Originally published in Portuguese on Folha de Sao Paulo:
Last year the U.S. Defense Department allocated $100 million—out of a $682 billion budget—for cyber defense. Yet the Pentagon spent a mere $8.9 million, less than the amount some of the 1 percent spends on their beach houses. Brazil's defense minister Celso Amorim recently noted that Brazil's cyber budget reached $40 million—of a $33 billion defense budget—a proportionately much higher allocation than the Pentagon's.
You can do the math, but judging from the numbers, one might conclude that while vulnerable to cyber attacks, Brazil is not so far behind the United States in laying the groundwork for its own cyber defense. Of course, the big asymmetries lay in the arena of cybersecurity and surveillance, where, as the recent NSA revelations suggest, the United States, in partnership with private telecom carriers, leads not just Brazil but, well, the entire solar system.
To the credit of senior officials in Brazil and the United States and the seriousness with which they handle our relationship, the Snowden disclosures have not created a diplomatic crisis. But they have presented an opportunity. We are now three months away from President Dilma's state visit to Washington. For the last few years, the big unfinished items on the bilateral agenda have been trade and the Security Council. Not so defense.
A defense cooperation agreement signed in 2010, even as tension over Iran might well have thwarted it, has created some profitable long term opportunities for Brazilian and American defense firms to enter one another's markets. Progress in this space is remarkable, if for some uncomfortable, given the history of mutual suspicion when it comes to security affairs.
Now the arena of cyber security and internet governance—sovereign and global—also has the potential to create some very interesting presidential conversations about the tensions these two leaders face between privacy, human rights, civil liberties and security, and about the differences and potential synergies in our cultures of innovation and industrial policy. The topic also opens a door into the global personalities of the two countries, in this case regarding the merits and demerits of multilateral institutions for governing the internet.
Finally, are there any lessons to be learned regarding South America and regional security? Brazil's experience with SIVAM is an example not only of extensive cooperation and technology sharing between Brazil and the United States—in this case via the defense giant Raytheon—but also an instance wherein Brazil seems to have avoided provoking its neighbors with a sovereign surveillance system, the potential impact of which need not be limited to Brazil's territorial borders. Although the parallels are imperfect, it might be instructive for the presidents of the two biggest democracies in the Americas to recall the positive SIVAM experience when having the inevitable heart to heart about the NSA disclosures.