2018 Vol. 1, Issue 1


Release date:2018-04-27
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Dawisson Belém Lopes & Aziz Tuffi Saliba-

ABSTRACT: This article aims at delivering an account on why Brazil, a World War II victor and arguably the most important Latin American representative at the time of the foundation of the United Nations, failed in winning a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council in 1945. Our article intends to shed light on systemic as well as domestic aspects of the problem – such as the dynamics involving Brazil and Latin America vis-à-vis the rest of the world in the early 1940s, the strong opposition faced from the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union as the proposal of granting a permanent seat to Brazil at the United Nations Security Council was put forward, the way Brazilian diplomats, politicians, and general stakeholders have handled the question, the conflict between 'regionalistic' versus 'universalistic' approaches toward the United Nations Security Council membership, the different legal understandings that have been forged over the years regarding the veto power and its uses etc. We conclude with a pessimistic prognosis on the odds of having Brazil as a United Nations Security Council permanent member (thus as a veto power holder) any time soon, given its regionally grounded middle-power profile as well as the United Nations reform’s inherent contradictions and practical traps.

KEYWORDS: United Nations; United Nations Security Council; United Nations Permanent Member; Brazil; Latin America


When it comes to taking part in international security bodies as a permanent member, Brazil has been a long-time campaigner. Back in the 1920s, when the League of Nations (LON) was the world’s ultimate multilateral resource to tentatively prevent a conflict among major powers, Brasília has persistently bid for a seat at the LON Council – the organ where life-or-death, war-or-peace decisions were taken. As the United States had been barred by its Senate to join the LON, Brazil’s diplomatic campaign argued that the Council lacked representatives from the Americas. Based on this arguable representational deficit, Brazil offered to put itself into the US’ shoes – what sounded then a reasonable claim. Not that having Brazil among the permanent members (Italy, Great Britain, France, Japan, then Germany and finally the USSR) would have changed the LON’s dramatic fate.

Against this background, the adoption of the UN Charter on 24 October 1945 gave birth to a relatively successful story. It was the launching of a complex system of intergovernmental agencies – an attempt to prevent another world war from happening. This system was headed by the United Nations (UN), an international organization (IO) designed to tackle the problems that had led the League of Nations (LON) into utter failure. The UN was founded by 51 member states. A decade later it had already reached 76 members. The following leap forward was even more impressive: as an outcome of the decolonization process (which the  UN helped catalyze), it could count 144 members in 1975 – almost twice as many participants as in 1955. The expansion went on and on, despite some pressure not to admit a few states as UN members. In its fiftieth anniversary (1995) the UN gathered no less than 185 members.

Almost seven decades now since its foundation, the UN can claim the status of a ‘semi-universal’ membership, totaling 193 members. What is more, there has never been a UN member permanent withdrawal from the institution. The only case of temporary withdrawal of a member state was Indonesia’s, which after announcing it was leaving the organization on 20 January 1965, returned on 28 September 1966 (United Nations 2010).

The UN has accomplished the goal of transforming the otherwise reluctant US – a hegemon of the postwar order – into a member state. The UN institutional design benefited from learning with historical experience. Two key factors seem to explain why the UN has become more successful than the LON, especially when it comes to geographic representativeness. The first was the creation of a political body (the UN General Assembly) designed to contemplate all states recognized as such by the international community. The premise of strict equality among states implied express recognition of the principle of non-interference in domestic affairs of other states, besides the application of ‘one state, one vote’ principle over issues discussed within the scope of the UN General Assembly. This was perhaps the most important institutional innovation represented by the advent of the so-called San Francisco Organization.

