Few matters generate as much consensus in international affairs today as the need to rebuild the world geopolitical order. Everyone seems to agree, at least in their rhetoric, that the makeup of the United Nations Security Council is obsolete and that the G-8 no longer includes all the world's most important economies. Belgium still has more voting power in the leading financial institutions than either China or India. New actors need to be brought in. But which ones? And what will be the likely results? If there is no doubt that a retooled international order would be far more representative of the distribution of power in the world today, it is not clear whether it would be better.
The major emerging powers, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, catchily labeled the BRICs by Goldman Sachs, are the main contenders for inclusion. There are other groupings, too: the G-5, the G-20, and the P-4; the last -- Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan -- are the wannabes that hope to join the UN Security Council and are named after the P-5, the council's permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States). Up for the G-8 are Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and South Africa. The G-8 invited representatives of those five states to its 2003 summit in Evian, France, and from 2005 through 2008, this so-called G-5 attended its own special sessions on the sidelines of the G-8's.
Others states also want in. Argentina, Egypt, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa aspire to join the UN Security Council as permanent members, with or without a veto. But with little progress on UN reform, none of them has been accepted or rejected (although China is known to oppose admitting Japan and, to a lesser degree, India). After the G-8 accommodated the G-5, other states, generally those close to the countries hosting the summits, also started to join the proceedings on an ad hoc basis. When the global economic crisis struck in 2008, matters were institutionalized further. The finance ministers of the G-20 members had already been meeting regularly since 1999, but then the heads of state started participating. Today, the G-20 includes just about everybody who wishes to join it: the P-5 and the P-4, the G-8 and the G-5, as well as Argentina, Australia, the European Union, Indonesia, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Turkey. Still, despite the express wishes of some -- and because of the tacit resentment of others -- the G-20 has not replaced the G-8. Earlier this year, the smaller, more exclusive group met at a luxury resort in Muskoka, a lake district in Canada, while the larger assembly was treated to demonstrations and tear gas in downtown Toronto
There is some overlap in this alphabet soup. France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States belong to both the P-5 and the G-8; China is in the P-5, the G-5, and the G-20; Brazil and India desperately want to join everything in sight. At the end of the day, the world's inner sanctum will be expanded to include only the few states that possess the ambition to enter it and at least one good reason for doing so -- such as geographic, demographic, political, or economic heft. That means the shortlist boils down to Brazil, China, Germany, India, Japan, and South Africa.
The chief rationale for inviting these states to join the world's ruling councils is self-evident: they matter more today than they did when those bodies were created. India will soon be the most populous nation on earth, just before China. In current dollars, Japan is the world's second-largest economy, with China and Germany gaining on it rapidly. Brazil combines demographic clout (it has about 200 million inhabitants) with economic power (a GDP of almost $1.6 trillion) and geographic legitimacy (Latin America must be represented), and in fact, it has already begun to play a greater role in international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Africa cannot be altogether excluded from the world's governing councils, and only South Africa can represent it effectively.
Germany and Japan are a case of their own. The two defeated powers of World War II already work closely with the permanent members of the UN Security Council (when it comes to policy having to do with Iran, for example, Germany acts together with the P-5, forming the P-6), and both belong to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, which promotes the enforcement of nuclear nonproliferation by monitoring exports of nuclear material, among other things. Germany is participating in the NATO operation in Afghanistan (as it did in the mission in Kosovo in the late 1990s); Japan supported the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq with logistical assistance on the high seas. The values and general conduct of these two highly developed democracies are indistinguishable from those of the powers already at the helm of international organizations. These states would thus provide additional clout and talent to the Security Council -- the only membership at stake for them -- if they joined it, but they would hardly transform it. Meanwhile, since including Germany and Japan and not others is unimaginable, for now they will have to accept the status quo: de facto participation in lieu of formal membership.
