Guilherme Stolle Paixão e Casarões, Professor of Political Science and International Relations | Brazil

Guilherme Stolle Paixão e Casarões is a Doctor and Master of Political Science from the University of São Paulo, a Master of International Relations from the University of Campinas (San Tiago Dantas Program), a specialist in History and Political Cultures from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. He has a degree in International Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais. He is Vice-Coordinator of the Graduation in Public Administration of the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV EAESP) and Professor of FGV in the areas of Public Administration, Political Science and International Relations. He was a visiting fellow at the Tel Aviv University (2011) and Brandeis University (2015). Guilherme Stolle Paixão e Casarões has published researches and articles in the areas of Brazilian Foreign Policy, Brazil-Middle East Relations and International Relations Theory.


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Event Title: SDGs Conference 2023 Date: Sept 20, 2023


Rising trends of populism: Threats to global peace and security

Foremost, I would like to address the concept of populism, to which I draw on the already classic works of Cas Mudde and Benjamin Moffitt. I acknowledge this is not a new idea to most of you, but some clarification might be necessary. In academic circles, there are endless debates on the nature of populism or whether it is an ideology or a political strategy. Nevertheless, the main features of populism are well-known:


  1. Populists divide societies in binary terms, usually between what they understand as ‘the true people’ versus ‘the corrupt elites.’ In some cases, the division takes place between pure good versus pure evil. By doing so, they advance a view of politics as war, in which the ‘other’ must be defeated or even eliminated from political life.
  2. Populists despise technocrats and democratic institutions, especially those whose members have not been elected. They want to tap into the common sense of the average person. They do so by resorting to bad manners and, most importantly, by offering simplistic solutions to complex problems – from violent crime to health emergencies such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
  3. Populists thrive on chaos and insecurity. They feed from people’s anxieties, grievances, resentment, and fear, and transform them into an unstoppable political force based on hate. This is why populists are always fostering crises and breakdowns as the necessary fuel for their political strategies.

* * *

The second part of my discussion seeks to discuss what populists are not (necessarily).

  1. Populists are not necessarily authoritarian – although they might easily slip into authoritarianism as they do not like political institutions to hold them back. They also advance the idea of a homogeneous society that most times leaves no room for the pluralism of civil society movements.
  2. Populists are not necessarily serial liars – although they often feel tempted to construct ambitious narratives about the people (and of themselves) through disinformation tools, from straight-up fake news to sophisticated algorithms, from rewriting history to banning (or even burning) books.
  3. Populists are not always right-wing – although they tend to favor socially conservative agendas based on race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Even left-wing populists, despite embracing revolutionary motifs and progressive causes at times, tend to privilege the majority to the detriment of minorities, instead of protecting the latter.

* * *

In part 3, I will answer the following questions: what does a populist foreign policy look like? How does it threaten global peace and security? In this effort, I draw my points on Sandra Destradi and Johannes Plagemann’s work on India’s foreign policy, which may be generalized to think about other cases of global populism.

  1. Populists threaten global security because they are suspicious of and often hostile to, global governance mechanisms and multilateral treaties that have been critical to world peace.
  2. Populists threaten global security because they prefer bilateral over multilateral relations, leading to complicity towards great-power conflicts or to unilateral violence and repression (in case a great power is ruled by a populist).
  3. Populists are a threat to democracy and political stability not just at home, but also abroad, as they frequently expand their understanding of the people to diaspora or religious communities across the world, and weaponize them to the populist’s own political interests.
  4. Populists threaten global security because they are not bound by traditional foreign policy institutions and diplomatic rituals that often prevent disruptive events from taking place.
  5. Populists threaten global security and stability because they are able to permanently mobilize ‘their’ people against democracy, fundamental rights, and basic freedoms.

* * *

Finally, in the last part, allow me to look into how populism affects the attainment of SDGs, which are at the heart of this conference. Brazil’s president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spoke at the UN General Assembly yesterday (Tuesday, September 19). In his speech, he underlined two points I consider crucial to the future of multilateralism and the SDGs:

  1. SDGs are the UN’s most ambitious initiative, but they may become the UN’s most shameful failure if countries fail to cooperate wholeheartedly and urgently.
  2. Most political problems in the world today – brutal conflicts, democratic breakdowns, and the rise of extremism – share the common root of poverty and inequality.

Although populists are not necessarily against ending poverty and hunger (Goals 1 and 2), they will only commit to cooperation if there is no one else to blame. Populists are certainly not committed to quality education (Goal 4) and gender equality (Goal 5), as they feel the state should only serve those who share their values. Populists do not seem to care about clean energy (Goal 7) and climate change (Goal 13), often reducing these concerns to mere conspiracies advanced by transnational elites, which include scientists, activists, and politicians (dismissed as liberal or communist). They are all accused of disregarding the true needs of the people.


Having said all that, it comes as no surprise that populists are not willing to embrace Goal 16, peace, justice, and strong institutions. I am confident that populists uncommitted to global peace and security may lose momentum soon. It requires solid institutions, brave activists, and increased cooperation.

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