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Last Updated: 03/03/2011
Brazil, the U.N. and multilateralism
Tadeu Valadares

In this keynote address at the Opening Ceremony of University for Peace Model United Nations Conference, Ambassador Tadeu Valadares discusses the pressing issues of UN reform, globalization, poverty, and human rights, emphasizing the need for stronger collaboration and multilateralism in the international system in order to promote peace and sustainable development.

Dear Professor Maresca, Rector of the University for Peace,

Dear President and Vice President of this year´s conference, Mohit Pant and Kendra Bruno,

Dear Professors V'ctor Valle and Mihir Kanade,

Distinguished professors and students assembled here today , all of you entirely devoted to this Model United Nations Conference, an exercise that for sure will bear very positive results,

May I start this speech by remembering that René Char, the outstanding French poet, once wrote – with Provence, not Georgia, in his mind -, “on remercie dans mon pays”.

Char´s fragment is one more reason to start this modest contribution to the 9th annual Model United Nations Conference by expressing my deepest gratitude to Professor Maresca, as well as to Kendra Bruno and Mohit Pant who kindly invited me to present you what is no more than an introduction to a very complex subject, my theme being “Brazil, the U.N. and multilateralism”.

“You will have 20 to 25 minutes to deliver your speech, Ambassador”, said Kendra and Mohit, both a little worried with the prospect that I embarked on the adventure of talking, who knows, for one hour at least. Hence, with recently acquired diplomatic discipline, I´ll try not to put your patience to test, and myself in danger. But forgive me, please, if I go a few minutes beyond the time generously allowed me by Kendra and Mohit.

What I offer you is somewhat a synthesis of 8 speeches delivered by Brazil at the U.N. General Assembly. Six of them made by President Lula da Silva, the other two by Ambassador Celso Amorim, then Minister of External Relations of Brazil. The first speech was delivered by Lula da Silva in September 2003. The last one, by Celso Amorim, September 2010.

When Lula da Silva went for the first time to the United Nations as Head of State, the entire world was still shocked by the brutal terrorist attack against the two magnificent towers that symbolized in Manhattan much of U.S. power and wealth. Last September, when Ambassador Amorim delivered his speech, the whole planet was still suffering the consequences of the global economic crisis that started in Manhattan two years before. Unfortunately, that resilient crisis has not yet abandoned us.

Remembering these two facts is a way of saying that the world is indeed a very dangerous place, a mix of challenges and opportunities that is always with us. Confronted by them, we must rise to respond. Hence, “Rising to respond” is a perfect title for this Conference that brought me to the University for Peace.

Why is the world such a dangerous place, I ask you and myself.

Maybe because since the beginning of the 19th century political transformations have not been transposed to the economic and social fields. In 1820, the per capita income of the richest nation in the world was five times greater than that of the poorest one. Today, this disparity reaches more than 80 to 1.

Maybe because in the past, 125 of 192 Nation-States members of the U.N. were subjected to the oppression embodied by the colonial system.

Maybe because most of the former subjects of colonial rule have been transformed into perpetual debtors in the international economic system.

Maybe because protectionist barriers and other obstacles to balanced trade, aggravated by the concentration of investments, knowledge and technology, have followed colonial domination.

Maybe because in the past decades, an ill-inclusive and asymmetric globalization has deepened the devastating legacy of poverty and social regression, which now bursts into the agenda of the 21st century.

Maybe because only five years ago, in 54 countries the per capita income was lower than what it was 15 years before. Maybe because in 34 countries, life expectancy had then decreased. Maybe because in 14 others, a greater number of children starved to death.

Maybe because in Africa, 5 to 6 years ago, 200 million people were caught in an existence marked by hunger, disease and neglect.

Many other factors or causes can be added to explain the weight and resilience of this apalling picture. All of them, or many of them, may be useful tools that help us to understand why the world is so dangerous a place. But the social and economic dimensions of a disaster whose inception occurred more than two centuries ago must not be forgotten. They are the bedrock of much that characterizes in a dismal way the contemporary scene.

When we are aware of that extreme situation, it becomes less difficult to understand why a large number of countries, such as Brazil and other like-minded Nations, are not satisfied with the world such as it is. With this framework in mind, it becomes all too easy to decipher what propels the political will of those countries to reform the U.N. so that a less dangerous world may possibly emerge.

The careful reading of those 8 speeches with which Brazil opened, from 2003 to 2010, the General Assembly debates provides information about how Brazil sees the U.N., how the country participates in the Organization daily work, which are our goals, how Brazil perceives the present world order, and what is Brazil´s understanding of multilateralism and the tasks that lie ahead.

Little by little a clear profile emerges.

Brazil staunchly defends multilateralism, and envisages the multilateral system as the necessary counterpart of democratic practices within Nations. Only an international order based on multilateralism can promote peace and sustainable development.

Brazil coherently proposes that the UN decision making process must be more open, transparent, legitimate, and representative.

