Brazil as a Polar actor: Brazilian experience and potential contributions to the development of the Arctic agenda

Volume 10 | Número 96 | Fev. 2023

Imagem: Pixbay

Por Guilherme Marques Campbell
Bianca de Souza Fernandes


The broad range of issues of global relevance encompassed by the Arctic agenda calls for a discussion involving a multiplicity of actors beyond the Arctic Circle countries, including emerging economies. In this paper, we analyze the aspects that make Brazil a relevant actor for the Arctic debate, considering its history of participating in multilateral fora, its role as a “polar actor” due to the successful engagement in Antarctic scientific research through PROANTAR, its position within the BRICS polar agenda, and its expertise in subsea resources exploration. The areas of interest to Brazil are mainly climate and general scientific research, partnerships in oil and gas, technological development related to mineral exploration, and logistics. The country also acknowledges the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) proposition that the areas outside the national jurisdiction of the Arctic States are a Common Heritage of Mankind and recognizes the importance of maintaining the polar regions as zones of peace and cooperation. The main step towards establishing an action plan was the creation of a Technical Group (GT), to assess the convenience and opportunity for the Brazilian government to participate more actively in Arctic affairs (Resolution nº4 of the 18th of May 2021), which was approved by the Inter-ministerial Committee for Marine Resources (CIRM), the Ministry of Defense and the Marine Forces Command. Based on official documents and articles, and in the light of the Neoliberal Institutionalism Theory, the present paper highlights Brazil’s main interests and assesses the potential contributions.

Keywords: Arctic; Brazil Role; Institucionalist Neoliberalism; Polar Actors.


After the end of the Cold War, the Arctic was no longer regarded as a critical space for inter-state interaction and remained so for most of the end of the XX century and the beginning of the XXI. However, in recent years, it has reached the center of international debates as a matter of global concern. With a warming rate corresponding to almost twice the global average, the effects of climate change in the Arctic are not only impacting the region’s environment but are also producing consequences on a global scale. Apart from the concerns regarding the rising sea levels, the thawing of permafrost and the endangered biodiversity, the increasing accessibility to the Arctic has led to a surge of interest in the development of maritime routes, in the extraction of natural resources, mostly oil and natural gas, and in scientific research (YOUNG, 2019).

As the environment changes, the architecture of the Arctic governance built in the 1990s, centered on the coastal states and in the Arctic Council, is challenged by the rise of new interests and new actors, among which are not only the coastal states and world powers, but also emerging countries with no direct institutional links to the Arctic which see lots of opportunities in this polar region (LAGUTINA; LEKSYUTINA, 2019). The non-Arctic states explain their interests in the Arctic in similar ways, ranging from experience in polar issues, to potential economic benefits, the opportunity to participate in cutting-edge scientific research, especially related to climate change, and the possibility of influencing environmental policies (BLOOM, 2022). This is the case for Brazil, an emerging economy with a large history of participation in multilateral fora, extensive experience in polar research, active participation in the BRICS polar agenda and one of the world’s biggest oil producers, with expertise in subsea resources exploration.


The starting point for discussing international relations theory, when we propose to analyze it for the first time, is undoubtedly realism. The contributions of Carr (1981) and Morgenthau (2003) on the formulation of some basic premises of the realist theory, such as the centrality of the State as a rational actor and a rationalization behind a maximization of its capacities. This is due to the fact that for Carr (1939), the last rational stage of the acquisition of power in international relations is war. Morgenthau (2006) goes further in this direction and discusses the principle of national survival, which is necessary for its guarantee. The virtue of prudence, for Morgenthau, is therefore the greatest political quality that a State can have in international dynamics, the latter understood as political relations steeped in a struggle for power. Therefore, realism tends to consider any type of cooperation and, consequently, any institutional space of cooperation as an environment destined to be disregarded in the face of more important strategies.

However, when we look at the progress of the history of international relations, we are faced not with the abandonment of institutions and spheres of cooperation, but with the maintenance of them. In response to this, institutional neoliberalism arises, this current does not abandon the classic premises of the State as a utilitarian and rational actor, but points to the importance of institutions in conflict resolution (WHITE, 2017). For neoliberal theorists, the existence of international institutions that collaborate for spaces of cooperation mitigates the anarchic characteristic of the International System.

