For Latin America’s largest nation, however, participation in an increasingly assertive BRICS need not conflict with a warm working relationship with Washington. Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva demonstrated as much at last week’s UN General Assembly.
Indeed, Lula’s deft diplomacy turned his country into arguably the biggest winner at the annual gathering of global leaders, showing almost single-handedly that the door is not yet shut on a genuinely independent foreign policy in a moment of heightening superpower tensions. He did so by identifying substantive areas of mutual interest with the United States and taking concrete steps to show flexibility and an openness to dialogue, also with respect to the Ukraine war.
When Lula, who began an unprecedented third term in January, announced early in his address on Tuesday that “Brazil is back,” he was interrupted by applause from members of the General Assembly, which by tradition Brazil opens. Lula’s address emphasized many of the same points he made as Brazil assumed the reins of the G20 in India earlier this month: the urgency of combating climate change, the need to find mediated solutions to armed conflicts, and the importance of reversing growing inequality worldwide.
Lula’s return to the dais 20 years after his first address as president marked a welcome return to form for Brazil, a country long committed to the UN as a meaningful arena of international diplomacy. Indeed, aside from South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Lula was the only BRICS leader to attend this year’s General Assembly.
Lula used his address to criticize the UN for its inability to preserve its relevance, describing the impasse as he sees it and calling for reforms that he believes can make the body matter more. “The international community must choose: On the one hand, there is the expansion of conflicts, the deepening of inequalities and the erosion of the Rule of Law,” he said.“ On the other, the renewal of multilateral institutions dedicated to promoting peace.”
He decried sanctions applied unilaterally and the ongoing embargo against Cuba. He also criticized the ineffective insularity of the UN Security Council, discredited by “the actions of its permanent members, who wage unauthorized wars in search of territorial expansion or regime change. Its paralysis is the most eloquent proof of the need and urgency to reform it, giving it greater representativeness and effectiveness.”
Lula made clear that his nation wants a greater say in a UN that is actually functional and effective, not withdrawal from a body consigned to irrelevance.
Lula’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the next day demonstrated his careful and even-handed diplomacy in pursuit of an early end of the war in Ukraine. Brazil, like most Global South states, has prioritized relations with both warring parties as it realizes well the high economic costs of the conflict’s continuation. Even though he has clearly criticized Russia’s invasion of its much smaller neighbor, he had before this week not met personally with Zelenskyy. Finally having done so, Lula has bolstered his claim to fairness and balance.
For his part, and from a different angle, President Joe Biden argued for the continued importance of the UN. He called the lack of further world wars, the ascension of hundreds of millions out of poverty, and the eradication of several devastating diseases “a profound testament to what we can achieve when we act together when we take on tough challenges.”
U.S. health assistance in Africa — such as PEPFAR and fighting the Ebola epidemic — have been excellent examples in this regard. Biden urged the UN to re-embrace its founding precepts of collaboration, respect for sovereignty, and human rights and seemed to signal support for a reform of multilateral institutions to reflect shifting international dynamics. He also spoke of strengthening democratic values around the world. In these areas, his message aligned with Lula’s.
The following day, Lula and Biden held a bilateral meeting to discuss a host of issues, but most importantly to announce a new joint effort related to workers’ rights.
“Over the last few days,” Biden said by way of introducing the initiative, “the nations of the world have talked about climate change, sustainable development, food security, economic resilience.” The president noted the centrality of working people to each one of these challenges and concluded that “we have to empower them as well. And that’s what this new partnership is all about.” Pointing at Lula, he added, “the partnership actually was this man’s idea.”
While both leaders talked about the importance of union protections, living wages, pensions, and other basic rights often denied in the modern economy — Lula’s labor minister also took the opportunity to sit down with members of the United Auto Workers to discuss the ongoing strike and working conditions in the United States — it remains to be seen what concretely will come from this new undertaking. Nevertheless, its importance should not be underestimated. More than anything, it marks an identifiable point of convergence between Brasília and Washington, an issue on which both leaders are personally and politically invested.
