Andres Oppenheimer

Andres Oppenheimer: Brazil makes it hard to back key U.N. reforms

Latin American leaders speaking at the opening session of the United Nations’ General Assembly renewed their calls for a reform of the U.N. Security Council to give wider representation to emerging powers. But they are not likely to succeed, and it’s partly their own fault.

In theory, they are right in asking for an expansion of the U.N. Security Council. They accurately point out that since the United Nations was created in 1945, its member countries have grown from 51 to 183. We are living in a world in which developing countries have become bigger and stronger.

The 15-member Security Council, which is the U.N.’s most powerful body, is currently made up of five permanent members with individual veto power — China, Russia, the United States, France and the United Kingdom — and 10 non-permanent members, without veto powers, who are elected for two-year terms.

It’s time for major world economies such as Brazil, India and South Africa to get permanent seats, developing countries say.

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff argued at the opening session of the 69th General Assembly in New York on Wednesday that next year’s 70th anniversary of the U.N. will be the perfect occasion to reform the Council. “A more representative and legitimate Security Council will also be a more effective Council,” she said.

But there are several big reasons why few in diplomatic circles believe that Council reform is anywhere near.

First, internal infighting among candidates for permanent seats is likely to continue blocking reforms.

Mexico is not ready to allow Brazil to be the sole permanent representative of Latin America, and vice versa. The same goes with India and Pakistan. And neither Great Britain nor France are in any hurry to welcome Germany to the group.

Second, many Latin American countries, especially Brazil, have shown a lack of engagement on major world conflicts, or an outright refusal to defend core U.N. principles. That creates little enthusiasm in Western capitals to support their candidacies.

Rousseff's General Assembly speech was a case in point. Most of it was a campaign speech for domestic consumption promoting what she sees as her government’s achievements (She’s running for re-election on Oct.5), and the remainder was a demand for greater representation for Brazil and other developing countries at world bodies, plus a few isolated stands on economic and social issues and Internet privacy and net neutrality.

But she virtually omitted the global war against ISIS and other extremist Islamic terrorist groups that want to impose an anti-Christian, anti-Jewish Caliphate in the Middle East, or this year’s Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea.

In March, Brazil abstained on a U.N. resolution that condemned Russia’s invasion. The measure passed by 100 votes, with 11 against and 58 abstentions. (To their credit, several Latin American countries, including Costa Rica, Chile, Colombia, Peru, and Mexico, supported the resolution.)

Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda is among those who argue that the failure by Brazil, India and South Africa to uphold U.N. principles on issues such as democracy or human rights means that they “are not ready for prime time” at the Security Council. Rousseff did touch on human rights during her U.N. speech — but mostly in the context of Internet governance.

“They don’t take responsibility,” Castañeda told me. “If you want to be a permanent member of the Security Council, and because of your size you deserve to be there, you should take sides on key world issues.”

“Every time there is a big issue such as Libya, or Iran, or Syria, or Ukraine, they abstain,” he added. “They abstain because they cling to outdated stands of the Third World Non-Aligned Movement, in which their key priority is not to align themselves with the United States and Western Europe.”

Finally, in the aftermath of Latin American governments’ decision to support Venezuela’s bid for a non-permanent seat at the Council starting in 2015, many in Western diplomatic circles wonder whether they want a permanent Latin American seat at the Council.

Venezuela has a gruesome human rights record, openly supported the Russian invasion of Crimea, and enthusiastically supports Syria’s bloody dictator Bashar Al Assad.

My opinion: It would be much easier to support Latin America's rightful demand for a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council if Brazil, Venezuela and their allies were even slightly committed to the collective defense of democracy and human rights worldwide. But their current leaders are not, which makes it really hard to back their cause.