The second decisive element for the UN survival and increase of global coverage over time seems to be the composition of its Security Council (UNSC), the body directly entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining peace and security in the world. Instead of restricting its membership to Europeans (along the lines of the LON after 1933, and before that the Holy Alliance from 1815 to 1825), the new Council proved able to contemplate by way of its mechanism of permanent representation three continents (America, Europe, and Asia) and did not neglect Africa and Oceania, although on a non-permanent basis. Furthermore, UN goals as stated by the Moscow Declaration (1943) envisaged a generalist (subject-wise) and quasi-universal (membership-wise) international organization, conceived to embracing all ‘peace-loving nations’ in the world (Belém Lopes 2012). In addition to institutional improvements and the steep rise of UN member states in recent history, Nagendra Singh (2003) notes at the UN Charter an attempt to purge from the UN all ethnocentrism that marked the LON’s experience. The UN Charter brought provisions that would mitigate this trait, such as the principles of ‘peoples’ decolonization’ and ‘political independence with territorial integrity of member states.’ Those changes in UN legal texts and political practices were guided by the need to expand the concept of ‘international community’ in order to attract more states to remain under the UN institutional umbrella.

At the time of the UN foundation, Brazil had been seriously considered to take a permanent seat at the UNSC, because of its relevant participation in World War II (WWII) as an official US ally since 1942, and as a member of the United Nations (the war alliance, not the formal organization) (Garcia 2012). Brazil’s participation in war was primarily naval, although it did send a regiment to the Western Front. The navy and air force have had a role in the Battle of the Atlantic after mid-1942, but more importantly, Brazil contributed with an infantry division that entered combat on the Italian Front in 1944. Notwithstanding, by the time the world was being reconstructed in the aftermath of war, Brazil did not reap what it had allegedly sown, what can be told in light of the failure of its diplomatic campaign to grab a seat at the UNSC even now, more than six decades after the decisions made in San Francisco (Vargas 2009). Unsurprisingly, that moment of Brazilian diplomatic history (the late 1940s) is currently known by historians and political scientists as the ‘unrewarded alignment’ (Moura 1990).

Briefly speaking, when the UN was still being sketched, namely at the high-level conferences that happened before the one in San Francisco (in Tehran, Dumbarton Oaks, Yalta, and Potsdam), a regionalistic approach toward UNSC membership gained momentum as the proposal of granting Brazil a permanent seat at the Council has been openly supported by U.S. President F.D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull (Garcia 2012).[ By ‘regionalistic approach’ we refer to the proposal of granting seats to regional powers instead of acknowledging only the greater powers as UN Security Council permanent members. As a matter of fact, at the time of the UN foundation, expressions such as ‘regional power’ and ‘middle power’ would often be employed on an interchangeable basis. For an extended account on middle powers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, see Glazebrook (1947).] By 1944, it was not clear yet which would be the new ‘guardians’ of the emerging world order – the US, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union… Who else? If a regionalistic criterion were to have conquered hearts and minds, Brazil would have probably been included as a UNSC founder and permanent seater, inasmuch as it was the most important South American ally of the U.S. in 1945, not to mention that Argentina was raising concerns due to its proximity with the Axis countries in and after WWII, and should be balanced and even contained by Brasília.

What served as Brazil’s greatest strength – its alignment with the US – was also a major obstacle for the acquisition of a permanent seat. For the British and Soviet diplomatic personnel, having Brazil in the council was an American maneuver to double its voting weight at the UNSC, as Brazil was expected to replicate American positions. It is arguable that the UK – a decaying empire then – feared being overshadowed by an emerging South American country, and the USSR did not want the US to have majority control of the votes. In the end, a regionalistic approach was replaced by the argument in favor of having greater powers in the lead, because they would theoretically be better equipped (by military and economic ranks) to bear the burden of maintaining peace and security around the world. The US delegation let it go. No sooner than June 1945 had the UNSC defined its permanent membership: the countries to take the five seats were great powers (US, Soviet Union) and ‘quasi’ or ‘had-been’ powers (China, France, UK). The regional formula was first rejected, then abandoned once and for all (Garcia 2012; Vargas 2009). Veto power, an instrument whose legal status and scope was not fully settled in the UN early years, soon became a practical reality. Brazil, in spite of almost having become the sixth permanent member at the UNSC foundation, did not and probably will not get the slot any time soon, given its regionally-grounded middle power profile.

II.Bretton Woods Institutions and Brazilian Economic Backwardness in the 1940s

The Brazilian participation at the Bretton Woods (BW) Conference in 1944 – and afterwards, when GATT (WTO), IMF, and IBRD developed into the 3 most important multilateral economic institutions of the world – can serve as a useful ‘proxy’ indicator, and lead to a better understanding of the country’s actual standing in the international system by the 1940s.

