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Dual Hegemony: Brazil Between the United States and China

Part of the Palgrave Studies in International Relations book series (PSIR)


Although Brazil remains a relatively small state in the Western Hemisphere it has recently developed notable international ambitions, and even challenged the US-led international order in key aspects. In this chapter, we develop the concept of dual hegemony to understand this puzzle. We propose that states firmly under the umbrella of a hegemon and insufficiently powerful to challenge a hierarchical order can develop a pretense to autonomy when true challengers like China create an alternative hierarchy. These dual hegemonies produce contradictory policies that subaltern governments have incentives to portray as a manifestation of their own agency, when in reality the bi-directional pull is largely beyond their control. These boundaries of autonomy and agency become manifest in key episodes when the subaltern state clearly tries to align fully either with hegemon or challenger, and finds it impossible to do. We illustrate this by account to three decades of Brazilian foreign policy. While the divergence from Washington during the Cardoso and Lula eras has been usually depicted as a successful quest for autonomy, we show the rise of China was the real structural condition undergirding those policies and an equally plausible explanation for five key foreign policy episodes. We then turn to another five diplomatic crises during the more recent Temer and Bolsonaro governments to show that even when Brazil wanted to bandwagon with the US, the global power transition continued to constrain its foreign policy. Dual hegemonies might be a necessary consequence of hegemonic transitions.

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  1. 1.

    For a brief exposition of these contrasting views of Brazil in relation to the world, see the response of Ambassador Sergio Danese to Luis Schenoni’s article in La Nación (Danese, 2017; Schenoni, 2017a).

  2. 2.

    The Brazilian Center for International Relations (CEBRI) conducted surveys in 2001 and 2008 of members of the “Brazilian foreign policy community” (Souza 2008, p. 3), including diplomats, scholars, and opinion leaders. When asked if certain countries were going to increase their international influence in the next ten years, respondents’ confidence in BRICS increased 12% between 2001 and 2008, while confidence in established powers dropped by 28%. The final report concludes that “most of the interviewees believe […] the new interna-tional order will tend to multipolarity …” (Souza, 2008, p. 33). Several public opinion polls confirm that this myth managed to trickle down from the elites to the masses (Almeida et al., 2011, p. 32).

  3. 3.

    Re-primarization refers to the process of shifting back from industrial to primary production (Ray, 2017).


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Correspondence to Luis L. Schenoni .

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© 2021 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

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Schenoni, L.L., Leiva, D. (2021). Dual Hegemony: Brazil Between the United States and China. In: Böller, F., Werner, W. (eds) Hegemonic Transition. Palgrave Studies in International Relations. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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