Webcast Recap

Emerging Powers: India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) and the Future of South-South Cooperation

India, Brazil, and South Africa are rapidly developing countries as well as continental and global leaders. IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), established in 2003, is a dialogue forum that seeks to increase South-South cooperation and exchange on a number of issues, especially those relating to development. The decline of U.S. global hegemony and the current fundamental restructuring of world power raise questions about the future role of the emerging powers of IBSA. On May 22, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars' Brazil Institute, Africa Program, and Asia Program jointly hosted a half-day conference that examined IBSA in regional and global contexts.

The first panel addressed the subject of "global governance, South-South economic relations, and foreign policy strategies." Noting that developing countries' aspirations for the enhancement of South-South cooperation have been a defining feature of India's goals since independence, Ambassador Arun Kumar Singh, deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of India in Washington, noted that the enhancement of South-South cooperation has been one of India's key goals since independence, but that early post-colonial initiatives for South-South cooperation achieved only moderate success due to a lack of resources and a need to develop nascent domestic institutions. By 2003, the emergence of countries like Brazil and South Africa as economic powers provided India the opportunity to pursue South-South connections again. Since the formation of IBSA, the three countries have benefited from their collective experiences and individual technological and economic strengths to reinforce common positions on international issues, to enhance trilateral cooperation, and to further development—both domestically and in other developing countries. Ambassador Singh provided several examples of third-party countries' development projects seeking IBSA funding such as fighting AIDS in Burundi; integrating watershed management in Laos; and developing youth centers in Mozambique, Lesotho, and Botswana.

Secretary Figueiredo de Souza, assistant of the IBSA Division of the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations, commented on how the forum views itself. India, Brazil, and South Africa believe their countries share many characteristics: they are democracies, they face internal social challenges, they are strategically located throughout the globe, they have relevant participation in various forums of the developing world, and they have the capacity and will to strengthen their international roles. IBSA member countries view the forum not only as a tool to amplify their international voices on matters of common interest, but also to facilitate connections between the IBSA countries themselves. For example, in the area of revenue services, Brazil currently works with India and South Africa as much as it has been working with traditional Northern partners, as Indian and South African revenue services face challenges similar to those facing Brazil today. Finally, IBSA also views itself as a forum that can use its member countries' experiences, resources, and know-how to cooperate for the development of other countries. This is primarily done through project funding for initiatives such as introducing a new rice seed to Guinea-Bissau; implementing solid waste collection in Haiti; refurbishing health centers in Cape Verde; and developing a new sports complex in Palestine. Secretary de Souza concluded by emphasizing that IBSA regards itself as a complement to, and not a detractor from, regional partnerships.

Francis Kornegay, of the Institute for Global Dialogue (South Africa), rounded out the first panel by discussing the history of South-South cooperation in South Africa, noting that it is a natural outgrowth of the African National Congress's long legacy of involvement with the non-aligned movement. The recent election of Jacob Zuma will likely put more emphasis on South-South cooperation, especially in economic diplomacy. This view has been supported by South Africa's new minister of trade and industry, who recently asserted that the relative economic decline of the West means that South Africa will be more focused on developing connections in the South, and future economic growth and trade prospects will shift even further toward the developing world. IBSA is a major instrument of South Africa's South-South cooperation, and the country's dedication to IBSA will continue to increase accordingly. In conclusion, Kornegay highlighted IBSA's concrete achievements—successes that deserve particular attention, given that other attempts at South-South engagement are often marked more by rhetoric than by action.

The second panel centered on the prospects for regional security in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Ummu Salma Bava of Jawaharlal Nehru University (India) opened the panel by describing the current state of security in South Asia, a region made up of numerous sub-regions whose relations are simultaneously characterized by interdependence and rivalry. Bava claimed that India is the "most politically and economically stable country in the region," under constant threat by instability in neighboring countries at its borders. Bava identified South Asia's realist security paradigm as the greatest hindrance to developing comprehensive regional security. However, India's desire to enhance its global stature and its need for continued economic expansion correlate with regional stability. She suggested that India may have to take the necessary actions to generate regional cooperation and remove regional mistrust. Such steps could include making occasional unilateral concessions to smaller neighbors and working to shift the region's security paradigm from a traditional to a human perspective, prioritizing human security issues such as food, water, health, and personal security.