According to John Ruggie (1982), the GATT was one of the pillars for the BW institutional tripod (alongside the IBRD and the IMF), whose implicit goal was to instill liberal contents in international economic relations after WWII. The US and Western European countries (the USSR did not join IMF and the WB when they were founded) sponsored the creation of IOs whose mandate involved liberalizing trade and finances and preventing serious balance-of-payment crises in major debtor states, thereby setting the levers of governance for a powerful economic governance machine. The concept of ‘embedded liberalism’ (Ruggie 1982) relies both on an abstract element (the wide acceptance of ‘liberal virtues’ in Western countries) and the institutional structures of coercion (mainly represented by the BW institutional tripod). Two other functions of that institutional arrangement would be to spur international trade flows and assure that WWII debts would get paid one day, given that military victors overlapped with economic creditors (Nasar 2012).

By the time Bretton Woods Conference was held in the US, Brazil was still an agrarian country trying to make its way into modernity. Only 1 out of 5 Brazilians lived in urban areas in the early 1940s. It was a highly indebted nation whose economy was reliant on primary-sector activities and commodity exports after all. Under the aegis of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC)-biased ‘developmentalist’ economic thought (which meant an option to prioritize internal market dynamics and the so-called import-substitution orientation instead of becoming an export-led economy), South American countries aspired to break the ‘center/periphery’ structural ties and confront economic status quo – seen as quite unfavorable to the poorest.

In the aftermath of WWII, Brazil was much closer to qualifying as an international receiver of donations and a candidate for loans than as a country with interests at stake in the global financial architecture. Contrary to what would happen in San Francisco in 1945, in the economic realm the Brazilian government used to position itself as an underdog with no consistent bid or role to play but to follow the capitalist paymasters (of course, with the US taking the lead). Apart from vested interests from a few industrials, bankers, economists, and diplomats (but hardly from incumbent politicians), Brazilian civil society could not properly realize what was going on in Bretton Woods, nor in Havana or Geneva (Farias 2012). 

Such peripheral participation in drawing the lines of a global economic governance scheme – which eventually proved to be a most powerful economic leverage tool – is a precondition to fully grasping how Brazil became under-represented and marginalized within the ambit of BW institutions over the decades. Yet to make things worse, Brazil (and Latin America as a whole) has never been contemplated by a Marshall Plan or the like, what certainly helps explaining why the expression ‘unrewarded alignment’ so well translates the Brazilian foreign policy for the postwar period.2

III.Brazil Plays the Regional Watchdog Vis-à-Vis ‘The Argentinian Menace’3

Part of the untold story on how and why Brazil almost became a UNSC permanent member also has to do with the strategic triangle which involved Brazil, Argentina, and the US in the early 1940s. To understand the big picture, one must recall that during the 20th century the United Kingdom, a former colonizer that used to be much present in South America those days, especially as an infrastructure financer, began to lose its grip over Argentina, as the United States marched ahead in leaps and bounds to become the world’s superpower. 

In the first half of the 1900s, Argentina, UK and US have maintained an awkward asymmetrical relationship. Argentina supplied food (meat and wheat) to European countries, UK included. Due to this reason, Argentina could somehow wield influence over the US, as long as the UK – a most important American ally – relied on Argentinian primary exports to feed its population. 

From 1940 until late 1941, Argentinian neutrality about WW2 did not bother the US, which was also neutral then. However, after the Pearl Harbour bombing (in December 1941), the US began to put pressure on Argentina to join the Allies and declare war against the Axis. Unsurprisingly, this pressure the US exerted had the opposite practical effect: it made Argentinians even more nationalistic and reluctant to follow the US’ lead. Besides, Argentinian neutrality was convenient for the UK, as its food supplies would be guaranteed. Tensions between Argentina and the US have given birth to the US State Department official discourse which associated the Argentinian government with fascism. 

