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While America's halting path toward accepting the world's new multipolar reality involves a step backward for every step forward, an exceptionalist violation of sovereignty for every bit of teamwork in places like Libya, other countries are actively working to establish new rules for all nations to follow in the new era.
Among those at the forefront of this effort are Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her highly regarded foreign minister, Antonio Patriota. He was in New York last week to advance this effort at the United Nations, and we sat down for lunch together.
The challenge facing Rousseff and Patriota as public servants is a daunting one. Each follows in the footsteps of a formidable predecessor. Admittedly, Rousseff's challenge is much greater and indeed, to many, seems almost insurmountable. She succeeds two presidents who were arguably the most important in her country's modern history, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is credited with stabilizing the country's economy after years of volatility, and her immediate predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, not only her mentor but one of a tiny handful of the world's most important leaders of the past decade. But Patriota's predecessor, Celso Amorim, was also formidable, extremely influential, and a fixture on the Brazilian and international scenes. The bar was set high for her entire administration.
Nonetheless, after over a year in office, despite facing great domestic and international challenges, Rousseff has already earned a higher popularity rating than did Lula at a similar point in his tenure. And Patriota is quietly and, in the eyes of close observers, with great deftness, building on Amorim's groundbreaking work to establish Brazil as a leader among the world's major powers.
"We have a great advantage," notes Patriota. "We have no real enemies, no battles on our borders, no great historical or contemporary rivals among the ranks of the other important powers … and long-standing ties with many of the world's emerging and developed nations." This is a status enjoyed by none of the other BRICs -- China, India, and Russia -- nor, for that matter, by any of the world's traditional major powers.
This unusual position is strengthened further by the fact that Brazil is not investing as heavily as other rising powers in military capabilities. Indeed, as Tom Shannon, the U.S. ambassador to Brazil, has noted, the country is one of the few to effectively stake its future on the wise application of soft power -- diplomacy, economic leverage, common interests. It's surely no coincidence that, in areas from climate change to trade, from nonproliferation to development, Brazil under Lula and Amorim and under Rousseff and Patriota has been gaining strength by translating steady growth at home and active diplomacy abroad into effective international networks.
But Rousseff's administration is also breaking with the past. Whereas Cardoso and Lula achieved greatness by addressing and solving some of the most bedeviling problems of Brazil's past, from stabilizing the economy to addressing social inequality, Rousseff, while still cognizant of the work that remains to be done, has also turned her attention to creating opportunities and a clear path forward for Brazil's future. From her focus on education to her commitment to science and technology through innovative programs like "Science Without Borders," she is doing something that no Latin American leader has done before but that has been a proven formula in Asia. She is committed to moving Brazil from being a resource-based and thus dependent (which is to say vulnerable) economy to one that counts more for future growth on value-added industries, research and development, and educating more scientists and engineers.
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