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Opinion

At G20 summit, West must partner with rising democracies in new global order

At the G20 summit in Los Cabos, the agenda will be full of tricky issues. The US and European delegations must look at the bigger picture, one in which the West will need to partner with the rising powers that are today’s global swing states: Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.

By Daniel M. Kliman and Richard Fontaine / June 18, 2012

Activists wear masks of G20 leaders on June 14: Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, South African President Jacob Zuma, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as they hold a protest for food security in Mexico City ahead of the G20 summit in Los Cabos, Mexico today. Op-ed contributors Daniel M. Kliman and Richard Fontaine say 'The West should look to rising democracies as the key to unlocking the G20’s promise and to adapting and renewing today’s international order.'

Edgard Garrido/Reuters

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The G20 summit that begins today in Los Cabos, Mexico, brings together a disparate collection of nations. There are the United States and its longtime democratic allies in Europe; there is China, the world’s second superpower; and there is a range of prominent emerging market economies.

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At the G20 and beyond, not all countries have equal power and potential. The West should look to rising democracies as the key to unlocking the G20’s promise and to adapting and renewing today’s international order. Four of these rising powers offer the greatest possibility as partners: Brazil, India, Indonesia, and Turkey.

Though separated by location and historical experiences, these countries share four defining attributes. All possess large and growing economies. All inhabit strategic locations in their respective regions. All boast democratic governments. And critically, all exhibit some degree of ambivalence about prevailing international arrangements. They are swing states in the global system, deserving of greater focus and diplomatic engagement by the US and its traditional partners in Europe.

Brazil now boasts the world’s sixth largest economy, and it has emerged as a major player on the global diplomatic stage. India’s economy has taken off since the reforms of the early 2000s, and New Delhi has embarked on a major military modernization program.

Indonesia’s economy is similarly growing rapidly, and the country sits at the strategic crossroads of two oceans. Turkey, too, has experienced rapid economic growth and has emerged as a key player in the new Middle Eastern politics. All four are not only members of the G20 but also a raft of other international groupings.

These four rising powers will be increasingly significant global players in the years ahead. Engaging them now is ever more important because the international order itself is today coming under new pressures.

For six decades, the US and its European allies have underpinned an order that, while imperfect, has successfully safeguarded market capitalism, preserved peace among the great global powers, and created an environment conducive to the flowering of democracy and human rights.

Maintaining that order is increasingly difficult. Today, multiple factors challenge it: China’s ascendancy to superpower status, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran, moribund global trade talks, the growth of state capitalism, and the West’s financial difficulties.

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