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India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA): South - South cooperation and the paradox of regional leadership.

This article argues that the long-term sustainability of the trilateral partnership established in 2003 between India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA) rests on a more conscious engagement with their regional partners. The construction of a strong regional leadership role for IBSA based on its members' strategic positions in South Asia, South America, and southern Africa is the proper common ground to legitimize a diplomatic partnership between the IBSA states. This is even more pressing as China is actively competing for markets and influence with the IBSA trio within their respective regions, particularly in Africa. The paradox, though, is that while Northern powers have welcomed the regional leadership role of IBSA's members, most of their neighbors are not convinced of the actual intentions of New Delhi, Brasilia, and Pretoria. As a result, leadership within IBSA is defined in global terms as a claim to lead the developing world. At the regional level, however, IBSA's claim for leadership is less clear, less acceptable, and therefore remains constrained. Keywords: IBSA, regionalism, international relations.

IN JUNE 2003, AT A MEETING HELD IN THE BRAZILIAN CAPITAL, THE FOREIGN ministers of India, Brazil, and South Africa formally launched a new diplomatic initiative. Called IBSA (India, Brazil, and South Africa), this trilateral partnership between emerging industrialized economies was premised on a shared definition of the possibilities and gains attainable through cooperation. Its leaders hoped that, through the formation of a formalized developing country dialogue, they would lay the foundation for policy coordination on trade and security issues in the global arena. (1) Three months later, during the fifty-eighth session of the UN General Assembly, they unveiled IBSA to the international community. In the words of then South African president Thabo Mbeki,
 IBSA is an idea whose time has arrived, it is a necessary
 response to the current state of play in the global economy
 and its purpose and objectives are even more relevant in the
 context of the collapsed Doha development round of talks. ...
 Fortunately, India, Brazil and South Africa share a coincidence
 of interests in so far as we have common hopes, aspirations and
 challenges and through IBSA have created a platform from which
 we can attend to these many and varied challenges. (2)

A commitment was made to embed the IBSA process within the ministerial bureaucracies of each participant and to identify sectors in which they would actively seek to forge cohesive policies. As a result, IBSA established fourteen trilateral working groups in the areas of agriculture, defense, climate change and global warming, social themes, health, tourism, energy, transportation, information society, science and technology, education, culture, commerce, and investment. Ministerial-level gatherings were held in New Delhi in 2004, 2007, and 2008; Cape Town in 2005; Rio de Janeiro in 2006; and Brasilia in 2009. These gatherings, bolstered by four summit meetings held in Brasilia in 2006 and 2010, Ts wane/Pretoria in 2007, and New Delhi in 2008, seemed to confirm the countries' commitments to this process while joint positions at World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings underlined the influence that IBSA had on global politics. (3)

At the same time, this effort to formally enmesh the IBSA process at government levels, coupled with leadership commitments to the endeavor, is not matched by a similar impulse in the IBSA countries' respective regional settings. This regional gap impacts significantly on the legitimacy of the IBSA trio in that their key claim to leadership is founded only on a shared platform of mutual recognition clothed loosely in the rhetoric of Global South solidarity. Lacking an equivalent endorsement of their leadership role from their region, the IBSA countries are nonetheless called on by established powers to play a seminal part in representing the region's economic interests and even managing emerging security challenges. These factors introduce important constraints on IBSA and its prospects to act as an effective diplomatic partnership aimed at influencing international processes.

In this article, we argue that the sustainability of IBSA rests on a clearer acknowledgment of the need to legitimize the tripartite initiative in contemporary terms and, concurrently, a more conscious engagement with its regional partners to seek out their support. It is our contention that the construction of a strong regional leadership role for IBSA based on its members' strategic positions within South Asia, South America, and southern Africa is the proper common ground to legitimize a diplomatic partnership between the IBSA states and a more certain basis on which to represent developing country interests to the North.

The growing economic standing of Brazil, India, and China, and the expansion of their influence beyond their traditional geographical backyards, adds complexity to the trilateral relationship in terms of intragroup competition for regional markets, natural resources, and political influence. As we note later, the increasing competition between these Southern powers for global economic opportunities, particularly on the African continent, has clear implications for the future of the IBSA partnership. In spite of these differences, the formalization of trilateral relations between India, Brazil, and South Africa in 2003 was evidence of these states' common understanding that together they can better contribute to the reshaping of global governance mechanisms in a number of sensitive issues in contemporary global politics such as international trade, finance, and the reform of multilateral organizations' decisionmaking structures. It has also been reflected in other coordination initiatives between emerging powers, such as the partnership between Brazil, Russia, India, and China (BRIC), which South Africa has recently joined with effect from August 2011 making it BRICS.

Next, we explore the historical context and main motivations behind the emergence of IBSA. Then, we proceed to the explanation of the paradox involved in the North's support of IBSA states' leadership role and the lack of recognition by regional neighbors of this leadership. We follow this with an examination of the actual geopolitical contexts of India, Brazil, and South Africa. We explain and compare the main sources of regional contestation of those countries' leadership role. We then discuss the challenges posed to IBSA by increasing competition among IBSA partners and China for markets, raw materials, and political influence, especially on the African continent. We conclude with an assessment of the implications of South Africa's invitation to join BRIC and a summary of the main themes discussed in this article.

