Myths of multipolarity: the sources of Brazilian overexpansion

Produced by: 
London School of Economics
Available from: 
November 2019
Paper author(s): 
Luis L. Schenoni
Dawisson Belém Lopes
Guilherme Casarões
Politics and Economy

We provide a framework to analyze the foreign policy overexpansion of so-called emerging powers during the early 21st century. To do so, we look at the Brazilian case and how domestic actors colluded to foster the myth of an impending multipolarity, which served as the ideological basis for an unsustainable surge in that state’s international ambition. After reviewing the literature that analyzes the phenomenon of overexpansion in world politics, we proceed in four steps. First, we describe the evolution of the “multipolarity myth” in elite discourse and public opinion polls. Second, we trace how specific interest groups logrolled to foster and capitalize on the myth. Third, we document the increase of the diplomatic budget, Presidential trips abroad, state-backed investments overseas, participation in UN peace operations, and other indicators of expansion. Fourth, we use the synthetic control method, a statistical technique, to infer the extent of overexpansion by comparing Brazil with a plausible counterfactual – i.e. a weighted basket of countries with similar characteristics, yet unaffected by the myth. Although our focus is on Brazil, this framework might help understand other unsuccessful emerging powers who have recently experienced similar overexpansion crises.


Research section: 
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