Academic journal article Global Governance

India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA): South - South Cooperation and the Paradox of Regional Leadership

Academic journal article Global Governance

India, Brazil, and South Africa (IBSA): South - South Cooperation and the Paradox of Regional Leadership

Article excerpt

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. …

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