Historical Background and Rationale of IBSA

The idea to create a permanent trilateral forum between India, Brazil, and South Africa was initially promoted by former South African president Mbeki. During his visit to Brazil in January 2003 to attend the inauguration of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the first bilateral contacts were established to discuss issues relevant to both countries' foreign and domestic policies. (4) Later in 2003, a number of high-profile meetings between the South African minister of foreign relations, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and her Indian and Brazilian counterparts further embedded the idea of establishing a regular forum. The presence of the heads of state of India, Brazil, and South Africa at the Group of 8 (G8) summit in Evian in 2003 offered the opportunity for the first high-level meeting where the common policy agenda of IBSA was presented to the wealthiest nations in the developed North. This eventually led to the formalization of the partnership with the Brasilia Declaration of June 2003.

According to India's prime minister Manmohan Singh, "IBSA is a unique model of transnational cooperation based on a common political identity. Our three countries come from three different continents but share similar world views and aspirations." (5) Historically, these similarities are rooted in their common experience with colonialism or imperialism and the social and economic inequalities that came with it and accentuated over time. They also share the status of emerging powers of the South given their growing economic importance and the central role played by their diplomacies in multilateral negotiations. India, Brazil, and South Africa have been traditionally on the margins of North-defined international institutions and closely involved with third world internationalism. India was in the forefront of the Bandung Conference of Asian and African nations in 1955 and later became one of the strongest advocates of nonalignment during the early Cold War period. Similarly, the current ruling party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC), is one of the most important symbols of the third world struggle against colonialism and racialism in the African continent. Brazil, in turn, has historically been an outspoken critic of the unequal distribution of economic power between North and South and a strong proponent of a New International Economic Order (NIEO). These states' common personality on the international stage is the result of their persistent critique of the contemporary global order and their actual political engagement with the dominant political and economic challenges for the South. The term "the South" works for them as a mobilizing symbol and ideological expression of the range of shared development challenges facing their governments.

These processes of institution and identity building happened against the backdrop of major shifts in the normative structure and political economy of international relations after the end of the Cold War. The origins of IBSA can be traced back to the shifting patterns of trade and development, and the concomitant efforts to grapple with the challenges posed by globalization. After a prolonged period of liberal euphoria, which led to renewed investment in market-oriented regionalism in the developing world, many states in the South started to reassess their policy options and herald a more activist stance toward the developed world. Catalysts for this changing perspective were, first, a cascading series of financial crises in export-oriented Asia markets starting in 1997, followed four years later by the collapse of one of neoliberalism's most ardent followers, Argentina. Fueling discontent further was the failure of industrialized countries to abide by commitments made at the Doha Round of the WTO, especially the promises to open their markets to agricultural trade from the developing world. It became clear at the Cancun ministerial conference in 2003--when the Group of 20 (G-20) developing countries resisted attempts by the United States and the European Union (EU) to consolidate their subsidizing policies on agriculture--that the period of accommodation within North-South relations was coming to an end. In fact, the unified stance of resistance shown in Cancun by major players in the developing world marked the beginning of a new era in the international relations of the third world. (6)

After a period of institutional crisis and lack of effective South-South coordination, a number of governments in the developing world embraced the principles of market liberalism with few "success histories" in terms of the actual improvement in the living standards of ordinary people. In fact, the failure of the North-devised Washington Consensus to deliver economic development (quite the opposite in several cases) required states in the South to formulate new ideas, institutional models, and development strategies to counter the dominant liberal paradigm. During the early 2000s, in spite of Anglo-American and European attempts to suppress classic Southern thinking, leading states of the South have strongly restated their traditional demands on international trade, reform of multilateral organizations, and economic development at the same time as adopting new institutional models for collective action such as the G-20 and IBSA. This "new wave of politicization" among intermediate states has been reflected in a number of challenges to the North in multilateral trade negotiations as well as in key international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the UN Security Council. (7) In Cancun, the kind of third world solidarity that defined North-South relations during the 1970s seemed to resurface in the collective politics of resistance showed by developing states.

In the past twenty-five years, important leaders of the South have become major economic and political players fully enmeshed in the prevalent liberal international society. One of the key features of the new South is its increased stratification, with some countries experiencing high levels of economic growth and industrialization as in the case of China, which is rapidly becoming a leading industrial power, while others are still facing extreme poverty and political instability, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Soaring commodity prices, strong balance sheets, and increasingly diversified economies have helped developing states such as India, South Africa, Brazil, and most of Southeast Asia to enter in a process of gradually "decoupling" their economies from those of the North.

Table 1 shows that impressive rates of economic growth, especially in China and India, are increasing the emerging economies' share of global gross domestic product (GDP). Indeed some economic pundits predict that China, India, Brazil, and Russia will actually become the engines of global economic growth in years to come. (8) Contemporary events in the global economy indicate not only the demise of US and European economic domination in significant parts of the South, but also the reordering of political and economic relations within the South. (9)
Table 1 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Scenario for IBSA States Plus
China, the European Union, and the United States

 GDP, 2003 Average GDP Current Share of Expected Share
 (billion Growth, World GDP of World GDP,
 USS) 2004-2015 (percentage) 2015
 (billion USS, (percentage)

India 600.6 6.1 1.64 2.3
Brazil 510 4 1.51 1.6
South 160 3.5 0.47 0.5
China 1,370 6.5 4.02 5.8
European 9,796 2 28.81 25.5
United 10,652 2.3 31.32 29

Source: Goldman Sachs, "Dreaming with BRICs: The Path to 2050,"
Global Economics Paper No. 99, October 2003,

