Let’s Hear From the New Kids on the Block

An editorial in a renowned French newspaper recently predicted that May 17, the date of the “Declaration of Tehran” on Iran’s nuclear program — negotiated by Brazil and Turkey with Iran — will make history books. A commentator of a respected British daily suggested that the efforts put together by the two emerging countries challenged the primacy of United Nations Security Council’s permanent members over issues of international peace and security — and that this was not received without discomfort.

Indeed, until recently all global decisions were made by a handful of traditional powers. The permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, who are incidentally the five nuclear powers recognized as such by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — had (and still have) the privilege of dealing the cards on matters of international peace and security. The G-8 was in charge of important decisions affecting the global economy. In questions related to international trade, the “Quad” — the U.S., the European Union, Japan and Canada — dominated the scene.

Countries like Brazil, China, India, South Africa and a few others are the “new kids on the block” among global players that shape international relations. They legitimately aspire to greater participation in international institutions, which still suffer from a “democratic deficit.” Global decisions can no longer be made without listening to their voices.

At the ministerial meeting of the Doha Round in Cancún in 2003, Brazil, India, Argentina and other developing countries chose not to endorse a decision taken by the traditional stakeholders — especially the United States and the European Union — which disregarded their interests, mainly as far as agriculture was concerned. The creation of the World Trade Organization Group of 20 transformed the pattern of multilateral trade negotiations for good.

The financial crisis highlighted even more the coming of age of new actors. The Financial G-20, which is composed of both rich and developing countries, replaced the G-8 as the prime forum for discussions and decisions concerning the world economy.

On climate change, emerging nations have always been important players. But at the 15th Conference of Parties of Copenhagen, the “Accord,” however insufficient, was reached in a room where the president of the United States negotiated with the leaders of BASIC — Brazil, South Africa, India and China.

On April 15, Brasilia was host to two consecutive meetings at the highest political level: the second BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) summit and the fourth IBSA Dialogue Forum (India, Brazil and South Africa). Such groups, different as they are, show a willingness and a commitment from emerging powers to redefine world governance. Many commentators singled out these twin meetings as more relevant than recent G-7 or G-8 gatherings.

Discussions on trade, finance, climate change and even global governance have begun to welcome developing countries. It is understood that without the presence of countries like China, India, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico, no practical results could be obtained.

Paradoxically, issues related to international peace and security — some might say the “hard core” of global politics — remain the exclusive territory of a small group of countries.

The fact that Brazil and Turkey ventured into a subject that would be typically handled by the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) — and, more importantly, were successful in doing so — disturbed the status quo.

The insistence on sanctions against Iran — effectively ignoring the Declaration of Tehran, and without even giving Iran time to respond to the comments of the “Vienna Group” (the U.S., France and Russia) — confirmed the opinions of many analysts who claimed that the traditional centers of power will not share gladly their privileged status.

Indeed, the negotiations conducted by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey followed precisely the script that had been on the table for some months and whose validity had been recently reaffirmed at the highest level.

Much of the world has its eyes fixed now on the World Cup tournament in South Africa. In football, the most universal of all sports, developing nations such as Brazil and Argentina have always been major players. It is time that in grave matters of war and peace, emerging nations such as Turkey and Brazil — and others, such as India, South Africa, Egypt and Indonesia — have their voices heard. This will not only do justice to their credentials and abilities; it will also be better for the world.

Celso Amorim, the foreign minister of Brazil.