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Brazil's military elite sees France as country's biggest threat, leaked report reveals

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attend an event on women's empowerment during the G20 Summit in Osaka, on June 29, 2019.
France's President Emmanuel Macron and Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attend an event on women's empowerment during the G20 Summit in Osaka, on June 29, 2019. © Brendan Smialowski, AFP

France is expected to be Brazil's biggest military threat over the next 20 years and could invade the Amazon in 2035, according to a secret report published by Brazilian media on Friday. Although the French embassy jokingly "saluted" its "limitless imagination", the military document is aimed at redefining the country's foreign policy strategy and could add yet another chapter to its troubled relations with France.

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France has seemingly occupied the minds of Brazil's military elite ever since French President Emmanuel Macron and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro engaged in a diplomatic spat last August. An article published on Friday in the premier daily Folha de São Paulo sourced a leaked military document that reveals Brazil’s highest rank-and-file believe France could become the country’s biggest threat over the next 20 years, due to a possible dispute over the Amazon.

Named "Defence scenarios 2040", the 45-page-long document was based on interviews with 500 highly-ranked army officers, who listed their biggest concerns and predictions during individual interviews.

But France's embassy in Brasilia reacted moments later in an ironic tweet, jokingly "saluting" the "limitless imagination of its authors".

'Somewhat delirious hypothesis'

According to the Folha de São Paulo article, the individual interviews were conducted during meetings at the Defence Ministry's Superior School of War, which were then compiled into a 20-year-long foreign policy strategy, outlining possible case scenarios.

It includes other "somewhat delirious hypotheses", such as an organised coronavirus attack against the 2039 Rock in Rio music festival by "Southeast Asian ultranationalists", Folha revealed.

Although the document lists four different strategic scenarios, France appears as the only common threat to all – an illustration of the fractured relations between the two countries, which soured in August 2019 when the Amazon fires made headlines and shocked the world.

Brazil's army has speculated that France could demand the UN back an intervention in 2035 in indigenous lands located in the heart of the Amazon, for example, which would be conducted from French Guyana – the French territory shares a 730-kilometre border with Brazil.

France is Brazil's 'main military partner'

But the document omits, be it intentional or not, that France is actually Brazil's "main military partner", the French embassy said in its tweet, adding that both armies have had "a close and friendly relationship for decades, conducting joint operations on a daily basis". Both countries also have signed major partnership agreements, including the construction of submarines and helicopters, and exchange over 7 billion euros of goods every year.

"This is nonsense, a thing written by amateurs," Rubens Barbosa, ambassador and director at the Foreign Relations and International Trade Institute (Ifrice), told Brazilian magazine Veja. "How could France go to war against Brazil when it actually is Brasilia's most important military partner?"

According to the article in Folha, as "delirious" as some scenarios appear, these are expected to be part of the country's national defence strategy, which the parliament should start evaluating in June.

"It has a lot of inconsistencies," Nelson During, director at the website Defesanet, told AFP. According to During, the document was written when both countries were at the peak of their scuffle in August, and has been "influenced by the dispute between Macron and Bolsonaro".

'Tarnishing relations'

In August, Macron criticised Bolsonaro's environmental policies as the Amazon's fires made headlines all over the world, pushed for strong international action and suggested the world's largest rainforest could become a UN-administered international territory. A "colonialist mentality", said the Brazilian leader, who was then caught insulting France's first lady, Brigitte Macron, on social media.

Under increasing international pressure, Bolsonaro then promised to fight the fires. But last Wednesday, the climate change sceptic unveiled a sweeping plan for the Amazon rainforest that would open indigenous lands to mining, farming and hydroelectric power projects.

"This latest report risks further tarnishing relations between the two countries," Nelson During told AFP.

Brasilia quickly tried to play down the proposal. In a statement released on Friday evening, the ministry of defence said the report was nothing but an "academic document", "the first draft of a primary study" and did not "represent the government's views".

In line with Bolsonaro's views 

Although the document references a future Chinese military base in Argentina, an open conflict with Venezuela, and even a "terrorist attack by an environmental group", the military elite also pens "realistic geopolitical considerations", according to Folha, such as a NATO base in West African Coast in order to stem a growing Chinese presence in Africa.

But the report’s projected scenarios for the next 20 years seem particularly aligned with President Bolsonaro's existing agenda, which has led to growing international ties with the US and Israel. Further proof of the leader’s far-right views and policy intentions came to light in the report with references made to NGOs as "terrorists" and the depiction of indigenous people as undermining Brazil's development.

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