A novel post-bipolar triad of distinctive state types is gradually evolving: a first world club of members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); a new second tier of emerging economies; and an extensive and heterogeneous third world, previously the Group of 77 (G-77), of the rest. (10)

According to this perspective, the North-South divide is evolving to a new and more complex international hierarchy with an intermediate level formed by middle powers of the South whose interests, influence, and bargaining capabilities are closer to those of the advanced industrial world than to the development needs of the "old South." By 2006, the foreign direct investment (FDI) from emerging economies had reached (14) percent of the world's total as opposed to only 5 percent in 1990. (11) India's Tata Group, Brazil's Petrobras and Vale, and South Africa's De Beers are just a few examples of emerging economy multinationals striding steadily onto the global stage. In this sense, the identification of IBSA with an ideological notion of the South, as understood in terms of the traditional economic and political demands of postcolonial states, is not entirely representative of the actual interests and status of India, Brazil, and South Africa in the global economic order.

Table 2 indicates that by 2015, the IBSA partners and China (excluding South Africa) are likely to increase their participation in global trade vis-a-vis the EU and the United States. In this sort of international economic structure, it is understandable that those emerging economies would aspire to catch up with the established powers and be recognized by them as equal partners in key multilateral trade, financial, and political organizations such as the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and the UN Security Council. The reality, however, is that these institutions have been used to promote and further consolidate the hegemony of traditional Northern powers.
Table 2 Global Trade Scenario for IBSA States Plus China, the
European Union, and the United States

 Total Trade Current Trade as Expected Share
 (billion US$) Percentage of in 2015
 World Trade

India 157 0.9 1.3

Brazil 131 0.8 1.1

South 66 0.4 0.3

China 715 4.4 6.2

European 2,180 13.6 10.7

United 2,170 13.5 13.2

Source: Compiled from data available at World Trade Organization
(WTO), 20 August 2011, and United
Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), 20 August

 The World Bank and IMF have pursued a neoliberal agenda promoting
 both trade and capital account liberalization which, with the
 exception of a few, has not served the interests of the
 developing states. ... The resulting economic outcome of the
 policies of these international institutions over the past few
 decades has been such that many now see the IFIs
 [international financial institutions] and the WTO as pursuing
 the interests of, broadly speaking, the G7 core capitalist
 states and their corporations. (12)

The governments of India, Brazil, and South Africa have shown (at least rhetorically) a strong willingness to confront those disparities in power and influence in multilateral institutions by restating the South dimension of their foreign policies. As noted earlier, the problem is that the role of the South in the global political economy has significantly changed in the past twenty-five years. Although the North-South divide is still a predominant feature of twenty-first-century international relations, mostly in terms of Northern industrialized states' control of global governance structures, the ideological motivations of the past (related to residual issues of colonialism, racism, and economic dependency) are still an important yet less representative element of the international aspirations of the most important states in the South.

Past ideological affinities and a loosely connected political agenda of confrontation with the North have proven an insufficient bond uniting Southern states with different (many times, conflicting) interests. In July 2008, these differences were made clear when talks over the Doha Round of trade negotiations collapsed, exposing cracks in the G-20 coalition of Southern states. In name of a multilateral agreement, Brazil was willing to make concessions to the North in the liberalization of its industrial sector. However, the resistance of Argentina, Brazil's main partner in Mercosur, to give ground in protectionist measures on nonagricultural imports and the insistence of India, Indonesia, and China in introducing more safeguards to protect subsistence farmers led to the final breakdown in talks. (13)

Given the ambivalent nature of contemporary South-South relations, international recognition of emerging power status is best achieved by consolidating leadership in the three states' "near abroads." The diplomacies of Brazil, India, and South Africa have faced varied degrees of resistance from weaker neighbors while attempting to assert regional influence. India poses the most complex case in South Asia in terms of its long-standing conflict with Pakistan and strategic competition with China. Brazil's and South Africa's regional leadership roles are also far from consolidated. In South America, the Brazilian administration's investment in the provision of "regional public goods" has shown signs of relative progress, while the South African government is still undergoing serious constraints to act as an agenda setter and coalition builder in southern Africa.

The Paradox of Regional Leadership

Since the end of the Cold War, regional interactions have become the crucible of legitimacy, leadership, and soft power among emerging powers in the South. The demise of superpower rivalry intruding into the affairs of states has meant that local powers have increased their room for maneuver in regional politics. This is particularly true in the case of India, Brazil, and South Africa, all of which have sought to play a leadership role in representing regional interests in trade negotiations and the management of peace and security issues in their regions. In spite of this trend, the governments of these three states have sought to describe IBSA as an instrument to promote the interests of all developing countries, therefore deepening South-South cooperation, rather than embed their privileged partnership in a regionally defined source of legitimate action.

