Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brazil. Show all posts

Thursday, May 9, 2013

To compete globally, BRICS nations need reputation, not imitation

    May 09, 2013   No comments


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia* 

BRICS nations
The economic, political, and social rise of the Western block of nations was founded on the single most enduring currency: reputation. Reputation, the source of credibility and trust, is the real asset that allows the U.S. to project its stature around the world. BRICS nations cannot rise to prominence by mimicking developed countries. They must build their reputation first. Wealth is only a byproduct of this more precious commodity, and countries who have it can squander it just as emerging economies can acquire it. For either of those results to happen in any country, circumstantial conditions and principled actions must converge.


Despite scientific advances, including ease of communication and physical mobility, many countries around the world remained untouched.. Many nations around the world mimicked the Western block of nations’ institutional structures in order to improve social and economic conditions. Consequently, regional cooperatives that grouped some countries together to increase capital and expand markets sprung up all over the world. One such cooperative is the consortium of nations dubbed BRICS. It is a curious association that warrants close examination in order to understand the forces that bind them together and the forces that push them apart.

Observers of international affairs have been intrigued by the outcome of the BRICS summit in Durban. Notably, the leaders of the five countries that constitute this group have agreed to build institutions that will foster cooperation and coordination. Specifically, they agreed to found a New Development Bank (NDB) that would invest in member states’ infrastructure as well as in that of Emerging Markets and Developing Countries (EMDCs).

The leaders agreed that each country would contribute an investment of $10 billion, bringing the initial capital of the NDB to $50 billion. The leaders also agreed to supplement this capital with an additional $100 billion in emergency reserves, establishing a Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA), to help member states during unforeseen crises. China will provide $41 billion of the supplemental fund and each of the other four countries will contribute $18 billion, except South Africa, which will allocate only $5 billion. The bank will start by investing in one major project: a high speed Intranet that will connect all five countries. The project is estimated to cost about $1 billion. 

The potential and challenges facing this emerging economic group are enormous, given the human, geographic, economic, and political realities that unite and separate them. What is evident, however, is that challenging the West in the name of multilateralismis not enough to create a solid block that will survive the various challenges.

First, let’s look at the potential for success. More than 45% of the world’s population lives in the countries making up the block: 1.347 billion people in China, more than 1 billion in India, nearly 194 million in Brazil, about 140 million in Russia, and almost 50 million in South Africa. Together, the five countries control 30% of the land on earth. Each of the five countries is an economic powerhouse in its own right: China’s economic input (according to data from two years ago) equaled $5.5 trillion, Brazil’s was $1 trillion, India’s and Russia’s were both $1.6 trillion, and South Africa’s equaled $285 billion. Together, the five nations are the source of about 15% of global trade. More recent data show that the economy of BRICS grew by an average of 4%, compared to 0.7% for the top seven industrial nations. Economic projections suggest that BRICS countries will contribute nearly 50% of global economic growth by the year 2020.

But unlike other economic blocks around the world, BRICS consists of five countries from four different continents with five different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The geographic, cultural, and ethnic differences among BRICS nations are significant, but the political differences are even more pronounced. For instance, Brazil’s political culture is rooted in leadership that is derived from the authority of the Church and the power of the institution of the military. In contrast, China’s political system combines Confucius’ values with communism and the veneration of elders. India’s democracy, shaped by religious and class casts, is nothing like Russia’s authoritarianism or South Africa’s emerging representative governance. These differences are significant because political stability is also crucial in building reputation domestically and globally. Nations become stable and reputable when citizens (and businesses) know that life, property, and dignity are safeguarded under all circumstances. If these nations cannot provide political stability and smooth transfers of power at home, they certainly cannot be called upon to adjudicate political disputes abroad. For that to happen, all five nations need to do more to build robust civil society institutions.

In addition to the challenges that are dictated by difference, BRICS nations face serious conflicts of interests. China is perceived to be interested in flooding the markets of the other countries with its own goods. India is worried about China’s plans to build more dams on rivers on which India depends. Brazil, South Africa, and India have campaigned hard to have their status upgraded in the UNSC, but Russia and China did not support their efforts—which exacerbated the lack of trust amongst the veto-wielding countries and the non-permanent members.

One could argue that differences—especially cultural, political, and linguistic ones—ought to be seen as an asset, not a liability, since leaders of all five nations have emphasized the virtues of diversity and multiculturalism. That would be a sound argument if the composition of BRICS was actually built on diversity instead of economic potential. In the end, this cooperative is an intergovernmental organization. Governments are not in the business of promoting philosophical and ethical norms; they are in the business of increasing value to the power holders. 

Ultimately, the fact that BRICS are focusing on creating an investment bank instead of dealing with all the outstanding and potential issues suggests that they are relying on their shared interest in challenging Western dominance. Their first political statement on Syria and Afghanistan shows that BRICS nations need more than potential and resources to be effective on the global stage. Importantly, given the number of crises within the Islamic world, and given the potential and status of the Islamic world, BRICS could benefit from adding at least one emerging Muslim country to their exclusive club of nations.