For us, the U.N. is a institution whose actions spread much beyond her invaluable humanitarian task. The U.N. is entitled to its political authority, her central task being to preserve people from the scourge of war. Thus the U.N. is the opposite of all intents of unilateralism.

The reform of the U.N. has become an urgent task given the ever present risks that conservatism poses to the possibility of instituting a just and balanced international order. For us, to have a major role in the creation of a new world order, the Security Council must be fully empowered to deal with crisis and threats to peace. It must be equipped with the necessary tools for effective action. Above all, its decisions must be seen as legitimate.

For Brazil it´s mandatory to strengthen the Security Council, this effort implying structural change in the present composition of the Council - in particular as concerns permanent membership. The Council cannot remain frozen and the necessary reform of the U.N. must take into account the very dynamics of history as it deployed itself from the end of the Second World War to this moment. More specifically, it must take into account the emergence of developing countries in the international scene. They have become important actors that often exercise a significant role in ensuring the peaceful settlement of disputes. In essence, it is not reasonable to expect that the Council can continue to expand its agenda and responsibilities without addressing its obvious democracy deficit.

For us, the composition of the UN Security Council must reflect today´s realities, instead of perpetuating the past, the Second World War era. Reform proposals that simply dress the current structure in new clothes, and do not provide for an increase in the number of permanent members are manifestly insufficient.

But we should not disregard that the U.N. is not the Security Council alone, despite the fact that the outdated composition of the Council concentrates excessive power in the hands of those who won the global conflict that opposed the Allies to Nazism and Fascism. More than six decades after the creation of the United Nations, the fateful decisions concerning war and peace in practice belong to five of them.

Within the Council, history is essentially frozen, international politics still submitted to a superseded balance of power whose roots since long have lost contact with the fertilizing soil of reality.

On the one hand, Brazil also favours an Economic and Social Council capable of contributing for the creation of a fair and balanced economic order. We firmly support the establishment of a more active cooperation between the Security Council and the ECOSOC. In fact, the Economic and Social Council must also contribute to peace and stability in partnership with the Security Council.

On the other hand, from our perspective the General Assembly must be politically revamped so as to focus on priority issues and avoid duplication of efforts. Although in Brazil´s perception the General Assembly has fulfilled its role by convening major conferences on human rights, the environment, population, women´s rights, racial discrimination, AIDS and social development, the Assembly should not hesitate to take on its responsibilities for maintaining international peace and security. Only by completely fulfilling its responsibilities the General Assembly will really become what the international system needs: a forum of universal representation where the crucial issues of today´s world can be democratically debated. Ideally, a reformed General Assembly, more agile and productive, will be prepared to provide leadership and political guidance to the Organization as a whole. A General Assembly reformed along these lines would embody the very essence of the United Nations.

Of course the U.N. cannot provide by herself peace and security for the entire world. Of course, peace and security will be enhanced only if development and social justice spread. In the Brazilian view, peace, security, development and social justice are indivisible.

That´s why Brazil systematically criticizes the protectionism practiced by rich countries. Those longstanding policies and practices unfairly discriminate against efficient producers in developing countries, and may justifiably be conceived as the greatest obstacle to open up a new era of economic and social progress. After more than 10 years of negotiations, the Doha Round and her predicaments still are the most powerful illustration of this thesis. Doha has a right track to follow: trade liberalization with social justice in order to promote development. A successful conclusion of the Round could take more than 500 million people out of poverty. A failure would generate serious consequences that would go far beyond trade of goods and services.

When we are seemingly discussing trade in goods and in services, we should not delude ourselves, there is a hidden subtext in this exercise. As we decide about trade matters, we may be drawing the lines that mark the difference between progress and regression, between development and stagnation, between war and peace, between life and death. Trade negotiations are not an end in themselves, but rather a means to foster development and overcoming poverty. International trade should be a tool not only for creating wealth but also for allowing its distribution. Without prosperity for all it seems inevitable that insecurity shall come for all. In the long run, sometimes even in the short run, insecurity and despair become the midwife of war.

For Brazil, the only war from which we will all emerge victorious is the war against hunger and extreme poverty. The eradication of hunger is both a moral and a political imperative. It is entirely possible to reach this goal, if there is political will and mankind´s well-being win the ongoing battle against greed and parochial interests. The eradication of hunger, a scourge that affects close to one billion people, more or less one seventh of mankind, is a test to global civilization, a divide in terms of civilizational patterns. The answer of the international system to that crucial issue will define the future of the planet, and the fate of coming generations.

If we are to succeed, then it becomes mandatory that the role incumbent on financial flows from international organizations be reassessed. The heart of the matter is to adjust their focus in order to reach just and sustainable development. The IMF, the World Bank and other major international financial institutions should be able to provide the guarantee and the liquidity which are necessary for productive investment – especially in infrastructure, housing and sanitation – and which can also restore the poor countries´ capacity to pay. We must not forget that such institutions were created to provide for solutions; not to become part of the problem.

