Nor has Obama's proposed nuclear grand bargain inspired these states to reconsider their own policies. The U.S. administration is hoping to use the ongoing U.N. conference on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to gain widespread agreement to the so-called additional protocols, which mandate more intrusive inspections of nuclear facilities. Brazil and Argentina are the only signatories with nuclear enrichment plants who have not accepted the additional protocols (and Argentina has said it will agree as soon as Brazil does). During a discussion at the conference last week, the Brazilian delegate reiterated that adopting the additional protocols should be wholly voluntary, as Iran has insisted; he added that in any case non-nuclear-weapons states should not have to accept such restraints until those who have weapons agree to fully disarm.
It's tempting to dismiss much of this as mere histrionics, to be put aside when, for example, it comes times to vote on Security Council resolutions. There's no question that Brazil's interests, or Turkey's, overlap in many places with those of the U.S. and Europe; Turkey seeks nothing more ardently than full EU membership, for instance. But in many other places, interests diverge, and the middle powers are inclined to view the current world order as an instrument to advance Western designs, not theirs. Why should they have to accept a system that permits India, Israel, and Pakistan -- non-signatories of the NPT who happen to be American allies -- to have nuclear weapons while they have bound themselves not to? Why, for that matter, should they have to accept an American running the World Bank, and a Frenchman running the IMF?
The international system, which looked impregnable a decade ago, now seems increasingly ineffective and weak. "Both countries look at the global order and see the failings of the West," says Matias Spektor, a Brazil expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "The West has been expanding the reach of its norms and its rules. But at the same time you've got Iraq, the financial crisis, North Korea going nuclear, Iran, the EU imploding -- all while these emerging states have proved to be relatively steady." The perceived failure and injustice of the existing system didn't matter so much when those on the outside felt powerless. Now they feel, if anything, overly empowered, and are prepared for rhythmic diplomacy.
All this raises a fundamental question about President Obama's engagement policy. For all his efforts to improve America's international standing and to treat states, cultures, religions, international institutions, and everything else with due regard, Obama has found the world only slightly more tractable than George W. Bush did. Bush thought Turkey was a good friend until the Turks refused to let American troops pass through on the way to Iraq. Brazil was just the kind of country Obama had in mind when he argued that the U.S. could make real progress on nonproliferation by showing commitment on disarmament -- the bargain at the heart of the NPT. Obama has done the best he could, or feels he can, given the restraints imposed by a hawkish Congress and a skeptical public. And Brazil hasn't budged an inch.
Engagement, it turns out, is a weaker currency than Obama had thought. His diplomatic investments have been too modest to win compliance even from the major democratic states in the developing world that would seem to have the most in common with the United States. And the reason is that price of compliance has gone way up as those nations have grown in self-confidence. U.S. presidents will have to learn to expect less.
Or perhaps they'll need to spend more. For Obama, the really important question is whether he should reconcile himself to an unavoidable clash of interests with rising powers, or try to win them over by offering a deeper and more substantive kind of engagement -- for example, by pushing for a greater democratization of the institutions from which those states now feel excluded. It may be that the only chance to get Brazil to act more like a global citizen is to treat it like one.