The lingering financial crisis with which the U.S. and the EU are struggling provided other strong economies with an opportunity to break free from a unipolar world dominated by the United States and its allies. China and Russia are seen as the most likely candidates for re-establishing parity on the global stage. While Russia might be interested in reinventing itself as one of two superpowers in the post-Soviet Union era, China seems more interested in improving and preserving its economic rise. The association of BRICS was built on an idea—not on a principle—an idea that is rooted in the hope that countries with many resources and much potential can compete against the West. Competing against the Western block is unifying, purpose-wise. But competing against the Western block requires a principled approach and disciplined drive to build a reputation that these countries singularly or collectively can project around the world with confidence.

Reputation is not built in a day, by promises, or by wealth. Reputation is the outcome of a historical trend that builds trust. It cannot be bought, coerced, or manufactured. Reputation takes time to build and arrogance to destroy. BRICS nations’ leaders will be fatally mistaken if they think that the crisis of credibility of the West resulting from their recent illegal wars and violations of human rights will create an opening for them to as an alternative. BRICS countries must be consistently better in all those areas for which they fault the West for a long time for them to have a chance to compete for reputation, the most valued prize in human civilizations.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Delimiting a New World Order: Religion, Globalism, and the Syrian Crisis

    May 03, 2013   No comments

Sovereignty, Legitimacy and the Responsibility to Protect: 
Who is responsible and who is legitimate in Syria?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

Syria and the New Middle East
Western leaders’ conflicting statements underscore the unease about change in the Arab world. Unless one believes that diplomats speak unscripted, an earlier statementby U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry becomes extremely significant. He contended that the ultimate goal is to “see Assad and the Syrian opposition sitting at the same table to establish a transitional government as laid out in the Geneva Accords.” Perhaps, partly because of such conflicted statements that leaders from UAE, Qatar, Jordan, and Turkey have scheduled one-on-one meetings with President Obama. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is talking about Syria to key world leaders, including the presidents of France, Egypt, Iran, and BRICS countries. Most observers are predicting that the expected Obama-Putin meetings over summer will culminate in a unified stance on Syria. If that is the expectation, it might be too late for world leaders to predetermine the outcome of the Syrian crisis by September. The dynamics on the ground and the entrenched disparate interests of regional and global powers will make it extremely difficult to press the reset button. A simple review of the events of the last 60 days will show the complexity and centrality of the Syrian crisis. Simply put, the management of the war in Syria is no longer in the hands of the Syrians. It is now a global affair.
 

1. In early March, the Syrian regime accused the opposition forces of attacking its troops and civilians with chemical weapons near Aleppo. The regime, supported by Russia, requested a UN investigation of this incident. After first agreeing to investigate, the UN’s efforts fell apart when some members of the UNSC wanted to broaden the scope of the investigation to include other suspected instances of use of chemical weapons. France and Britain accused the regime of using chemical weapons against opposition fighters in Homs. Russia accused the UN of politicizing the investigation. Until the writing of this article, no agreement on the constitution of an investigating committee has been reached.

2. With the rotating presidency of the Arab League transferred to Qatar, the host country of this year’s Arab League summit, the rulers of this tiny emirate did not waste time taking the lead. The Qatari Emir, in an unprecedented move, forced the rest of the Arab rulers (except those of Iraq and Algeria) to agree to give the seat of Syria to one of the opposition factions—the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (aka the Coalition), which angered at least two other major opposition groupings not represented in the Coalition. This development came just days after the Qatari rulers succeeded in getting the Coalition to establish a temporary government headed by a Syrian-American businessman. His appointment was immediately rejected by the Free Syrian Army and resisted by the then president of the Coalition, Moez al-Khatib. Consequently, an attempted assassination of the leader of the FSA, Riad al-As`ad, was carried out when he was touring northern Syria (he survived but lost his leg). Al-Khatib announced that he will resign.

3. In early April, al-Qaeda satellite organizations in Iraq and Syria announced a merger and the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra publicly declared his allegiance to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of al-Qaeda. These developments confirmed the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria and put Western countries and its Arab allies in an awkward position. The U.S. cannot be seen using taxpayers’ money to pay groups affiliated with the organization that attacked it on September 11, 2001. The new priority, then, became more than distancing other opposition forces from al-Nusra. Western leaders wanted the “moderate” opposition forces to fight al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Meeting with the Coalition leaders in Turkey, the new directives were made clear: Unless al-Qaeda groups are dealt with, the U.S. and some EU countries would not indiscriminately supply the opposition with the sophisticated weapons they had sought. That brought about the resignation of the president of the Coalition, Moez al-Khatib, again. The Coalition appointed an interim president, George Sabra. 