This environment of cooperation, in this case, returns to the classic bases of economic liberalism where States cooperate to obtain shared benefits within a positive sum logic, reducing transaction costs and the possibilities of conflict. Once the transparency between the parties is reinforced, there is an overcoming of the Hobbesian logic, thus, there is an understanding that regime and institutions are important in international relations (AXELROD & KEOHANE, 1985). The Neoliberal Institutionalism emphasizes the prevalence of cooperation in the Arctic region and the harmful effects of conflict on the economic interests of countries. Despite also considering anarchy as the underlying feature of the international system and seeing States as rational actors, it is believed that the interdependence between States and the institutional arrangements established between them facilitate cooperation and, therefore, reveal the effects of anarchy (KEIL, 2014). Cooperation occurs when actors adjust their behavior to the current or anticipated preferences of others through a process of policy coordination, and intergovernmental cooperation occurs when policies carried out by one government are recognized by others as “facilitating” the realization of their goals. own goals. But frequent negotiations and bargaining are necessary, often accompanied by actions aimed at inducing others to adjust to certain policies. Each government seeks what it perceives to be in its own interest, but it seeks bargains that can benefit all parties to the agreement, even if not necessarily equally.

In cooperation, patterns of behavior must be changed and, although it does not mean the absence of conflict, it reflects successful efforts to overcome conflict, real or potential. Cooperation should not be seen as the absence of conflict, but as a reaction to conflict or potential conflict, for without the prospect of conflict, there is no need for cooperation. International regimes can be understood above all as arrangements motivated by self-interest, as components of systems in which sovereignty remains a constitutive principle. And in a world marked by increasing interdependence, they can be increasingly important for governments that seek to manage common problems and achieve similar and complementary purposes without subordinating themselves to hierarchical systems of control (KEOHANE, 1984). In the same work, Keohane defines international cooperation and cites the role of international regimes as follows:

[…] as a process actually followed by their governance partners as the policies to realize their own objectives. Cooperation involves mutual adjustment and can only arise from conflict or potential conflict. […] Since international regimes reflect patterns of cooperation and discord over time, focusing on them leads us to examine long-term patterns of behavior, rather than treating acts of cooperation as isolated events (KEOHANE, 1984, p. 63-64).


In the case studied, the strategic space of institutional cooperation in the Arctic represents a complex forum of strategic negotiations in the international system, becoming an important place of Brazilian strategic projection. Brazil is not a newcomer in polar issues, and in the search for a role in Arctic affairs, Brazilian experts appeal to the rich experience in the Antarctic (SANTOS; SOUZA JÚNIOR, 2018). The country has been a signatory of the Antarctic Treaty since 1975 and has successfully implemented its Antarctic Program (PROANTAR) with the aim of promoting diversified and high-quality scientific research in the area, understanding the phenomena that occur there which have global repercussions, and as a means of assuring its status as Consultative Member of the Antarctic Treaty with full participation in the decision-making processes concerning the future of the continent (MARINHA DO BRASIL, n.d).

The country’s agency in polar affairs, however, is not limited to the Antarctic. Along with other emerging economies, notably the BRICS countries, Brazil has on several occasions revealed its interest in bringing cooperation in polar affairs to its multilateral agenda. The Cape Town Declaration, signed after the First BRICS Science, Technology and Innovation Ministerial Meeting in 2014, established ocean and polar sciences as one of the main areas of science and technology cooperation. Later, the willingness to cooperate in ocean and polar science and technology was reinforced by the Memorandum of Understanding Between BRICS Countries on Intergovernmental Cooperation in Science, Technology and Innovation, signed in Brasilia, and in the Moscow Declaration, both in 2015. The 2015-2018 BRICS Work Plan for Science, also approved in Moscow, defined cooperation on ocean and polar science and technology as one of “the new potential initiatives”, and at the end of 2015, the BRICS countries were discussing approaches to governing common spaces, including issues regarding the joint use of oceans and polar regions. The First Meeting of the BRICS Working Group on Ocean and Polar Science and Technology was held in 2016, in Beijing, and the Second, in 2018, took place in Brasilia. The joint statement resulting from the second meeting stated that “the five BRICS countries cover every ocean in the world and are very much engaged in developing ocean and polar science and technology”. The idea of developing cooperation in the Arctic has been, in large part, circulating in expert circles of the countries and has even led to discussions in relevant spaces such as the annual Assembly of the Arctic Circle, which presented a panel session on ‘BRICS in the Arctic: Emerging Opportunities for Collaborative Initiatives’(LAGUTINA; LEKSYUTINA, 2019).