That move ended up in a coup d’état against President Ramón Castillo. General Arturo Rawson took office on 4 July 1943, being replaced two days later by General Pedro Pablo Ramírez, who couldn’t manage to accommodate tensions either. He was then substituted by Edelmiro Farrel, whose vice-president was no one but Juan Domingo Perón. Against all odds, in spite of all the political pressure the U.S. had exerted to undermine Farrel-Perón’s government, nationalism was well and alive in Argentina.

US decided not to recognize the new Argentinian president. That followed the economic embargo passed in February 1942 by the US Congress against Argentina. The reason was Argentina’s refusal to cut its diplomatic ties with the Axis countries. This boycott would be officially maintained until 1947. The UK and many Latin American countries never actually complied with the economic embargo, what provoked protests by the White House. The US kept putting pressure on Argentina so that Buenos Aires would declare war against the Axis.

According to Vázquez García, US’ objectives towards Latin America at the Chapultepec Conference in 1945 involved securing full access to raw materials and preventing Latin American countries from organizing themselves into a bloc that would impact the political balance at the UN. The US aspired not to allow the erection of a Latin American economic alliance, so that Americans could be still leading the continent. On the other hand, Latin American countries saw the conference as a unique opportunity to bargain and obtain more financial and military support from the US. 

The Argentinian case was also on the floor. Nelson Rockefeller, US Assistant Secretary for Latin American Issues, and Edward Stettinius, US Secretary of State, advocated for a new relationship between the two countries. A message was sent to President F.D. Roosevelt claiming that hemispheric unity would be endangered should not the US cooperate with Perón’s Argentina. They have recognized that the former Secretary of State Cordel Hull’s embargo policy was counterproductive for the sake of integrating the region. Argentina should just declare war against the Axis thus dissipating all remaining tensions. However, Argentinians declined the proposal issued by the US. 

On the following days, the Argentinian delegation did not even take part in the Chapultepec Conference, as they found outrageous the US to demand an impromptu war declaration. In the end of the conference, a document was approved whose main provision was the notion of ‘continental solidarity’ both for external and internal aggressions against its member states. A regional collective security clause, so to speak, was born. The Argentinian position was then deplored by the conference participants.

In Argentinian domestic politics, the war declaration divided opinions. As the war already headed to an end in late 1944, this declaration was seen as a product of international pressure, not a sovereign decision. Argentinian Air Force was against or ambivalent, while the Navy was in favor of going to war. Communists as well as industrialists also favored the declaration. Radicals, conservatives and socialists, the main political groups in the country, positioned themselves against Argentina’s marching into war. However unpopular that decision could be, Perón declared on 27 March 1945 war against Japan and Germany – two countries already practically defeated at that moment. After the Argentinian war declaration, Dean Acheson (US State Department Undersecretary) felt Argentina had already shown a satisfactory degree of compliance and allowed for the diplomatic recognition of Farrel-Perón government. On 7 April 1945 President Roosevelt finally approved the proposal, inaugurating the period Carlos Escudé (1990) dubbed ‘the brief honeymoon’ between Argentina and the US.

San Francisco Conference began in May 1945, three months after Chapultepec. In what concerns Argentina, the most pressing issue was its possible inclusion as a UN member. On the one hand, American-led countries were massively in favor of the admission (42% of the valid votes). On the other, Soviet-led countries opposed the idea, under the argument that Argentinian government had fascist traits. The Assistant Secretary for Latin American Affairs Nelson A. Rockefeller then persuaded the American-led states into voting for the entry of Belarus and Ukraine (which were Soviet demands), without any guarantee that Argentina would eventually be accepted. Later on, Rockefeller convinced the Secretary of State Edward Sttetinius to formally support the admission of Argentina, as he felt that could somehow favor the U.S. inside the UN.

The recognition of Argentina took place on April 9, 1945, but the American president did not send an ambassador to Buenos Aires after the San Francisco Conference. On May 19, Spruille Braden took office at the embassy in Buenos Aires, inaugurating a period of militancy against Perón. Soon after his arrival he gave speeches attacking the Argentinian government. US’ policies toward Argentina reversed from June on, taking the direction of the former policy of Cordell Hull, what included intervening in internal affairs, through pressure on the government, and maintaining the economic boycott over Argentina. Stettinius and Rockefeller had been removed from their positions. James Byrnes, former American Senator (1931-1941), took over the State Department and appointed Spruille Braden, US Ambassador to Argentina, for the vacant position of Secretary of State.

