These days, there’s an unusual spectacle in world affairs. The United States has relatively good relations with the major powers: China, the EU states, India and even Russia are all more or less working together. But two middle powers, Turkey and Brazil, are not only asserting themselves more effectively than in the past; they have chosen to do this is ways that run counter to US policies. In particular their united and coordinated opposition to US policy on Iran has raised eyebrows and significantly complicated what was already a very difficult situation for American diplomacy. More recently, the strong reaction in Turkey to the Israeli interception of a convoy organized by Turkish groups with aid for Gaza underlines the possibility that Turkey is moving decisively away from its longtime partnership with the United States.
The new bout of activism by these middle powers is a harbinger of things to come, not only in Turkish and Brazilian foreign policy but it the policies of a number of other middle powers that can be expected to become more assertive going forward. They are going to enjoy tacit and sometimes overt support from some of the great powers who would also like to see us taken down a peg or two. The American establishment by and large was taken by surprise by the new and more difficult Brazilian and Turkish foreign policies; it’s worth looking a little deeper to see what is behind this and see what lessons if any there are for the future.