From international economics to security, regional orders have become fundamental layers of contemporary world governance. (14) The impact and importance of considering regions is reflected through the growing foreign policy attention given by major powers to consolidated (or prospective) regional leaders. In fact, invitations to the presidents of Brazil, India, and South Africa to high-profile international gatherings such as the G8 and the World Economic Forum meetings reflect widespread recognition of these states' regional leadership role by the wealthiest and most powerful nations. In security and political affairs, the governments of the IBSA partners have been encouraged by the Western powers to take responsibility while responding to regional crises. The US administration has traditionally invested in strategic alliances with perceived regional leaders whose influence would help to promote US interests or security in particular geopolitical settings. This is precisely the case with India in South Asia, South Africa in southern Africa, and Brazil (with Colombia as an important proxy state rather than a regional leader) in South America. As noted by A. Hurrell,
 the United States has looked to regional power and to the idea of
 regional devolution as a way of matching its world-order ambitions
 with its effective resources. Equally there have been recent calls for
 oligarchical forms of global governance built around a relatively
 small group of major western states (as in the G8/G10) to be
 broadened to include key regional powers, especially in the
 interests of representational legitimacy. (15)

Yet IBSA states' capacity to act effectively as managers within their respective regions remains only partially subscribed to and, in some spheres, actively disputed by neighboring states. The limited recognition of India, Brazil, and South Africa as regional leaders by states that make up their regions puts a significant brake on the fulfillment of their own aspirations, individually and through IBSA, as well as contradicting internationally held expectations as to their status. Undoubtedly, the three states are established "regional powers" in terms of their position of economic and military dominance vis-a-vis other regional states. Without regional concurrence, IBSA diplomacy renders participating states as self-appointed intermediaries between the North and South, not the leaders of the South, which they claim to represent. For this reason it is evident that, protestations notwithstanding, the regional supremacy of IBSA states has not been translated into "leadership," meaning the actual capacity of India, Brazil, and South Africa to build consensus over a single and cohesive regional project. (16) The asymmetries of power relations within the respective regions in which IBSA states reside pose limits to India, Brazil, and South Africa to act as agenda setters, coalition builders, brokers, and balancers on the international stage.

As the tripartite grouping's claims to regional leadership are subjected to contestation within their respective regions, the tendency has been for IBSA to cast its initiative in broader ideological terms. Traditional foreign policy ideals, dating back from the heyday of Southern activism, influenced IBSA's ruling elites' conceptions of their commonly defined aspirations. The governments of India, Brazil, and South Africa, at a critical and rather uncertain historical juncture, recreated "yesterday's new world order." (17) As A. Cooper, A. Antkiewicz, and T. Shaw put it, "India displays characteristics of a hybrid persona. ... It wants to join new bilateral clubs, most notably the security arrangement with the United States. However, India wants to hang onto its G77 oppositional middle state manoeuvrability--a legacy of decades of post-colonial nonalignment." (18)

Brazil and South Africa also have similar discrepancies in their international identities that impair the coherence and legitimacy of IBSA. These disjunctures remain a limitation on the sustainability of the trilateral partnership, as regional actors balk at supporting their great power aspirations in international settings and increasingly look elsewhere for alliances to balance against the IBSA states. The classic case of Pakistan, which has forged alliances with the United States and China in an effort to balance India, is replicated in Africa by contemporary Zimbabwe's courting of China to offset South African and Western influences. Similarly, Brazil's leadership in South America has been challenged by the assertive foreign policy of Venezuela and its "Bolivarian" allies, Bolivia and Ecuador. The traditional resistance of Argentina to accept Brazil's hegemonic aspirations in the region has also undermined Brazilian attempts to further consolidate its regional prominence.

In what follows, we explore the particular roles played by India, Brazil, and South Africa in their respective regional settings. We do so by systematically evaluating and comparing patterns of regional interactions in South America, South Asia, and southern Africa. Our aim is to assess the activist role played by the IBSA states while shaping regional political and security dynamics, and the reactions to it by their regional neighbors. We focus analytically on three main dimensions of regional interactions: (1) the sources of regional influence or power by Brazil, India, and South Africa; (2) how they attempt to translate these foreign policy instruments into actual leadership; and (3) the sources of reaction,

resistance, or both by their regional neighbors. Table 4 (on page 525) provides a summary of the main differences and similarities between the IBSA partners with respect to these three dimensions.
Table 4 Patterns of Regional Influence by the IBSA States

 Source of Main Regional Regional Regional
 Power and Rivals and Strategies Leadership
 Influence Sources of

Brazil Soft power: Venezuela: Provision of Incipient
 pragmatic Bolivarian regional
 activism ideology public goods;
 combined with diplomatic
 regional and engagement;
 bilateral investment in
 economic regional
 incentives institutions

South Soft power: Zimbabwe: Presidential Weak
Africa African anticolonial (quiet)
 Renaissance, ideology and diplomacy;
 New Robert use of
 Partnership Mugabe's economic
 for Africa's personal clout
 Development legacy

India Hard power: Pakistan: Balance of Nonexistent
 nuclear nuclear military
 deterrence deterrence power and
 and (coercive)
 competition diplomacy
 for US

Brazil in South America: Soft Power as Pragmatic Activism

Brazil's foreign policy approach to South America under Lula's administration has been outlined by a kind of "pragmatic solidarity" toward its neighbors. Rather than a purely altruistic approach to regional relations, the Brazilian diplomacy has delivered a number of regional public goods (both material and symbolic) as a form to win over the support of neighbors traditionally reluctant to recognize Brazil's leadership role in the region.

After Lula came to power in 2002, Brazil took a more active role in South American politics. As a regional power, it sought to enhance political influence in directly practical terms by increasing the number of diplomatic missions throughout the region. The Brazilian diplomacy has intervened in several humanitarian and political crises involving Venezuela, Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, and Honduras. In 2004, Brazil took over from US and French forces the command of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), and it has played a key leadership role in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.