It is worth noting that as of June 1945, Arnaldo Cortesi, correspondent for The New York Times in Argentina, started publishing a series of articles that reported ‘horror stories’ about the Argentinian government, which were considered ‘gross exaggerations’ by the U.K. Foreign Office, but would have been able to put the American public against Argentina. Perón reacted to the press attacks, restricting its performance. The international correspondents were threatened by supporters of Perón – one of them took refuge at the American Embassy building. That episode of course worsened the image of Perón’s Argentina before the readers of American newspapers.

On October 1, 1945 – just a few days before the UN official creation – Spruille Braden, Dean Acheson and Brazilian representatives decided to postpone a conference to be held in Rio without consulting representatives from other countries. The motive clearly was Argentina, which according to Braden constituted a threat to the continent, both for its fascist tendencies, and its unhidden desire for expansionism.

IV.The Statute of Veto Power: Not Exactly What It Was Meant To Be

Currently, the veto at the UNSC may be described as a negative vote, by any of the five permanent members, in a decision regarding a non-procedural matter, which has received nine or more favorable votes. Such current practice is not only a departure from the proposals put forward in the conferences preceding the San Francisco Conference, but also from what is expressly stated in the UN Charter. 

The regulation of the voting procedure in the Security Council was one the most contentious issues in the drafting of the UN Charter. Controversial aspects included the size of the majority to win a vote, the possibility and consequences of abstention and the use of the veto. The relevance of the veto was evidenced by the fact that the great powers seemed more willing to walk away from the conferences than to accept an unsatisfactory formula for the use of the veto (Hilderbrand 1990). 

Fearful of how the organization could be used against the Soviet Union, at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference, Stalin firmly advocated for an absolute veto: the great powers should be able to cast a veto in all matters, including disputes in which they were directly involved. The Soviet stand clashed at the time with the British and American positions. 

It was only at Yalta, in February, 1945, that the US, the USSR, the UK and China agreed on the voting procedures. The agreement was later subscribed by France and became known as the Yalta formula. The Yalta formula was incorporated into the ‘Proposals for the Establishment of a General International Organization’, the document which would serve as the basis for discussions at the San Francisco Conference. In accordance with the agreement reached at Yalta, the Security Council, in discharging its responsibility for the maintenance of peace, would have two types of functions. The first type included decisions 

in connection with settlement of disputes, adjustment of situations likely to lead to disputes, determination of threats to the peace, and suppression of breaches to peace, whereas the second would be comprised of the remaining decisions. The second type of decision was to be governed by ‘procedural vote’, i.e. it would require the vote of any seven (out of 11) members. For the approval of the first type decision, however, there should be a ‘qualified vote’, i.e. ‘the vote of seven members, including the concurring votes of the five permanent members.’ (Yalta Statement 1945). 

At the San Francisco Conference, there was again considerable controversy over the veto. For the Big Five, the veto had to be preserved at all costs (Schlesinger 2003). Nevertheless, the draft of the charter proposed by the sponsoring powers was not free from ambiguities and dissatisfied countries which, led by Australia, took the chance to try to win a liberalizing interpretation of the Yalta formula (Hoopes and Brinkley 1997). During the conference, a list of 23 questions was addressed to the sponsoring powers. The four sponsoring powers issued a reply, in the form of a general statement, which did not address every single question. Besides explaining how the voting system would work and arguing that such system was an improvement over that of the League of Nations, the statement contended that the permanent members could not be expected to take actions in matters of maintenance of international peace and security ‘as a consequence of a decision in which they had not concurred’. It then argued that ‘(…), if a majority voting in the Security Council is to be made possible, the only practicable method is to provide, in respect of non-procedural decisions, for unanimity of the permanent members plus the concurring votes of at least two of the non-permanent members’. 

