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International Relations Foreign policy

Security Council or Secretary-General?

Lula da Silva at the UN, courtesy of United Nations Photo/flickr

Brazil, particularly President Lula da Silva, is pursuing an active UN and foreign policy. According to The Times, Lula recently joked that he was “infected by the virus of peace.” Such ‘viruses’, however, do not infect people without giving them greater ambition. In the case of Brazil, the country seems to alternate between seeking a permanent seat in the UN Security Council on the one hand and pushing for Lula to become the next UN secretary-general in 2011 or 2015 on the other.

To get a better sense of Brazil’s rising ambitions, let’s review the latest victories in Brazilian diplomacy and other political activities:

  • The country will host the 2016 Olympic Games, bringing them for the first time to South America. It  will also host the 2014 FIFA World Cup, two major events in what can be called ‘sport or cultural diplomacy.’
  • Brazil, with the help of Turkey, successfully negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran.
  • Brazil is the major contributor to the UN Mission in Haiti.
  • The country has been elected nine times to the UN Security Council, and is the member that has served for the most number of years. It is also a regular and reliable contributor to the UN budget.
  • Brazil recently hosted the Alliance of Civilizations’ 3rd Summit.
  • Lula travels the world to secure economic and political partnerships. The most recent one was in Africa where he launched the African-Brazilian University.
  • The country is getting involved, for good or bad, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, hosting the leaders of both entities in Brazilia. Brazil also organized the South-America-Arab summit.
  • Brazil is also taking the lead regionally, trying to solve the Honduras crisis and leading in the regional organizations UNASUR and MERCOSUR.

The list could go on and on but the real question is: what are they aiming at? Indeed what is the practical objective of expanding Brazilian involvement on the world stage: Securing a permanent seat in the Security Council or becoming the next UN secretary-general?

I would put my bet on the secretary-general post for the following reason: Being elected secretary-general is “easier” than reforming the Security Council since the structure does not need to be modified (and I know that some of you will disagree with me on this point) and since reform is likely to be painful, if not impossible in any case, and will probably take years, if not decades more to complete.

Moreover, Lula has been personally involved in the latest diplomatic successes of the country and he has show leadership on all fronts, particularly in the BRIC movement and in Africa. And unlike many of his South American counterparts, he respected the two mandate rule, making him a guarantor of democracy in the region, which is crucial for the job of secretary-general.

Furthermore, Lula is a moderate that can please both the north and the south. He is a proponent of capitalism and the market economy, but as he has a poor background, he has also pushed hard for the redistribution of wealth and social empowerment in Brazil.  Generally opposed to multilateral sanctions, Lula has also proven himself as a defender of the principle of state sovereignty; a foundational principle of the UN.

The charismatic president has the necessary qualities to create consensus on global issues and making Lula secretary-general would be the world’s acknowledgment of Brazil’s growing importance in the world stage without paying the price for a painful and protracted reform process in the Security Council.

Indeed if Lula wants the job (when the time comes), is the world ready to give it to him, to Brazil and indeed to South America?

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