Turkey versus Brazil in imposing sanctions on Syria
The Kansas City Star
A country’s pride can sometimes play an important role in determining its international policies. Turkey and Brazil provide excellent examples of this in their positions for and against sanctions on Syria, respectively.
Turkey takes great pride in the Arab Spring because it is frequently cited as a role model for Muslim nations. It has successfully combined democracy, a strong Muslim majority and a vibrant economy exhibiting strong economic growth that contrasts sharply with the weakness of its European neighbors. Arabs seeking freedom from the long-standing autocratic kleptocracies that have long characterized the Middle East, often look to Turkey as pointing the way forward.
Turkish pride drives Turkey to support the so-called Arab Street in its struggle for freedom and justice. Under Prime Minister Recep Tayyep Erdogan, Turkey played an active role in calling for the liberation of Libya and has been quite vocal in demanding an end to violence in Syria. Consequently, Turkey supports sanctions aimed at stopping government suppression of freedom in Syria. Of course, in the case of Syria, but not Libya, Turkey also wants to avoid large numbers of refugees coming across the border.
Brazil on the other hand has opposed sanctions on Syria. This may seem strange since Brazil replaced a military dictatorship that lasted about twenty years with about twenty years of democracy under Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Luis Inácio Lula da Silva and, most recently, Dilma Rousseff. These leaders transformed Brazil from a natural resource economy into a modern, well-diversified economy producing airplanes and automobiles among many other products and services.
At first glance one might think that Brazil is just following the “anti-imperialist” policies of some other Latin American nations in deliberately opposing the policies of the United States in the United Nations and elsewhere. However, with a land area larger than the continental United States and a language (Portuguese) different from the other Latin nations, Brazilians have not traditionally seen themselves as just another Latin American country. It is unlikely that they would be inclined to just mimic the policies of some other Latin American countries.
Instead, the secret to understanding Brazil’s position on Syria is to remember a comment made by Charles de Gaulle that has traditionally haunted Brazil. He said: “Brazil has a great future. But it always will have.” This phrase has long been taken as a national insult. It implies that Brazil is too incompetent and too disorganized to take advantage of its great potential.
In light of this Brazilians were quick to take pride in a term coined by Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill. O’Neill lumped Brazil, Russia, India and China together under the term BRICs as four large, important countries with high-growth potential. For the most part, Brazilians had not seen themselves as part of this group before O’Neill coined the term BRICs. Nonetheless, they now take great pride in being part of such a prestigious group.
Being part of the BRICs quickly became a significant aspect of Brazil’s identity. Brazil has adjusted its foreign policy to some extent to align itself with the other three, especially when it has no important national interest at stake. Consequently, Brazil joined the other three in refusing to endorse United Nations resolutions on Libya last spring and on Syria more recently.
The bottom line is this: Don’t underestimate the power or complexity of national pride.