Since the early years of the twentieth century, Brazil's major foreign policy aspiration has been to achieve international recognition based upon the belief that it should assume its ‘natural’ role as a ‘big country’ in world affairs. Although the bases for an autonomous foreign policy have become more restricted in the post-Cold War period, Brazil still seeks to preserve an independent voice within the international community and a certain level of independent capacity to determine its actions. In addition, the country has demonstrated a clear intention of wanting to expand the roles that it plays and the responsibilities that it assumes in regional politics, in Third World agendas and in multilateral institutions. As democracy deepens its roots within the country, Brazil has attempted to link an increasingly activist stance in world affairs with political support at home based upon a more active partisan involvement in foreign policy. In this context, the present government's fight against poverty and unequal income distribution at home and its assertive and activist foreign policy can be viewed as two sides of the same coin. In this article the authors provide an overview of the core features of Brazilian foreign policy, focusing upon four aspects: (i) the instrumental nature of Brazilian foreign policy and its close relationship with the country's economic and development objectives; (ii) the commitment of Brazil to multilateralism; (iii) the growing importance for Brazil of regional politics and security; and (iv) the recent evolution of Brazil's relations with the United States. The conclusion reviews the main challenges facing Brazil and the difficulty of matching increased ambition with concrete results.