Diplomats are rarely dreamers or gamblers. The experience of grinding negotiations means that most ambassadors and their advisers dislike big ideas and unnecessary risks. But sometimes they have to take a gamble in pursuit of national goals. Two years ago, officials from Brazil, Germany, India and Japan -- working collectively as the “Group of 4” or G4 -- gambled on a drive to win permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council, despite the failure of several similar initiatives over the past decade. This time, too, they were unable to secure a U.N. General Assembly resolution endorsing their hopes. The long-term consequences of the G4’s most recent defeat could prove corrosive for the U.N.
Foreign policy experts do not typically take Security Council reform very seriously. The technical obstacles to updating the council are almost insurmountable. Even if governments agreed on a reform package today, it could take years to be ratified. Analysts also question whether non-Western powers really take the council seriously. Brazil and India may want permanent seats for prestige reasons, but they do not want the U.N. to have a major role in their neighborhoods.
The diplomatic setbacks of the past two years could exacerbate Brazilian and Indian officials’ doubts about the U.N.’s relevance to their security and prestige. Germany and Japan, meanwhile, have been left to ponder what damage the reform drive may have done to their relations with the U.S. and Western allies. It is possible that the G4’s members, driven by divergent priorities, will struggle to work together effectively in the future.