Is it a Caucus; Or a Bloc?




There has been a fair degree of speculation – and comment – going on around the global media and in the blogosphere whether the fourth Summit of the BRICS in New Delhi represents a new global leadership group – read that as an alternative to the the traditional powers – whether G7 or G8 or even the G20 or a setting for collective thinking from these countries?

My colleague Stewart Patrick – at the Internationalist blog  at the Council on Foreign Relations captured what he sees as the common characteristics of this gathering:

But if the members lacked a common history or vision, they had at least two things in common: their status as emerging economic powerhouses and their resentment of a global economy they saw stacked in favor of the West.

By now it is rather common knowledge that the group – BRICS – was born from the fertile mind of Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs and was identified initially as an investment focus for clients of the investment bank for the 21st century.

This Indian gathering – the 4th and the first to formally include South Africa – has been watched with some fascination by the media and the global punditry.  Now many commentators have pointed out the rather obvious – that these large emerging market powers have little in common.  In the BRICS there are both democratic states – Brazil, India and South Africa, and two notable authoritarian states – Russia and China.  But so what.  If we are searching for the “like minded – we are now talking about a “concert of powers” where the common characteristics might well be essential.  In fact the capacity to join states together with a variety of characteristics and views may be crucial in contemporary global summitry.  Indeed as is often pointed out the G20 is important precisely because it bridges across traditional states – the G7 – and gathers these states together with the new large emerging market states.  It is not a gathering of the like-minded – but it is a gathering of the key contemporary powers.  It doesn’t make reaching coordinated decisions easy but it brings to the High Table of Global Summitry the major actors in the global economy.

But what then is the point of the BRICS and their annual leaders gathering – and more? For some the point of this exercise is – not much.  As Parag Khanna of the New America Foundation wrote in the FT:

Being in the Brics ultimately may not mean much more than being in the UN Security Council or any other high-status grouping (despite the obvious difference that the UN is  legal body).  One can be in the group, but that doesn’t guarantee that one will be influential or even that the group as a whole will be effective.

The Leaders closed their Summit with the Delhi Declaration.  It is possible to gather a number of clues about the existence and the self-identified mission of the BRICS from examining the most recent declaration. In their own words the Declaration argued that the BRICS:

BRICS is a platform for dialogue and cooperation amongst countries that represent 43% of the world’s population, for the promotion of peace , security and development in a multi-polar, inter-dependent and increasingly complex, globalizing world.  Coming, as we do, from Asia, Europe and Latin America, the transcontinental dimension of our interaction adds to its value and significance.

The comment from the BRICS Leaders on the G20 suggests a rather positive note from these large emerging market Leaders with respect to this new global summit instrument:

In this context, we believe that the primary role of the G20 as premier forum for international economic cooperation at this juncture is to facilitate enhanced macroeconomic policy coordination, to enable global economic recovery and secure financial stability, including through an improved international monetary and financial architecture.  We approach the next G20 Summit in Mexico with commitment to work with the Presidency, all members and the international community to achieve positive results, consistent with national policy frameworks, to ensure strong, sustainable ans balanced growth.

But there are more than a few paragraphs that constitute  – well carping by the BRICS Leaders of the influence and direction promoted by the traditional states.  There is frustration at the “loose” monetary policy of more than a few traditional power central banks.  There is almost exasperation at the slow pace of quota and governance reform at the IMF and the World Bank.  There is annoyance at the effort by the US to appoint yet again the new head of the World Bank rather than opening up the choice to a wider range of applicants including those from the BRICS countries.  In these sections there is more than a hint of oppositional leadership to the influence and leadership of the global economy by the traditional G7 countries.

When one looks to collective outputs one is not particularly “bowled over” by collective actions. There is discussion of intra-bloc trade using local currencies –  which may only impede fully currency convertibility for a number of these states including China – and investigation of  a new development bank facility.  Other than that there is a significant listing of ministerial gathers, finance, trade, science and technology and health ministers, etc. – see in particular the Delhi Action Plan – but it is rather obscure as to what the goals for such meetings are.  While such gatherings might be helpful, one assumes that G20 ministerial meetings might be even more useful for such ministers and the need to hold both might well run these ministers ragged.

The dilemma at first blush is whether the BRICS see themselves as a a “bloc” – potentially an oppositional bloc – that stands apart from the G7 and criticizes their efforts to bring reform – and potentially blocking coordination and reform. Such a creation could well be harmful in an already challenged global governance regime.  On the other hand a caucus where ideas can be vetted but where coordination and decision making occurs at other leadership settings with traditional players, newly energized middle powers and developing countries – well that might prove a useful coalition.

Meanwhile the challenges posed  by global governance continue – BRICS or no BRICS.



