It appears that whenever a major world leader, such as David Cameron, Nicholas Sarkozy or Barack Obama visits one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, he attempts to peddle commercial or military airplanes. Barack Obama's attempt to combine his visit to Brazil with the sale of Boeing F-18 jets showed how the position of a nation once firmly within the US sphere of influence has changed strategically and economically. What is true for Brazil is also true, to a large extent , for the rest of the continent.
It was only during Bill Clinton's 2nd term that the United States dropped its policy of embargoing first-line defense hardware to the Latin American countries. Previously, the United States had sent more obsolete equipment to the region for a number of reasons: It did not want to fuel a regional arms race; it did not want to empower the military elites who were considered a threat to democracy; it did not want to create a strain on Latin American budgets and divert money that could be best used for economic development to expensive hardware; and, finally, these countries did not require advanced military hardware because they were not coping with an external threat, but with internal security problems.
Brazil shows how things have changed. Sporting high growth rates and positioned as a major agricultural exporter and future oil exporter, Brazil has no need to pinch pennies. Barack Obama himself has touted Brazil as a Democratic paragon. Brazil, aspiring to the role of a regional power and coveting a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council, will not be lectured to on what arms it should equip itself with and how much it can afford to buy.
Brazil is set for a buying spree as, according to reports, half of its current military hardware is not fit for use --only 48 of 98 ships are combat ready and only 85 of 208 fighter-bombers.
If the United States is not prepared to sell, there are plenty of competitors hawking their wares in the arms bazaar. Brazil has already signed agreements with France to jointly construct 5 conventional submarines plus a nuclear powered sub. EADS, the European consortium, is selling 50 helicopters. Competing with the F-18 is the French Rafale manufactured by Dassault and Saab of Sweden's Gripen.
Just to reassure the potential Brazilian buyers, Obama came equipped, according to Reuters, with a joint letter from the Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate promising to respect any deal on technology transfers. Brazil. like India and China, has no intention of remaining primarily a buyer and intends to increase the sophistication of its own arms industry. America's congressional leadership is interested in the here and now and in securing jobs for American workers.
America is belatedly discovering a most serious competitor in Latin America -China . The Chinese have actively wooed the military establishments in Latin America by inviting junior officers to study at elite Chinese military academies. During their training, the officers visit Chinese military factories. If the officers so desire, they can also attend China's best universities on full scholarships. South American navies are encouraged to pay visits to Chinese ports and senior Chinese officers have made Latin America a regular stopping point on their itineraries.