Prince Harry is apparently taking Rio by storm — playing volleyball on the beach, visiting a favela and generally getting along with all and sundry. It’s a good thing he’s there, and a good thing he’s doing well; most Brits don’t realize just how much they have riding on their relationship with Brazil.The reality is that in the long run, if Britain is to keep the Falkland Islands, it will need at least tacit Brazilian support.Brazil has just passed Britain as the world’s sixth largest economy (though all these statistics need to be taken with much salt); more important, it is poised to become a significant and growing naval power in the South Atlantic. This is where Brazil has recently discovered what look to be immense oil and gas reserves; Brazilian naval policy is rapidly evolving in response as the country seeks to develop the capacity to defend its new riches and police the neighboring seas.Assuming the Brazilian discoveries pan out and that the economy, despite recent hiccups, continues to grow, Brazil is poised to become a major naval power in the South Atlantic, and its forces would be well positioned to interfere with Britain’s communications and activities in the region.Britain by contrast is planning reductions in its naval strength; as time goes by the balance looks set to move steadily in Brazil’s favor.Latin American solidarity would suggest that Brazil would stand by its neighbor to the south in any future conflict, and Brazil has traditionally offered diplomatic support for Argentina’s claim. If Brazil’s diplomatic backing of Argentina took on a military aspect, the US would be most unwilling to get involved. Without US support, Britain would find it very difficult to hold on to the islands.Fortunately for Britain — and the Falklanders — Brazil-Argentine friendship does not run particularly deep. Argentina both aspires to lead South America on its own, and fears Brazil’s growing weight. Britain can make a strong case to Brazil that it would be a better neighbor in the South Atlantic than the Argentines, and that Britain can do more than the Argentines to further Brazil’s deeply held ambition to emerge as an important global voice.From what I can tell, Prince Harry’s trip (part of a hemispheric swing that took him through much of the English speaking Caribbean) is not part of some devious, long nurtured British plot. Perhaps it should have been; Britain needs to come to terms with a rising force in the oil and naval politics of the South Atlantic.
Harry in Rio: Playing for the Future
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