Emerging powers remain divided on R2P and RwP


The debate about military intervention and the 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) is often seen as dominated by reckless and pro-interventionist Western powers on the one side, and strongly westphalian and amoral non-Western emerging powers on the other. Yet Russia's and China's traditional anti-interventionist position is strongly contrasted by Turkey's increasingly hawkish stance on Syria and India's and Brazil's reluctance to fully align with its fellow BRICS members (Brazil and India both voted in favor of a resolution in the UN General Assembly that condemned the violent crackdown in Syria). Thus, these two simple categories of 'West vs. the rest' no longer seem to be accurate. It also shows that in security matters, diverging national interests will make it difficult for the BRICS to develop a common position. 


Turkey is a classic emerging power in many ways: similar to Brazil and India, it seeks a greater representation in today's international institutions, and its foreign policy over the past decade has been - just like Brazil's - extremely active. Nothing symbolizes this better than Turkey's and Brazil's decision to jointly negotiate with Iran in May 2010 to solve the nuclear impasse. ("Have Lula and Erdogan tamed Ahmadinejad?")

Yet Brazil's and Turkey's position on how to deal with the crisis in Syria now also differ considerably. After the massacre in Houla, which caused international condemnation, Brazil refused to expel Syria's diplomats to "keep open all channels of communication."

This has led to disappointment in Turkey. After all, Brazil had shown some flexibility on the matter recently. As Matias Spektor argued in an op-ed in Folha de São Paulo recently, Brazil's stance on R2P is "in flux", pointing out that Brazil's support for the new idea of the "responsibility while protecting" indicated a growing flexibility and pragmatism regarding military intervention, something "unthinkable only a few years ago." In 2011, Brazil attempted to include the 'Responsibility while Protecting' (RwP) into the final IBSA Summit Declaration. President Dilma's mention during her opening speech that "while there has been been a lot of talk (...) on the right to protect, there is little said about the responsibility while protecting" seemed insignificant to many, but in essence meant that if carried out in a responsible manner, Brazil could, in principle, support intervention in the future. India and South Africa are, in principle, not opposed to that affirmation.

Russia and China, however, assured the idea would not appear in the final declaration of the 4th BRICS Summit in New Delhi. Perhaps now feeling unsure about RwP itself, Brazil felt aligning with Turkey on isolating Syria was a step too far.


Rising powers are unable - just like established powers in many cases- to find a common position on Syria because their individual strategic interests at stake diverge significantly. Turkey shares a long border with Syria and rightly believes the crisis could not only affect Lebanon, but also political stability in Turkey itself.

Russia, for its part, is right to point out that Western powers have no credible plan about who should rule in a post-Assad Syria. Just like China, it is concerned that another military intervention will set a dangerous precedent. In principle, Brazil and India share this concern, but they also have to deal with a public that is increasingly pushing their respective governments to assume a more active stance against massive human rights abuses committed by the Assad regime. In the Brazilian press, for example, Brazil's decision not to expel Syria's diplomats was met with criticism.

Yet Russia's situation is indeed particular: Syria is also Russia's last client state in the Middle East, and Assad is seen as a bastion against Islamist extremists who pose a potent threat to Russia. In addition, Russia's reluctance to let go of Assad has allowed it to be an important voice in the international debate about the matter, no small achievement for the former superpower.

Syria has clearly shown that R2P has its limits, and RwP has not gained the necessary traction to have any impact in the debate. The search for better concepts and ideas continues, and emerging powers will no doubt be part of it.

Read also:

Emerging Powers and the Responsibility to Protect

The Hindu: BRICS and the ‘Responsibility while Protecting’ concept

Brazil and the responsibility while protecting

What future for democracy promotion in a Post-Western World?

“Identity and the concept of the West: The case of Brazil and India” (Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional)


Photo credit: Manolis Kostidis
Leandro Moraes/UOL