June 18, 2012

At G20 summit, West must partner with rising democracies in new global order

By Richard Fontaine

The G20 summit that begins today in Los Cabos, Mexico, brings together a disparate collection of nations. There are the United States and its longtime democratic allies in Europe; there is China, the world’s second superpower; and there is a range of prominent emerging market economies.

At the G20 and beyond, not all countries have equal power and potential. The West should look to rising democracies as the key to unlocking the G20’s promise and to adapting and renewing today’s international order. Four of these rising powers offer the greatest possibility as partners: Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.

Though separated by location and historical experiences, these countries share four defining attributes. All possess large and growing economies. All inhabit strategic locations in their respective regions. All boast democratic governments. And critically, all exhibit some degree of ambivalence about prevailing international arrangements. They are swing states in the global system, deserving of greater focus and diplomatic engagement by the US and its traditional partners in Europe.

Brazil now boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, and it has emerged as a major player on the global diplomatic stage. India’s economy has taken off since the reforms of the early 2000s, and New Delhi has embarked on a major military modernization program.

Indonesia’s economy is similarly growing rapidly, and the country sits at the strategic crossroads of two oceans. Turkey, too, has experienced rapid economic growth and has emerged as a key player in the new Middle Eastern politics. All four are not only members of the G20 but also a raft of other international groupings.

These four rising powers will be increasingly significant global players in the years ahead. Engaging them now is ever more important because the international order itself is today coming under new pressures.

For six decades, the US and its European allies have underpinned an order that, while imperfect, has successfully safeguarded market capitalism, preserved peace among the great global powers, and created an environment conducive to the flowering of democracy and human rights.

Maintaining that order is increasingly difficult. Today, multiple factors challenge it: China’s ascendancy to superpower status, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, moribund global trade talks, the growth of state capitalism, and the West’s financial difficulties.

The US and Europe should partner with Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey to pursue a new and broader international order – one that is more inclusive and ultimately more stable. To do this, the US and Europe will need to develop a more carefully conceived and executed engagement strategy. This starts with recognizing the traditional global order’s present shortcomings.

The current order’s bedrock institutions give disproportionate weight to Western countries at the expense of today’s rising powers. The task is to better include emerging power democracies while preserving the fundamental characteristics that have made the prevailing global order so successful.

The US and some European countries have already taken a tentative step in this direction by backing India’s permanent seat in an enlarged UN Security Council with the expectation that greater status and increased responsibility go hand in hand.

Given the importance of global order to maintaining peace and prosperity, the US and Europe should take the case for enhanced partnership to the general publics and the private sectors in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.

This type of outreach is particularly important. As they go global, corporations in these countries are becoming more dependent upon the international trade and financial architecture and on secure transportation routes. The private sector wields considerable political influence in all four states and could make a decisive argument for why governments should help underwrite the international rules of the road.

China, as a one-party dictatorship, differs fundamentally from democratic rising powers, but may serve as a critical impetus behind the West’s approach toward these key countries. Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey view China with ambivalence if not outright concern. As the US and Europe engage these four powers, they should emphasize that investing in a rules-based order is the best way for them to encourage a peaceful Chinese ascendance.

An adapted and renewed order supported by the West and a critical mass of these key rising democratic countries may channel China’s growing strength in a constructive direction.

At Los Cabos this week, the agenda will be full of tricky issues. But the US and European delegations might profitably take a step back to look at the bigger picture, one in which the West will need to partner with the rising powers that are today’s global swing states.

With all four of these states now rethinking their role on the international stage, the time is ripe for the US and Europe to act. Western decisions today will – and indeed must – influence whether Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey support the global order of tomorrow.