Durable, productive ties between nations require such investment. A willingness to collaborate in this area — or even just to be seen committing to collaboration — is a positive sign. However, the Biden-Lula convergence on global labor standards may not be aligned with many Global South states, especially in Asia, who see the U.S. push for such standards as protectionism in disguise.
Labor was not the only area in which members of the Brazilian delegation sought to make clear that it still very much wants to engage with the United States. Climate action was another. Finance Minister Fernando Haddad held multiple meetings with activists, government officials, and investors to pitch them on green investments in Brazil. Before flying to New York, Haddad gave an interview in which he praised Biden’s economic agenda and said there was absolutely no reason the United States shouldn’t see Brazil as a key trading partner — not least because, as he noted, "China is entering America through the Southern Cone.” Minister of the Environment Marina Silva held several meetings as well, emphasizing Brazil’s role in mitigating the effects of climate change.
Together, these efforts underscored Lula’s attempts to show that Brazil’s embrace of a multipolar world does not mean it is eager to turn its back on the United States. That Brazil is finding meaningful areas of collaboration with countries of various ideological and political stripes indicates that international relations in Latin America have not yet ossified into the rigid opposing camps that would characterize a new cold war.
It might serve as a model, in fact, for countries looking to avoid one.
Andre Pagliarini is an assistant professor of history at Hampden-Sydney College in central Virginia. He is also a non-resident fellow at the Quincy Institute and fellow at the Washington Brazil Office.
Sarang Shidore is Director of the Global South Program at the Quincy Institute, and member of the adjunct faculty at George Washington University. He has published in Foreign Affairs and The New York times, among others. Sarang was previously a senior research scholar at the University of Texas at Austin and senior global analyst at the geopolitical risk firm Stratfor Inc.
President Joe Biden and Brazilian President Lula. photo: White House
DOHA, QATAR — In remarks Sunday at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov seemed to revel in what is becoming a groundswell of international frustration with the United States over its policies in Israel. Despite Russia’s own near-isolated status after its 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lavrov glibly characterized the U.S. as on the wrong side of history, the leader of the dying world order, and the purveyor of its own brand of “cancel culture.”
“I think everybody understands that this (Gaza war) did not happen in a vacuum that there were decades of unfulfilled promises that the Palestinians would get their own state,” and years of political and security hostilities that exploded on Oct. 7, he charged. “This is about the cancel culture, whatever you don’t like about events that led to the current situation you cancel. Everything that came before February 2022, including the bloody coup (in Ukraine) and the unconstitutional change of power … all this was canceled. The only thing that remains is that Russia invaded Ukraine.”
Lavrov, beamed in from Russia to the international audience in Doha, went fairly unchallenged, though his interviewer James Bays, diplomatic editor at Al Jazeera, attempted to corner him on accusations stemming from Russia’s own bloody record in Chechnya in the 1990s and and 2000s and its ongoing military campaign in Syria, which Lavrov noted was at the “behest” of the Syrian government.
On the issue of the failed ceasefire vote at the UN Security Council, of which Russia is a permanent veto member, Lavrov said, “we strongly condemn the terrorist attack against Israel. At the same time we do not think it is acceptable to use this (terrorist) event for collective punishment of millions of Palestinian people.” Did he condemn the United States for vetoing the ceasefire measure? “It’s up to the regional countries and the other countries of the world to judge,” he declared.
When asked if there was a “stalemate” in the Russian war in Ukraine, and what the Russians may have gained from their invasion in 2022, he said simply, “it’s up to the Ukrainians to understand how deep a hole they are in and where the Americans have put them.”
On whether a ceasefire may be in the offing in that war Lavrov said, “a year and half ago (Zelensky) signed a decree prohibiting any negotiations with the Putin government. They had the chance in March and April 2022, very soon after the beginning of the special military operation, where in Istanbul the negotiators reached a deal with neutrality for Ukraine, no NATO, and security guarantees…it was canceled,” he added, because the Americans and Brits wanted to “exhaust (Ukrainians) more.”
