The Strange Case of Brazil’s Global Governance Policy

Steve Clemons of Washington Note fame (take a look at “Lula Must not Undermine Brazil’s Chance to be the Next “Indispensable Nation”) has returned from what appears to have been a fabulous encounter with other Americans experts and the Brazilian foreign policy establishment.  For any of us that have the good fortune to discuss and debate global governance with Brazilian foreign policy officials and other international relations experts – you can’t help but to come away impressed.  The Brazilian elite is skilled in understanding the intricacies of global governance discourse and in placing Brazil among the enlarged leadership of global governance. 

I should point out that Steve will be joining us for “Leadership and the Global Governance Agenda – ‘Three Voices’ in Toronto June 10th-12th. This pre-Summit Conference is a continuation of a conference held in Beijing, China in November.  These Conferences are the result of a three-way partnership of CIGI, The Stanley Foundation from the US and from the People’s Republic of China, the China Institutes of Contemporary International relations (CICIR).  Steve, along with Yuan Peng (CICIR) will lead off the discussion at Roundtable Two – “Leadership:  US and China.) Now Steve raised at this Brazilian Conference an architectural vision that relied on “how we needed to modify the UN with a system of networked nodes of responsible global stewardship that was less hierarchical than today’s system.”  But in the immediate Brazilian context Steve suggested concerns over the recent Lula initiative to “mediate” between Iran and “the rest” over concerns, by the rest that the Iranian nuclear program is not peaceful but designed to create a new nuclear (near-nuclear) weapon’s state notwithstanding the prohibitions to do so – and agreed to by Iran - under the NPT.  The Lula trip to Tehran is fraught with diplomatic danger and it is very unclear whether this initiative is anything more than Lula legacy building (Lula leaves the Brazilian Presidency at the end of is year).  

 Brazil is an interesting – maybe the interesting case – of a rising power in the contemporary international relations system.  One way to get a better handle on Brazil and its emergence as a leading state – “Indispensable Nation” is a bit “over the top” – is to examine the piece done by Andrew Hurrell in our own Rising States; Rising Institutions: Challenges for Global Governance, Alan S. Alexandroff and Andrew F. Cooper, eds., (Brookings Institution Press (2010).  Professor Hurrell is the Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at Oxford University and a Brazil expert of the first order.  Brazil, according to Andrew, is strange because it doesn’t have the hard-power resources to claim to be a traditional great power state.  It reflects something far more difficult to identify – what we here at CIGI have described as “diplomatic leverage”. Under President Lula, suggests Andrew, “Brasilia’s self-identification is of a Brazil as a global player with global interests,” and not just a regional actor.  Brazil is recognized for its “activist” behavior inside the structures of global governance.  Brazil has be noteworthy in its criticism of the G8 – where it has been scathing and of course not a member - and its support for the newly emergent G20 Leaders Summit where it is a member.

Brazil’s attention to the architecture of global governance is not accidental.  Again Professor Hurrell identifies in Brazil’s foreign policy the critical importance of the structures of international relations and Brazil’s place in it:

Yet far more than do other engaging powers, Brazil depends on formal institutions to provide the setting in which its institution soft power – [read that as diplomatic leverage] – can be most effective and where it can maximize its claim of “Southern” representativeness and its well-established coalitional strategies.

This focus on inclusion certainly explains the importance to Brazil of Security Council reform – though this is not a reality – certainly not in the short-term and possibly not long-term either. And it also explains Brazil’s G20 advocacy.  The real question remains whether Brazil’s current assertiveness is a permanent evolution of Brazilian foreign policy or the short-term efforts of a globe-striding figure such as President Lulu.  It may well be that as Lulu exits the Brazilian stage his departure is likely to result in a less assertive policy globally or even regionally with a quieting of the “Southern” rhetoric.  Brazil may well identify a rising power that feeds off inclusion - though it has not really taken a lead, for instance, in the G20.  That outcome may reflect rather the limits of “diplomatic leverage”. 

The architecture of global governance is evolving but it is a more complicated picture than our friend Steve Clemons seems to suggest. 

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