The argument for admitting Brazil, China, India, and South Africa to the helm rests on the general principle that the world's leadership councils should be broadened to include emerging powers. But unlike the case for Germany and Japan, this one raises some delicate questions. Over the past half century, a vast set of principles -- the collective defense of democracy, nuclear nonproliferation, trade liberalization, international criminal justice, environmental protection, respect for human rights (including labor, religious, gender, ethnic, and indigenous peoples' rights) -- have been enshrined in many international and regional treaties and agreements. Of course, this system is not without problems. A Eurocentric, Judeo-Christian tint pervades -- a flaw one can acknowledge without approving of female circumcision, child soldiers and child labor, or amputation as a punishment for robbery -- and the Western powers have often flagrantly and hypocritically violated those values even while demanding that other states respect them.
The United States has been an especially reluctant participant in the current world order. It has opposed the International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, and the convention to ban antipersonnel land mines, and it has undermined progress in the Doha Round of international trade negotiations by refusing to suspend its agricultural subsidies. Still, the world is a better place today thanks to the councils and commissions, the sanctions and conditions that these values have spawned -- from the human rights mechanisms of the UN, the European Union, and the Organization of American States (OAS) to the International Criminal Court; from the World Trade Organization to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT); from international cooperation on combating HIV/AIDS to the International Labor Organization's conventions on labor rights and the collective rights of indigenous peoples; from UN sanctions against apartheid in South Africa and the African Union's attempt to restore democracy in Zimbabwe to the OAS' condemnation of a military coup in Honduras.
Constructing this web of international norms has been slow and painful, with less overall progress and more frequent setbacks than some have wished for. Many countries of what used to be called the Third World have contributed to parts of the edifice: Mexico to disarmament and the law of the sea; Costa Rica to human rights; Chile to free trade. But now, the possible accession of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa to the inner sanctum of the world's leading institutions threatens to undermine those institutions' principles and practices.
Brazil, China, India, and South Africa are not just weak supporters of the notion that a strong international regime should govern human rights, democracy, nonproliferation, trade liberalization, the environment, international criminal justice, and global health. They oppose it more or less explicitly, and more or less actively -- even though at one time most of them joined the struggle for these values: India wrested its independence from the United Kingdom, South Africa fought off apartheid, and Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula) opposed the military dictatorship in Brazil.
Consider these states' positions on the promotion of democracy and human rights worldwide. Brazil, India, and South Africa are representative democracies that basically respect human rights at home, but when it comes to defending democracy and human rights outside their borders, there is not much difference between them and authoritarian China. On those questions, all four states remain attached to the rallying cries of their independence or national liberation struggles: sovereignty, self-determination, nonintervention, autonomous economic development. And today, these notions often contradict the values enshrined in the international order.
It is perfectly predictable that Beijing would support the regimes perpetuating oppression and tragedy in Myanmar (also known as Burma) and Sudan. The Chinese government has never respected human rights in China or Tibet, and it has always maintained that a state's sovereignty trumps everything else, both on principle and to ward off scrutiny of its own domestic policies. Now that China wants to secure access to Myanmar's natural gas and Sudan's oil, it has used its veto in the UN Security Council to block sanctions against those states' governments.
India's stance -- to say nothing of Brazil's or South Africa's -- is not much better. India once promoted democracy and human rights in Myanmar, but in the mid-1990s, after seeing few results, it started to moderate its tone. In 2007, when the military junta in Myanmar cracked down more violently than usual on opposition leaders, dissenters, and monks, New Delhi issued no criticism of the repression. It refused to condemn the latest trial and conviction of the opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and opposed any sanctions on the regime, including those that the United States and the European Union have been enforcing since the mid-1990s. India has its reasons for responding this way -- reasons that have little to do with human rights or democracy and everything to do with Myanmar's huge natural gas reserves; with getting the junta to shut down insurgent sanctuaries along India's northeastern border; and, most important, with making sure not to push the Myanmar regime into Beijing's hands. New Delhi's official support for what in 2007 it called "the undaunted resolve of the Burmese people to achieve democracy" has been more rhetorical than anything else.
