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Leading the South: Emerging Powers in International Institutions Open Access

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The lack of representativeness in key global organizations like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and World Trade Organization (WTO) increasingly undercuts the credibility and efficacy of these institutions in solving pressing international issues, largely because they often fail to reflect the needs and preference of the majority of their members. Given that improving domestic economic and social development underlies any lasting solution to global challenges like food scarcity, rising temperatures, and refugee crises, adjustments to better reflect the priorities of developing countries within the global institutional environment are paramount. How are pressing issues of trade, security, and the environment negotiated and managed in core international institutions? How are greater voice and representation achieved for developing countries desiring a stake in achieving common goals in the global sphere? This dissertation argues emerging powers like Brazil or India seek more than security or autonomy; but instead pursue leadership toward the resolution of common goals with other developing countries, whose fate depends on their collective ability to negotiate, reform and engage core global institutions toward the common goal of greater development. While scholars often describe states’ foreign policy activity by employing the term “leadership” to describe behavior, the concept remains underspecified and unoperationalized, lacking a conceptual framework that would allow for comparing leadership over time or across countries. Building on literature regarding regional and middle powers, as well as arguments about autonomy as a driving force for foreign policy, I define leadership in international institutions as an acceptance of “opportunity costs” (whether material, ideational or diplomatic) associated with fulfilling a representative function on behalf of a specific subset of “followers” toward the resolution of salient international issues. In the cases of interests in this dissertation, “followers” are global South countries that possess common issues, interests and goals as leading states, yet that lack the ability or will to lead. Extent literature on regional and middle powers also lacks concrete linkages to domestic-level factors that give rise to this behavior in the global arena. This dissertation argues the ability to provide leadership in international institutions stems from three specific state-level factors: 1) capability from economic growth and stability; 2) credibility from a shared “Southern” development perspective; and 3) willingness from bureaucratic capacity and presidential interest/influence. Variation in these domestic-level components impacts leadership provision in key global forums, affecting the possibility of reforming and restructuring key global institutions to better represent the interests of the developing world. This theory seeks to help us understand what enabled emerging powers like Brazil to lead in the late 1990s to 2010 timeframe, and what precipitated a decline in leadership provision thereafter. It also explores whether the framework of capability, credibility and willingness could “travel” to other countries like India and Mexico, explaining leadership or the lack thereof in global institutions. Particularly given the current international context where key multilateral forums prove increasingly sidelined and mired in stalemate, emerging power leadership is all the more critical to equitable development on the part of the global South, as well as to the management of pressing international issues.

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