By Walter Russell Mead | 15 June 2010
In an earlier post, I wrote about the emergence of Turkey and Brazil on the world stage. Since then, the ‘terrible twins’ voted against the Security Council’s latest set of (almost certainly ineffective) sanctions against Iran. The Obama administration had worked hard to get both countries on board; their rebuff dramatized the limits of President Obama’s clout — but their isolation on the Security Council (the sanctions carried 12-2-1, with only intimidated Lebanon abstaining) dramatically illustrated something else: the impotence of the terrible twins. Brazilian President Lula and Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan spoke out, but nobody listened.
Brazil and Turkey are learning something that more experienced world players already know: it is easier to make a splash than to make a change, easier to grab a headline than to set an agenda. Both countries can expect a rocky ride for some time; the democratic forces propelling new parties and new movements to the fore reflect domestic constituencies, domestic ideas and, in some cases, domestic fantasies about how the world works. Developing viable foreign policies that take those interests and values into account, but also respond to the realities and necessities of the international system will take time and take thought. At this point, it seems clear that neither the Brazilian nor the Turkish administrations have mastered the challenge.
Their joint intervention on the Iranian nuclear program gives an impression of naive over-eagerness. If the two countries had wanted to play a serious and constructive role (and there was room for them to do so) they would have needed to inform themselves more fully about the state of play, build confidence among the current group of six countries who have been handling the issue (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany), and take a proposal to Iran that had a realistic chance of being accepted by both sides. The proposal they submitted to the Iranians was sloppy and ill-advised, clearly doomed from the start. Even very casual conversations with Russia and China would have told the Turks and Brazilians that this was a non-starter.
In the end, the Turks and Brazilians come out of the incident looking both weak and naive: it appears that they were used by Iran for a last-minute propaganda ploy. As a result, Turkey and Brazil have lost diplomatic prestige and clout, damaged relations with some of their key partners and underlined the limits of their influence.