from The Internationalist and International Institutions and Global Governance Program

UNSC Reform: Making Room for Brazil

July 12, 2011
5:46 pm (EST)

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon talks to Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff during their meeting at Planalto Palace in Brasilia (Ueslei Marcelino/ Courtesy Reuters).

The Internationalist has some new summer reading for you, hot off the press! Today CFR released Global Brazil and U.S.-Brazil Relations—the final report of a Council task force chaired by former World Bank president James D. Wolfensohn and Samuel W. Bodman, former secretary of energy. The report chronicles Brazil’s dramatic rise over the past decade—and its potential to become a major global player. Kudos to my good friend and colleague Julia Sweig, director of the Council’s Latin American program, for shepherding this timely document to completion.

The report’s most striking recommendation is that the United States should support Brazil’s candidacy for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC)—something that President Obama shied away from doing during his February 2011 trip to Brazil. I’ve wondered whether Brazil is ready for prime time in the past, for three reasons that have consistently dogged Brazil’s aspirations:

  1. Doubts about its status as a great power. The new task force report makes a solid case that Brazil is emerging as a significant player with global as well as regional aspirations.
  2. Questions about its potential contributions to global security. Brazil’s global power projection has been largely limited to economics and the “soft-power” appeal of Brazil’s instinctive multilateralism. Despite growing involvement in UN peacekeeping (particularly in Haiti), and increased defense spending, it lags far behind the Permanent Five (as well as most other major UNSC aspirants) both in defense spending and contributions to the UN’s regular and peacekeeping budgets.
  3. Worries about its likely behavior as a permanent member. Most problematic from a U.S. perspective, are doubts about how Brazil, as a leader of the Group of Seventy-Seven (G77), could be expected to behave on the UNSC. Would it adopt the weighty obligations of membership, including willingness to authorize coercive action under Chapter 7 of the Charter when required? Or would it stick to an absolutist position on non-intervention and state sovereignty, privileging South-South solidarity over effective collective security?Under its previous president, the flamboyant Luis Ignácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s diplomacy, particularly in the Middle East, was often clumsy and counterproductive. Too often, the government courted a reflexive, outdated anti-Americanism. Brazil did its UNSC candidacy no favors in April of last year, when it joined Turkey in an ill-conceived gambit to stymie a fourth round of sanctions against Iran to contain that country’s nuclear ambitions.Happily, Lula’s successor, Dilma Roussef, has adopted a less confrontational, more pragmatic stance in U.S.-Brazilian relations, portending a smoother era of bilateral cooperation.  This would appear to make Brazil’s permanent membership a less risky proposition, from Washington’s perspective. The Task Force declares itself confident that:

    “Brazil’s prospective permanent membership on the UNSC would compel it toward increased responsibility and accountability on a host of global issues.”

Furthermore, incorporating Brazil onto the Security Council would be a symbolic and practical step in devaluing the utility of nuclear weapons in world politics, by showing that a country can attain the inner sanctum without pursuing the world’s most destructive devices. Consistent with its constitution, the country remains a non-nuclear weapons state.

The Task Force is, however, divided over the timeframe for integrating Brazil onto the Security Council. Though some members call for immediate U.S. endorsement without qualifications, I would agree with their colleagues that recommend gradually laying some groundwork for what will inevitably be a complex diplomatic process.

In a CFR Special Report issued last December, Kara C. McDonald and I argue that President Obama should spearhead an enlargement of the UNSC’s permanent membership to correspond to contemporary power realities. However, the United States must be confident that new permanent members are prepared to accept the obligations of membership, and not just the privileges.  (After all, as my friend Ed Luck, formerly of the International Peace Institute, is fond of saying, “permanent is a fairly long time”). Candidate countries, including Brazil, must meet certain threshold criteria, and the process should unfold gradually to give prospective aspirants a chance to demonstrate their bona fides.

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