Brazil, the B in BRIC, on a Course to Reform the World and Its Institutions

Brazil in the Economist coverOn April 16 the BRIC nations will meet in Brasilia. The group composed of the newly emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China will provide an opportunity to find common interests and strategize how to achieve common goals.

Their position has improved steadily as the international economic crisis continues to sap credibility and strength from the traditional world powers.

While unable to challenge U.S. military supremacy and overturn the current political order, the BRIC nations would like multilateral institutions to reflect their growing influence in the international system.

While Chinese development of a competitive military industrial complex may catch the headlines and fears of the Pentagon, few countries show as much ambition to reform the existing institutions than Brazil.

It has worked hard to realize its ultimate goal of a U.N. Security Council Seat by raising its profile internationally and strengthening its authority regionally. It has successfully reinforced regional Latin American ties by expanding the economic integration of Mercosur and deepening the military cooperation of UNASUR.

At the most recent meeting of the Community of Latin American Countries in Playa del Cármen, Mexico, a gathering of all the American nations less the United States and Canada, the Latin American nationalism was contagious. 

Solutions were sought to regional problems including the crisis in Haiti and support for Argentina’s claims to the petroleum deposits near the Falkland Islands currently being exploited by Great Britain.

Despite public skirmishes suggestions were made by President Chavez to formalize the Community as a political institution with President Lula at its leader.

After the divisions at the Organization of American States left it incapable to find a solution to the political crisis in Honduras, alternatives were sought that better reflect the populist nationalism that dominates the Latin American political scene.

Despite the attempts of the Secretary General of the OAS José Miguel Insulza to assuage fears that the new institution will replace the OAS, it seems logical that the consensus of one will eclipse the ineffectiveness of the other.

Brazil has not limited its foreign relations to Latin America. President Lula has not neglected any opportunity to promote Brazil internationally, progressively engaging everything from the World Social Forum to the World Economic Forum.

Moreover, the creation of the IBSA forum between India, South Africa and Brazil forged in the dissatisfaction of G-8 and Doha negotiations illustrates their common interests as emerging economies and desire for a stronger voice in the international arena.

Regions not directly connected to Brazil such as the Middle East have not been neglected. President Lula met with President Mahmoud Abbas and President Shimon Peres separately to express his support and offer assistance to completing the peace process.

Shortly thereafter, President Lula controversially welcomed President Ahmadinejad to his first international visit since the Iranian President’s contested reelection.

President Lula’s tacit support of the President of Iran and his repeated support for Iranian efforts to develop nuclear power have earned him plenty of attention and the recent visit from the U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton.

One of the stated goals of her tour in Latin America was to “incentivize” Brazil to refine its position toward Iran.

Part of a strong autonomous foreign policy is to have a strong international economic presence. Following the example of Russia and China to conduct their bilateral petroleum purchases without converting to the U.S. dollar. Brazil and Argentina announced all their bilateral trade would be conducted with their own currencies.

Although this only represents a small amount of international trade, within the framework of organizations like the Shanghai Cooperation Council or Mercosur these efforts could expand. Presently, Brazil has pursued trade agreements with Mexico and Haiti to build bilateral trade and possibly appropriate their free trade access to the U.S. market.

The efforts of Brazil and its BRIC counterparts to collaborate to increase their influence and reform international institutions do not offer a clear alternative to the current international order.

Without the military power to secure a different institutional order and the economic dominance to obligate other countries to follow their will, no true alternative can be offered.

However, if the newly emerging economies continue to feel that international institutions do not reflect the influence they deserve, the organizations and institutions created to reform the current structure of international institutions may eventually replace them.

A D.C.-native, Gregory Melus is currently a freelance reporter based in São Paulo, Brazil. He worked on the Obama campaign after serving in a Congressional Office on Capitol Hill for over two years. Greg is trilingual and has lived abroad for years to investigate the controversial conflicts and issues that affect our age first-hand. His experience includes working and volunteering for international aid institutions at the Grameen Bank in Argentina and Al-Najaf University in Palestine. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Greg will be pursuing a JD at American University College of Law in 2010.

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