“I really see the UN at 70 as a young and robust organization capable of adapting to a new world, to new challenges, but there are also rigidities, there are also resistances to change,” said Brazil’s ambassador to the UN, Antonio de Aguiar Patriota.
Speaking to Global Observatory Editor Marie O’Reilly, the ambassador said one area that acutely resists change is the Security Council.
“There are significant contributions that other countries could make if they were allowed to participate more actively,” Mr. Patriota said, noting that the vast majority of draft resolutions are produced by two or three countries in the Security Council, and that “resolutions having to do with Africa are produced by the former colonizers rather than by Africans themselves.”
“Now, until and unless you have African permanent members [on the Security Council], I don’t see the situation changing. And how can Africans feel that they, their voice, and their concerns are being adequately dealt with through these current procedures? I don’t think that this is satisfactory, and in my opinion, it’s not sustainable,” the ambassador said.
The solution to what he described as “stagnation or push-back” in the system was enhanced multilateralism. “The stronger the United Nations, the more nations from around the world gather to discuss challenges and examine difficulties, possibly the better the prospects that we will improve the livelihood of the greatest possible number of people.”
The conversation took place on the sidelines of the inaugural retreat of the Independent Commission on Multilateralism (ICM) on February 19-20. The ICM has a two-year mission to analyze how the UN and the multilateral system can better respond to the new global challenges of the past few decades.
Listen to interview (or download mp3):
Ambassador, we’re speaking a lot today about reform of the multilateral system, which as we know is a state-based system founded in the wake of World War II by a certain number of powers, and the structure of the system still reflects, to a great extent, that foundation. I’m curious what your take is today as we see a lot of new demands by citizens on their states for accountability, greater legitimacy, and greater representativeness. What does this mean for the UN and the multilateral system?
Well the UN has always recognized that it should benefit the international community as a whole, and people in particular, because it [the UN Charter] starts with the words “We the Peoples.” So states, in exercising their sovereignty, they have a responsibility, as was mentioned today in our debate, towards their citizens in providing the best possible standard of living, access to justice, rights—civil, political, as well as economic, social, and cultural. I believe the UN has already made a significant contribution by establishing standards, norms, and oversight at what takes place around the world.
This doesn’t mean that we are in an optimal situation today. I think we see situations of progress, of good experiences of evolution and directions that provide improvement for the livelihood of people, but we also see stagnation or push-back. The solution that I see is enhanced multilateralism–the stronger the United Nations, the more nations from around the world gather to discuss challenges and examine difficulties, possibly the better the prospects that we will improve the livelihood of the greatest possible number of people.
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the reform of the UN Security Council in particular. How can that become a more representative body?
Well there’s a lot of talk and much frustration being expressed at the fact that even though we’ve been looking at this issue for more than 20 years, the membership of the United Nations hasn’t really been able to come up with a proposal that garners the necessary majorities, which would be two-thirds majority of the General Assembly, followed by ratification of two-thirds, including the permanent members. It’s been 50 years since the last time there was expansion in the Security Council and many feel that the 70th anniversary of the UN should be used as an occasion for serious thought and political will and diplomatic energy being invested in this endeavor. In other areas the UN has been able to reform itself and to advance.
If you look at the creation of the Human Rights Council, or the Peacebuilding Commission, or the expansion of the membership of UNEP, or the creation of the high-level political forum as a result of Rio+20, or if you look beyond the UN the G-7 evolved into the G-20. There are other changes that are more reflective of today’s distribution of economic and political power. For example, the WTO agreements used to be pre-negotiated among a group of developed nations, a so-called “quad,” nowadays emerging countries participate in these more restricted negotiations. So there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able also to tackle reform of the Security Council because the alternative is perpetuating a system that is perceived by an increasing proportion of the international community as out of sync with today’s realities.
To what extent does a lack of reform in the Security Council impact on the way the UN addresses peace and security challenges in particular?
If one listens to the debates in the Security Council today—the public ones because we are not, of course, allowed inside the informal consultations—very often one has the impression of living during the years of the Cold War. It’s a little bit a contest between the three Western permanent members and Russia and China on the other hand—who supports one side, who supports the other.
There are many other shades of opinion around the world, and there are significant contributions that other countries could make if they were allowed to participate more actively. I personally believe that unless you expand the Security Council and the permanent member category, you will not actually alter this anachronistic dynamic, because permanence is what gives you the capacity to follow through with projects, ideas, initiatives, develop the kind of skills that allows you to quickly produce a draft resolution.