India has also adopted a problematic approach toward refugees and Tamil Tiger ex-combatants in Sri Lanka.Today, a year after the civil war in Sri Lanka ended, more than 100,000 of the Tamil Tigers' supporters (and, by some accounts, as many as 290,000) remain in displaced persons camps that are virtual prisons. According to Human Rights Watch, India -- together with Brazil, Cuba, and Pakistan -- blocked a draft resolution by the UN Human Rights Council that would have condemned the situation; instead, it supported a statement commending the government of Mahinda Rajapaksa. New Delhi has been looking the other way, knowing full well that Sri Lanka would have bowed under pressure from India to allow displaced Sri Lankans to return home. There are perfectly logical explanations for India's stance, including the fact that India has its own social and political problems in the southern state of Tamil Nadu; the Indian politician Sonia Gandhi's husband, Rajiv, was assassinated there by a Tamil suicide bomber in 1991. New Delhi prefers to turn a blind eye toward the Sri Lankan government's violations of human rights rather than risk taking a principled stand on an issue too close to home.
One could argue, of course, that this kind of cynical pragmatism is exactly what the Western powers have practiced for decades, if not centuries. France and the United Kingdom in their former colonies, the United States in Latin America and the Middle East, even Germany in the Balkans -- all readily sacrificed their noble principles on the altar of political expediency. But the purpose of creating a network of international institutions, intergovernmental covenants, and nongovernmental organizations to promote democracy and human rights was precisely to limit such great-power pragmatism, as well as to ensure that authoritarian regimes do not get away with committing abuses and that civil society everywhere is mobilized in defense of these values. India's stance does nothing more to advance these goals than does China's. In fact, given its prestige as the world's largest democracy and founder of the Non-Aligned Movement, it might be undercutting them even more when it fails to uphold them.
This last point is even truer for South Africa. No other African country enjoys such moral authority as South Africa does, thanks to Nelson Mandela's struggle against apartheid and his work on behalf of national reconciliation. But the African National Congress remains a socialist, anti-imperialist national liberation organization, and Mandela's successors at the head of the party and the country, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, still basically endorse those values. Partly for that reason, the South African government opposed censuring the government of President Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe even after it cracked down especially brutally on the Zimbabwean opposition following the contested elections of March 2008. Mbeki, who was then president, was unwilling to challenge his former national liberation comrade and the principal goal of not intervening in neighbors' affairs. Working through the African Union and the South African Development Community, Pretoria did help broker a power-sharing deal between the government and the opposition in Zimbabwe. But as an April 2008 editorial in The Washington Post argued, Mugabe managed to stay in office thanks to the support of then South African President Mbeki.
The South African government, like nearly every regime in Africa, is wary of criticizing the internal policies of other countries, even if they are undemocratic or violate human rights. Unlike other African states, however, South Africa is a thriving democracy that aspires to a regional and even an international role. So which is it going to choose: nonintervention in the domestic affairs of its neighbors in the name of the passé ethos of national liberation and the Non-Aligned Movement or the defense -- rhetorical at least and preferably effective -- of universal values above national sovereignty, as would befit a new member of the world's ruling councils?
And which way will it be for Brazil, for whose leaders the issues of democracy and human rights were once especially dear? Like his predecessor, Lula opposed the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. At the time, he was an advocate of human rights, free and fair elections, and representative democracy; he often sought out foreign governments to support his cause and censure the people who were torturing members of the Brazilian opposition. But since he has been in office, he has not paid much heed to these issues. Although he has repeatedly flaunted Brazil's entry into the great-power club, he has been dismissive of the importance of democracy and human rights throughout Latin America, particularly in Cuba and Venezuela, and in places as far afield as Iran. He has reinforced the Brazilian Foreign Ministry's tendency to not meddle in Cuba's internal affairs. Earlier this year, he traveled to Havana the day after a jailed Cuban dissident died from a hunger strike. Speaking at a press conference, he practically blamed the prisoner for dying and said he disapproved of that "form of struggle." Just hours later, he posed, beaming, for a photograph with Fidel and Raúl Castro.