Rather than based on classical power attributes or hard power, Brazil's influence in regional politics has been achieved through "normative leadership" and the use of "opinion-shaping instruments." (19) Brazil's investment in soft power, as a means to increase its regional and global stature, is illustrated by its willingness to promote democratic rule and the peaceful resolution of conflicts through the strengthening of multilateral mechanisms. (20) Brazil mediated a serious border dispute between Peru and Ecuador in 1998, (21) and it played an important role within the Rio Group (22) while facilitating negotiations among Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela over the killing of a top leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group by the Colombian armed forces within the Ecuadorian territory. (23) The Brazilian government was also a key player in the Honduran military coup of 2009 by hosting the ousted president Manuel Zelaya in its embassy and assertively calling for his restoration.

The revival of Bolivarianism by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela as an alternative source of regional identity is a clear sign of resistance to the process of region building led by Brazilian diplomacy. The Venezuelan regime has skillfully combined an aggressive anti-US rhetoric, which has traditionally pleased left-leaning regimes in Latin America, with direct financial support (derived from oil revenues) to attract a number of important regional players, such as Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador, to its sphere of influence. However, the attractive power of Brazil's economy and its more pragmatic stance on regional and global politics have outflanked Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution in the struggle for the hearts and minds of Latin American neighbors. Under Lula, the Brazilian government has invested in the diversification of Brazil's already powerful industrial sector and spent political energy trying to establish new (and reinforcing old) regional institutions such as Mercosur and the recently established Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). Moreover, the recent discovery of massive oil reserves in Brazil's southern coast has allowed Lula to minimize the importance of Venezuela's most significant "trump card" to win regional influence. (24) Continuing with Lula's foreign policy vision, the new Brazilian president, Dilma Rousseff, has reaffirmed the strategic significance of South America for Brazil's foreign policy. Rousseff's first international visit was to Argentina. This highlights the importance given by the new administration to Buenos Aires as a key strategic partner while promoting economic and political integration in the subcontinent. (25)

Notwithstanding the Brazilian government's increasing political engagement in South America, the actual recognition of its regional leadership role should not be taken for granted. According to M. R. S. Lima and M. Hirst, for example, "The expansion of Brazil's political involvement in local crises, together with growing trade and investment activities with its South American neighbors, has not led to any easy or automatic acknowledgement of the country's regional leadership in world affairs." (26)

The advent of open regionalism, which flowed from changes to the international political economy of trade and the reconciliation between newly democratizing governments in Brasilia and Buenos Aires in the Jate 1980s, resulted in the formation of Mercosur. While trade initially surged within the region, the dominance of the Brazilian economy over the others was underscored by the unilateral decision to devalue its currency in 1999, a move that precipitated a meltdown in the Argentine economy and demonstrated that even the newly founded benevolent relationship could have a negative impact on its neighbors. (27)

In May 2006, the nationalization of the gas and oil sectors by Bolivian president Evo Morales negatively affected bilateral relations with Brazil, whose investments, through the state-owned giant Petrobras, are close to US$1 billion. Moreover, Brazil has struggled to gain support among its neighbors for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council with Argentina and Mexico openly rejecting the Brazilian claims. More recently, Argentina has angered Brazilian trade representatives by joining forces with India, China, and Indonesia to block a trade agreement at the Doha Round of trade talks.

In spite of persistent suspicion toward Brazil's actual interests in regional politics, its global stature and regional assertiveness have garnered admiration and respect from smaller states in the region. Similarly, its macroeconomic stability and democratic credentials have worked as a powerful soft power instrument vis-a-vis Brazil's neighbors. Even Argentina, its most strident rival, has been trying to emulate some of Brazil's foreign and domestic policy successes. (28)

South Africa in Southern Africa: Soft Power as Pan-Africanist Ideology

Under Mbeki, the South African government grew increasingly confident in the promotion of its position as a "natural" leader of the African continent. Mbeki's articulation of the "African Renaissance," a reiteration of pan-African revivalism that began to appear in his speeches in 1998, aimed to reassert South Africa's Africanness and legitimize its continental and subregional leadership status. From this process flowed the New Economic Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), an initiative that sought to engage industrialized countries in a program of trade and development assistance in partnership to foster development within African countries. (29) This has involved diplomacy at two levels: first, within Africa in order to secure support for NEPAD; and with the G8 states through bilateral and international contacts as a recognized interlocutor for African interests. This role is based on South Africa's diplomatic activism in the multilateral sphere and the desire by external states to work with like-minded actors with sufficient means to implement effectively any cooperative measures.

Indeed, the seminal statements on South African foreign policy emphasize the centrality of the subregion, Africa as a whole, and the South as appropriate sites of action for the postapartheid era. Economic and trade policy produced by an outward-looking Department of Trade and Industry, which culminated in the launching of the "butterfly strategy," a deliberate attempt to promote trade links with Brazil and India (the wings) concurrently with continental Africa (the body). (30)

The split within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) over military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998 and the inability of South Africa's quiet diplomacy to have any discernible effect on the conduct of a despotic Robert Mugabe in neighboring Zimbabwe point to limits on Pretoria. The power-sharing agreement between Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangarai, signed in September 2008, seemed to have vindicated Mbeki's conciliation efforts. Yet the resolution of the political deadlock in Zimbabwe has continued to be elusive with an ensuing crisis on the composition of a new* unity government.