Image Credit: AFP


Taking the Good and the Bad with Global Summitry




For the second time in as many years global leaders are gathering to discuss nuclear issues.  Once again, over 40 leaders are sitting down – on this occasion in Seoul – to discuss nuclear security.  From the outside, however, it certainly seems as though the global public would not be blamed for wondering what this summit is in fact all about.

The early images being transmitted from Seoul largely cover the visit of a forceful US President Obama – I mean this is a US election year – in his first foray to the Demilitarized Zone  (DMZ).  This demarcation between the Republic of Korea – South Korea to most of us – and the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK)  – North Korea was established with the truce that ended the Korean conflict – though failed to reach a permanent peace agreement.

In addition the President has signaled that China needs to examine what it has said or is about to say to the DPRK leadership over the recent announcement from North Korea that it intends to launch a ballistic missile carrying a satellite into orbit in just a few weeks. The announcement has caused consternation and significantly raised tensions in East Asia.   It has put the recent US-DPRK agreement on  nuclear restraint in return for food shipments in question.   According to news reports Obama has publicly urged China to use its influence to rein in North Korea instead of “turning a blind eye” to the DPRKs nuclear program.

Is this summit then about the question of nuclear nonproliferation and the threat that North Korea – and yes Iran – pose to the spread of nuclear weapons and the increase in the number of Nuclear Weapons States (NWS).  Well – no!

Is it then about the consequences of the peaceful uses of nuclear power?  Since the last Summit – Washington 2010 – the global public was witness to the devastating triple disaster  at Fukushima Japan – first an earthquake, then a tsunami and then a nuclear meltdown at the nuclear power plant.  This meltdown – the worst since Chernobyl – has contaminated – for years into the future – a wide swath of northeastern Japan.  It appears that Japan’s Prime Minister Noda is likely to speak to the gathered leaders on lessons learned from the disaster and possible changes to emergency preparedness.

Is this a summit then called to deal with “nuclear safety”  issues – the term experts use to describe the area focused on the peaceful uses of nuclear power?  ‘Fraid not.  This is not a Summit dedicated to the issues of nuclear safety!

No, in fact this Summit of world leaders is tackling once again nuclear security – an experts’ term which in this case means reducing the threat of nuclear terrorism, and preventing terrorists, criminals, or other unauthorized actors from acquiring nuclear materials. Nuclear terrorism continues to be a significant and most security experts would suggest a real threat to the security of states in the global arena.  The President called together leaders in 2010 to work towards locking down loose nuclear materials – a challenging threat to international security. As the US President saw it, reining in this threat required strong national measures and significant international collaboration.  Any successful use of nuclear material by terrorists or criminals or others could have a devastating  impact on publics around the globe – politically, economically, socially, and psychologically.

As suggested by two nuclear security experts, Kenneth Brill and Kenneth Luongo in a recent opinion piece in the New York Times:

Obama’s initiative in launching the nuclear summit process in Washington  in 2010 helped focus high-level attention on nuclear security issues.  Unfortunately, the actions produced by the 2010 Washington Summit and that are planned for the upcoming Seoul Summit are voluntary actions that are useful, but not sufficient to create an effective  global nuclear security regime.

There it is – nuclear security – ending the threat of terrorists or others obtaining nuclear materials and threatening and then possibly using a nuclear device against innocent populations.  An important and critical issue that President Obama has taken the lead in organizing and then working with many other leaders developing a program to secure nuclear materials by the global community.  It sounds fantastic.  Then why the hint of dismay from the nuclear experts.  Indeed the article by Brill and Luongo suggest less than universal support for the outcomes of the summit.

The article in fact points to growing concern from experts on the efforts at this global summit – indeed there are many experts that don’t want the summits to continue after 2014 for fear that leaders will “kick the can” of nuclear down the road yet again.

On the face of it the chorus of concern from advocates and experts seems somewhat strange given that that the leaders have come together twice in two years to address loose nuclear materials.  And indeed experts suggest that over 80 percent of the commitments identified in Washington have been accomplished.  But the concern is the summits have committed states to far too limited  a program – and worse.  Once again Brill and Luongo:

The world cannot afford to wait for the patchwork of nuclear security arrangements to fail before they are strengthened. Instead, we need a system based on a global framework convention on nuclear security that would fill the gaps in existing voluntary arrangements.  This framework convention would commit states to an effective standard of nuclear security practices, incorporate relevant existing international agreements, and give the IAEA the mandate to support nuclear security by evaluating whether states are meeting their nuclear security obligations and providing assistance to those states that need help in doing so.

