Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2015

The Brazilian Rise and the Elusive South American Balance

Luis Leandro Schenoni

March 2015

German Institute of Global and Area Studies


Within the last 50 years, the Brazilian share of South American power has increased from one‐third to one‐half of the overall material capabilities in the region. Such a significant change in the regional power structure cannot have gone unnoticed by Brazil's neighbors. The article addresses the main question related to South American unipolarity (1985-2014): Why have most countries in the region not implemented any consistent balancing or bandwagoning strategies vis‐à‐vis Brazil? Drawing on neoclassical realism, the article proposes that certain domestic variables - government instability, limited party‐system institutionalization, and powerful presidents - have diverted the attention of political elites and foreign policy executives from the challenges generated by a rising Brazil. Crisp‐set qualitative comparative analysis is used to test this hypothesis and other alternative explanations for the regional imbalance.