There have been many diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian war, and few if any are worth commemorating. But this week brings the second anniversary of one attempt that, despite making no difference on the ground, offered some evidence of how the international system is evolving. On Aug. 3, 2011, the Security Council agreed a statement calling for an immediate halt to violence in Syria. This was the council’s first significant declaration on the already six-month-old crisis. But it was also notable because of the three countries that championed it: Brazil, India and South Africa, all temporary members of the council at the time, played prominent roles in negotiating the statement and lobbying the Syrian government to respect it.
The trio’s intervention, and the fact that they persuaded both Western powers and China and Russia to sign on, appeared to signal a small shift in the balance of power in multilateral diplomacy. It raised the possibility that these non-Western democracies could play a pivotal role in global crisis management. But the initiative was a flop. A brief reckoning of why it failed highlights that these three powers, collectively known as the IBSA grouping, still have limited leverage outside their neighborhoods—and a distinctly old-fashioned approach to crisis diplomacy.
India, Brazil and South Africa have coordinated under the banner of IBSA since 2003, and their joint activities have ranged from holding regular heads-of-state meetings to convening defense discussions and funding small development projects. As Christophe Jaffrelot and Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu argue in a chapter in “Shaping the Emerging World,” a new volume on Indian foreign policy published this week, this “concert of Southern democracies” has the potential to be “one of the crucibles for cooperation and the shaping of a common foreign policy among three of the most important emerging powers.”