And there is no question that in the arena of nuclear security there is plethora of conventions, mandates, organizations and institutions that festoon the nuclear security landscape.  It is like an enormous alphabet soup.  And maybe a singular universal and “hard law” treaty might be the solution as the experts suggest.  But then again too many place too much weight in international relations on international law and obligations. And while voluntary standards may be less than ideal, experts could certainly provide a list of priority risks and priority countries that the summit could focus on for the next two year cycle.  That would at least help to focus global attention.

And as for a summit going  “off agenda” – there will never be a means to hold leaders to a defined agenda.  But this summit seems to me to be more – significantly more – than a photo-op – which is generally the knock on global summits.  And if Obama uses this to press forward on the DPRK – and possibly Iran – because he is able to sit down with President Hu Jintao – then we can take the advance in this area and redouble our efforts toward 2014 and the next Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands. Half a cake – is – as they say – far better than no cake at all.  So with summits.

Image Credit:  Official logo of the 2012 Korean Nuclear Security Summit

An Encounter in South Africa









I had the privilege these last few days to join a conversation between US and South African experts, here in Pretoria.  Hosted by Pretoria University and the US Stanley Foundation, the discussion focused on how, and in what ways, the United States and South Africa might better collaborate on the challenges facing states – in the global economy and in international politics.  With South Africa a member of the G20 there was a particular interest in understanding how South Africa might play a role in the new informal club of established powers and newly rising states.

This two-day dialogue was however off-the record so I will not comment on specific conversations.  You can have a look at Stewart Patrick’s blog at CFR, The Internationalist (South Africa: Just Another BRIC in the Wall?)  for his examination of the South African foreign policy trajectory.  Stewart was one of about 6 of us from North America that found ourselves exploring with our South African colleagues from the University of Pretoria, a variety of think tanks and NGOs this most interesting bilateral relationship.

One aspect that emerged early in the conversation and remained a theme throughout was the limited understanding for the views and policies of the other side.  Clearly more dialogue and discussion is necessary and should be encouraged – and for the record I will happy to volunteer for the task.

I must say at the outset that I gained little insight in how South Africa sees the G20.  In fact there was rather limited discussion of this new global summitry institution.  On the other hand there was much discussion of the importance of South Africa being admitted to the BRICS – though it was never expressed forthrightly what the BRICS were likely to achieve – and why therefore South Africa regarded joining as so important to it. It was evident, however, that the BRICS, according to the South African’s – was a caucus where the members were proponents for non-intervention – and that was likely to prove troublesome to the United States.

There were evident divergences in the foreign policy perspectives and priorities of the two countries. And there was also – and I would say more troubling – evident suspicions over the behaviors of each.  Thus South Africans were quick to see US heavy-handedness and an eagerness to resort to force in most crises situations. There was great back and forth over whether the US and other allied actions in Libya had exceeded the UN resolution 1973 – and US quick dismissal of African Union efforts to mediate between the Libyan factions.  Many of the South Africans thought so.  South Africans expressed strong disapproval for the humanitarian intervention in Libya – some even suggesting that South Africans and other African states would be unlikely to resort again to the policy of humanitarian intervention – given the way that the Libyan mandate had been abused according to a number of South African participants.

There was a measure of dismay from the US experts at the reliance on non-intervention by South Africans in a variety of crises settings including Myanmar and more recently in Syria.  US experts additionally expressed discontent over the South African approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe and the efforts to tamp down the crisis without stronger efforts to remove the authoritarian leader Mugabe.

So what lessons did I come away with in this encounter?  Experts from both countries emphasized the heterogeneity of their societies, their pride in their democracies and their commitment to a rules-based international order.  But there was a significant divergence in the way in which they approached achieving that order and a hesitancy in the character and actions of the other country.

South Africa continues to regard UN Security Council (UNSC) reform as vital; they continue to press for a permanent seat there. There was a growing sense from the South Africans that they could no longer count solidly on African support.  And both group of experts remained pessimistic that any reform in the near term was at all likely – though South Africans urged greater efforts by the United States to secure reform.  Both groups also acknowledged that continuing deadlock would erode the legitimacy and salience of the Council.

The South Africans underscored their country’s concern and actions in promoting peace in security on the African continent – in Libya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, etc.  They expressed annoyance at the failure of the US to acknowledge and support the efforts, especially of the African Union (AU), on the continent.

The conversation was a helpful effort in filling in some of the blanks in the relationship.  But there is much to do to reduce the gap in understanding and modify the suspicions that each has for the efforts of the other in global governance.


Distractions, Distractions Distractions … Can Mexico Get the G20 Agenda Back on Track







Mexico faces a very large task. Actually Mexican officials face two rather daunting tasks. The first is to persuade G20 officials and indeed G2o Leaders that notwithstanding  the crisis of the day, they must keep “front-and-center” the longer term tasks and objectives that put the G20 Leaders at the ‘high table’ in the first place.  Through the immediate crises – most evidently the sovereign debt crisis in Europe –  and the constant “pulling and hauling” to widen the agenda this way and that, the G20 Leaders Summit needs to construct an agenda and implement policy that secures measurable economic and financial reform.

