All things considered, a good week for International Geneva

Between Brazil’s rejection of Jair Bolsonaro and America’s notable containment of Trump’s toxic MAGA ideology, multilateralism has been offered a bit of a breather.

This is an onsite edited excerpt of the G|O Briefing newsletter

All things considered, in what remains a very volatile and fractured geopolitical environment, the last few weeks have been good for International Geneva. Between Brazil’s rejection of Jair Bolsonaro and America’s notable containment of Trump’s toxic MAGA ideology, multilateralism has been offered a bit of a breather.

The two events are cumulative in their effects. Brazil will expand its multilateral footprint and do so while pushing to reform global governance, aiming to make it more representative by ultimately putting an end to the current architecture of the UN Security Council, dominated by its veto-wielding ‘P5’ permanent members: the US, UK, France, China and Russia. Quite a challenge, certainly in the current context. However, if one is to believe that the existing system is irremediably doomed—and that some Western countries, despite their public denial, broadly share the analysis that statism is riskier in the long term than concerted action in the defense of liberal values, even under a new model—then the Brazilian challenge might become an opportunity.

Exacerbated by Russia’s attack on Ukraine and Beijing’s support for Moscow, the split between the totalitarian and democratic BRICS—China and Russia on one side, Brazil, India, and South Africa on the other—may bring an altogether different dynamic in trying to shape a future world order. It is telling, for example, that separated from its Cold War connotations, the old concept of non-alignment is being looked at with fresh eyes, particularly in the context of the growing US-China rivalry. “It is wiser to navigate rising economic nationalism without unconditionally adopting the foreign-policy preferences of superpowers,” writes Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government, in our guest essay.

In the US, regardless of the final outcome of yesterday’s elections, the instant evaporation of the predicted “red-tsunami” means that America’s political convulsions will largely be felt on the domestic front and that even a Republican-controlled Congress won’t be able to derail the current administration’s engagement in Geneva for the remainder of Joe Biden’s current term.

On a more modest level, the resumption of the talks on a memorandum between Russia and the UN on the export of grain and fertilizers is another positive development for International Geneva. In spite of Moscow’s condemnation of Switzerland’s abandonment of its neutrality, the coming here of a Russian delegation—led by Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergey Vershinin—is confirmation of the resilience of Geneva’s multilateral system.

The consensus is still that any discussions about bringing Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table to put an end to the conflict are premature—a position reinforced by Vladimir Putin’s decision, announced today (November 10), that he will not attend next week’s G20 Summit in Indonesia. However, technical agreements, such as the one that will be discussed tomorrow at such a high level, do nevertheless offer a chance to keep important communications channels open.

If Geneva remains the city where the achievement of “peace by pieces” can be imagined, it also is the theater where major disagreements on issues of global importance come to light. Such is the case, once again, at the WTO, where the final package of the TRIPS waiver agreement is running into serious problems—as Jamil Chade reports.