Brazil’s diplomatic emergence

Justice and economic diplomacy as an alternative to ideology and power politics

Amongst the key research questions I’m looking at right now is the question of how emerging powers in global affairs will impact the current architecture of global governance. In particular, are powerful states incented to become collaborating partners of existing international institutions or is there space for alternative institutional arrangements that would in effect split the world up into a bi (or multi)-polar governance order. Or, perhaps more likely, how will new emerging powers alter the architecture and culture of existing institutions?

Today’s announcement of a deal on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program brokered by Turkey and Brazil speaks to the ongoing evolution of these structures. For while Washington has spent the past six months pushing the UN Security Council to level punishing economic sanctions against Tehran, and the past several years threatening punitive action should Tehran not discontinue its nuclear program, others are seeking to parlay their increasing global influence to broker solutions that speak to a flattened global hierarchy rather than a continuation of US+ hegemony. In effect, this deal is one more example of how the US’ influence in global affairs is no longer the sine qua non of global affairs.

Iran’s deal with Turkey and Brazil acts to sidestep failed negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), France, Russia and the US held in Vienna last fall, and would see Iran enabled to continue its civilian nuclear program. And while the details of the new trilateral agreement fall well short of the concessions the US and others have sought from Tehran, it represents an interesting insight on how Brazil and Turkey have chosen to take on a larger role in the international order, one that seeks to democratize control and power over from the West and allow for a broader menu options available to members of international agreements.

In particular, the agreement is one more sign of Brazil’s growing international influence – influence that Lula & Co. are utilizing to balance its traditional relationships with rich, Western nations and with its leadership of the developing and usually marginalized South.

Thus on contentious issues such as Iran’s nuclear program and on the Middle-East peace process, Brazil has taken definite positions that run counter to established thinking emanating from Washington and Brussels, notably by advocating Iran’s right to a peaceful, civilian nuclear energy program and its adamant support of a Palestinian state.

In both cases, however, Brazil’s decision are not based on ideology or power-politics, but rather what seems to be an intrinsic belief in equality, justice and economic-diplomacy in global affairs. Thus its belief that on both Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, peaceful coexistence is the only answer. This moderate, and justice-based approach, has allowed Brazil to develop friendly relations with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, signing trade agreements with both.

What remains to be seen is how Brazil’s new diplomacy unfolds at the supra-national level. Will this new spirit of equality and pragmatism infiltrate how traditional global governance institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and Security Council operate? Or will Washington and Brussels see the emergence of new centres of influence as a threat and seek to contain them?

And should traditional powers seek to employ the latter strategy, one can’t help but think that countries such as Brazil will utilize their new found “go it alone” power to create their own set of institutions that more accurately reflect their visions of development and international relations – an evolution that would somewhat resemble the post WWII architecture of NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact countries, and would signal a retrenchment from true global governance and the creation of spheres of influence ala Cold War.


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