Among the several issues that were raised during the debates, it is worth noting the promise, by the Big Five, that permanent members would not ‘use their veto power willfully to obstruct the operation of the Council’ (Reston 1946). The official American report of the Conference was even more assertive: ‘During the course of the debate on the (…) voting formula itself, it was stressed by the Great Powers that their special voting position would be used with a great sense of responsibility and consideration of the interests of the smaller nations and that therefore the “veto” would be used sparingly’ (Reston 1946). The use (or threat of use) of the veto was not ‘sparing’ though, especially during the cold war. 

Currently, the veto remains a source of controversy and seems to get in the way of a reform of the Security Council. Although there is a general agreement that it is necessary to reform the UNSC, states disagree over important aspects of such reform. There are those who favor adding just non-permanent members, but many also call for an expansion of permanent members as well. If new permanent members of the UN Security Council are to be allowed, there is contention regarding who should these new members be and if they should be granted veto power. Finally, there are states that advocate for a limitation or even the end of the veto power – proposals with very little, if any, chance of success, given the position of the permanent members and the framework of the Charter. 

As seen, permanent members have opposed limitations to their veto power even before the creation of the United Nations. Not even legal arguments were effective in constraining the P5. The first advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), issued in 1948, which dealt with the issue of ‘package admissions’, could have brought some (legal) limitation to the use of the veto. In practice, however, it was ignored first by the USSR and later by the US. 

It is also important to notice that the final version of the Charter incorporated, in articles 108 and 109, for any amendment or alteration of the Charter to come into force, the need of ratification by two thirds of the members of the UN, including all permanent members of the Security Council, in accordance with their respective constitutional processes. Such articles provide ‘each permanent member with a trump card that can overrule any efforts to weaken its formal power.’ (Weiss 2003). 

V.Does Brazil Face A Permanent Middle-Power Dilemma?4

Middle powers will find it difficult to reconcile their foreign policy strategies toward San Francisco (SF) and Bretton Woods (BW) global governance apparatuses. This is neither due to a lack of expertise on any of those realms nor to the continuous resistance on the part of those powers of old responsible for the current institutional framework of international relations. Rather, middle powers in general – and Brazil in special – fall prey to their rise in a multifaceted international system.

The first apparent reason for that is the middle powers’ relative lack of material capabilities (a realist assumption), what will then turn them much more reliant on reputational goods and discursive techniques (where ‘coherence’ plays a major role in terms of speech and practice) to efficiently pursue its international goals. Brazil’s relentless push for reform and pluralism in international institutions often clashes with its continuous dependence on a recognized identity as a reliable, moderate partner in current institutional machineries. After the cold war, what used to be seen as a coherent trajectory by a status-quo middle power becomes a skewed affair. Incoherence as such is much less dramatic, in realist terms, for great powers.

Second, there is the institutional bias factor, that is, different governance platforms such as BW and SF will induce different – sometimes contradictory – approaches to international politics. The rise of Brazil and emerging countries impacts on current institutional structures – but with divergent, often clashing, outcomes. Pluralism has different appeals for the UN system and the Bretton Woods organizations. Multilateralism in security and economic issues are often conducive to incompatible policies. By keeping high stakes in both fields all at once, Brazil incurs attrition costs. 

Third, the label ‘foreign policy’ usually encompasses a broad set of branches related to one state’s international public policies and official statements – ranging from security and military to economic and environmental agendas. It is hard for great and middle powers alike to find a masterplan that fits all – or the majority – of interests at stake in any given time. Comparatively, in a realist sense, middle powers face the task with (much) less resources than great ones. Such constraints raise pressures even on sophisticated diplomatic machineries. 

Fourth and last, by virtue of the need to balance efficiency and legitimacy in their foreign policies, middle-power states are led to bear at the same time aristocratic/restrictive and democratic/liberalizing premises (the reliance on one or the other will vary according to the forum or the issue at stake). One can call it ‘doublethink’ or ‘forum shopping.’ Be that as it may, it is quite probable that, while attempting to exert control or influence over decision making about relevant international issues, states will not enunciate coherent positions over time or across themes. Once again, by contrast with great powers, middle powers as Brazil will be much more sensitive to such effects.

