Brazil's Mantle of Leadership

In case anyone was really worried, Secretary of State Colin Powell offered this reassurance during a trip to Brazil this week: The giant of South America has no intent to build nuclear weapons.

The prospect of the world's fifth most populous nation joining the nuclear club came up earlier this year because Brazilian officials have been so secretive about a plant near Rio making centrifuges for enriching uranium. This lack of openness, along with Brazil's bolder leadership on the global scene, could easily make some neighbors wonder if they might want to seek atomic weapons.

But "Brazil is not a potential proliferator," as Mr. Powell said Tuesday, and in fact, it reportedly has agreed to allow the UN atomic watchdog agency to see parts of the centrifuges. Having renounced plans for nuclear weapons in 1990, Brazil wants to keep its reputation as a peace advocate.

Indeed, earlier this year its troops led a UN peacekeeping mission to another nation for the first time, helping to calm Haiti in preparation for a presidential election. Its diplomats even came up with the creative idea of sending Brazil's famous soccer team to Haiti and having spectators swap guns for game tickets. Brazil's also been helpful in containing Venezuela's fiery leader, Hugo Chávez.

Brazil, like India, Germany, and Japan, seeks a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. That reflects not only its role as a regional power but, under President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, its emerging world leadership on issues of trade and poverty. "Lula," as he's called, endorses the idea of a global tax on financial transactions and arms sales to feed the hungry (an idea Powell shot down).

Powell's visit is the US's way of endorsing Brazil's new global voice while also trying to keep Brazil from creating any rivalry with it as a way to gain global leadership. In the past, Brazil has often acted as if it needed to tear down the US in order to build itself up. But global influence isn't a zero-sum game. The US can welcome both the partnership and the challenge of its fellow hemispheric giant.

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