Lavrov gleefully piggybacked on themes from an earlier forum panel on the Global South. He accused “the United States and its allies” of building “the model of globalization, which they thought would serve them well.” But now, Lavrov contends, the unaligned are using “the principles and instruments of globalization to beat the West on their own terms.” As for Russia, Lavrov deployed a little “cancel culture” of his own, cherry picking the high points of his country's history over the last 200 years to project a nation that he boasts will emerge unscathed by Western assaults today.
“In the beginning of the 19th century Napoleon (rose European armies) against Russia and we defeated him; in the 20th century Hitler did the same. We defeated him and became stronger after that as well,” he said. With the Ukraine war, the West will find “that Russia has already become much stronger than it was before this.”
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks in opening session of the Doha Forum in Qatar, December 10. (vlahos)
DOHA, QATAR — The U.S. veto of the UN Security Council vote for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza is being met with widespread anger and frustration by the international community and especially in the Arab world, as reflected in opening remarks at the 21st Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday.
Addressing the forum, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the vote was “regrettable…that does not make it less necessary. I can promise that I will not give up.” He said since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel and the ensuing Israeli retaliation in Gaza, “the Council’s authority and credibility were seriously undermined” by a succession of failed votes to respond to ongoing civilian carnage on the Strip.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, foreign minister of Qatar, said the current crisis and the U.S. reaction to it, including its thwarting of the ceasefire call (it was the only vote of disapproval; the UK abstained) was exposing the “great gap between East and West ... and double standards in the international community.” He pointed to those drawing attention to war crimes in “other contexts” (no doubt referring to Russia in Ukraine ) “hesitating to call for the end of these crimes in the Gaza strip.”
He repeatedly called for the creation of new multipolar world order that "respects justice and equality between the people where no people are more powerful than the other."
The U.S. said it did not approve the ceasefire resolution Friday because of the lack of condemnation of Hamas in the language, and that it not include a declaration of Israel’s right to defend itself. U.S. ambassador Robert Wood said halting Israel’s military action would “only plant the seeds for the next war.”
The result is that people here at the forum say they are more convinced than ever that U.S. policy is reflexively and intimately intertwined with Israel's activities in Gaza. As Mohammad Shtayyeh, prime minister of Palestine, charged, Washington has given the “greenest of green lights” to what Israel is doing on the ground. This was exacerbated this weekend with news that the Biden Administration is bypassing Congressional review to send 13,000 tank rounds to Israel. This, despite efforts by Democrats in his own party to condition the transfer of offensive weapons to prevent their use against civilians.
Meanwhile, humanitarian advocates repeatedly called the situation on the ground “unprecedented.” In an interview with Al Jazeera reporter Stefanie Dekker on the dais, Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said his own organization is “on the brink of collapse.” They have lost 134 relief workers in Gaza since Israeli operations began. He described staff in silent stupefaction over the loss of homes, families. “There is no doubt a ceasefire is needed; we want to put an end to hell on earth right now in Gaza.”
Khaled Saffuri, executive director of the National Interest Foundation in Washington, told RS he was struck by the backlash against American brands in his own travels in Kuwait and Qatar over the last week, citing customer and restaurant boycotts of Coke, Pepsi, MacDonald’s, and Starbucks. “It’s horrible,” he said of the lopsided UN vote. “America is losing a lot in the Muslim world.”
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Journalists in the press room watch as Republican presidential candidate and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and fellow candidate and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy discuss an issue during the fourth Republican candidates' debate of the 2024 U.S. presidential campaign hosted by NewsNation at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, U.S., December 6, 2023. REUTERS/Alyssa Pointer
It's as if the Ukraine War has all but ended — at least for American politics.
If the Republican debates had occurred last year, they would have been consumed with talk over whether Vladimir Putin was readying to roll across Europe and how weak President Biden was for not giving Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky our best tanks, our most powerful fighter aircraft, the longest range missiles we had — maybe even access to nukes.
