November 07, 2011

This Weekend’s News: A Look at the Global Swing States, Beginning with Brazil

CNAS is ramping up a fascinating project on the global swing
states. Last week, my colleagues Richard Fontaine and Dan Kliman published an
op-ed in World Politics Review about
how important these states are likely to be in the future given that they could
impede or promote efforts to coordinate international action. But what exactly
are these “swing states?” According to Fontaine and Kliman, they are rising
democratic powers “that
are ambivalent about the prevailing international order and have yet to decided
whether to bolster it, replace it or bypass it altogether
.” These states
include Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey. “Without
them, efforts to extend the rules-based international order -- and to manage
global challenges through groupings like the G-20 -- are likely to falter

Given the role and influence these states will have in
shaping the geopolitical environment, it is probably important to track some of
the trends around these emerging powers, including the policies they choose in order to
acquire natural resources that will support their political and economic growth.
On Saturday, The New York Times had
an interesting report on Brazil, its growing influence across Latin America and
the implications for regional stability with respect to its pursuit for natural resources.

Brazil is flexing its political and economic prowess
throughout South America. Yet its newfound role is being met with resistance by
other states worried about exploitation. “A
proposal to build a road through Guyana’s jungles to its coast has stalled
because of fears that Brazil could overwhelm its small neighbor with migration
and trade
,” according to The New York
. “In
Argentina, officials suspended a large project by a Brazilian mining company,
accusing it of failing to hire enough locals. Tension in Ecuador over a
hydroelectric plant led to bitter legal battle, and protests by Asháninka
Indians in Peru’s Amazon have put in doubt a Brazilian dam project

It is expected that as Brazil grows its demand for natural
resources and energy will grow as well. “Brazil
is the region’s largest nation, with a population of about 200 million people,
and the size and boldness of its rise over the past decade help explain some of
the tension it has generated
,” The
New York Times
reported. Yet like other rising powers with global ambitions
and a hunger for natural resources, Brazil is expectedly going to receive
pushback, forcing it to pursue a delicate balancing act between investing in
host states and acquiring the resources it needs to thrive. One example
reported by The New York Times is
worth mentioning as it crystallizes this point:

Hundreds of thousands of Brazilian
immigrants and their descendants have settled in Paraguay, often buying up land
for large-scale agriculture in a country with a much smaller population. Called
Brasiguayos, they have been both celebrated for helping Paraguay’s economy boom and
demonized for controlling large tracts of land, at times leading land activists
to burn Brazilian flags
.   (Emphasis

The New York Times report
is particularly worth reading in full, as it explains Brazil’s growing
relationship with Bolivia, and the tensions surrounding that relationship.
Several quotes from the report are worth citing at length as they demonstrate
some of the growing anxiety in Bolivia and Brazil’s efforts to quell

obvious that Brazil just wants our resources,”
said Marco Herminio
Fabricano, 47, an artisan from the Mojeño indigenous group who was among the
marchers to La Paz. “Evo feels like he can betray us to his Brazilian allies.”
Brazilian officials insist that the road has nothing to do with betrayals or
resource grabs. “We want Brazil to be surrounded by prosperous, stable
countries,” Marcel Biato, Brazil’s ambassador to Bolivia, said about
infrastructure financing in Bolivia and elsewhere in South America.

Brazil continues to nurture an array of plans in
Bolivia, including several hydroelectric projects and an ambitious antidrug
policy that involves deploying drones on the border and training and equipping
Bolivian security forces.

Watching how Brazil and these other swing states grow and the policies they
adopt to support their continued ascension will be telling, I think, of how
they intend to engage with and shape the international system. Mapping these
trends now will help U.S. policymakers determine the best course of action for
managing America’s relationship with them. As my colleagues Fontaine and Kliman
wrote, “The
United States will need to partner with them on vital global problems but push
back against policies it opposes.
” Naturally then I'm left wondering if the policies these swings states pursue to acquire natural resources will be a red line for the United States. It is too early to tell, but as the contours of these policies take shape, U.S. policymakers will need to take notice.

This Week’s Events

Today at noon, head over to the Institute for Policy Studies for a brown bag
discussion on Venezuela,
Heavy Oil, and A Renewable Energy Transition
. At 2:30 PM, the U.S.-Asia
Institute will have a briefing on
Vietnam, the US and the South China Sea
. At 3:00 PM, head to the Wilson
Center for China’s
Threatened Waters: Video Series Screening and Discussion on Wetland Destruction
and Other Vulnerable Waterways in China

On Tuesday at 3:00 PM, the Institute for Policy Studies will hold an event
on Durban's
Climate Gamble

On Wednesday at 12:15 PM, the University of Maryland will be Analyzing the Economic
Impact of Climate Change on Developing Countries: Models and Uncertainties
At 4:30 PM, the World Resources Institute will host World
Resources 2010-2011: Decision Making in a Changing Climate

On Thursday at noon, head to the Wilson Center for a Report
Release: Geoengineering for Decision Makers
. At 12:15 PM, the University of
Maryland will host Climate
Change, the Arctic, and National Security: A Navy Perspective
. At 12:30 PM,
SAIS will host The 2020 Oil
Inflection Point