Op-Ed

Should Obama Endorse Brazil for the Security Council?

Kevin Casas-Zamora

President Barack Obama’s two-day visit to Brazil has created some expectations that he will endorse the South American giant’s aspiration to earn a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. Over the past decade, this goal has been one of the drivers of Brazil’s foreign policy. Such an achievement would mark the consummation of Brazil’s ascent to the first rank of global powers. The obvious comparison here is, of course, President Obama’s explicit support of India’s similar bid, aired during his official visit to this country in November 2010. Some analysts –particularly in Brazil—go as far as saying that anything short of a similar statement by President Obama on this occasion ought to be considered a rebuke of Brazil’s aspirations.

This is a mistake and a case of deluded expectations. In his visit, Obama will probably acknowledge Brazil’s intentions, as well as the need to bring about a new international architecture, more reflective of the changing global order. Doing so would be wise and appropriate. Yet, endorsing Brazil’s bid would be a very serious mistake at this point, one which Obama is unlikely to make. His rash embrace of India’s aspirations was probably a misstep, although one partially explained by the United States’ urgent need to create a countervailing force to China’s juggernaut in Asia. No similar need exists in the case of Brazil. Sanctioning Brazil’s bid would probably create serious ripples throughout Latin America, not just among Brazil’s South American neighbors –which often see its rise through a less benign lens than Brazilians would like to believe— but also, and perhaps fundamentally, in Mexico. Mexico –a large and historically influential actor in Latin America—would not take Obama’s endorsement of Brazil’s global aspirations lightly.

This could have negative implications for the handling of the extraordinarily complex bilateral links between the United States and Mexico, and undo some of the bonds of trust that have been built between both countries in the recent past, which run contrary to a history of mutual wariness. Almost certainly, such a move would trigger an intense diplomatic effort by Mexico to undermine Latin America’s support for the Brazilian bid. Moreover, the Mexican campaign would fall on fertile ground. It has become increasingly clear to most Latin American countries that Brazil does not see itself playing any role in representing the region. To put it shortly, Brazil sees the Security Council seat it covets as Brazil’s, not Latin America’s. And the region knows it. While Mexico has no hope whatsoever of landing a Security Council seat for itself, it nonetheless stands a fairly good chance of bringing most of Latin America around the conclusion that the current arrangement, whereby the region permanently has two rotating seats at the table, suits everybody just fine.

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