Apart from the interests in scientific cooperation, Brazilian experts also see opportunities in oil and gas exploration on the Arctic shelf, in commercial navigation, tourism and fishing (LAGUTINA; LEKSYUTINA, 2019). Ieda Gomes (2015), a brazilian energy expert, stated during the Third Arctic Circle Assembly that the opportunities for Brazil in the Arctic were mostly related to sustainable offshore oil and gas production, on which Brazil could share best practices and the opening up of maritime routes for Brazil’s trade partners in Eastern Asia. Accordingly, the former Director of Defense and Security Issues at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Alessandro Candeas, pointed out that the areas of interest to Brazil in the Arctic are collaboration in climate and general research, partnerships in oil and gas, ensuring the country’s interests in the logistics changes that may come, development of technology related to mineral exploitation, particularly subsea mineral activity, and identifying relevant transferable technology to be applied in the Antarctic (TØMMERBAKKE, 2019).

Furthermore, Brazil is one of the largest maritime powers in the world and plays an important role in the development of international cooperation in the ocean sphere, collaborating with the UN Commission on sustainable development and playing an active role in the TRAIN-SEA-COST program, established by the United Nations Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS) with the aim of providing training to enhance capacity building on key transboundary problems in coastal and ocean matters (LAGUTINA; LEKSYUTINA, 2019).

Discussions regarding Brazil’s role in the Arctic are carried out primarily within Brazil’s academic, political, military and business elites, and have resulted in the creation of a Technical Group to assess the convenience and opportunity for the Brazilian government to participate more actively in the Arctic affairs. The creation of the group was first approved by the Ministry of Defense, the Navy’s Command and the Secretary of the Inter-ministerial Commission for Marine Resources through the Resolution nº 4 of the 18th of May, 2021 which acknowledges the geopolitical and economic importance of the Arctic due to the growing oil and gas exploration, fishing and tourism, as well as the relevance of the Arctic to global climate phenomena and the regulation of life on earth, and considers the expansion of sea routes in the Arctic oceans and its effects on the organization of world freight transport. Furthermore, it recognizes that there is currently no policy defined by the Brazilian state regarding its activities related to the Arctic region, although Brazil is considered an outstanding polar actor due to its presence in the Antarctic, carrying out relevant scientific research since 1982.

The resolution also mentions the opportunity presented by the Arctic Council, which is the main international cooperation forum in the region and is open to the participation of other countries as observers. And finally, it recalls that part of the Arctic Ocean’s seabed comprises areas outside the national jurisdiction of the Arctic States which carry the special status of “common heritage of mankind” according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Resolution nº 4, 2021). It established that, after the evaluation process, the group would be able to make proposals for Brazil’s eventual participation.


To systematize the agendas of Brazilian interests, we will base on the categorization used by Silva (2020), these being: a) political b) economic; c) psychosocial; d) military and e) scientific-technological. Although we do not verify in the content of the White Paper on National Defense, the most directive strategic region, as it is made specifically for Antarctica. Despite this, Brazil still insists discursively, in its credentials in defense of multipolarity and cooperative postures in the face of a national tradition within the system. (BRAZIL, 2020). As we can see: “we can contribute to intensify the intensification of cooperation consistent with its stance of defense of historical and traditional multipolarity, Brazil must contribute to intensify the resistance of the defense of multipolarity, Brazil must contribute to strengthen the international system”. (BRAZIL, 2020, p. 15).

In the political category, Brazil has shown itself to be a relevant actor within important forums. Despite having been small entourages in the Arctic negotiations, it has already taken a position to increase its education in the field of Nations and in international decision-making processes, with the objective of increasing its participation. This point dialogues with some interest of the Arctic countries in some space of participation for the Non-Arctics.

In the field of economic interests, Silva (2020) highlights that the guidelines of economic growth and preservation of the environment at this time are inseparable. This is due to a discursive stance of sovereignty over the Amazon. Brazil has been heavily criticized both internally and externally in relation to environmental issues throughout its territory, but mainly in relation to deforestation in the Amazon. According to the report released by the Scientific Panel for the Amazon during the 26th United Nations Climate Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, almost 70% of the protected areas within the Amazon biome are threatened by illegal invasions and deforestation. Even so, Brazil has defended its sovereignty over its resources and its commitments to environmental guidelines (SILVA, 2020). Therefore, any action aimed at the Arctic within this field tends to be aligned with the environmental and development policies solidified by the Arctic States. In this category, BRICS has represented a very good gateway to commercial opportunities in the region, as an example is the exploration of hydrocarbons, in which Brazil already has expertise since the discovery of the pre-salt layer.