4. Since returning to the presidency, Vladimir Putin has been building his legacy as the leader who would reinstate parity to Russia-U.S.  relations. On April 12, the Obama's administration issued a list of 18 people subject to visa bans and asset freezes in the United States under the Magnitsky Act, a legislation that was passed by Congress late last year. Without delay, the Russian Foreign Ministry listed 18 Americans subject to visa bans and asset freezes under a retaliatory law that Putin signed in December. The law targeted Americans accused of violating the human rights of Russians abroad. More significantly, the list included some of the top Bush-era officials whom Russia accused of the "legalization and application of torture." The list included David Addington (a former chief of staff of Vice President Dick Cheney), John Yoo (a former Justice Department lawyer), and two former commanders of the U.S. military detention centers at the Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base. Evidently, Syria is another area where Putin is determined to make a firm stand. Putin is deliberately building a block of countries that will counter any action taken by the U.S. administration and its Arab and European allies. With China firmly with him on the Syrian issue, he is now building a broader coalition that may include former U.S. allies like Egypt.

5. After meeting with President Putin on April 20, Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi stated that Egypt “was committed to finding a peaceful and legal solution to the crisis in Syria.” On April 21, the official Egyptian State Information Service announced that Egypt had turned down a loan from the International Monetary Fund. Before leaving Russia, Morsi asked for Russian investment in Egypt and restated Egypt’s desire (which he first mentioned when he had visited India earlier this year) to join BRICS. The meeting in Russia was followed by a visit to Iran (on April 28) by an Egyptian presidential delegation. Ostensibly related to all these developments, Qatar announced that the bonds it had offered to buy from Egypt (about $3 billion) would carry a 5% interest and must be paid within 18 months. Putin, it is thought, might have reminded Morsi that joining BRICS comes with the expectation of embracing the Durban declaration about Syria—which is contrary to the wishes of Qatar. A shift in Egypt’s position on Syria would weaken the Qatari-Turkish one. Moreover, if Russia decides to invest in Egypt, as Morsi requested, that, too, would weaken Qatar’s influence over Egypt.

6. The bad news for the Qatari ruling family did not stop there. Last week (April 23), after meeting with the Emir, President Obama said: "We're going to be continuing to work in the coming months to try to further support the Syrian opposition, and we'll be closely coordinating our strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis." The “more peaceful resolution” comment appears to be a diplomatic reprimand to the Qatari ambitious ruler. After all, Qatar did not contribute to any semblance of a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis. Instead, it contributed weapons and a blow to the efforts of Lakhdar Brahimi when the Emir created a government for Syria out of a single unrepresentative opposition group and gave it the seat of the Syrian state in the Arab League. The rash move further complicated things for the Russian and American diplomats. In fact, it might have pushed Russia to take a more aggressive stance on Syria, as evidenced by the increased activities by Russian diplomats.

7. After meeting Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov over the weekend (April 27), a confident Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah (leader of Hezbollah) made an unusually detailed speech on April 30. Nasrallah stressed one key point: “The true friends of Syria will not allow Damascus to fall in the hands of America, Israel, or the takfiri groups.”  For those familiar with his rhetoric, this statement is extraordinarily specific and it could not be borne out of simple predictions. It must be a declaration of a political decision the Syrian state’s supporters, like Russia and Iran, have taken. After all, Russia has sent many signals, explicitly and implicitly, about its unwavering support to the Syrian state. The Qatari move may have pushed the Russian leaders even further in their support for Assad’s regime. 

Evidently, Russia was not pleased with the Arab Leagues’ decision to bypass the Geneva Statement on Syria. The U.S. apparently was not thrilled either--hence Obama’s statement that he and Qatari ruler will “be closely coordinatingour strategies to bring about a more peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis." This statement confirms that the U.S. is not happy with unilateral, aggressive moves that Qatar has made thus far. The President appears to stress the new direction towards a “more peaceful resolution.” 

The U.S. administration cannot overlook or downplay the presence of al-Qaeda in Syria and its return to Iraq. It took the United States’ military, the most sophisticated fighting institution in the world, more than ten years to bring down the level of violence in Iraq--just down enough--to extricate itself from the mess the Bush administration had created. The invasion of Iraq is still fresh in the memory of Americans, most of whom now oppose any U.S. military intervention in Syria. The Syrian military and security agencies will need at least just as much time to bring the level of violence under control even with a political settlement that the regime might reach with mostof the political and armed oppositions. Without doubt, al-Qaeda affiliates will not stop fighting in Syria because their fight is not against Assad. It is about re-establishing the caliphate as they understand it and imposing Salafi dominion over all other religious and sectarian communities.

If the Syrian regime were to fall, the entire region will be destabilized. The first sign of this inevitable outcome is the increasingly violent confrontations in Iraq and Lebanon. Should the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Salafi allies) rise to power in Syria, Jordan, too, will be further destabilized. Syria, today, represents political and security challenges that will take generations to bring under control. Notwithstanding the repositioning of allies and foes, the outcome of the Syrian crisis, no matter what that might be, will certainly delimit the new Middle East in a way that will affect the entire world—not just Syria and the region.
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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other or ganization with which he is affiliated.

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