The second, and even harder, task is to bring Leaders face-to-face with their own unwillingness to grasp the domestic political nettle. As an aside, officials need to alert media and experts to real failure of the G20 – political failure not at the international level but at the national level.   The current failure is not a product so much of weak international institutions, a favorite subject of media and experts, but failing national leadership.

Now it may be unfair to call the European debt crisis – a distraction – for the contagion from an unstructured Greek default, or worse a number of Eurozone countries and the likely liquidity crisis that would spread quickly through global economy – is not an event happy to contemplate.  But G20 Leaders need to resist “my crisis is your crisis” mentality that markets and Europe promote.  In part this is “passing the buck” and at the recent Finance Ministers meeting it was clear that many countries – including, the US, UK, Canada and others were saying – you have to save yourself first – notably Germany – then we can consider wider support.  It is a tug-of-war but meanwhile the G20 is “stuck” with this crisis that continues to crowd out needed longer term discussions of Strong Sustainable and Balanced Growth (SSBG) in all its myriad policy direction.

And then there is the need to address the host’s agenda.  Stewart Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations, freshly returned from Mexico’s gathering – the Think-20 – has sketched in his blog, The Internationalist,  many of the interests Mexico brings to the G20 Table.  Now this in the end may not be the agenda when the G20 Leaders meet in Los Cabos but much of this is promoted by Mexico.  Mexico has pressed to promote “green growth” but it is not clear what that is and whether Leaders have a clear roadmap for incremental policy action.  And food security has appeared as well.  Like green growth food security is a worthy subject but it was there with the French leadership.  Now Stewart notes that vice-ministers of agriculture plan to meet in April and May but he suggests that food security needs to be “bounced up” to Leaders.  I think there is more than enough that needs to be addressed in the already created Action Plan.   Governments need to take action to implement. Ministers get it done!

Now with respect to the SSBG framework and Leaders actions. Recently Uri Dadush of te Carnegie Endowment for International Peace  and Kati Suominen of the German Marshall Fund of the United States (in fact the article can be found at the GMF website) wrote an article called “Is There Life for the G20 beyond the Global FInancial Crisis?”  The authors tackle both the G20 agenda and where is the failure.  Dadush and Suominen examining the volatile G20 agenda

Instead, the G20 countries, which together account for the vast majority of the ownership and voting power in the major global institutions, should focus only on the big picture and look to those institutions to translate the G20-designed strategy into explicit decisions – in other words, to find a technically and politically palatable way to execute and enforce the G20’s vision.  This is the role – the role of the steering committee – that the G20 needs to continue carving out.

Now my colleague Dan Drezner (you can always catch him at Foreign Policy) has on a number of occasions – including with colleagues from SIIS, the Munk School, the Stanley Foundation, KDI and others at a conference in Shanghai – characterized the effort to “coordinate” global imbalances as “Mission Impossible”.  But the economic framework of the G20  – the SSBG framework – requires the amelioration of global imbalances among the G20.  That is the task.  And as Dadush and Suominen recognize

Unsurprisingly, the G20 has thus far had little success in agreeing on a roadmap to effectively deal with global imbalances, and has also failed to set a clear goal for its efforts.

Moreover they point out that such coordination can only occur with the concurrence of domestic interests and then policy reform at the national level – but it would appear that Leaders are unwilling – or unable – to alter what these two authors describe as the “drivers of the imbalances”.  Thus, China has yet to alter its export-driven domestic economy, notwithstanding the repeated rhetoric of China shifting to domestic consumption.  Nor has the United States found a policy path to reduce its near “out-of-control” deficit and growing debt.  And these are but two of a number of countries in the G20.

Global imbalances policy is a classic instance of all politics being local – but in this instance we are not describing purely domestic policy but the interaction of national policy with international coordination.  But let’s be clear: this unwillingness to alter the domestic political equation and revise national economic policy is not a failure, on its face, of the G20 Leaders Summit – the informal ‘high table’ of global governance – but the failure of leadership to undertake the tough political decisions at home.  The weakness is political leadership at home not at summit structures.  Again as Dadush and Suominen point out:

While coordination failures are ancillary to the main problem – that resolution to issues facing the G20 often requires painful domestic reforms – they risk becoming means to deflect attention from the domestic reforms that are so badly needed.

So keeping the agenda on SSBG target, and cajoling G20 Leaders to take action at home – that is the real Mexican agenda

Image Credit:  Government of Mexico