Melissa Conley Tyler (@MConleytyler) and Doris McDonald-Seaton, Australian Institute of International Affairs
Following the formation of MIKTA, an informal grouping of Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Turkey and Australia on the sidelines of the 68th session of the UN General Assembly in September 2013, Mexico took the honour of chairing the first meeting of this new middle power grouping.
Less than six months after the emergence of MIKTA, Mexico hosted the second ministerial meeting in Mexico City this week to discuss global issues of common interest and work on the formulation of a joint dialogue and cooperation agenda.
As neither a grouping of the greatest nor the lesser powers, it can be seen as a sort of middle child of international cooperation. The five foreign ministers joined together in their statement following the event to declare MIKTA a force for good in global affairs.
MIKTA works at two levels: as a forum for like-minded countries to discuss and collaborate on issues of common concern; and as a chance for bilateral side meetings to consult on specific issues.
This week the bilateral level was clearly productive. Following the MIKTA meeting in Chapultepec Castle, Mexican Foreign Secretary José Antonio Meade spoke with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop about the ongoing negotiations on the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) – which Mexico joined at the G-20 Leaders Summit in Los Cabos in 2012 – while discussing the importance of strengthening the bilateral dialogue. The Foreign Secretary also discussed forging closer ties with Turkey with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and met with Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa to sign an agreement to eliminate visa requirements for the holders of diplomatic, official or service passports. With South Korea it was all about reaffirming the commitment to strengthen the Strategic Partnership for Mutual Prosperity. Cooperation of this kind is not new; although the opportunity to meet more regularly with counterparts will be welcomed.
The novel aspect of MIKTA is the five-way forum between the MIKTA foreign ministers. This week’s meeting addressed the current international political situation, including Syria, Ukraine and the Korean Peninsula, and discussed a range of potential issues for collaboration including the post-2015 development agenda, cyberspace security, climate change, human rights and migration, as well as the need for UN Security Council reform.
This week’s meeting highlights MIKTA’s potential to become not just another acronym in the mist of international affairs, but a new platform for what may be termed “middle power cooperation”. Admittedly the “middle power” label is a contested term; arriving at a clear understanding is problematic because there are almost no shared views in the academic literature on what “middle power” means. In some ways MIKTA could be seen as an unlikely grouping with members which appear neither to share geographic closeness (except Australia and Indonesia) nor specific common interests (such as with the Cairns Group of agricultural exporting countries).
However in the context of MIKTA, this supposed incongruity sidesteps the actual point of interest. These five states are active actors in their regions, significantly contribute to regional and global peace and stability and pursue similar constructive approaches in the face of international challenges. Together, the MIKTA members ought to have the potential for more serious impact in international fora than they would have alone. Arguably, MIKTA is a direct analogue of the BRICS grouping where the MIKTAs can pool their resources, exchange points of view, consult and promote coordination on issues of common interest. They have the potential to establish a “block of swing vote shareholders” within international fora such as the United Nations and the G20.
MIKTA itself appears to want to avoid being weighed down by questions of definition; the joint communiqué does not use the term “middle power”. Instead the focus is on their commonalities as “like-minded” countries which have real economic substance: they all represent open economies that promote free trade and foreign investment; are large democracies with strong economies and the potential for rapid growth; and they have strong domestic markets, moderate inflation and populations with increasing purchasing power.
Arguably, MIKTA is a timely formation in a period of great transformation and strategic opportunity and provides a vehicle for its members to convey initiatives and proposals to the international community. These powers should not aim for modesty, but a ‘pivotal’ role.
Mexico, the world’s 14th largest economy and one of the regional powers in the Americas, bolsters MIKTA’s credibility to become an influential element in the global governance structure. Mexico’s participation shows its independence as a foreign policy actor and projects Mexico’s pivotal status during a period of global dispersal of power, the ascendancy of regionalism and the growing presence of non-state actors. For Mexico, MIKTA provides opportunities to engage in dialogue and strengthen and diversify its international presence.
Three more meetings of MIKTA are already scheduled: for September in New York at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, for November in Australia during the G20 leaders’ Summit and in South Korea in the first half of 2015.
It is too early to give a long-term prediction about MIKTA’s endurance in the crowded world of diplomatic coordination. Efforts to date – considering the number of meetings held and already planned only six months since its inauguration – suggest real interest by MIKTA’s members in making it a success.