Let Us In

Why Barack Obama must support Brazil's drive for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

When U.S. President Barack Obama arrives in Brazil later this month, Brazilians will expect him to make a statement supporting our country's inclusion in a reformed U.N. Security Council, as he did regarding India's inclusion in November. It would be a disappointment if Obama does not endorse our drive for a permanent seat on the world's premier international security body -- not just because Brazil deserves a seat but because the council's very legitimacy depends on the inclusion of emerging powers.

Let's take first the simple reality of global power today, which is no longer reflected in the membership of the current council. It's vitally important that developing economies be part of this global body, and it is only natural that Brazil, which is now among the eight largest economies in the world, should be included. If the Brazilian economy is already as big as that of Britain or France -- and ours has room to grow while these others do not -- why should they be there and not us? Or India, which has more than 1 billion people? And why not a single African country? Reform is not a question of ambition of this or that country, but rather a question of the Security Council needing to be representative of the world community.

This is not only a question of making our global institutions as democratic and representative as possible. It's not about a feel-good quest for diverse representation. Reforming the Security Council is vital if the body's decisions are to be taken seriously worldwide. If the council is seen as the coterie of only a few great powers, its decisions are not likely to be respected or received with enthusiasm -- to the detriment of all. Of course, one limiting factor is that the present permanent five, veto-wielding powers on the council are very jealous of their privileges; they don't want to share them.

Yet we emerging powers have much to offer. First, we will bring new perspectives. Take, for example, the Middle East. We will not come with magic solutions -- nobody has magic solutions -- but we will have fresh ideas, and Brazil is an interlocutor that is able to talk to everyone. In the same month in 2009, for example, we received the president of Israel, the president of the Palestinian Authority, and the president of Iran. How many other countries are able to receive visits from these three presidents in just a matter of weeks? It was a demonstration of how well-positioned Brazil is to hold dialogue with countries with different perspectives.

Why can Brazil open doors when today's Security Council cannot? Part of it has to do with our country's pluralistic background -- the cultural and racial mixture of our society. But it's also simply because we are a developing country. A perfect example came last year when Iran rejected a Western proposal under which the country's uranium would be shipped abroad for enrichment up to energy-grade (not weapons-grade) levels. Coming from the West, the agreement met hard resistance from Tehran on everything from its timing to the quantity of uranium required. But when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and I brought Tehran the same basic agreement, we both spoke from the perspective of fellow developing countries that can understand the problems of other developing countries; everyone is on the same level.

At the same time, Brazil plain and simply has influence. In November, when we decided to recognize a Palestinian state, immediately another eight or 10 Latin American countries did the same. Even some European countries are moving toward having a new kind of relationship with Palestine. To ignore the fact that Brazil has clout in the world would be foolish.

Take Brazil's relationship with Africa. We are one of the few non-African countries that can carry an influence in political discussions on that continent. Five years ago in Guinea-Bissau, when that country faced a huge political crisis, we spoke to Senegal and other countries in the region. They told us that Brazil was welcome to join the mediation, while other countries were not. During my term as foreign minister, I even mentioned this fact to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, arguing that our unique relationship with African countries creates areas for cooperation with the United States -- at a time when other countries, namely China, are very much present in Africa.

Many corners of the global system already reflect the new geopolitical reality. Brazil is at the center of international trade negotiations. In financial matters, we are a leader in the G-20. We were instrumental in reforming the International Monetary Fund's quota system, together with the other BRIC countries. At the end of the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, it was Obama, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and the leaders of China, India, and South Africa who came to a final accord. In all these areas, it's already accepted that Brazil is a leader. It is only in the area of peace and security that we are not.

During my eight years as foreign minister, I worked tirelessly to change that. Our strategy was twofold: to try to work within the United Nations, but at the same time to push for reform from the outside. We drew lessons from another big example of recent change to the multilateral system: IMF reform. There would never have been change in the quota system if pressure had come only from within the IMF; it was really the G-20's pushing that provoked the change. Likewise with the United Nations, we can begin some kinds of reforms from the outside, for example by also holding G-20 meetings for foreign rather than just finance ministers. (Now that I am no longer foreign minister, I can say this because I am not pleading on own behalf!) Building these informal groups will help push along change to formal institutions within the United Nations.

Obama's support of India's candidacy for a permanent Security Council seat was a good step. We in Brazil agree with Obama; we have a very close relationship with India. With India, the United States is motivated by its rivalry with China, its interests in Asia, Afghanistan, and so on. But how could you have India and not Brazil? How could you have one more Asian country -- because Japan would probably also have to join if India did -- and not one each from Latin America and Africa? How can you give a prize to a country that decided to go nuclear and deny the same to a country that did not? Brazil could have developed atomic weapons -- we have the capacity to process uranium -- but we chose to write in our Constitution that nuclear energy should be used only for peaceful purposes. We should not be penalized for that.

I know reform will be very difficult. But I also know that it is an absolute must, and it's a must because otherwise the Security Council will grow progressively less relevant. Of course, reform will take time, though maybe not as long as we think. If you had asked me before the financial crisis of 2008 how long it would take for the G-7 to become the G-20, I would have said maybe 10 years. But it took less than one. I hope we don't need to have a similar crisis, this time in the area of security, to provoke the Security Council to act. What's happening today in the Arab world should be a wake-up call: No single country in the world is capable of dealing with this situation; they are not capable of even analyzing it. The more the world listens to others who have good relationships in the region, the more choices and options we will have.