Lula also gave Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a hero's welcome in Brasília and São Paulo (the latter home to a majority of Brazil's significant Jewish community) just a few months after Ahmadinejad stole his country's 2009 election and the Iranian government violently suppressed the resulting public demonstrations. Within a few months of that visit, Lula traveled to Tehran. To Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's increasingly heavy hand, Lula has also turned a blind eye. He never questions the jailing of political opponents; crackdowns on the press, trade unions, and students; or tampering with the electoral system in Venezuela. Brazilian corporations, especially construction companies, have huge investments there, and Lula has used his friendship with Chávez and the Castro brothers to placate the left wing of his party, which is uncomfortable with his orthodox economic policies. He systematically cloaks his pragmatic -- some would say cynical -- approach in the robes of nonintervention, self-determination, and Third World solidarity.
Recently, Brazil seems to have changed its tune somewhat, moving slightly away from its traditional stance of nonintervention after a coup in Honduras last year. When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted from office in June 2009, Lula suddenly became a stalwart defender of Honduras' democracy. Together with allies of Zelaya, such as Raúl Castro, Chávez, and the presidents of Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, Lula convinced other members of the OAS, including Mexico and the United States, to suspend Honduras from the organization. Lula subsequently granted Zelaya asylum in the Brazilian embassy in Tegucigalpa, allowing him to mobilize his followers and organize against the coup's instigators from there. But since Porfirio Lobo Sosa was chosen to be Honduras' new president in free and fair elections late last year and several Latin American countries and the United States have recognized his government, Brazil's enduring support for Zelaya has increasingly come to seem intransigent and quixotic. One wonders whether Lula's position expresses the reflexive solidarity of a state that once suffered military coups itself, signals a new willingness to stand up for democratic principles, or is yet another concession to Chávez and his friends in an effort to quiet the restless and troublesome left wing of Lula's party by defending its disciple in Tegucigalpa. But this much seems clear: Brazil's first attempt to take a stance on an internal political conflict in another Latin American country did not turn out too well, and Brazil does not yet feel comfortable with leaving behind its traditional policy of nonintervention in the name of the collective defense of human rights and democracy.
IT'S THE BOMB!
These states' ambivalence on so-called soft issues, such as human rights and democracy, tends to go hand in hand with their recalcitrance on "harder" issues, such as nuclear proliferation. With the exception of South Africa, which unilaterally gave up the nuclear weapons it had secretly built under apartheid, Brazil, China, and India have opposed the international nonproliferation regime created by the NPT in 1968. India has not deliberately helped or encouraged other countries with their nuclear ambitions. But it has never ratified the NPT, and the very fact that it went nuclear in 1974 led Pakistan, its neighbor and enemy, to do the same in 1982. Pakistan has since become one of the world's worst proliferators, thanks to the shenanigans of the rogue nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. India cannot rightly be faulted for the actions of Pakistan, but it can be for not signing the NPT, for not doing more to assist the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and for not sanctioning states that aspire to get the bomb. It has coddled Tehran even as Tehran has seemed increasingly determined to build a nuclear weapon; it has repeatedly rejected imposing sanctions. In opposing the last batch in June of this year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stated that Iran had every right to develop a peaceful nuclear industry and that there was scant evidence that any military intent was driving its program. He did not need to say that India is developing an important energy relationship with Iran and is seeking to build gas and oil pipelines from Iran all the way to New Delhi.