An important concept often employed by liberal scholars to convey a situation of ‘collective-action problem’ within the context of international regimes is that of ‘the tragedy of the commons.’ (Hardin 1968; Drezner 2010) By the oft-cited concept it is meant that, because we live after all in an anarchic global society, coordination arrangements will inevitably fail in delivering the ‘global common goods’ we are so much in need, bringing about tragic conflict as the only possible outcome.

The problematique we shed light on in the article is not exactly analogous to the one we mentioned above, however it can be thought of as a ‘vertical’ version of it. In other words, the tragedy of the commons is best understood as the unintended consequences triggered by poor coordination among states, driving them into collision route. The question we look through here is how the lack of coordination inside (or between two diplomatic agendas) of a state – namely Brazil – can be detrimental to its own campaigns for ascension in international institutional ranks. 

Brazil currently strives to build consensus among the parties to grab a seat in the eventual reform/enlargement of the UNSC. To achieve it, Brazil commits with a sort of ‘great-power’ agenda by increasing its military budget and taking part in humanitarian missions all around the world (what includes the leadership of a UN PKO in Haiti for the first time in its history, not to mention the increasing interest in Middle Eastern affairs). Nevertheless, when it comes to financial and commercial matters, Brazil is the first one to evoke the values of democratization and/or liberalization of world politics. 

In this sense, institutions constitute a strategic choice for Brazil, accommodating the pursuit of its interests in an often hostile environment which it aspires to decisively influence. As we focus on Brazil, there are side-effects associated with coping with institutions. Such contradictions abound in the guise of a long-lasting, traditional respect for the rules of the game by the part of Brazilian diplomacy (either in emergent presidential diplomacy or in the centuries-old fine-tuned expertise machinery of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Itamaraty) which made Brazil an early entrant in the great majority of current international institutions, countered by a relentless pursuit/advocacy of ‘change in terms of equality’ manifested in world forums, based on Brazil’s credentials to world prominence.

Brazil is an exemplary case of the tragedy of middle power politics within international institutions, as long as it cannot deliver a coherent discourse/behavior in foreign policy (something it will be charged for) because it falls prey of its own contradictions – which are seemingly inevitable, given Brazil’s profile in IR and, particularly, those steep contradictions between SF and BW platforms for global governance. On the other hand, it doesn’t gather enough power assets to fill a ‘great-power’ identity and, therefore, to renounce following the norms and rules defined by the existing global governance platforms in the world today.


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Thomas G. Weiss, The illusion of UN Security Council reform, The Washington Quarterly, 2003, 26:4, 147-161.

Townsend Hoopes and Douglas Brinkley, FDR and the creation of the U.N., 1th ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997) 300. 

Yalta Statement, “Statement by the delegations of the four sponsoring governments on voting procedures in the Security Council”, 1945, https://books.google.com.br/books?id=f3r1Bw AAQBAJ&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&dq=in+connection+with+settlement+of+disputes,+adjustment+of+situations+likely&source=bl&ots=euZL9v4rto&sig=r8OwkaEkiYYB78xWrTxDKYBQKd0&hl=pt-BR&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiJndb33ZHZAhVIUZAKHT-BAPUQ6AEIQDAE#v=onepage&q=in%20connection%20with%20settlement%20of%20disputes%2C%20adjustment%20of%20situations%20likely&f=false (visited 6 February 2018).

- Dawisson Belém Lopes is a Professor of International and Comparative Politics at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. 

Aziz Tuffi Saliba is a Professor of International Law at the Federal University de Minas Gerais, Brazil.

1 By ‘regionalistic approach’ we refer to the proposal of granting seats to regional powers instead of acknowledging only the greater powers as UN Security Council permanent members. As a matter of fact, at the time of the UN foundation, expressions such as ‘regional power’ and ‘middle power’ would often be employed on an interchangeable basis. For an extended account on middle powers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, see Glazebrook (1947).

2 A possible argument to counter the claim that Brazilian diplomatic alignment to the US was completely ‘unrewarded’ would be the lend-and-lease program Brazil could benefit from in the post-World War years. By way of comparison, Argentina was not contemplated at all by that initiative (Fausto and Devoto 2004:273).

3 This section draws on the work by Teixeira (2013).

4 This section draws on the work by Belém Lopes, Casarões and Gama (2012).