The moral vision laid out by Mbeki's African Renaissance envisaged reshaping regional relations based on the traditional values of pan-Africanist solidarity. At the same time, the South African president embraced intellectual ideas of good governance and economic liberalism emanating from the West. This strategy of combining liberal internationalist and Africanist ideologies led to significant foreign policy inconsistencies that effectively undermined the international legitimacy of South Africa's claims for regional leadership. As D. Becker notes, "Mbeki's Africanism and anti-imperialism led him to silence critics of Zimbabwe as racist and imperialist and wholly ignore his stated commitment to democracy and good governance." (31)

ANC's close ideological ties with Mugabe's anticolonial struggle have raised doubts among Western powers of its willingness to play a neutral role in the Zimbabwean conflict that stained Mbeki's image as a conciliatory figure and the proper bridge builder between the North-South divide. The result is a paradox, with South Africa's inability to exercise effective influence over its region, despite the employment of military, economic, and soft power means--including persuasion--while being internationally feted as the authentic (yet reluctant) voice of African interests by the North. It is, in the words of J. Hamill and D. Lee, especially ironic that "it is in the Southern African sub-region that the tensions and contradictions that have beset South African policy in Africa are at their most pronounced and where the perception is that Pretoria acts not as a middle power managing collaboration but rather as a major power pursuing its own agenda, often at the expense of common interests." (32)

These patent failures by South Africa in imposing its foreign policy vision on the region are attributable to the absence of common values or more particularly the unwillingness of African government elites to embrace in full what are seen to be alien ideas embedded in institutional arrangements that have been collectively (and rather successfully) adopted by Western governments, as in the case of the EU. NEPAD's efforts to promote democracy, corporate good governance, and peer review were seen by some African leaders as a replication of Western modernization priorities at the expense of African particular needs and traditional values. This shows the diplomatic complexities involved in South Africa's attempt to adopt a regional vision that is both modem and traditional. The attractive pull of South Africa is, however, evident across southern Africa driven by the expansion of South African companies in highly visible sectors such as cellular telephones, hotels, television, and, above all, its commercial retailers. The success of corporate South Africa in penetrating the markets in Africa (as well as other developing regions) contrasts with the failure of South African diplomacy to make much headway in conflicts such as in those in Zimbabwe, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. (33)

India in South Asia: Hard Power as Military Balance

Given New Delhi's security concerns in South Asia, India's postindependence foreign policy under the Congress Party has been driven by two sometimes contrary strands: first, power and national interest; and, second, the idea that an activist role (nonalignment) in international affairs would secure not only the interests of India, but also of humanity at large. However, with the outbreak of the war with China in 1962 and subsequent clashes with Pakistan, the emphasis has somehow moved away from Southern solidarity to a more pronounced expression of nationalism. During the Cold War, the Indian prominence in South Asia was balanced by Pakistan's military alliance with the United States and China, which was instrumental in triggering a reorientation of India's foreign policy in the direction of the USSR.

While South America and, to a lesser extent, southern Africa resemble a "security community," (34) in which war is increasingly unlikely and collective security regimes are fairly well established, South Asia can be characterized as a "security complex," (35) based on the distribution of (mostly military) power among states in the regional system. Regional animosity between India and Pakistan has created a localized version of the Cold War in the sense that rivalry has informed decisionmakers' interpretations about other regional issues and affected the actions of smaller states. (36) The perennial conflict between India and Pakistan, which were born fighting each other, is evidence of difficulties surrounding the recognition of New Delhi as the legitimate representative of regional states' aspirations in key international issues. The seminal role played by India in fostering the breakup of Pakistan and consequent founding of Bangladesh, as well as its forcible incorporation of smaller territories into its formal and informal orbits, have all contributed to deep suspicion of New Delhi's intentions.

The disjunction between India's role as a leader of the South and the strategic competition with its two regional rivals, Pakistan and China, has been a recurrent aspect of New Delhi's foreign policy during the Cold War period and after. In fact, the Jawaharlal Nehru government's decision to develop nuclear weapons--in a period when India's investment in South-South cooperation was strongly manifested within the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the newly established UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and G-77--was closely related to military defeat to China in 1962 as well as to broader considerations about national security in South Asia. The two wars fought with Pakistan over the Kashmir region (1947-1948 and 1965) and a number of political crises and skirmishes between the two armies increased regional instability during the 1980s. The high political, strategic, and material investment in national security has diverted India's attention from Southern activism, except for rhetoric and the use of multilateral forums such as the NAM as a platform to speak out against the major power bloc. In reality, however, the power determinants of India's foreign policy led it to establish close ties with one of the Cold War contenders, the USSR, resulting in loss of credibility among its nonaligned partners.

More so than most Southern states, India has been directly affected by the post-September 11 environment. In particular, the NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan instigated a closer relationship with Washington, DC. Also a result of changes in regional and domestic power dynamics after 2001, Pakistan is no longer a serious contender to India's regional supremacy in South Asia--notwithstanding (or, more likely, a result of) renewed US military and economic support to Islamabad. The increasingly acrimonious religious-sectarian infighting among Pakistan's political elites combined with the growing threat posed by Islamic extremists has taken the Pakistani nation to the brink of disintegration. The Pakistani president, Asif Ali Zardari, has been unable to establish full control of the country, and mounting civil unrest, specially in the war-torn northwestern tribal areas, has revealed a society brutalized by ethnic and religious violence. Conversely, India's robust democracy and growing economic and strategic importance in South Asia has consolidated its position as a regional power. Similarly, bilateral relations with China have improved quite significantly over the decades. Since the Sino-Indian border agreement of 1993, diplomatic relations between New Delhi and Beijing have been relatively cordial.

