Bruce Gilley, writing on India, Brazil and South Africa’s diplomatic initiatives:
Look to Brasilia, Not Beijing
The rising challenge to China’s great power aspirations.
But a more compelling challenge to the current world order may be emerging from an unlikely trio of countries that boast both impeccable democratic credentials and serious global throw weight. They are India, Brazil and South Africa and their little-noticed experiment in foreign policy coordination since 2003 to promote subtle but potentially far-reaching changes to the international system has the potential to leave fears of a rising China in the dustbin of history.
The quasi-alliance of these three powers has serious implications for the international system, and its major underwriter, the U.S., depending on how the challenge is handled. But an equally important, and quite unintended implication, is the sabotage of China’s great power ambitions. By robbing China of its claims to represent developing countries, this new cooperative trio could sideline China from the major debates in international affairs. That may be good news for domestic reform in China, which has long been stunted by the country’s great power ambition.
In that sense, this is a good thing; who did it get started?
The origins of the India-Brazil-South Africa Dialogue Forum (IBSA) lie in South Africa’s quest for a new allies more consonant with its interests and ideas following the end of apartheid in 1994. The immediate impetus came from Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who floated a formal cooperation scheme in early 2003. In June of that year, the foreign ministers of the three countries inaugurated the group in Brasilia, calling for a strengthening of international institutions to address the concerns of developing countries in areas like poverty, the environment and technology. Since then, according to Sarah-Lea John de Sousa of Madrid’s FRIDE think tank, the trio has been gaining support as “spokesmen for developing countries at the global level.”
Democracy is not just about IBSA’s membership requirements; it bears on the very purposes of IBSA. IBSA is not a security alliance — Brazil and South Africa, after all, are harsh critics of India’s nuclear program. What it is, rather, is an alliance that seeks to use democratic ideals to effectively reshape the U.N. and other international institutions to serve poor countries better. In a strange way, IBSA is a community of democracies from hell — a group of countries with impeccable democratic credentials who are using that common identity to challenge rather than advance U.S. interests. International relations scholars call this “soft balancing” because rather than confronting the U.S., they are simply trying to restrain and reorient it. The reason this may work is that, as democracies, these countries have the moral stature in the international system to achieve those goals. Indian and Brazilian diplomats in particular, already among the world’s best, can advance the IBSA agenda because they share common ideals.
And that is good news.
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