Dr. Alcides Costa Vaz, from the Institute of International Relations of the University of Brasilia, asserted that, until recently, domestic and global aspirations dominated Brazil's agenda at the expense of strong regional connections. Most domestic political roadblocks to regional engagement have been removed, but others continue to hamper the development of regional initiatives. These include Brazil's relatively limited economic and soft power capabilities, the domestic political and economic circumstances of neighboring countries, and competing regional views regarding South America's place in the global economy. Brazil is now developing regional policies, especially in the economic realm, but its regional goals are largely independent of its international aspirations. IBSA's potential to contribute to the formation of regional policy is particularly limited. Its development assistance has relevance, but its narrow focus on specific projects in specific countries makes it ill-suited as a basis for regional policies. IBSA's primary impact is confined to the domestic and global realms. Dr. Vaz concluded that it is desirable, yet currently impossible, for Brazil to link regional policies with global ones. IBSA's confinement to domestic and global Brazilian policy means that Brazil's participation in the forum neither helps nor hinders its involvement in South American multilateral institutions.

Returning to the second panel, Francis Kornegay echoed Vaz's view that IBSA plays a minimal role in regional security, especially in the context of South Africa whose power aspirations extend only to the continental level. IBSA held joint naval exercises off the coast of South Africa in April 2008, but the otherwise low-key military cooperation between IBSA countries indicated that the organization is of little importance to regional security outside of situations where a member country is under direct threat. Kornegay noted that the world is facing a period of regional multipolarity where regional associations—such as the African Union, the South American Defense Council, and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) – will dominate the security landscape. In this context, the emphasis on interregional institutions, such as IBSA, as guarantors of regional security is greatly reduced. However, IBSA could further cooperation between security associations in South Asia, South America, and Africa if India, Brazil, and South Africa emerge as major power players within their regions.

Bringing the discussion back to India and the South Asian region, Dr. Sunil Khilnani, of the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, spoke of the ineffectiveness of SAARC. Of the three IBSA countries, India finds itself in the most threatening and unstable regional environment. India is bordered by a nuclear-armed Pakistan on one side, and Maoist rebels on another, and is jostling with the United States and China for regional positioning. India's participation in international groups such as the UN, G20, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), IBSA, and others manifests its desire to transcend complicated regional politics and achieve global power status. Participation in a broad array of groups also reflects an uncertainty of the times, (Is the unipolar moment over? Are we heading to a multipolar world? A non-polar world?) and an effort by India to ensure that it is well-positioned for whatever system emerges. Khilnani noted that India has so far committed itself to using economic policy to achieve political and strategic aims, but, beyond this, global transitions and acute regional uncertainties make it difficult to evaluate the future landscape of security in South Asia.

Although IBSA initially sought to coordinate its members' positions in international fora, its mandate soon expanded. Today, IBSA focuses on a wide-range of topics which generally fall within the broad categories of political cooperation, exchange of best practices, and development assistance. Conversely, while security cooperation does not seem to be strong in South America, South Asia, or South Africa, IBSA may not offer a lasting security solution either. The current world system is still taking shape, but appears to be one in which intraregional security organizations will dominate. Panelists generally agreed that IBSA is an important form of South-South cooperation that has been successful to date, and whose capacities will continue to expand. In light of the United States' relative decline and the global political and economic restructuring underway, the strengthening of the South will be a hallmark of the coming era. The strength of its member countries and their strategic locations in South America, Africa, and South Asia mean that IBSA is likely to grow in importance, giving the forum the potential to facilitate what is largely seen as a vital transcontinental South-South cooperation.