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    Front Page
     Nov 29, 2012


Swing states hold key to US domination
By Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - The United States should focus increasingly on courting Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey, four "global swing states" critical to the preservation of the Western-dominated international order, according to a new report released on Tuesday by two major US think tanks.

With the post-World War II global order facing challenges such as the rise of China, the fiscal difficulties of Western governments, and unresolved crises over North Korea's and Iran's nuclear

 
programs, these four nations, if given incentives, can play a crucial role maintaining and renewing the strength of existing international institutions, it says.

"The United should... seize the opportunity to enlarge the international order's base of supporters to include Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey," according to the two main authors, Daniel Kliman of the German Marshall Fund (GMF) and Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), a think tank that has enjoyed significant influence with the administration of President Barack Obama.

"These four nations each possess a large and growing economy, a strategic location in their region and a commitment to democratic institutions. And critically, each nation's precise international role is now in flux," they noted.

As with "swing states" in the US electoral system, focusing on the four countries "can deliver a geopolitical payoff, because their approach to the international order is more fluid and open than those of China or Russia," according to the report.

"In addition, the choices that [they] make - about whether to take on new global responsibilities, free ride on the efforts of established powers or complicate the solving of key challenges - may, together, decisively influence the trajectory of the current international order."

The new report comes amid a lengthy debate sparked in major part by the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent euro crisis and the widespread perception - or reality - that the West, including the US, is in decline relative to "the Rest", notably China and other emerging powers.

How Washington should react to this perception or reality - particularly with respect to preserving an international structure of institutions that have served the West well - has been the subject of a flood of books and reports, not to mention an endless number of think tank discussions. Some, like neo-conservative thinker Robert Kagan, argue that Washington and its Western allies can and must maintain their dominance to maintain world order.

Others, such as realist Charles Kupchan at Georgetown University, have argued that such a quest will actually hasten the West's decline and that Washington must accommodate itself to the rise of new powers that won't necessarily share or acquiesce in the West's liberal values or the global institutions that supposedly embody them.

Kupchan, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, praised the report as a "useful contribution to the growing debate about how the United States should prepare for global change", particularly its recognition that "emerging states have distinct interests and objectives, and we need to engage them on their own terms."

Another helpful aspect, he told IPS, was addressing not only the importance of giving them more representation in international institutions, but also how "they can share more global responsibility, whether it's peacekeeping or contributing to global public goods."

At the same time, he said, the "implicit assumption in the report that, because they have democratic institutions, they will line up behind us as a matter of course, is questionable. I think emerging powers - democratic and non-democratic alike - will seek to change the system in ways that advantage their particular interest," according to Kupchan.

Yet another liberal internationalist school led by John Ikenberry has contended that the Western-created global order, as represented by the UN Security Council, the Bretton Woods institutions, and various military alliances, has proved sufficiently resilient and beneficial that rising powers will not be tempted to either reject it or create new or parallel institutions.

The new report, "Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Future of International Order", appears to fall into the last camp and calls for very specific measures to be taken with each country - from seeking bilateral free-trade agreements to increasing military training assistance - to coax them toward enhancing their stake and participation in the existing order.

"The rise of four powerful democracies - Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey - could bolster today's international order," according to the report, which notes that each of them for its own reasons remains skeptical of various elements of that order. "America's engagement with these four countries is critical and can influence their choices and enlarge their capacity to take on new responsibilities - but it remains a work in progress."

The report divides the current order into five components - trade, finance, maritime, non-proliferation, and human rights - and notes each country's record - and areas of agreement and disagreement with the US - with regard to each component.

It notes, for example, that Brazil has reluctantly accepted most of the international non-proliferation regime but has opposed new measures on the grounds of preserving sovereignty and also tried (with Turkey) to broker a nuclear deal with Iran.

With respect to the financial order, it notes that Indonesia has both supported the International Monetary Fund and also facilitated the emergence of an Asian alternative, the Chiang Mai Initiative.

Among many other complaints, the report also noted Brazil's and India's balking at global trade liberalization, Turkey's "outsized [maritime] claims in the eastern Mediterranean", and Brazil's "red line" against the use of military force to halt human rights atrocities. Nonetheless, the four countries can be considered "promising partners", it says.

"Although they desire changes to the international order, they do not seek to scrap it," according to the report, which notes that, in many cases, they hold interests in common with the US.

The report's authors depict China - as well as the financial difficulties of the West itself - as the major challenges to the existing system, citing, among others, Beijing's trade practices (particularly those of its state-owned enterprises), its bypassing of the World Bank in its bilateral aid program; its efforts to shift the international monetary system away from the US dollar, and its alleged challenges to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

Thus, among its recommendations, the report suggests that Washington could work with all four swing states to address unfair commercial practices by state-owned enterprises, and calls for upgrading naval and maritime ties with both India and Indonesia, as well as with Brazil.

It also urges Washington to "partner with India, Brazil and Turkey to establish a model for development in Africa" as a potential "robust alternative to China's bilateral lending".

In addition to more extensive bilateral engagement and encouraging the swing states to increase their own global engagement, the report urges Washington to "at last partially address the desire of those nations for greater recognition in key international institutions" and strengthen "their domestic capacity to more actively support the international order".

Jim Lobe's blog on US foreign policy can be read at http://www.lobelog.com.

(Inter Press Service)





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