Brazil’s prescription: Collaborative diplomacy for a more stable global order

Among the emerging powers, Brazil distinguishes itself by its vocal commitment to a rules-based international order. As Ambassador Antonio Patriota, Brazil’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, recently stated, “… one of the things Brazil expects is for people to follow rules, governments and countries to follow rules.” And he affirmed the United Nations, international law and multilateral diplomacy as the basis for those rules and their enforcement. But as it rises, Brazil also seeks to revisit the underlying balance of power as expressed through multilateral arrangements, including a change in the relative weight of its vote at the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

From Patriota’s point of view, giving the emerging powers a greater stake in the international system sets the stage for collaborative multilateral diplomacy to address global threats such as climate change and terrorism in what is an increasingly multipolar world. The question is whether such an approach is more likely to produce a stable and secure global order.

Brazil has a decent track record when it comes to predicting that ad hoc efforts to shore up the international order, especially by use of force, will end badly. It was correctly skeptical about the prospects for success of interventions in Iraq and Syria, and in each case advocated for multilateral approaches to resolve these crises. Critical of military operations during the UN-approved Libya intervention, it proposed the concept of Responsibility While Protecting (RWP), which emphasizes the duty of intervening powers to avoid making matters worse, as a counterpoint to the humanitarian intervention doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P). And this is not because Brazil is uniformly against the use of force in international affairs. Its peacekeepers serve around the world, and it leads UN peacekeeping contingents in Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the UN naval forces in Lebanon.

But Brazil has not been able to show that multilateral diplomacy is more effective at producing solutions, even when Brazil is in a leadership role. For example, the World Trade Organization, led by a Brazilian diplomat and organized around the principles Brazil favors, has struggled to produce international agreements of consequence during the past decade. From the point of view of diplomats from developed democracies, Brazil has a track record that is far from collaborative at past multilateral forums, such as at talks on climate change at Copenhagen (2009) and Warsaw (2013) and on global internet governance at the 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications. Its silence on Russia’s annexation of Crimea has proven to be puzzling for outside observers. This history is unlikely to inspire confidence in the prospects for collaborative multilateral diplomacy as the main mechanism for enhancing global order, at least as far as the United States and its allies are concerned.

Initiatives aimed at revising the balance of power in multilateral institutions have stalled due to lack of agreement among both emerging and incumbent powers. For example, the G-20 reached a consensus on revising voting weights at the International Monetary Fund in favor of China, India, and Brazil. But this reform has been held up by the U.S. Congress, which has proven to be generally skeptical of multilateralism. Other proposals, such as adding permanent members to the United Nations Security Council, face opposition both from established powers and rising powers. As irritated as Brazil is by the United States’ failure to support its candidacy, Brazilian diplomats readily admit that their pursuit of a permanent seat also faces opposition from China and Russia, and even from their fellow Latin Americans, Argentina and Mexico.

The current muddle of mistrust and inaction in multilateral institutions produces the temptation for all sides to defect from the present order. The BRICS recently announced the creation of new plurilateral financial mechanisms, such as the BRICS Development Bank and a contingency reserve arrangement to address potential balance of payments imbalances. Frustration with the WTO process is at least partially responsible for U.S. interest in pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership megatrade deals. Russian interventionism in Ukraine and Chinese saber-rattling over maritime boundaries are examples of unilateralism that undermine international law and contribute to increasing global disorder.

Brazil may well be correct that greater collaboration between incumbent and emerging powers is a path to restoring legitimacy and stability to the global order. Brazil has provided recent examples of creative diplomacy of this nature, pulling off the successful global NetMundial multi-stakeholder conference on internet governance in the notably difficult post-Snowden diplomatic environment. But the question comes down to one of confidence: will the incumbent great powers have confidence that global multilateral institutions in which emerging powers have greater weight will be able to address serious international threats such as climate change, international terrorism and ISIS? Will the emerging powers believe that existing international institutions can be successfully reformed to accommodate their interests? If the answer to these questions remains no, then the alternative is an increasing multiplicity of global (dis)orders.