Turkey, Brazil Break Ranks on U.N. Iran Sanctions

Wednesday’s “No” votes by Brazil and Turkey against the U.S.-driven Iran sanctions resolution in the U.N. Security Council was a milestone in the shift to a multipolar world. A long-time friend of the U.S. and a NATO ally openly defied the Obama administration in a vital diplomatic effort to put the squeeze on Iran — perhaps the international community’s last concerted non-military effort to prevent Tehran’s ruling ayatollahs from possessing nuclear weapons.

There was little doubt that one or both countries would rebel against the U.S. following Washington’s rejection of the nuclear fuel swap agreement they negotiated with Iran last month. But it’s nevertheless striking that intense U.S. pressure in the run-up to the U.N. vote failed to make a dent in the determination of either Rio or Ankara to oppose the sanctions — regardless of the cost to their respective bilateral relations with Washington.

In January, the American intelligence community’s annual Threat Assessment to Congress reported as “a relative certainty” that “a global multipolar system is emerging with the rise of China, India and others.” In March, the administration’s new strategic doctrine echoed the same sentiment. It said the U.S. is powerless to settle any of the global issues single-handedly and thus needs strong partnerships.

So it’s a safe bet that the Brazil-Turkey “No” vote is the shape of things to come. Turkey and Brazil are two different states, but both share aspirations to become major players in regional and global affairs. A key to these aspirations is to be more selective in following Washington’s lead, depending on whether such action serves their interests. In February, for example, the United States was pointedly not invited to a South American regional conference jointly organized by Brazil and Venezuela.

As for Turkey, a policy shift is emerging under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one that is apparently based on a growing belief that joining the EU is a lost cause and that a less-secular Turkey can be influential among its immediate neighbors and in the broader Arab world.

Shifting post-Cold War strategic realities, combined with an emerging conservative elite composed of politicians and businessmen rooted in political Islam, have led to considerable changes at home and in dealings with the outside world. In this new context, Turkey’s special ties with Israel — once a logical extension of U.S.-Turkish relations — are seen as largely expendable. Ankara has been edging away from the relationship for some time. Israel’s clumsy handling of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, involving the death of Turkish citizens, has probably buried it altogether.

Inevitably, multipolarity has spawned its requisite initials. Brazil, Russia, India, and China, as emerging economic and political powerhouses, are known collectively as BRIC. The Turks are hoping it will soon become BRICT.