India has been more skillful than the other IBSA partners while using its regional influence to achieve tangible political gains in its relations with Western powers. With growing doubts in Washington, DC, about Pakistan's future as an ally in the war against the Taliban and Al-Qaida, particularly following the US raid on Osama bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan, the US administration has been eager to emphasize the strategic importance of India in resolving regional conflicts and in fighting homegrown Muslim extremism. (37) India's diplomacy has explored this renewed strategic importance in South Asia to realize key foreign policy goals such as acquiring international recognition of its nuclear power status. In October 2008, the US Congress finally approved a long-protracted deal facilitating nuclear cooperation with India. The deal is of great symbolic significance since it formally acknowledges India as a legitimate nuclear state. By conceding nuclear status to India, the United States hopes to win its support on a number of strategic issues such as curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions, the threat posed by domestic unrest in Pakistan, and the perennial issue of China's growing power and influence. (38) This bilateral pact has greatly raised New Delhi's international profile as a prospective member of the exclusive group of established nuclear states. However, the Indo-US nuclear pact can also negatively affect strategic stability in South Asia. Pakistan and China have already raised questions about the security implications of a power alignment between New Delhi and Washington, DC.

China, India, and Brazil in Africa: Strategic Partners or Competitors with South Africa?

While the conditions for regional leadership may be rooted in a combination of historical processes, material expressions of power, and ideational factors in conjunction with external sources of legitimization, in fact the picture within IBSA is more complex than even this depiction would suggest. Complicating the relationship between aspirant regional leaders and their respective geographic neighborhood is the role of other emerging powers external to the region whose ability to mobilize resources challenges their presumptions of preeminence. For all three countries, the spectacle of China--a global behemoth with tremendous financial means at its call, increasingly competitive state-owned transnational corporations, and an aggressive strategy of seeking out vital resources and market share in pursuit of its economic needs--exercising its global reach into their regions raises significant questions.

As indicated in Table 3, China's penetration in the markets of South Asia, Latin America, and Africa and its consequential impact on IBSA regions is, however, unevenly spread. The regulatory restrictions on FDI still in evidence in sectors of the Indian economy provide protection from active Chinese investment in its domestic economy, though growing trade ties are producing tensions with local manufacturers. Within the subcontinent, though Beijing has had long-standing ties with Pakistan and of course outright military disputes over common boundaries with India, the most contemporary expression of the Chinese impact is its political encroachment into Southeast Asia. This is especially felt in the case of the Myanmar, which has occupied a place on the periphery of India's historical territorial and cultural influence and has inspired, in recent years, an effort by Delhi to woo the military junta. The picture differs in Brazil, where growing Chinese involvement in South America is seen as an opportunity to promote bilateral economic ties. China has become a major importer of Brazilian commodities and total trade between the two countries grew fivefold between 2000 and 2003 to a value of $8 billion.
Table 3 Chinese Export Markets by Region (January-October 2008)

 Value (100 million US$) Share (percentage)

Total value 12,023.3 100
Latin America 611.3 5.1
Asia (ASEAN) 964.0 8.0
Africa 422.1 3.5
United States 2,308.8 19.2
European Union 2,466.9 20.5

Source: Compiled from data available at "Regional Trade Statistics,"
Chinese Ministry of Commerce, Department of General Economic Affairs,
20 August 2011,

Finally, the case of South Africa has seen both Chinese challenges to South African interests in Africa as well as collaboration. Chinese firms--especially in the area of infrastructure, but also selectively in mining as well as through their trade in manufactured goods and textiles--have caused formerly dominant South African firms to lose contracts and market share at an alarming rate. At the same time, some South African firms have been able to adapt to these conditions, most notably the country's leading financial institution, Standard Bank, which has sold a 20 percent equity stake to China's largest bank, the Industrial and Construction Bank of China, and embarked on a joint strategy of seeking financial opportunities in the rest of Africa.

Perhaps as troubling from a South African perspective was the growing economic presence of India and Brazil in what Pretoria regards as its natural backyard. Since the late 1990s, both of these countries have sought out African resources as part of their overall expansion in the globalizing economy. Private mining multinationals like Brazil's CVRD (now Vale) and India's Vedanta took up positions in Gabon, Zambia, and Mozambique, in some cases, displacing South African firms and, in others, challenging them. The Brazilian government has skillfully used the country's historical links with Lusophone Africa to facilitate business in fast-growing economies such as Angola, Mozambique, and Cape Verde. Currently, major Brazilian companies, including the oil-giant Petrobras, Vale, and engineering and construction group Ode-brecht, are operating in Portuguese-speaking Africa.

Many more modest medium and small firms, especially from India, have entered into the fray and been able to acquire market share in southern and eastern Africa, sometimes at the expense of South African interests or putative efforts to expand its interests. The implications of a weakening South African claim to the trappings of economic dominance, and with that a concomitant reduction in the influence it is capable of wielding in Africa, has begun to manifest itself in policy. While public statements of solidarity with fellow emerging countries remain the norm for the time being, behind the scenes the South African government is feeling pressure from its own business community and trade union movement to address the fierce competition that they are experiencing from their erstwhile diplomatic partners. South African complaints on trade issues in bilateral discussions with China are now being replicated, albeit at a lower level, in some of its discussions with India and Brazil. (39)

The decision to invite South Africa to join the BRIC group in late December 2010 poses interesting questions as to the shape of "quadrilateral" cooperation and even foreign policy alignment as well as the future of IBSA. South African diplomacy under Jacob Zuma placed great stock in becoming a member of what is seen by Pretoria to be a coalition of non-Western states leading the transformation of the international system. Though the internal politics of extension of membership are murky, some observers have suggested that Beijing's desire to join IBSA--a position said to be categorically blocked by New Delhi--played a role in its issuing of an invitation to Pretoria. IBSA countries are adamant that the organization remains an important diplomatic initiative, but it is difficult to see how the lure of this even larger putative power bloc would not diminish the utility and enthusiasm for it.