Having lived all these years and seeing so many things change, I do think it's possible. Reforming the global security system is the question of world governance in the coming years. Brazil, for one, is up to the challenge.



The Trouble With the BRICs

Why it's too soon to give Brazil and India permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council.

As the so-called BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have grown more and more influential in the world economy, their administrators and myriad pundits have inevitably concluded that they and other rising powers should also become more important actors in global politics. The insistence by Brazil and India for permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, a similar push by China and Brazil for a greater say on climate change talks and on IMF and World Bank voting shares, and a greater voice for South Africa in all of these arenas are just a few examples of the BRICs' growing boldness.

But as I noted last year in Foreign Affairs, the emerging powers are not ready for prime time. And never has this been clearer than now, with revolution sweeping the Middle East. It is the traditional powers in the West that will determine the international response to this crisis -- not because they are favored by global institutions, but because their word is backed by military and diplomatic weight. In contrast, the world's rising economies lack the ability -- and the values -- to project their power on the world stage.

Let's back up a bit. By now, the growing economic clout of the new regional powers is indisputable. Their political strength, however, is less obvious. And more importantly, their entry into the halls of world governance would not necessarily strengthen the developing international legal regime. These new powers lack the same commitment as the older ones to supranational institutions and universal values such as human rights, the collective defense of democracy, a robust climate change framework, nuclear nonproliferation, and so forth. Hence, permanent seats on the Security Council for Brazil, India, and South Africa, coupled with greater participation by China, Pakistan, Indonesia, and even Mexico in international agencies or bodies, might weaken the very foundations of the liberal democratic order -- although in this regard, their entrance would also make international bodies more globally representative.

But in recent discussions about what should be done in Libya -- as well as in other potential trouble spots in the Arab world -- yet another weakness is laid bare. In addition to generally not wanting to intervene on humanitarian grounds or in defense of democracy or human rights, the "new powers" lack … power. Despite China's and Brazil's military and naval buildup, and India's and Pakistan's possession of nuclear weapons, they still lack the ability to project power the way that countries such as France and Britain can when NATO or the U.N. Security Council so decide. One can agree with such interventions or oppose them, but at this juncture only countries such as these and the United States have the wherewithal to actually do something in crises such as Libya.

The BRICs are self-consciously aware of these weaknesses, and they are working hard to change. Despite being former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's handpicked candidate, Brazil's new leader, Dilma Rousseff, has partly reneged on some of Lula's more questionable foreign-policy postures. She has explicitly pulled back from Brazil's futile and incomprehensible venture -- hand in hand with Turkey -- into the nuclear proliferation conflict between Iran and the P5+1 countries. Roussef has committed Brazil to denouncing human rights violations wherever they occur (probably excluding Cuba and Venezuela, but not Iran any longer). More importantly, Brazil, as a nonpermanent member of the Security Council, voted in favor of Resolution 1970, which imposed sanctions on Libya for the wanton killing of civilians in its ongoing civil war. Brazil's stand on a Security Council resolution imposing a no-fly zone over Libya remains ambiguous, but it seems far more forward-looking than traditional Itamaraty "anti-interventionism."

A similar shift may be occurring with China. Beijing went along with stiffer sanctions against Iran last year and did not veto the Libya resolution. It has apparently opposed a new stance by the Security Council on the no-fly zone, but it appears that the tougher resistance comes from Russia. (One can hardly consider Vladimir Putin's Russia as an emerging power after the Cold War and its full-fledged status as a hegemon, albeit a relatively short-lived one.) Yet even Russia may eventually go along with a tougher U.N. stance than Resolution 1970 and might even approve some form of humanitarian or pro-democracy engagement.

The real issue, though, remains that only the United States, France, and Britain really count in the Arab world crisis. Only the U.S. military was able to nudge the Egyptian Army into edging Hosni Mubarak out of power (obviously thanks to the popular movement in the street, but Qaddafi has shown that jasmines and chants are not sufficient). Only the French government, after much hesitation and several false starts, was finally able to convince Tunisian ruler Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali to leave, and largely because the military abandoned him. And if a no-fly zone is imposed or a humanitarian intervention does take place in Libya, only the United States and NATO will be able to enforce it.

All of which brings us back to square one. The emerging economies may catch up with the older, more developed ones sooner than expected. And they are certainly insistent on conquering the political equivalent of their economic surge. But for the moment, they lack the necessary commitments to the liberal order as well as the ability to project their rising power. Are the new powers willing to fully accept and contribute to the evolving international legal regime on issues such as human rights, collective defense of democracy, trade, climate change, or nonproliferation? Are they committed -- even if Washington is not -- to the International Criminal Court, the Doha round of trade talks, the U.N. Human Rights Council, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and new, more enlightened stances by the IMF and World Bank? Can they eventually begin to assume their responsibilities in U.N. peacekeeping operations (Brazil and India have; South Africa and China are beginning)?

Given the progress that has been made in recent months, scant as it may be, it would seem that a virtuous, non-Faustian pact may be struck with the emerging powers: a seat at the table in exchange for a full-fledged commitment to the agreements, covenants, and deals cut before they arrived, regardless of recurrent noncompliance with all of these structures by the countries that originally created them. The more China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Pakistan, and others meet these standards, the more welcome they should be to the inner councils of world governance. Next year, Mexico will chair the G-20 for six months: This will be a fine opportunity to see whether the emerging powers are finally coming of age.