Global Swing States: Brazil, India, Indonesia, Turkey and the Future of International Order

November 01, 2012
Daniel M. Kliman
Richard Fontaine
3 min read
An interlocking web of global institutions, rules and relationships has fostered peace, prosperity, and freedom for the past six decades.

An interlocking web of global institutions, rules and relationships has fostered peace, prosperity and freedom for the past six decades. However, without proper stewardship, this international order is at risk. To defend and strengthen the international order that has served so many for so long, American leaders should pursue closer partnerships with four key nations – Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey. Together, these “global swing states” hold the potential to renew the international order on which they, the United States, and most other countries depend.

The current international order confronts numerous challenges. Some of those challenges largely relate to the rise of China, such as outsized maritime claims and the bypassing of international financial institutions. Other challenges involve stagnating multilateral trade talks, a weakened global financial architecture, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran and a retrenchment of democracy in some parts of the world. At the same time, a combination of fiscal and political pressures constrains the role of traditional supporters of the global order such as the United States and Europe. The United States should therefore seize the opportunity to enlarge the international order’s base of supporters to include Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey. These four nations each possess a large and growing economy, a strategic location in their region and a commitment to democratic institutions. And critically, each nation’s precise international role is now in flux.

In the American political context, swing states are those whose mixed political orientation gives them a greater impact than their population or economic output might warrant. Such states promise the greatest return on investment for U.S. presidential campaigns deciding where to allocate scarce time and resources. Likewise, in U.S. foreign policy, a focus on Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey can deliver a large geopolitical payoff, because their approach to the international order is more fluid and open than those of China or Russia. In addition, the choices that these four countries make – about whether to take on new global responsibilities, free ride on the efforts of established powers or complicate the solving of key challenges – may, together, decisively influence the trajectory of the current international order.

The concept of global swing states offers a new framework for thinking about these four powers. It describes their position in the international system; however, it does not suggest an emerging bloc. On the contrary, Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey are unlikely to act in concert. In most cases, U.S. efforts will focus on each nation separately rather than on the four of them collectively. Nevertheless, considering these countries through a common framework can clarify Washington’s foreign policy priorities and lead to new and more strategic approaches that go beyond simply managing four bilateral relationships.

America’s engagement with the global swing states should include four components:

  • Capitalizing on areas where Brazil, India, Indonesia and Turkey have already taken on new global responsibilities;
  • Addressing some of their demands for greater representation in international institutions;
  • Helping the four countries strengthen their domestic capacity to more actively support the international order;
  • Increasing the resources and attention that the U.S. government devotes to these nations to better match their rising strategic importance.

he stakes are high. If the United States, its allies and these rising democracies strengthen the international order, they are all more likely to thrive. If the global order fragments, they – and the broader world – will suffer the consequences.


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