But Zelensky wasn’t anywhere near the debate stage in Alabama last night, his name not even invoked. Fitting, we guess, since the Senate failed to pass an aid package yesterday that would have sent another $60 billion to Ukraine. This, despite administration claims that the war effort is literally running out of money. Biden even took to the airwaves Wednesday to warn of a NATO war if the funding wasn’t approved.
Republicans have been souring on the aid for months now, which might account for Ukraine’s diminished importance in the conversation. It was outweighed last night by the conflict in Israel, which in itself only drew three questions: Do we send in special forces to get the eight remaining American hostages back from Hamas? What kind of punishment could be slapped on university presidents who allow “pro Hamas” protests on campus? And how do we “get” Iran for purportedly being behind it all?
Ukraine was wielded, albeit briefly, as a blunt instrument. At the very least it gave us the tiniest of glimpses into the competing world views of the hawks on the dais (Chris Christie and Nikki Haley) and their chief agitant, Vivek Ramaswamy.
Haley raised the issue (without being asked about it) by fitting it into her usual stream of Domino Theory conciousness:
“The problem is, you have to see that all of these are related. If you look at the fact Russia was losing that war with Ukraine, Putin had hit rock bottom, they had raised the draft age to 65. He was getting drones and missiles — drones from Iran, missiles from North Korea. And so what happened when he hit rock bottom, all of a sudden his other friend, Iran, Hamas goes and invades Israel and butchers those people on Putin's birthday. There is no one happier right now than Putin because all of the attention America had on Ukraine suddenly went to Israel. And that's what they were hoping is going to happen. We need to make sure that we have full clarity, that there is a reason again that Taiwanese want to help Ukrainians because they know if Ukraine wins China won't invade Taiwan. There's a reason the Ukrainians want to help Israelis because they know that if Iran wins, Russia wins. These are all connected. But what wins all of that is a strong America, not a weak America. And that's what Joe Biden has given us.”
Vivek Ramaswamy responds:
“I want to say one thing about that tie to Ukraine. Foreign policy experience is not the same as foreign policy wisdom. I was the first person to say we need a reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. Now a lot of the neocons are quietly coming along to that position with the exceptions of Nikki Haley and Joe Biden, who still support this, what I believe, is pointless war in Ukraine. …One thing that Joe Biden and Nikki Haley have in common is that neither of them could even state for you three provinces in eastern Ukraine that they want to send our troops to actually fight for. … So reject this myth that they've been selling you that somebody had a cup of coffee stint at the UN and then makes eight million bucks after has real foreign policy experience. It takes an outsider to see this through.”
To which Chris Christie retorted:
“Let me just say something here, you know, his (Ramaswamy’s) reasonable peace deal in Ukraine. He made it clear. Give them all the land they've already stolen. Promise Putin you'll never put Ukraine in Russia, and then trust Putin not to have a relationship with China.” (Christie then essentially calls Ramaswamy a liar for suggesting he never said that.)
"These people are lying. These are the same people who told you about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify that invasion didn't know the first thing about it if they send thousands of our sons and daughters to go die. The same people who told you the same in Afghanistan, where the Taliban is still in charge. Twenty years later, seven trillion of our national debt due to these toxic neocons. You can put lipstick on a Dick Cheney, it is still a fascist neocon today."
That was basically it. After $130 billion in U.S. taxpayer money since 2022, most of which we are being told has been spent in Ukraine. After hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians dead and maimed, Ukraine’s economy in such a state that the West has to prop it up, and NATO pledging more troops and weapons it doesn’t even seem to have, the issue was afforded a scant few minutes, and used only in the broadest of ways to pound each other. Gone was even the ghost of the old argument that the free world was at stake or that our obligation to Ukrainians was a moral imperative. It’s been reduced to a political cudgel, which is the first step to being memory holed in Washington. It happened to Iraq and Afghanistan in prior president debates 2012 and 2016.
The gist seems to be, maybe if we ignore it, it will just go away?