Policy Exercise: Brazil and the UNSC




All conditions relevant to the case are materially the same as they were on January 9th 2014, except for the hypotheticals introduced specifically in the case.

You are a diplomat at Itamaraty, currently based in Beijing, but with profound knowledge of the inner workings of the United Nations after having spent three years in Brazil’s mission to the UN in New York.

Over the past years, Brazil’s international status has radically changed from an instable regional player to an economic powerhouse with global political ambitions.

Yet one of the major goals of Brazil’s foreign policy over the past years remains elusive: A permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Brazil’s efforts to obtain a seat date back to the very creation of the United Nations, when Brazil was given the right to speak first in the General Assembly as a consolation prize for not becoming a permanent member. In 2005, a reform effort led by the so-called “G4” (Brazil, India, Japan and Germany) failed largely because African nations were unable to agree on who would occupy the two seats awarded to them, but also because China and the United States were not fully invested in the reform project.

Brazil’s newfound power and growing diplomatic credit offers opportunities, but also risks. The country’s diplomats call for a democratization of global governance, but it cannot be denied that even after Brazil’s inclusion into the UN Security Council, the body would remain essentially undemocratic. Brazil may run the risk of being accused by developing country as hypocritical, unwilling to represent them and their interests once it has joined the league of the powerful. It is also unclear how much about the admiration for Brazil by other governments is mere rhetoric, and how much is sincere – during Obama’s last visit to Brazil, he failed to explicitly endorse Brazil’s UNSC ambitions in the way he had done in India.


Nine years after failing to enter the UN Security Council as a permanent member, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo asks you to prepare a review on Brazil’s strategy for UNSC reform. He asks you to prepare a memo, which he will share with President Rousseff later this month.

He asks you to briefly summarize the reasons for failure so far (systemic or tied to Brazil specifically?), give a short overview of the status quo, propose three options on how to move forward, and make one recommendation that includes specific “how to” steps. For example, should Brazil continue to collaborate with the other members of the “G4”? Also, aside from making structural proposals, he asks you to think about how Brazil should go about pressing for change. Considering what is necessary for Brazil to obtain a permanent seat, which strategy should Brazil adopt, garnering support from key actor in the process without making unnecessary enemies or compromising other foreign policy goals? “What can we offer to the Coffee Club to make sure they will not block our efforts?” he asks.

He asks you to not only consider how to best achieve this aim, but also to critically analyze Brazil’s policy with regards to UNSC reform. Is it in Brazil’s national interest to occupy a permanent seat? What are the alternatives? Is the UN Security Council still as powerful as it was, and can we expect it to remain important in the future, or is the UN Security Council, in light of the rise of non-institutionalized platforms such as G20, a thing of the past? Also, please consider the political viability with regards to domestic politics.

These questions are important because Brazilian foreign policy makers’ time and resources are limited, and the country is unable to focus on all issues at the same time. Campaigning for a seat on the Security Council is time-consuming, and it requires Brazil to spend diplomatic credit it could otherwise spend on other institutions that deal with other topics, such as climate change.

Read also:

Why the anti-BRICS hype is overblown

Brazil’s top 10 foreign policy challenges in 2014

Brazil and UN Security Council reform: Is it time for another big push?

Photo credit: Mark Garten/UN Photo