China, for its part, has an "execrable" record on proliferation, according to The Economist earlier this year -- or rather it did until it joined the NPT in 1992 (after that, it at least nominally began to improve). The Chinese government helped Pakistan produce uranium and plutonium in the 1980s and 1990s, and it gave Pakistan the design of one of its own weapons. Beijing has not been especially constructive in trying to hinder North Korea's efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, and it has been downright unhelpful regarding Iran, systematically opposing or undermining sanctions against Tehran and threatening to use its veto on the UN Security Council if the Western powers go too far. Its recent decision to sell two new civilian nuclear power reactors to Pakistan will ratchet up the nuclear rivalry between India and Pakistan and undercut the work of the Nuclear Suppliers Group by making it easier for Islamabad to build more bombs.
Neither China nor India can be counted on to defend the nonproliferation regime. Both states seem too attached to the recent past, especially to the notion that they, huge developing nations once excluded from the atomic club, were able to challenge the nuclear monopoly held by the West and the Soviet Union thanks to the genius, discipline, and perseverance of their scientists. Not that there is anything wrong with being faithful to the past. But perhaps those states that remain faithful to the past best belong there -- and not among those that will build a new international order.
Nostalgia is not the problem when it comes to Brazil. Brazil cannot be counted on when it comes to nuclear nonproliferation either, but for reasons having less to do with its past than its future. In the 1960s, it signed the Treaty of Tlatelolco, which banned nuclear weapons from Latin America, and in the 1990s, together with Argentina, it agreed to dismantle its enrichment program. When it finally ratified the NPT, in 1998, Brazil was perceived as a strong supporter of nonproliferation. But this May, eager to cozy up to Iran and wanting to be treated as a world power, it suddenly teamed up with Turkey to propose a deal that would lift sanctions on Iran if Iran took its uranium to Turkey to be enriched. Tehran nominally accepted the arrangement; the rest of the world did not. Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that the arrangement simply replicated a proposal previously put forth by the P-6 and that Obama supported their effort. Washington nonetheless called for stronger sanctions against Iran. Twelve of the UN Security Council's 15 members, including China and Russia, voted for the sanctions; only Brazil and Turkey opposed them. (Lebanon abstained.) In the end, the episode was widely seen as a clumsy scheme to get Tehran off the hook and a gambit by Lula to get the world to take Brazil more seriously. (Turkey was also deemed to be a spoiler, but at least it has real interests in the Middle East.) What Lula achieved instead was to show that Brazil is still more interested in Third World solidarity than in international leadership. Worse, now some are speculating that Brazil is laying the groundwork to resurrect its own nuclear program.
One might say that in behaving in these ways, the emerging powers of today are acting no differently from the established powers -- and that this is the best proof that they have come of age. They are rising powers, and -- just like the states that came before them -- they act increasingly on the basis of their national interests, and those national interests are increasingly global and well defined. But unlike the existing global players, they are not subject to enough domestic or international safeguards, or checks and balances, or, mainly, pressure from civil society -- all forces that could limit their power and help them define their national interests beyond the economic realm and the short term. Their discourse and conduct may seem to be as legitimate as those of the traditional powers, but they are in fact far more self-contradictory. On the one hand, the rising powers still see themselves as members of and spokespeople for the developing world, the Non-Aligned Movement, the world's poor, and so on; on the other hand, they are staking their reputations on having become major economic, military, geopolitical, and even ideological powers, all of which not only distinguishes them from the rest of the Third World but also involves subscribing to certain universal values.
TO BE OR NOT TO BE
The stance of these countries on climate change also illustrates this persistent ambivalence about what role they are ready to assume. Brazil, China, and India are among the world's top emitters of carbon dioxide (China and India are among the top five). Last December, at the Copenhagen conference on climate change, they, along with South Africa (and Sudan, which was chairing the UN's Group of 77, or G-77, a coalition of developing nations), put forward a position that they said reflected the interests and views of "the developing nations." Building on a statement they had made at the 2008 G-8 summit, they called for assigning states' responsibilities for fighting climate change according to states' capacities. They believe that reducing emissions is above all the responsibility of the developed countries. They are willing to do their share and reduce their own emissions, they say, but rich countries will have to do more, such as make deeper, legally binding emissions cuts and help the most vulnerable nations pay for the expenses of mitigating and adapting to the effects of global warming. Their case rests on a strong foundation: after all, it was over a century of the rich countries' industrial growth and unrestricted emissions that led to climate change, and the poorer countries are only now beginning to develop strongly. Placing proportional limits on the emissions of all states, the reasoning goes, would amount to stunting the economic growth of developing countries by imposing on them requirements that did not exist when the developed countries were first growing.
