the beginning of the 20th century. This three-volume work presents a complete panorama and thorough analysis of Brazilian foreign policy throughout the 19th century.

  • Carvalho, Delgado Carlos. História diplomática do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Companhia Editora Nacional, 1959.

    This book, in line with Vianna 1958, constitutes the core of the second generation of historiography of Brazilian foreign policy, strongly inspired by the establishment of the Instituto Rio Branco, the Brazilian diplomatic academy, an institution at which the author served as a professor. The book presents a condensed account of Brazil’s international insertion, considering its antecedents, from the period of colonial domination until the 1950s.

  • Cervo, Amado. O Parlamento brasileiro e as relações exteriores (1826–1889). Brasília, Brazil: Editora Universidade de Brasília, 1981.

    Having produced a large volume of works that examine the most diverse issues related to the Brazilian international insertion, Cervo is one of the most influential historians of Brazilian foreign policy. This book is the first work that systematically examines the role of the Brazilian Parliament in the formation of foreign policy throughout the 19th century.

  • Hilton, Stanley E. Brazil and the Great Powers, 1930–1939: The Politics of Trade Rivalry. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1975.

    Stanley Hilton’s book is one of the noticeable efforts of systemic exploration of Brazil’s involvement in the Second World War. Based on Brazilian, North American, and European diplomatic sources, the book presents a successful synthesis of the interaction between domestic factors, economic and military questions, and the perceptions of leading Brazilian segments in the years that preceded the outbreak of the war regarding the rivalry between the Great Powers, and how this could have negatively affected or favored the interests of Brazil in the context of the crisis in the 1930s.

  • Lima, Oliveira. História diplomática do Brasil: O reconhecimento do império. 2d ed. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: H. Garnier, 1902.

    The historian and diplomat Oliveira Lima presents a history of the construction of Brazilian nationality at three different moments: the transfer of the Portuguese royal family to Rio de Janeiro; the recognition of the independence and foundation of the Brazilian state; and the political and institutional evolution throughout the 19th century.

  • Mendonça, Renato. História da política exterior do Brasil: Do período colonial ao reconhecimento do império (1500–1825). Mexico City: Instituto Pan-americano de Geografia e História, 1945.

    This book by the Brazilian diplomat Renato Mendonça presents a general history of Brazil, with a focus on foreign relations of the Portuguese state, until independence in 1822, and the difficult negotiations for the obtainment of international recognition. The first Brazilian edition of this book was not published until 2013.

  • Ribeiro, Duarte Ponte. As relações do Brazil com as Republicas do Rio da Prata de 1829 a 1843. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Officinas Graphicas do Archivo Nacional, 1936.

    Duarte de Ponte Ribeiro was a Luso-Brazilian diplomat who served around the moment of Brazilian independence, in 1822. With its first edition published in 1844, the book can be considered one of the pioneering works in the historiography of Brazilian foreign policy.

  • Vianna, Helio. História diplomática do Brasil. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Biblioteca do Exército, 1958.

    Vianna’s vast work revolves around the different aspects of Brazilian history. This book is one of the principal works of the second phase of the political historiography, written with a pedagogic intent, but likewise with nationalist inspiration. The book presents a synthesized narrative of Brazilian diplomatic history, from its origins until the middle of the 20th century.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.