A note on terrorism: for us, the necessary fight against terrorism cannot be conceived strictly in military terms. As we do not stand for interference by a state or a group of states in domestic affairs, we also cannot condone omission and indifference. We will continue to lend our support to increased international cooperation both to combat against terrorism and to eliminate its deep-rooted causes. Such efforts must be undertaken with due respect for international law and human rights. The fight against terrorism must not be exclusively centered on repression conducted by police or armed forces. We should not trade one form of barbarism for another. Within this framework, Brazil is in favor of the adoption of a comprehensive convention on terrorism.

The last decades have witnessed significant actions by Brazil and other emerging countries in the economic sphere. In order to build a new world economic and commercial geography, it is imperative that we maintain the vital ties we have established with developed countries. At the same time, Brazil strives for the establishment of solid bridges among the countries of the South.

Those countries have remained severely isolated from one another for too long. That is why Brazil has fostered stronger ties with South America, bilaterally and also within Mercosur and Unasur. Concerning Latin America and the Caribbean, a historic event took place in Salvador, Bahia, three years ago. For the first time in history a summit attended by Heads of State of Latin America and the Caribbean or their representatives was held. The first Latin American summit stressed the need for accelerating economic integration and deepening political interaction. Important to mention that we have been developing efforts of the same kind with Africa south of the Sahara and with Arab countries, not to mention the expanded links with China, India, South Africa and Russia.

Brazil´s actions are centered in fostering development with social justice, which is in harmony with building up a possible and more enlightened relation between culture and nature, between the economy and the environment. Henceforth, we are committed to the success of the International Climate Change Regime. That´s why we are developing renewable sources of energy such as biofuels. That´s also why we consider the Kyoto Protocol an outstanding step in the right direction.

But let us not delude ourselves: if the groundwork of global development is not rebuilt, the risks of unprecedented environmental and human disaster will grow as we face the ultimate risk of self-destruction. There is hope on the short run because the international community has at least already established the principle that must guide our common efforts. All countries and societies have to accept in its entirety the principle of shared but differentiated responsibilities, although all of us are equally aware that mankind will not overcome the terrible impacts of climate change until the prevailing patterns of energy production and consumption are changed.

Finally, a brief note on human rights.

Brazil sees the protection and defense of all human rights - civil, political, cultural, economic, social and the right to development - as the backbone of a solid multilateralism. That is what led us to strive for the establishment of the Peace Building Commission and of the Human Rights Council, the creation of both organs clearly based on the principles of universality, dialogue and non-selectivity. This new structure of the human rights sphere is a remarkable improvement in the functioning of the global system of protection. Within this frame, Brazil considers the elaboration of the annual global report on human rights a most important contribution to increase the very credibility of the global protective system. For us, international cooperation in the human rights and humanitarian assistance field must be more and more stressed, all actions being guided by the principle of collective responsibility. We have sustained in our own region and elsewhere that the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of States must be associated with the idea of non-indifference.

We agree that new concepts such as “human security” and “responsibility to protect” deserve an adequate place in the UN system. But we also realize that it is an illusion to believe that we can combat the dysfunctional politics at the root of grave human rights violations through military means alone, or with the recurrent adoption of economic sanctions alone. When human rights are at stake, diplomacy and persuasion become invariably essential. Together they constitute a pair of tools that wisely used may lead to significant results, instead of generating anomy, chaos and violence. The risk inherent in the systematic use of military means and in the implementation of policies aimed at “regime change” is fueling international violence and naturalizing the extreme recourse to warfare. In this kind of scenario, diplomacy is limited to the backstage. Peace and stability may be the first casualties.

For us, human security is mainly the result of just and equitable societies which promote and protect human rights, strengthen democracy and reflect the rule of law, while simultaneously creating opportunities for economic development with social justice. The idea that order should be imposed upon by sheer force is extreme. It is wise to consider the use of this instrument only when all other efforts have been exhausted and peaceful solutions have indeed proved not viable. The judgment regarding the existence of such exceptional circumstances must always be a multilateral one.

At the end of this presentation, perhaps some of you will consider the Brazilian view of world politics, her positions concerning the role of the UN and the importance of multilateralism somewhat idealistic and utopian. Concerning this possible judgment, let me say that in the last resort we, and by we I mean Brazil and so many other countries, do not have many options. It is much better to adopt a Grotian or a Kantian worldview to international politics than go back to Hobbes and the war of all against all. Of course, this preference must be blended with at least a few drops of sound, not extreme realism.

Still having in mind those who adopt a perspective of international relations perhaps too much anchored in political realism, I would like to conclude this speech not with words of a Brazilian leader or explanations elaborated by a sophisticated Brazilian intellectual.

Instead, I would rather invite you to meet the angel of history as depicted by Walter Benjamin in one of his theses on the philosophy of history.

“A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise: it has caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.”

There is still time, my friends, to help the angel of history. Rise and respond!

Thank you very much.

Tadeu Valadares is Brazilian ambassador to Costa Rica.