Perhaps, but this argument also raises the question of whom these countries are speaking for and what role they envision for themselves. Brazil's emissions are mainly the byproduct of extensive agricultural development, deforestation, and degradation; India's, like China's, come from industrialization, which both countries claim they have a right to pursue despite the pollution it causes. These are not traits common to the vast majority of the world's poor nations. On the eve of the Copenhagen summit, Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, described India's position clearly: "The first nonnegotiable is that India will not accept a legally binding emission cut. . . . We will not accept under any circumstances an agreement which stipulates a peaking year for India." He did say that India was prepared to "modulate [its] position in consultation with China, Brazil, and South Africa" and to "subject its mitigation actions to international review." But he added, apparently in all earnestness, that India's acceptance of such a review would depend on how much "international financing and technology" the country got.
Do the emerging powers identify more with the rich polluters whose ranks they want to join or with the poor nations, which are both potential victims of and contributors to climate change? The groups overlap (the rich nations also are victims, and the poor ones also pollute), and Brazil, China, India, and South Africa have much in common with both groups, but they cannot be part of both at once. For now, these states seem to have chosen to side with the poor countries. Partly because of that decision, the Copenhagen summit failed, and the Cancún climate summit scheduled for the end of 2010 will probably fail, too. Marina Silva, a former environment minister under Lula who is running for president against her former boss' chosen candidate, seems to have grasped the contradiction in Brazil's official position more clearly than Lula. She has made the case that Brazil should do more. "It must admit global goals of carbon dioxide emissions reduction," she said a few weeks before the Copenhagen summit last year, "and contribute to convincing other developing countries to do the same."
Some candidates for emerging power status are beginning to understand this, but just barely. Mexico, for example, had originally subscribed to the joint stance of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa on emissions caps in 2008 and 2009, but by the time of the Copenhagen summit, it realized that its $14,000 per capita income (in 2008 purchasing parity prices) placed it closer to the states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (to which it already belongs) than to those of the G-77 or the Non-Aligned Movement (to which it does not belong) and stopped signing their common documents. Similarly, during the Doha Round of trade negotiations, Mexico grasped that its myriad free-trade agreements and low levels of agricultural exports put it in the camp of the industrialized nations rather than the camp of Brazil, China, India, and South Africa. Those states presented something of a common front on behalf of, as Lula put it, "the most fragile economies," although Brazil was more interested in opening up agricultural markets and China and India were more concerned with protecting small farmers. But these are exceptions, like Turkey's attempt to join the European Union, accepting all of its conditions regarding values and institutions. None of the emerging countries, democratic or otherwise, richer or poorer, more integrated into regional groups or not, has truly undergone its political or ideological aggiornamento.
PAY TO PLAY
The ongoing discussion about whether emerging powers should be admitted to the helm of the world geopolitical order emphasizes the economic dimension of their rise and its geopolitical consequences. Not enough attention has been paid to the fact that although these countries are already economic powerhouses, they remain political and diplomatic lightweights. At best, they are regional powers that pack a minuscule international punch; at worst, they are neophytes whose participation in international institutions may undermine progress toward a stronger international legal order. They might be growing economic actors, but they are not diplomatic ones, and so as they strive to gain greater political status without a road map, they fall back on their default option: the rhetoric and posturing of bygone days, invoking national sovereignty and nonintervention, calling for limited international jurisdiction, and defending the application of different standards to different nations.