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Not so long ago, it was the big Western countries that managed the global economy. That is beginning to change as countries like China, India and Brazil grow stronger. The United States and other governments say they are ready to share the leadership of international institutions. The emerging nations, though, may want to push those institutions in new directions.

NPR's Tom Gjelten reports.

TOM GJELTEN: President Obama seems eager to welcome new economic players to the global stage, as he did before the Indian parliament this week, endorsing India's longstanding bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But then he followed with these cautionary words.

(Soundbite of applause)

President BARACK OBAMA: Now, let me suggest, that with increased power, comes increased responsibility.

GJELTEN: This is the issue: Western governments realize that rising countries like India and China deserve bigger roles in global institutions, but they wonder how the new powers will use their leadership positions.

Mr. STEWART PATRICK (Expert in global governance): I think we're moving into an era where U.S. leadership is taken much less for granted and the fundamental principles of world order are going to be much more up for grabs.

GJELTEN: Stewart Patrick is an expert in global governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. He points out that U.S. economic leadership is being questioned right now at the G 20 summit in Seoul. And the rising powers, by their own policies, suggest they may not be all that loyal to the old guard's ideas.

Mr. PATRICK: We're not facing Mao's China and we're not facing Lenin's Russia. But we are facing countries that would like to alter the rules of the game that they believe are stacked against them.

GJELTEN: In his speech to the Indian Parliament, President Obama summarized the United Nations' ideals as preserving peace and security, promoting global cooperation, and advancing human rights. But in each case, the emerging world powers may chart a new course. The United States and its allies say peace and security are threatened by Iran's nuclear program. But when it came time to vote on new sanctions against Iran this last summer, Brazil and Turkey - rising powers both - refused to go along. For its part, India would presumably gain veto power on the Security Council if the U.S. got its way. And Jorge Castaneda, who once served as Mexico's foreign minister, wonders what that would mean.

Mr. JORGE CASTANEDA (Former Mexico Foreign Minister): What would India do if there were a new resolution, further down the line, for much tougher sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program? Which way would it vote?

GJELTEN: As for the UN mission of advancing human rights, India is reluctant to pressure the military dictatorship in Myanmar or Burma, perhaps because it depends on that country for energy supplies. South Africa - another emerging economic power - has refused to challenge the dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.

In the past, the United Nations has sometimes endorsed outside military interventions in countries where governments are committing atrocities. But Stewart Patrick suspects the new players would not want to pass judgment on other governments.

Mr. PATRICK: The vast majority of emerging powers have a very strongly held belief in the sanctity of national sovereignty, its inviolability, and are skeptical of the notion of armed intervention.

GJELTEN: Finally, there's the U.N. goal of promoting global cooperation. U.N. leaders have to be ready to consider what's good for the whole world. As Mexico's Foreign Minister, Jorge Castaneda met often with diplomats from the developing countries now emerging as important new players. Back then, he says, many saw themselves as representing the third world against the super powers.

Mr. CASTANEDA: I'm not sure that they have outgrown that and that they really take themselves as economic, financial, and political powers of an equal standing or greater standing, than places like France and England.

GJELTEN: The United States and its allies may hope that countries now taking a lead in the G 20 or in other international organizations will carry on like the old guard did. But institutions change with their membership, and the new world order is likely to reflect the priorities of its new leaders.

Tom Gjelten, NPR News.

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