Zuma's participation at the BRICS summit on Hainan Island in April 2011, which included effusive endorsements of the Chinese position on its currency, suggests the drive for recognition from other emerging powers was producing foreign policy alignment. This was further corroborated by the vocal criticism of European efforts to retain control of the IMF directorship in the aftermath of the fall of Dominique Strauss-Kahn. However, South Africa's decision to support UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on intervention in Libya--a position at odds with all of the other BRICS countries--is an indication that on regional matters, foreign policy divergence remains as real a possibility as convergence among these emerging powers.

Moreover, the BRICS arrangement seems only to have replicated the process by which regional leadership is conferred by states outside of the regions themselves. The tensions between acting on the global stage and on regional questions--and the reaction of the other members of these regions to positions adopted by BRICS countries--will continue to exert contrary pulls on their foreign policy, highlighting the gap between their own interests and those of the region.


In this article, we have argued that the key to building a sustainable partnership between India, Brazil, and South Africa is for these countries to acknowledge the importance of consolidating their leadership role in South Asia, South America, and southern Africa, respectively. The paradox, however, is that, while Western powers--especially the United States--have welcomed the regional leadership role of IBSA's members, most of their neighbors are not convinced about the actual intentions of New Delhi, Brasilia, and Pretoria. As a result, leadership within IBSA is defined in global terms as a claim to lead the developing world.

At the regional level, however, IBSA's claim for regional leadership is less evident and carries less legitimacy. The absence of recognized "leadership-followership" relations that characterize classic ties between a hegemon and its subordinate regional partners is limited at best, a fact that ultimately impacts negatively on IBSA's abilities to act effectively on the global stage. Indeed, as we presented above, an examination of the role played by IBSA states in South Asia, South America, and southern Africa has shown variable degrees of influence over key regional concerns. India is in the most unstable region if compared with the other IBSA partners. Its long-term disputes with China and Pakistan and the permanent threat posed by Islamic militants has hampered attempts to build a stable regional community in South Asia. In fact, nuclear deterrence rather than regional institutions has been the source of relative interstate peace in the region. In South Africa, the ANC government has faced strong criticism by Northern powers for its lack of effective management of the Zimbabwe issue. Despite well-documented cases of gross human rights violations in the country and the virtual collapse of Zimbabwe's economy, the government of Mugabe seems to maintain the upper hand in regional affairs. The case of Brazil seems the most promising. Notwithstanding the divisive role played by Venezuela's Bolivarian revolution and Argentina's centuries-long rivalry with Brazil, the assertive foreign policy of Lula has already shown signs of progress in gaining support from regional neighbors. Lula's successor, Dilma Rousseff, has reiterated Brazil's strategic goal of fostering relations with South American countries (see Table 4).

Moreover, the role of other emerging powers in regional affairs has also begun to impact in the longevity and effectiveness of IBS A. China's assertive trade policy on IBSA regions has raised questions about the capacity of India, Brazil, and South Africa to compete with Beijing as the proper external source of economic development through bilateral trade for smaller regional neighbors. The open courting and embrace of China by Venezuela, Zimbabwe, and Pakistan can be seen as a tacit acknowledgment of the desire of these govern-ments to slip the noose of regional hegemonic dominance.

Given the complexities of contemporary world politics, Northern powers and multilateral institutions are increasingly relying on key developing states to work as "managers" of their respective regional contexts. In this kind of international context, the legitimacy and international recognition of the IBSA partnership depend to a large extent on India's, Brazil's, and South Africa's capacity (and willingness) to promote and maintain areas of security and prosperity in South Asia, South America, and southern Africa, respectively.

The adoption of widely accepted and consistent forms of engagement in regional politics by IBSA states would raise the status of the trilateral partnership by fulfilling some of the North's expectations of regional leadership at the same time that it would firmly establish India, Brazil, and South Africa as proper Southern interlocutors vis-a-vis the developed world. Investment in the resolution of disputes among neighbors, the provision of regional public goods, and the engagement in regional institution building--pursued with varying degrees of success and intent by the IBSA countries--represent fundamental foreign policy strategies aimed at achieving acceptance of these states' regional leadership role. From the viewpoint of their regional neighbors, IBSA has yet to serve as a new institutional channel to address key de-velopment issues in Latin America, South Asia, and southern Africa, bolstering the already established trade, diplomatic, and security arrangements found in Mercosur, SADC, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Until the IBSA countries choose to devote more time and resources to tackling these concerns, their claims to leadership ascendancy in the South will remain subject to contestation.


Marco Antonio Vieira is lecturer in international relations at the University of Birmingham. Chris Alden is reader in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The authors thank Maria Regina Soares de Lima, Monica Hirst, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on this research. They also gratefully acknowledge the financial and logistical support of the Ford Foundation.

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Author:Vieira, Marco Antonio; Alden, Chris
Publication:Global Governance
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Date:Oct 1, 2011
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