168. Briefing Memorandum From the Director of the Policy Planning Staff (Lake) to Secretary of State Vance1

Brazilian Planning Talks October 6–7, 1977

Summary of Talks

The Brazilian planners were cautious and guarded in the day and a half of talks, as we sought to develop a more open and friendly dialogue, while displaying firmness on substantive matters. The Brazilians aggressively attacked our nuclear non-proliferation and “discriminatory” trade policies, while soft-peddling the other major bilateral issue—human rights. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was quite cordial, at least by the end of the talks.

Two interesting themes ran through the talks. The Brazilians displayed an ambiguity as to their status, demanding the special concessions granted LDCs, while asking to be accorded the attention worthy of an incipient global power. In making this transition, Brazil finds itself bumping up against rules designed to regulate relations among developed countries—despite being, in many respects, still underdeveloped. The second theme was the Gaullist flavor conveyed by the Brazilians’ emphasis on “grandeza”2 and their emphasis on willingness to play issues as their short-term self-interest dictates.


While planning talks are meant to be less operational than more formal negotiations, the Brazilians’ extreme concern to avoid delving in any depth into controversial bilateral issues was unusual, although they did not hesitate to criticize U.S. handling of our relationships in general terms. The Brazilians questioned the genuineness of our support for regional organizations and for globalism: they wondered whether the U.S. was prepared to make the necessary concessions that a global welfare approach would require. The Brazilians counseled that the Carter Administration had suddenly projected its policies without allowing time for the rest of the world to digest them. However, our human rights policy, they said, is now becoming clearer—although our non-proliferation efforts, bent as they were upon halting the inevitable [Page 512] spread of technology, were bound to fail. (The Brazilians did, however, express a willingness to discuss safeguards.)

But their annoyance with the U.S. runs deeper than recent Administration initiatives. Brazilian aspirations for “grandeza” center on rapid economic growth, which is linked to export expansion. The Brazilians repeated the charge that our trade policies discriminate against newly arriving countries, who are considered less important politically and for whom we feel less cultural affinity, than our Western European friends. In fact, as their manufacturing exports grow, the Brazilians find themselves bumping up against a trading system originally devised to regulate commerce among more powerful industrial nations. The existing rules of the game—e.g. prohibitions against export subsidies—are prejudicial to export-led growth models like Brazil’s. Also, certain tariff barriers inhibit entry of more labor-intensive and/or more highly processed products. The higher-income LDCs argue that such a trading system frustrates their drive to enter the club of industrial states.

While indicating their public need to show solidarity with the G–77 and willingness to “pragmatically” go along when it suits their interests, the Brazilians agreed that confrontation tactics were generally a mistake and that smaller, even bilateral groupings were more fruitful. They vigorously sought to distinguish Brazil from the poorer LDCs—but when we asked how the upper-tier LDCs might be incorporated into the decision-making process on global issues, the Brazilians offered no suggestions. Like us, they recognize the problem, but are still groping for answers on how to close this “decision gap.”

We were pleasantly surprised at their stance on human rights. They now see “subversion” as a lesser priority than development and avoided attacking our forcibly stated positions on human rights, except to argue that the Inter-American Human Rights Commission should be normative, not judgmental. This more relaxed view on human rights may reflect the whispers of liberalizing winds within Brazil, as well as their desire to disassociate themselves from the Southern Cone hardliners.


Brazil’s intention to have it both ways—wanting to receive the special concessions granted a LDC, while being treated like a global power, but without corresponding responsibilities—suggest that their gradual integration into the world system will not be without strains and disagreements. We will need to convince Brazil to balance its narrowly conceived “pragmatism” with a concern for global welfare. At the same time, we ought to look more closely at whether, in fact, the rules of the game are now stacked against late arrivals such as Brazil. Furthermore, as we told the Brazilians, as they become more important—and more competitive with us—we will have to be more aware of their policies and maintain close communications.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Policy and Planning Staff—Office of the Director, Records of Anthony Lake, 1977–1981, Lot 82D298, Box 3, TL 10/16-31, 1977. Confidential. Drafted October 19 by Feinberg.
  2. Greatness.