American secretary of state Hillary Clinton returned empty handed from Brazil earlier this month with President Lula da Silva’s government unwilling to support tougher sanctions on Iran.
Brazil has long maintained that it wants proof of Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions before it agrees to push for sanctions with the United Nations. Part of the reason for Brazil’s reluctance in this matter are its own intentions: the South American giant increasingly relies on alternative energies, nuclear power among them. The country has no wish to acquire atomic weapons, but it doesn’t believe in dictating American rules to the rest of the world either.
It is not alone. The BRICs as well as Indonesia and South Africa are leading the emerging economies of the world in an effort to counter what they perceive to be Western interventionism. Evidence of this can be seen in opposition to World Trade Organization policies and international efforts to fight global warming. Basically, the Rest has no desire to curtail its growth potential now that decades of staggering prosperity seem to be catching up with the West.
China, being the most potent of rising powers, is naturally leading the charge, recently frustrating, almost singlehandedly, the Copenhagen climate change talks for instance. Chinese leadership appeals to many developing nations because of Beijing’s traditional insistence on state sovereignty. The Middle Kingdom happily trades with dictatorships without ever questioning their internal politics and it expects to be treated the same way by others.
The United States is in part to blame for letting this happen. Soon after President Barack Obama was elected, Brazil and India signaled that they were willing to take things one step further. New Delhi, especially, was very receptive to the Bush Administration’s efforts to engage it, yet both seem to have been neglected in favor of “resetting” relations with Russia and an irrational Sinophobia that is hampering American foreign policy in East Asia.
After a year of trying, it took until this weekend for the Russians to agree to a new START treaty for reducing nuclear stockpiles while little progress seems to have been made toward “strategically reassuring” China, as is the White House’s stated goal.
China could help in Pakistan and India is quite willing to invest in the war in Afghanistan but neither appear to be taken quite seriously in this regard. The United States instead is trying to get them to back sanctions on Iran, not realizing that the BRICs don’t care whether that country acquires the Bomb or not.
Clinton’s rebuff from the Brazilians was hardly unexpected then. Hopefully, it will be interpreted in Washington as a reminder that although the president’s rhetoric did much to reinvigorate America’s appeal to moral leadership in the world, it won’t be enough to extract foreign policy support.