In the psychosocial field, the author relates climate concerns such as the melting of ice in both Antarctica and the Arctic as directly impacting sea level rise in Brazilian coastal areas. In addition, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate assessments report, the average global temperature observed for the decade 2006–2015 was 0.87 °C – a higher average than that recorded for the period 1850–1900 (SHUKLA et al. 2019). Climate challenges have become a key civilizational driver and, consequently, play a central role in defining behavior patterns among members of the international community (VIOLA et al., 2013, p. 13). This debate tends to gain greater centrality in national projections of participation over time, in a way, the climate shifts to the center of world politics, changing patterns of cooperation and conflict that define this sphere of social interaction, increasingly influenced by the characteristics of responses to climate change (VIOLA et al., 2013, p. 10).

In the military field, what still stands out is the strategic aspect of permanence and preparation of troops in the region, since the harsh environment requires another type of logistical complexity. The actions already carried out in Antarctica are left to experience, but with the exception that the Arctic has more extreme characteristics, as pointed out by Silva (2020, p. 79.):

Brazil ‘s Navy (Marinha do Brasil) and Brazilian Air Force (Força Aérea Brasileira) already have a lot of experience in operations in Antarctica, through OPERANTAR. This acquired ability is recognized. However, it is related only to some aspects, such as logistics and navigation, for example. Thus, the participation of Brazilian FA members in military assets of allied countries operating in the Arctic can bring gains to the country in this area.

Finally, the Scientific-Technological theme presents itself as the easiest to analyze according to Silva (2020), the environmental and climatic aspects. Polar biomes are extremely sensitive to the impacts of climate change and, when irreversibly affected, have consequences across the globe. Therefore, being able to understand and analyze these changes offers an ability to plan mitigation plans for the impacts of destabilizing weather patterns in South America. As stated in the IPCC report (2021), warming in the Arctic atmosphere tends to have a twice as big impact, increasing the process of melting ice sheets.


Considering the growing debate within the national academic and military elite, which recognizes the importance of preparing for an eventual participation in the Arctic affairs, the points to be emphasized in order to assess the potential contributions to the Arctic debate are Brazil’s background in polar and scientific research, its role in agreements concerning polar regions, the resource exploration expertise and the history of collaboration in maritime and sustainable development affairs. On the other hand, the country’s willingness to participate in Arctic affairs is closely related to the possibility of being part of resource exploration projects in areas with abundant mineral resources, of participating in sustainable development regimes, in climate and scientific research with high impact for the whole world, and in technology and logistics developments.

Further discussions regarding a deeper involvement in the Arctic had taken place many years ago, and two specific issues had been discussed: acceding to the Svalbard Treaty and whether to apply for observer status in the Arctic Council (TØMMERBAKKE, 2019). And although some scholars emphasize the importance of joining the Arctic Council as an observer and the need to quickly decide how the participation in Arctic affairs will take place, the last approved resolutions show that, although the concerned government bodies recognize the importance of establishing the guidelines for participation in Arctic affairs, they acknowledge the need for technical assessments in order to create an effective action plan taking into account the various aspects – political, economic, scientific, environmental –  of an Arctic strategy.


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Guilherme Marques Campbell é mestrando no Programa de Pós-Graduação em Relações Internacionais (PPGRI) da Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) e bacharel em Relações Internacionais pela mesma universidade. Pesquisador no Núcleo de Estudos Internacionais Brasil-Argentina (NEIBA) e do Núcleo Geopolítica, Integração Regional e Sistema Mundial (GIS). Membro do Conselho Estadual de Recursos Hídricos do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (CERHI-RJ). E-mail:

Bianca de Souza Fernandes é bacharel em Relações Internacionais pela Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro (UERJ), ex-estagiária do BRICS pela Far Eastern Federal University (Rússia) e pesquisadora em Cooperação Internacional no Ártico.

Como citar:
CAMPBELL, Guilherme Marques; FERNANDES, Bianca de Souza. Brazil as a Polar actor: Brazilian experience and potential contributions to the development of the Arctic agenda. Diálogos Internacionais, vol. 10, n. 96, Fev. 2023. Disponível em:

Diálogos Internacionais

Divulgação científica de Relações Internacionais, Defesa e Economia Política Internacional ISSN 2596 2353