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Brazil at the Liberal Crossroads

10 8 10

RIO DE JANEIRO – The liberal international order is under assault. The West’s 70-year-old commitment to common security, open markets, and democratization is unraveling, and the world is moving rapidly from a unipolar world order to a multipolar one. This shift will have dramatic – and potentially dangerous – consequences.

Order now

Many Latin American countries that have benefited from the liberal order, particularly Brazil, seem indifferent to its possible demise. To understand why, one must revisit the establishment of the post-1945 by the US and its European allies.

The global liberal order’s architects constructed a web of international agreements, trade arrangements, and military alliances to achieve three basic goals: promotion of open trade, prevention of catastrophic wars, and discouragement of economic nationalism by replacing a centuries-old zero-sum arrangement with a positive-sum framework under which all participating countries could prosper.

The order they established rests on a set of rules and institutions such as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (now the World Trade Organization), NATO, and the G20. Though they are not without critics, these entities were broadly successful in realizing the liberal order’s main goals.

Although some of the post-war institutions excluded Latin America, between the 1950s and the 1980s the region’s governments grudgingly participated in them. They resented the liberal order’s US-centric design, but tolerated it so long as its rules did not overtly infringe on national sovereignty.

This posture was not unexpected. Latin America’s engagement in global power politics was comparatively limited, and its leaders treated economic development as an internal matter. They........

© Project Syndicate