You know, there’s a circumstance that I think is completely anachronistic: the fact that, I would say, the great vast majority of draft resolutions are produced by two or three countries in the Security Council. Resolutions having to do with Africa are produced by the former colonizers rather than by Africans themselves. Now, until and unless you have African permanent members I don’t see the situation changing. And how can Africans feel that they, their voice, and their concerns are being adequately dealt with through these current procedures? I don’t think that this is satisfactory, and in my opinion it’s not sustainable.
In what area has the UN been most successful at addressing global challenges in recent years?
I happen to believe that the UN is being successful in addressing contemporary challenges. And even in something [that] was mentioned today in our debates: strategic repositioning with respect to very complex topics, such as the challenge posed by climate change and how that impacts on development. So the whole concept of sustainable development that is relatively new has already found itself into a mainstream discussion at the United Nations through the Post-2015 Development Agenda. This is truly revolutionary because the sustainable development goals that are being negotiated will be applicable universally.
This is not about development in the poor part of the world, it’s about development everywhere and how nations will have to change their behavior, their priorities, their policies, communities, and even individuals will have to change so that we can continue to live in this planet and preserve it for succeeding generations. The fact that we are looking at sustainable patterns of production and consumption, goals that have to do with energy, with health, with gender, with education, with inequality under an overarching umbrella of eradicating poverty and recognizing the big challenge that that represents, is very significant progress and I think should not be minimized at all.
There are other areas where I think the UN has also provided useful platforms for progress on human rights—the creation of the Human Rights Council. Brazil has been a pioneer, for example, now with Germany, in looking at the right to privacy in the digital age. This is a direct response to the Edward Snowden revelations, and were it not for the venue that the United Nations provides for discussions, for looking at consensus solutions, for normative development or even enforcement of existing agreements and understandings, I think we would be in a much worse position.
So I really see the UN at 70 as a young and robust organization capable of adapting to a new world, to new challenges, but there are also rigidities, there are also resistances to change, and nowhere is this seen more acutely today than in the difficulties that we find in reforming the Security Council and establishing a new compact on international cooperation to ensure predictability in the use of force in particular. I think that as we transition from a unipolar moment to a more multipolar international setting, this will become absolutely indispensable if we are to avoid the kind of rivalry and competition for hegemonic influence around different areas of the world that inevitably leads to serious conflict.
I think that we should be very attentive here because there’s a tendency today to look at situations in Africa or even situations in the Middle East as the biggest challenges to peace and security, but historically what has challenged peace and security in the most destructive way has been great power tension. I mean the two world wars that took place in the 20th century were triggered by incidents sometimes in smaller countries, but the reason they were so destructive is that they opposed nations that were economically and militarily powerful. So we must not neglect this aspect of international peace and security while, of course, paying attention to the Central African Republics, the South Sudans, etc., but especially being very attentive to the need for improved coordination, understanding, and respect for international law among the major powers.
Just coming back to the use of force as you mentioned, what are some examples where you think there has been a very clear misuse of force in the international system?
Well, unfortunately the 21st century is rife with examples where force has been used in very counter-productive ways with respect not only to the alleged objectives of the use of force, but even generating widespread instability where instability was relatively contained.
Can you name some examples?
Well the obvious examples are Iraq and Libya. Iraq was a war, a military intervention, that happened outside the realm of international law, allegedly to improve the livelihood of Iraqis, provide them with more democratic governance, and perhaps even free them from the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But what we see 12 years later is the introduction of extremist forms of terrorism into a country where it did not exist previously, and a complete destabilization of that part of the Middle East. Similarly in Libya, where force was authorized by the Security Council for the protection of civilians, well there’s a recent article that came out in Foreign Affairs that demonstrates with numbers that civilians are much worse off now than they were under Qaddafi. And of course we’re not here to condone Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi, but the lesson here is that a bad situation can be made worse through the use of force.
And what is also another lesson is that if force is contemplated I think it has to be part of a program, a strategy that looks at diplomatic aspects of how to reconcile nations and establish improved forms of coexistence among peoples and countries and authorities and a neighborhood. If you come in to try to resolve an issue with a short-term kind of perspective, believing that your military superiority will provide the results, you know, the examples we have are very discouraging. So what this leads me to conclude is that we have an opportunity today, not to go around distributing, or apportioning blame for, misplaced or misconceived strategies, but for reconvening around the table and trying to reach new understandings. And something that was said today that I agree with entirely is that when you look at strategic repositioning for peace and security diplomacy has to be at the center of that because the use of force has demonstrably not produced the desired results.
Ambassador, thank you very much for speaking with me.
Thank you very much.