Political, military and humanitarian crises endanger regional order. But even though regional powers are expected to act as stabilizers in these cases, their responses to dire demands vary in intensity and loci. Reactions go from zealous engagement to prolonged indifference and reluctance, often leaning on global multilateral institutions as well as regional or ad hoc mechanisms. This study explores the variation in the provision of stability by regional powers via a mixed-methods approach. By contrasting the intensity of regional crises with issue salience at the UN General Assembly, we select crises that drew varying attention from regional powers, despite similar severity. Focusing on Brazil and South Africa as potential regional stabilizers, we compare responses to regional crises that displayed high (Haiti and Somalia) and low (Colombia and Congo-Brazzaville) salience. We find that domestic support, concerns with status and potential competition with other stabilizers tend to play a large part in calibrating regional power responses.
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Comparing 1688 instances of maritime and territorial disputes, Hansen et al. (2008) show disputants only opted for an institutionalized solution in 10% of the cases.
Other types of crises could have been contemplated (e.g. democratic ruptures). Nonetheless, narrowing them to disasters and conflicts affords a common metric for severity (human casualties).
Given that content analysis could detect mentions to countries unrelated to crises, when assessing which cases to choose, we considered only mentions synchronic to crises and ignored mentions resulting from unrelated UN conventions and initiatives hosted by a given country (e.g. the ‘Mauritius Initiative’ from 2004 onwards). Figures 1 and 2 show, nonetheless, the original unfiltered counts.
Source: https://fts.unocha.org/appeals/337/flows. Brazil’s UN-level pledges also overlapped with bilateral initiatives that the country already planned to roll out in support of Haiti (Phone interview with senior Brazilian diplomat #1, who served in MRE’s Department for Central America and the Caribbean, 05 March, 2020).
Data compiled by the Observatório das Migrações Internacionais (OBMigra, https://portaldeimigracao.mj.gov.br/pt/observatorio).
The Medida Provisória N.480 on budgetary support was passed by President Lula da Silva on 26 January, 2010, two weeks after the earthquake.
A ‘Facilitating Commission’ was formed in March 2001, composed of Canada, Cuba, Spain, France, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Venezuela. Members were chosen in common accord with the FARC.
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The ‘no threat’ interpretation was also relayed in phone interview #2 (04 March, 2020) with a former senior Brazilian diplomat, who served in the Brazilian mission in Bogotá. Major military infrastructure projects included the Amazon Surveillance System (SIVAM), launched in 2002, and the Calha Norte Project, which had a tenfold budget increase between 2003 and 2005 (Monteiro 2011).
OCHA/FTS data for 2000–2013 indicate only one Brazilian donation to Colombia, within the framework of the WFP in 2009 (US$100,000). Data from Lima (2017) for 2009–2011 registers seven donations totaling US$2.3 million. Regardless, the former accounts for less than 0.02% of all humanitarian donations received by Colombia; and the latter for less than 0.7% of Brazilian disbursements. OCHA/FTS data at: https://fts.unocha.org/data-search/results/incoming?usageYears=2000%2C2001%2C2002%2C2003%2C2004%2C2005%2C2006%2C2007%2C2008%2C2009%2C2010%2C2011%2C2012%2C2013&locations=49&group=locations
Interview #2. Note that Finland was not a mediator at first, but was later included in the Facilitating Commission, along with 10 additional European countries.
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Earlier drafts of this work were presented in 2019 at the workshop ‘Re-envisioning Regional Powers in a World of Complexity and Change’ at the 6th European Workshops in International Studies (EWIS) promoted by the European International Studies Association (EISA) in Krakow, Poland, and also at the ‘Re-Visiting Regional Powers: New Perspectives and Debates’ roundtable at the 2022 Conference of the International Studies Association (ISA) in Nashville, USA. We thank the organizers and participants for the valuable feedback provided at both occasions. Full responsibility over the content and data of the article, however, remains with the authors alone.
Pedro Seabra was supported by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) under grant SFRH/BPD/116700/2016. Rafael Mesquita received travel support from EISA and UFPE/Propesqi.
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Mesquita, R., Seabra, P. Severity, salience, and selectivity: understanding the varying responses to regional crises by Brazil and South Africa. Int Polit (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-022-00392-x