And Now For Something Completely Different: the Arab/ South American Summit

And Now For Something Completely Different: the Arab/ South American Summit

Arab and South American states are finishing a summit meeting to discuss methods of cooperation on a broad range of issue areas. (Reports by the BBC and by Le Monde.) Co-Chaired by the Presidents of Brazil and Algeria, the summit hoped to find a “coalition on cultural, economic, and political” issues between two key blocs of the “South.” My snappish title to this post notwithstanding, there has of course been many other instances of South-South coordination across geographic and cultural divides, perhaps most famously in the attempted New International Economic Order (or “NIEO”) from the 1970’s. Whether such attempts at political coordination actually amounted to significant changes in world politics or international law is another matter.

According to some reports, the U.S. is a quite concerned about this summit. The BBC reports that Washington asked to send an envoy with observer status but was rejected. Note to Arab and South American states: When Washington is actually willing to take part in an international conference, you should not shut the door. This just reinforces the view that this conference is about counterbalancing US power (which of course it is; and that’s a perfectly fine, realist, maneuver) but then you had better make sure that you are successful, otherwise all you’ve done is just ticked off the hegemon. (More on this in a moment.)

However, the U.S. has also had a bone-headed approach to this. Arab diplomats report that the U.S. has been lobbying them not to attend. We’ve gone from encouraging allies to build regional organizations to discouraging them from getting together and talking with each other. Just what do we fear will happen when our allies get together to talk without us? It makes us look paranoid. Such a strategy is a lose-lose for us: if we dissuade a delegation, then that country really resents us and the next time we need their cooperation (think: War on Terrorism) it is likely to cost dear. And if we don’t dissuade a delegation (and it looks like we didn’t dissuade a single one) then we just look weak and they all get together and really laugh at us. And we still look paranoid.

But, like I said, this gaffe may be overtaken by the Summit’s slamming door on the U.S. because, like I said, the U.S. will remember this and, unless the Summit is politically unified, the U.S. can simply split off sub-groups of states and deny the Summit their issues. So what are their issues? Take your pick, here’s a sample from the BBC report and from Le Monde:

“We’re seeking fair and just trade free of subsidies imposed by rich countries that ensures that poor countries receive the benefits of globalisation,” Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva said…

The talks will end on Wednesday with a declaration that is expected to criticise Israel and back Syria.

The summit declaration is also expected to uphold the right of people to resist foreign occupation.

Argentina is seeking support for its claim to sovereignty over the Falkland Islands.

Le Monde reports that the Arab states are looking for South American support for a permanent Egyptian seat on the UN Security Council.

Le Monde also reports Brazil hopes to get one as well and would want Arab support in that quest.

A summit can promise all things to all people because it is more political theater than policymaking. Policies are hashed out in preparatory and follow-up committee meeting, in working groups and coordinating bodies. Whether this summit becomes an example of effective South-South cooperation will depend on follow-through and a willingness to horse-trade and compromise. The president of the Arab League has proposed a series of follow-up meetings and ongoing political coordination. Having started this endeavor with an antagonistic attitude towards the U.S., they will need to be tightly coordinated if they want to turn their wish list into political reality.

So, what are the chances that the conglomeration of South American and Arab states will be tightly coordinated? Let the bookmaking begin…

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