Brazil, India and South Africa Must Do More to Be Powers: View

With this summer’s debt-ceiling fiasco, it is clearer than ever that Washington’s leadership is not what it used to be. For that reason, there is a greater need for the U.S. to act in concert with other major powers to solve international problems.

Much attention has justifiably focused on Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa -- the so-called BRICS -- as a group of economically rising countries that could play a growing role in stabilizing their regions and helping the West promote a rules-based international system. Unfortunately, these nations don’t share the same interests and values, and are unlikely to act collectively. Three of the five -- India, Brazil and South Africa -- often don’t seem to demonstrate the awareness that international leadership comes with responsibilities as well as privileges.

The BRICS can be divided into two groups. China and Russia have a history of international influence and are nuclear powers with permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.

That isn’t the case of the three other BRICS. India has a long history, but is a relatively new state. South Africa emerged from apartheid-era isolation in 1994. And Brazil has only recently begun to live up to its promise. All have the potential to become global powers. But to do so, they must show they are willing and able to take on the burden of promoting and enforcing a rules-based international system. The U.S. and its allies should encourage that transition by calling on those three nations to support UN peacekeeping, provide poorer states with development assistance, and uphold universal values of democracy and human rights at home and abroad.

Improved Peacekeeping

India, Brazil and South Africa are strong supporters of the UN. All three believe they should be permanent members of an enlarged Security Council. All three have capable militaries that would strengthen UN peacekeeping and possibly free European troops for more difficult missions, such as Afghanistan.

Yet, as of April, only India was a major contributor to such missions. Within South America, Uruguay, which has a population of about 3.5 million people, had contributed more soldiers, police or experts to UN operations than Brazil, which has more than 200 million inhabitants. Among African countries, South Africa’s contribution was less than that of Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda or Senegal. India had fewer troops, police and experts under UN command than its much smaller neighbors, Pakistan or Bangladesh.

Providing development assistance and training is another way that these three rising nations can show their global bona fides. All have started the transition from recipients of assistance to donors, but they need to do more. India has made the most impressive start. In 2008, New Delhi spent almost $550 million in civilian assistance to poorer countries. At $1.3 billion, its multiyear aid program in Afghanistan is substantial, and its assistance to Africa has been growing more than 20 percent a year.

Brazil’s foreign-assistance budget, by contrast, was a mere $50 million in 2010. Most of this money is directed to Latin America and to Portuguese-speaking parts of Africa. The Brazilian contribution to the UN’s World Food Program increased to a planned $27 million this year from $1 million in 2009, but that is still a small sum for a country with a nominal gross domestic product of more than $2.2 trillion.

South Africa is furthest behind, though debate has begun on the importance of a generous assistance program. As Ayanda Ntsaluba, the official formerly in charge of international cooperation, put it: “Aid is not just about reducing poverty, it’s a very strategic investment. To become a big player, you need your own aid program.” We agree.

Support for Democracy

A willingness to lead at least in your own region is a key indicator of global responsibility. That is why Brazil, India and South Africa’s reluctance to stand up for democratic values is so troubling. All three countries are justifiably proud of their success in building democracy at home, and all have made respect for international law a pillar of their foreign policies. Yet, when the time comes to be counted, all have been absent.

India, for example, says it opposes Iran’s nuclear program and the government’s denial of democracy to its people, but New Delhi has muted its public criticism of Tehran’s behavior on both counts. As the world’s largest democracy and a country with longstanding ties to Iran, India could carry great weight in the developing world with a strong Indian condemnation of Tehran’s human-rights violations and defiance of Security Council resolutions.

South Africa has adopted a similarly short-sighted policy toward the regime of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. Behind the scenes Pretoria put pressure on Mugabe to agree to a power-sharing arrangement with his opponents, but South Africa’s criticism of the destruction of democracy in Zimbabwe has been so soft that Nelson Mandela was moved to complain. Brasilia, for its part, has been silent about the attacks on democracy and businesses by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

The equation is a simple one. The more Brazil, India and South Africa take on international responsibility, the more they earn a voice in international decision making. But if they continue to see world leadership as a privilege that comes solely as a result of their growing economies, they shouldn’t be surprised if they are treated as future leaders rather than current ones.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at