The Big Idea

Brazil, India and China -- not quite superpowers yet

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By Carlos Lozada
Sunday, August 29, 2010

Brazil, China and India aren't ready for prime time.

It's an article of faith among the liberal, open-minded, well-meaning, Davos-crowd intelligentsia: The leadership of the big global institutions -- the International Monetary Fund, the U.N. Security Council, the World Bank and the like -- must be opened up to emerging powers. The current structures reflect old post-World War II realities and no longer make sense. It's time to more fully include China, India, Brazil and other countries that are becoming dominant players in the 21st century.

Sounds very fair and nice and post-American-worldy, but Jorge Castañeda thinks it's a lousy idea. In a provocative piece in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, the former foreign minister of Mexico warns that bringing in these new players threatens the principles and practices of democracy, free trade, nuclear nonproliferation, environmentalism and international justice that such institutions -- and most of their current leadership -- seek to spread.

Castañeda challenges the countries most often cited as candidates to join the grown-ups' table. China, already a permanent member of the Security Council, supports the regimes in Burma and Sudan and has complicated efforts to deal with Iran's and North Korea's nuclear ambitions. India ignores human rights violations in Sri Lanka, has never ratified the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and drags its feet on climate change. Brazil has been too cozy with Cuba, Venezuela and Iran, not questioning the jailing of political opponents, crackdowns on journalism or electoral fraud. And the list goes on.

"At best, they are regional powers that pack a minuscule international punch; at worst they are neophytes whose participation in international institutions may undermine progress toward a stronger international legal order," Castañeda writes. And while he acknowledges that the traditional leadership of global institutions often fails to uphold their stated principles, at least they face more checks and balances to live up to their rhetoric. Not so for those knocking on the door of global leadership.

"For now . . . these states' core values are too different from the ones espoused, however partially and duplicitously, by the international community's main players," Castañeda concludes.

lozadac@washpost.com


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