No Security Community in Sight: South American Defense Council as a Brazilian Soft Balancing initiative, by Augusto Teixeira Júnior & Antonio H. Lucena Silva

The literature about UNASUR South American Defense Council (CDS) divides itself by pointing distinct reasons that may explain what led Brazil to suddenly change its traditional posture on defense cooperation, from a preference for hemispheric or bilateral model to a regional approach. Among the preferred lines of explanation, political discourse suggested that Brazil intended to change the nature of South American regional security complex into a security community.

In the article Explaining Defense Cooperation with process-tracing: the Brazilian Proposal for the Creation of UNASUR South American Defense Council, published in the special issue of RBPI International Security and Defense – Taking stock of Brazil’s changes (Volume 60 – N. 2, 2017), the authors argue that distinct from the political discourse of the time, the evidence suggests a more conservative reasoning behind Brazilian proposal of the CDS: balancing behavior. By using Process-Tracing methodology, the researchers traced the time-line of policies and events that generated the causal sequence responsible for Brazilian government behavior of proposing a new institution for defense cooperation. This not only seemed as a shift in Brasília preferences, but also created an instance that competes in function and leadership with hemispheric institutions (such as the OAS) and powers, namely Venezuela and the United States. The paper argues that Brazilian proposal of CDS is best explained through the action of two causal mechanisms: cooperation as self-help at the domestic level, and soft-balancing at the regional arena. The result of the causation process was the decision to propose CDS, its bargaining, and creation.
Brazil is a traditional partner of the hemispheric security and defense architecture. In the twentieth century, the country has made efforts to be part of multilateral organizations at the international and hemispheric levels. At the regional arena, were balancing and competition between Brasília and Buenos Aires was at play until the nineties, defense cooperation was traditionally bilateral. Previous intents for a regional defense cooperation institution were not backed by Brazil. Multilateral arena at the hemispherical and global levels seemed to fit better Brasília interests, away from the balancing effects from the South American environment. In this sense, the puzzle that the paper tries to solve is directly related to what explains Brazilian change of direction in this agenda. Why did it assume the risks and the political costs of promoting CDS in the region and abroad? Why in 2008?
In order to answer the questions, the paper draws from the literature the most probable explanations. Each gives emphasis to a level of analysis (domestic, regional or hemispheric), players, possible “triggers” for the proposal and the political meaning of the CDS. Some argued that Brazilian actions could be explained as a response to institutional failure from multilateral organizations in preventing and managing conflict in South America. Based on government discourse and actions, others in the literature stated in favor of changes in preferences towards the creation of a security community in the region. A third group gave emphasis in what they called “competitive pressure” as the main causal factor to the Brazilian proposal of the CDS. The paper argues that although the literature about CDS was robust, the literature was strongly connected to the events being explained, resulting in a lack of connection with theory and a deeper understanding with the phenomena being explained: defense cooperation.
To connect the event (Brazilian proposal of the CDS) to the phenomena (defense cooperation) the researchers proposed several hypotheses based on competing theories of defense and security cooperation: cooperation as self-help, balance of power and security communities. Each of those explains defense cooperation very differently from each other. More than that, the paper demonstrates that the competing theoretical alternative provides distinct causal pathways. The paper states that the theory-based interpretations of the Brazilian proposal of the CDS give the researcher a deeper understanding of competing motives for cooperation, mechanisms and the possible relation to the Brazilian initiative to propose the creation of the CDS. By drawing fundamentally on documents, interviews and historical accounts the authors used Process-Tracing methods to analyze the timing of events and policies related to the puzzle.
The article Explaining Defense Cooperation with process-tracing: the Brazilian Proposal for the Creation of UNASUR South American Defense Council concludes that although through different timing, self-help and soft balancing acted as causal mechanisms in the making of the Brazilian perspective of defense cooperation. They built a causal pathway which resulted in the Brazilian proposal for the CDS. The majority of the collected evidence, the tested competing explanations and internal and external logical soundness of the explanation stated in the paper hold self-help and balancing as the main explanatory factors to the empirical puzzle. One of the main contributions of the paper was to demonstrate that despite the substance of some reasoning, mainly security communities approach, conservative and realist features still shape defense cooperation between Brazil and its South-American counterparts.


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Paul, T. V. “The enduring axioms of balance of power theory and their contemporary relevance”. In Balance of Power: Theory and Practice in the 21st century, edited by T. V. Paul, James J.Wirtz and Michel Fortmann, 1-25, vol. 1. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004.

Read the article

Teixeira Júnior, Augusto W. M., & Silva, Antonio Henrique Lucena. (2017). Explaining Defense Cooperation With Process-tracing: the Brazilian Proposal for the Creation of UNASUR South American Defense Council. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 60(2), e009. Epub 04 de dezembro de 2017.

About the authors

Augusto Wagner Menezes Teixeira Júnior, professor of International Relations at Federal University of Paraíba (

Antonio Henrique Lucena Silva, professor of International Relations at Faculdade Damas da Instrução Cristã (

How to cite this note

Mundorama. "No Security Community in Sight: South American Defense Council as a Brazilian Soft Balancing initiative, by Augusto Teixeira Júnior & Antonio H. Lucena Silva". Mundorama - Revista de Divulgação Científica em Relações Internacionais,. [Acessado em 13/12/2017]. Disponível em: <>.

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