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Ukraine and BRICS

Suzanne Nossel wants the U.S. to rally major non-Western powers against Russia:

But Washington needs eyes in the back of its head to ensure that the world’s leading rising powers — Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Nigeria, India, and Indonesia — don’t, deliberately or not, stab it in the back by gradually giving Putin the global legitimacy that the Obama administration wants to deny him.

This argument suffers from the same flaw that plagues a lot of analysis about U.S. relations with these governments, which is the assumption that these states are supposed to end up taking the same position as the U.S. on all major international issues. If they don’t, they are somehow “stabbing” America in the back, and lending legitimacy to the wrong states. That attitude isn’t likely to win over many skeptics in these countries that they should follow Washington’s lead in how they choose to deal with other major powers. India and Brazil are not that interested in helping Washington to punish Russia for their own reasons, but the U.S. also hasn’t done a great job of cultivating these relationships. In fact, relations with India and Brazil in particular have been rocky in recent months. Following the blowup over the mistreatment of the Indian consular official in New York and Brazilian resentment of NSA surveillance, neither government is likely to be very interested in helping the U.S. on Ukraine. This has nothing to do with American “mojo” or “decline,” and reflects the reality that these countries have their own priorities and interests that aren’t going to line up with Washington’s on many occasions.

Perhaps because some Americans are so eager to take sides in foreign disputes that don’t concern us, they don’t quite know what to make of states that don’t try to do the same thing. India and Brazil didn’t support the Libyan war at the U.N., but they didn’t vote against it. They have been opposed to Western intervention in Syria, but have been willing to back less punitive U.N. resolutions on Syria. Despite the fact that they have carefully avoided taking sides, they have nonetheless been regularly accused of “siding” with Russia and China on these issues, because anything less than taking Washington’s side is often strangely viewed as opposition. India and Brazil likewise didn’t support the U.S.-backed Ukraine resolution at the General Assembly, but they didn’t vote against it.

This is not because they approve of what Russia has done, but they are also not willing to strain and damage their relationships with Russia over something that doesn’t matter very much to them, and they don’t share Western governments’ support for punitive measures. That is ultimately why these states aren’t going to be of much help in “isolating” Russia: they are more interested in maintaining good relations with Moscow than they are in making an example of Russia, and there isn’t much that the U.S. can do or say that is going to change that.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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