Middle Power Regionalism in the Americas

Many thanks to the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust, which have recently decided to support my future research with a “small research grant.” It might not be big money in terms of the UK academic grant world, but it is big to me. The grant will support two trips to Brazil (one to Rio and one to Brasilia) for archival research over the next 18 months. In the nearer-term, the research will contribute to an article project that I am working on with the exceptionally talented historian Max Paul Friedman, as well as to an early theoretical piece on the interplay between middle power foreign policy strategies and the development of regional organization. In the longer term, this research forms part of a book project that explores the historical trajectories of Brazil’s and Mexico’s approaches to regionalism in the Americas starting from the late days of the Second World War until the present. I started work on the Mexican side while at CIDE, and I worked in the State Department archives during my last couple months in Washington.

For anyone who might be interested, my project description is available below the jump.

Harry Truman in Rio in 1947



“Regionalism in the Americas has long been considered a U.S.-led, hegemonic project, lacking the deep institutionalization, burden-sharing, and cooperation of regional efforts elsewhere. However, inter-American regionalism was, by turns, strongly supported or contested by leading Latin American states. The regional policy logics of those states merit deeper consideration. For middle powers, regionalism may serve as a framework to mediate relations with a larger power as well as with smaller neighbours. This project will examine Brazilian approaches to regionalism during crucial moments in the early post-World War II period. I will undertake archival research on three main cases of Brazilian regional policy. First, I will examine Brazil’s internal debates, private diplomacy, and public positions regarding the creation of the modern inter-American system. Secondly, I will study Brazil’s turn from security to development during the late 1950s. Finally, the collapse of democracy led to another major shift, as Brazil sought to combat regional efforts related to human rights.

Most of the work would take place in the foreign ministry archives, which are divided by date between Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia. I have experience working in both locations. These archives will be supplemented with collections of private papers and periodicals in the national library. Because of how the archives are divided, I plan to split the research over two trips. During the first trip, I will examine the key moments in the creation of the inter-American system from 1944 to 1950. Brazil hosted two of the key conferences during this period, and it was a major actor in other hemispheric forums. I will examine the debates inside the foreign ministry and presidency regarding the shape of post-war regionalism, as well as the reflection of these debates in the press and policy journals. The second trip will cover research in Brasilia, focusing on how Brazil sought regional solutions to economic development challenges. By the late 1960s, Brazil’s regional approach shifted, particularly on issues of human rights, and became less supportive of U.S.-led organizations.

This work would produce important outputs of its own while also contributing crucial sections to a broader project comparing Mexican and Brazilian approaches to regionalism. As the largest country in Latin America, Brazil often set the tone for regional efforts—or led responses to U.S. initiatives. Within the region, Mexico and Brazil often offered divergent approaches, reflecting their different geographies, economic strategies, and an historical rivalry. Examining the two countries’ approaches in the larger project will advance the understanding of how middle powers use regional institutions and initiatives to pursue their national interests. Historically, studies of regionalism in the Americas have focused on the U.S. role. However, Brazil and Mexico have used regional organizations as a launching pad for regional influence, in search of greater policy autonomy, and at times to challenge aspects of global order. The work, both in this first stage on Brazil and through the larger programme, will contribute to the recent current of “decentering” the study of inter-American relations by including a greater emphasis on Latin American interests and actions.”

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