November 30, 2012

Global Swing States and European Strategy

A new European Global Strategy must account for one of the most important geopolitical trends of the early 21st century: the growing influence of emerging market democracies in world affairs. Four rising powers – Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey – should receive special focus, for together they are key to adapting and renewing today’s international order.

All four possess large and growing economies, inhabit strategic locations in their respective regions, and boast democratic governments. Critically, the role that each country plays on the world stage remains in flux. In this sense, all four rising democracies are "global swing states.”[1]

Brazil now boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, and it has emerged as a major player on global issues such as trade and finance. India’s economy has taken off since the reforms of the early 2000s, and New Delhi has embarked on a major naval modernization program. Indonesia’s economy is similarly growing rapidly, and the country has become a prominent advocate of democracy and human rights. Turkey, too, has experienced rapid economic growth and has emerged as a key player in the new Middle Eastern politics. All four are members not only of the G20 but also a raft of other international groupings.

Engaging these four is ever more important because the global order is today coming under new pressures. For six decades, that order – an interlocking web of norms, institutions, rules, and relationships – has helped to keep great power peace, fostered economic prosperity, and facilitated the spread of democracy. But multiple factors now challenge it: the stagnation of global trade talks, the rise of state-owned enterprises, financial instability, the exclusive maritime claims of some states, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, and the fragility of political transitions in the Middle East and beyond.

Alongside the United States, Europe has underwritten the rules-based order through a combination of hard and soft power. Yet current – if not necessarily long-term – financial constraints on American foreign affairs and defense spending coupled with an even bleaker fiscal outlook in Europe mean that the order’s longtime supporters are increasingly limited in their ability to exert power in its defense.

Europe’s future remains bound up with the fate of the international order. If the order endures, open markets and secure transportation routes will continue to underpin European prosperity while the consolidation of democratic governments will reinforce the values that Europe holds dear. If the order fragments, however, Europe will see a world that increasingly diverges from its economic and political practices and could become both poorer and less secure.

Working to adapt and renew the international order should become a central task for European Global Strategy. As the United States looks to enlarge the order’s circle of supporters to include key rising democracies, Europe should do the same. This task plays to European strengths in trade, finance, development, and democracy support, and even in an era of fiscal austerity, does not involve enormous financial burdens.

European engagement of rising democracies must start by recognizing the order’s current shortcomings. The order’s bedrock institutions give disproportionate weight to European countries at the expense of today’s emerging powers. With varying degrees of intensity, all four global swing states desire a stronger voice in major international institutions. Greater representation may diminish the temptation these four face to duplicate existing international structures. At a minimum, according them a larger say can help their leaders justify more robust external engagement, as was recently evidenced in their contributions to the IMF lending facility. It is thus important, for instance, that Europe supports the timely implementation of the quota and voting share changes approved by the IMF Executive Board in 2010, and demonstrate a willingness to continue adjusting representational arrangements as the relative economic weight of the four grows.

Public diplomacy will constitute a major component of European engagement. Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey contain multiple centers of power and feature contending perspectives on how to relate to the existing international order. This creates a unique opportunity for European public diplomacy. Europe should take the case for partnering on key global issues to the publics and private sectors in these four powers. The latter type of outreach is particularly important; as they go global, corporations in these four 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 case for why governments should lend support to a system that favors market capitalism and contains threats to the peace.

When engaging rising democracies, Europe should work closely with the United States, its traditional partner in upholding international order. The U.S. Department of State, the European External Action Service, and the foreign ministries of interested European powers should establish an annual dialogue on rising democracies. Bringing together policy planning directors or their equivalents, the dialogue would serve as a mechanism for coordinating U.S. and European engagement. The dialogue would help to ensure that in pursuing closer partnerships with these key countries, Europe and the United States pull together rather than apart.[2]

Brussels and other European capitals should recognize that Turkey’s emergence as a player on key regional and global issues translates into an even stronger case for European Union (EU) membership. In the past, the prospect of joining the EU served as an effective tool for encouraging Turkey to move toward the trade, finance, and human rights pillars of the international order. The EU has in recent years, however, put Turkey’s accession on the back burner due to opposition from some member states. Fully integrating Turkey into the EU would make the process of adapting and renewing today’s order considerably easier. With Europe’s hard and soft power contracting due to cuts in defense and foreign affairs budgets, expediting Turkey’s membership would represent a significant European contribution to global order.[3]

As Europe seeks to partner more closely with the global swing states, it should emphasize that investing in a rules-based order is also a way to encourage a peaceful Chinese ascendance. The military and economic expansion of China is the backdrop against which Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey rise. All four view China with ambivalence if not outright concern, for reasons ranging from the growing competition posed by its state-owned enterprises to Beijing’s military buildup. That adapting and renewing the global order may channel China’s growing strength in a constructive direction is a message that can come effectively from Europe, which, unlike the United States, is not caught up in a military rivalry with Beijing.

The history of Europe – from its post-1945 resurgence to its post-Cold War expansion – is intertwined with the emergence and triumph of the rules-based order. Today that order requires new supporters. Partnering with rising democracies in pursuit of international order could – and should – become a focal point of European Global Strategy.