New ‘Swing States’

Move over BRICS, CIVETS and all you floaters in the geopolitical alphabet soup. The “Swing States” are rising! Make way for them! That’s the buzz in international circles these days.

The term “Swing State” doesn’t refer to the nine battleground states in the US presidential election that produced the votes that gave Barack Obama another four-year residency in the White House — although they did inspire the appellation.

The Swing States are countries with burgeoning economies that are situated strategically within their regions and are widely recognized as democracies. There are four of them: Brazil, India, Turkey and Indonesia.

Working with the United States, the UN, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, they should be able to “swing” most of the world to a new democratic world order — with or without the support of China. Call them the Global Swing States.

Says who? Daniel M. Kliman, of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, who have written a paper on how the Swing States Four could contribute hugely to world trade, finance, maritime safety, non-proliferation and the growth of democracy. They recommend that the United States and the European Union focus on partnering with these four emerging powers. The EU, they suggest, should promptly admit Turkey into its membership as a contribution to the envisioned new world order.

Why isn’t Russia among the Swing States? Because, according to Kliman and Fontaine, Russia isn’t democratic enough. On that score, retorts Michael Rubin of the ultraconservative American Enterprise Institute, Turkey should be out of the group. Turkey, he claims, is a more ruthless enemy of press freedom than Russia.

There are all sorts of responses to the Swing States idea. Some say it’s realpolitik for the United States to zoom in on them and persuade them to shoulder more responsibility for fostering a robust global economic recovery.

Others argue that the world order embodied by the UN and the Bretton Woods institutions is still supple enough to serve the cause of peace and progress.

The United States and Europe should maintain their dominance, they insist, because there’s no telling what monstrosity of a world order these emerging powers would create if left to their own devices.

Not surprisingly, in the debate on the merits of the Swing States idea, Indonesia’s democratic credentials have not been questioned. Nor have any doubts been raised on its commitment to maritime cooperation. The capacity of its economy to contribute to global prosperity is a given.

Its reputation as a promoter of free trade, although a bit shaken in recent times, remains intact, thanks to the yeoman’s job that Minister Mari Elka Pangestu has done at the World Trade Organization.

Hence, if the idea is viable, it goes without saying that Indonesia will be among the four. But the idea is too thin to be viable. Soon it will be ambushed by the brutal facts of geopolitics. The United States is too wise to cripple itself by focusing only on four emerging powers when it has an array of crucial bilateral partnerships and alliances to nurture. And it would be a fool if it did not look for opportunities to engage and partner with China itself.

If it is prudent for the United States to play a broad field of partners, the same goes for Indonesia. That is what its axiom, “A million friends and zero enemies,” is all about. In any case, it’s too busy building a community with the rest of the Asean family. Too seized with constructing an Asia-Pacific regional architecture.

Of course, Indonesia is bound to get involved in the building of a new and more just world order. But not a world order cobbled together by a new elite.

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