The dilemma of emerging powers

President of Brazil speaks during the Inaugural Meeting of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development (Trusteeship Council Chamber, CB) President of Brazil speaks during the Inaugural Meeting of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development (Trusteeship Council Chamber, CB)

In March this year, Russia announced the annexation of Crimea. This small part of Ukraine, in Eastern Europe, has become the focus of renewed tension between Moscow and Washington and, for many, the chill of the Cold War has returned. It did not take long for the West to respond. And the response included a combination of economic pressure, rhetorical threats and specific restrictions on the mobility of officials linked to the Kremlin.  The old powers quickly resorted to old tools for resolving problems as old as the demarcation of borders.

The aggressive move by Russia, however, was not made in the old and bipolar world that lasted from the end of the Second World War (1945) to the end of the Cold War (1991). The incursion by Moscow took place in a new and different world with new actors that play new roles.

The so-called emerging powers, among them the BRICS (Brazil, India, South Africa, China and Russia itself), could, in theory, have made a difference and pressured the States involved to conduct their foreign policy in accordance with the highest standards of human rights. But they didn’t. To make matters worse, one of these emerging powers, Russia, was the main protagonist in this sinister chess game involving numerous violations on the edge of Eastern Europe.

In his article for the issue #SUR19 , David Petrasek, a professor at the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa, in Canada, looks at how emerging powers deal with these kinds of dilemmas that involve foreign policy and human rights.

Petrasek explains that these new actors refute the model used by Europe and the United States. They have avoided using tactics such as the imposition of “conditionalities” that make the concession of loans, donations and other economic advantages subject to respect for human rights, thereby offering the offending country a kind of “exchange”. Neither does the tactic of “naming and shaming” countries responsible for human rights violations feature prominently among the pressure tactics used by these new powers.

Rejecting this model, countries such as Brazil say they prefer proximity and dialogue as a means of persuading the offending State to review its position. Petrasek says “new powers will increasingly seek to shape country-specific scrutiny, at least at the UN level, in ways that privilege a non-confrontational and dialogue-driven approach”.

But the author – who worked for years for both Amnesty International and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – does not draw any conclusions as to whether the new methods are more or less effective than the old ones.

Regardless, Petrasek’s analysis puts into perspective the similarities, differences, contradictions and indecisions that characterize the foreign policy of emerging powers, compared to the structures consolidated around the major powers of the post-war period, in an article marked much more by the accurate and critical assessment of the current situation than an optimistic view of the modern world’s problems.

Petrasek is one of the 15 authors who contributed to the issue #SUR19. All the content can be accessed on the journal’s new website and in the printed version released in May. SUR Journal has been edited and published by Conectas for 10 years, in three languages, and is distributed in more than 100 countries. The past issues can be downloaded here.

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