January 26, 2013

The Interview: Richard Fontaine & Daniel Kliman

The Diplomat’s assistant editor Zachary Keck recently spoke with Richard Fontaine, President of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Dr. Daniel Kliman, a Transatlantic Fellow with the Asia Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) about their new report: Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Future of International Order.

In the report, you note that China’s bilateral aid and financing mechanisms, as well as the Chiang Mai Initiative, are presenting potential alternatives to U.S.-led international financial institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Currently, BRICS is considering establishing its own development bank and bailout fund. How worried are you about this proposal?

Whether these five disparate countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – can successfully establish joint financial institutions remains an open question. The five will need to agree on a set of governing rules and on how to denominate commonly held funds, which may prove a difficult task. Not only do the five lack a unity of interests, but several of them remain concerned about Chinese domination of the grouping. Ideally, any BRICS development bank or bailout fund would operate on rules akin to those that govern other international institutions; whether they will remains to be seen.

As the report documents nicely, there is substantial diversity within the global swing states on most issues. One issue they seem to agree on, however, is that the UN Security Council (UNSC) should be reorganized in order to reflect the changed power dynamics since the end of WWII, with many of the swing states themselves seeking permanent seats on the UNSC. In light of this, do you believe the U.S. is currently giving UNSC reform enough attention and what steps can be done to make more (any?) progress on this front?

The global swing states seek greater voice within the UN, but reforming the Security Council remains a Sisyphean task on which U.S. action can make only limited headway. In addition, no solution is likely to satisfy all four powers, attract support from a divided foreign policy establishment in Washington, and win the backing of European leaders for whom rebalancing the Security Council is a zero-sum exercise. While American leaders should continue to affirm the need for UN reform, they should devote far greater attention to capitalizing on areas where Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey have already taken on new global responsibilities.

Despite the general congruence among the swing states’ interests and Washington’s own, the report notes that they’re substantial differences between them on a whole host of issues. For example, even though they are all democracies, in contrast to Washington the swing states often give state sovereignty priority over human rights and nuclear proliferation. What can the U.S. do to ensure that these inevitable differences do not hinder the overall tone and trajectory of its relationships with these countries?

Where the four have adopted policies that run contrary to elements of the current system, Washington should seek continued dialogue as a way to minimize differences. An example to follow is the Washington-New Delhi dialogue on Iran, which has prevented different visions of how to manage Tehran’s nuclear program from poisoning the larger U.S.-India bilateral relationship. At the same time, Washington should concentrate on expanding cooperation in areas where global swing states have already started to contribute to the international order. As points of collaboration grow, America’s relationships with Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey will become more resilient.

In the report’s introduction, you express concern that if the U.S. does not strengthen the global order, the world will fragment in such a way that there will be different rules of the road in different regions of the world. In this sense, are you at all concerned that if the U.S. does strengthen its engagement with the four global swing states on a bilateral basis, as the report recommends, Washington could inadvertently give rise to a global order defined by spheres of influence? What measures do you believe could be taken to hedge against this possibility?

These countries are already leaders in their respective region – the question is what kind of role they will play. Will they try to carve out spheres of influence in which they dictate the rules? Or will they seek to enshrine the international order’s underlying principles within their region? The task for Washington is to work with these countries to make the latter outcome more likely. Because Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey are not a bloc and are unlikely to act in concert, it would be a mistake for Washington to treat the four as a collective. American engagement will, by necessity, be overwhelmingly bilateral.

In the past, both of you have done extensive work on some of the United States more traditional allies, particularly Japan, and the report itself does discuss these countries briefly. What role do you two see Washington’s traditional allies in Asia, such as Japan, Australia and South Korea, playing in supporting the rise of the swing states?

The need to hedge against China’s rise and the pursuit of new economic opportunities has led Japan, South Korea, and Australia to increase their engagement of India and Indonesia. In the case of India, trilateral cooperation involving Washington and its Asian allies is also notable. Many of the recommendations outlined in our report could be adopted – and adapted as needed – by America’s allies in Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra and elsewhere. For example, all three could cooperate with India and Indonesia to seize the opportunity afforded by the political opening in Burma and encourage Jakarta’s aspirations to become a regional and global leader on nonproliferation issues.