Comment: Emerging Powers are more responsible than Patrick suggests

Comment on Stewart Patrick's article: Irresponsible Stakeholders (click here for article)
Summary:A major strategic challenge for the United States in the coming decades will be integrating emerging powers into international institutions. To hold the postwar order together, the United States will have to become a more consistent exemplar of multilateral cooperation.


Stewart Patrick rightly identifies integrating emerging powers into today's international structure poses the major challenge of the coming decades.
Yet in several parts of the article he misinterprets rising powers' actions.

First of all, Patrick uses the concept of the West throughout the article, but fails to explain how he defines it. For example, he asserts that "the Obama administration has launched bilateral dialogues with the world's main non-Western powers, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey." Why is Brazil, a liberal democracy with a predominantly Christian population that adheres to the vast majority of international rules, not part of the West? Does "Western" stand for "rich" in Patrick's article? Is Japan would be part of the West? If Patrick were to attempt to clarify this question, it would become clear that his categorization into Western (and institutionally integrated) and non-Western (and institutionally not integrated) fails to reflect a much more complex reality.

Secondly, Patrick cites Turkey's and Brazil's attempt to reach a deal with Iran as an “episode (that) shows that integrating new powers as responsible stakeholders will be far trickier than the Obama administration presumes.” Turkey’s and Brazil’s strategy may indeed have been ill-timed, but it would be exaggerated to interpret it as proof that Turkey and Brazil are unwilling to integrate, and that “the world is more Hobbesian than the White House admits.” Turkey shares a common border with Iran, so it has every right to engage and promote its interest in the region, particularly if America’s efforts to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions have, so far, utterly failed. The fact that a democratic Turkey and Brazil are becoming more active in the world is to be welcomed, and those who speculate that the two will “turn their back on the West” fail to acknowledge that emerging powers agree with the fundamental values that undergird the institutions created by the West.

Patrick argues that “the ideal scenario for Washington would be for the rising powers to embrace Western principles, norms, and rules”, but in fact, it is just that what countries such as India and Brazil are doing. Brazil and India integrate and strengthen every single regime that is truly open, democratic and easy to join. They only refuse to do so if the regime is inherently unjust and undemocratic, like the NPT, which established a rigid, two-tiered system.

By stating that “the emerging powers do not accept all the current international rules”, Patrick implies that the United States accept all of them. But the United States has failed to sign up to numerous regimes, as Patrick concedes at the very end of the article. Why should India sign the CTBT, Indian diplomats ask, if America has failed to do so? Today’s Western system is fundamentally sound, and mutual benefits are so high that emerging powers will integrate in it. The “intra-institutional mobility”, or the ability for new entrants to rise within the institutions, is a key feature of today’s system, and the United States must preserve this feature if it wants the Western World Order to survive in the long term. The United States’ goal must therefore not be to inhibit the new powers’ rise, but to assure that today’s American-led system, which is probably the best the world has seen in centuries, can eventually live on under non-American leadership (or at least under shared leadership).

Emerging powers’ strategy is far from ideal. They certainly do not have all the answers, and they need to do more to contribute to the provision of global public goods. But calling them irresponsible fails to recognize that they fundamentally agree with the values that undergird the system, and it does not honor the efforts they have made to integrate into a system that is not always as open, democratic and welcoming as Patrick describes.

Oliver Stuenkel
Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of São Paulo (USP)
Fellow, Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi)