U.S. Underwhelmed With Emerging Powers At U.N. The Obama administration has courted the world's emerging powers. But now that India, South Africa and Brazil have rotating seats on the U.N. Security Council, U.S. officials and human rights activists complain they're not living up to expectations.
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U.S. Underwhelmed With Emerging Powers At U.N.

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U.S. Underwhelmed With Emerging Powers At U.N.

U.S. Underwhelmed With Emerging Powers At U.N.

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Well, the Obama administration says the U.S. will veto any Palestinian statehood bid in the Security Council. Three non-permanent, rotating members of that council - India, South Africa and Brazil - have all expressed their support. These nations are rising world powers whom the U.S. has courted, even backing India's permanent membership on the council. But as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the actions and policies of all three nations are often troubling to the U.S.

MICHELE KELEMEN: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says she's had a chance recently to get a close-up look at how India, Brazil and South Africa act on the world stage.

SUSAN RICE U: This has been an opportunity for them to demonstrate how they might act if they were to obtain permanent membership, and for us to assess our level of enthusiasm about that.

KELEMEN: And she's not sounding particularly enthusiastic.

RICE U: Let me just say we've learned a lot - and not all of it, frankly, encouraging.

KELEMEN: The United Nations director at Human Rights Watch, Philippe Bolopion, has also been keeping tabs on these countries and doesn't like what he sees, especially in the case of Syria.

PHILIPPE BOLOPION: It's extremely disappointing, to say the least, to see that India, Brazil and South Africa, for example, are not more eager to get Security Council action on Syria - where, you know, over 2,000 protesters, peaceful protesters have been killed, and yet these countries are really reluctant to apply any significant pressure on the Assad regime.

KELEMEN: U.N. ambassadors from those three countries went to Syria to meet with officials in Bashar al Assad's government. And while Bolopion says it made sense for them to try diplomacy, that effort has clearly failed. Still they don't seem eager to step up the pressure on Assad now. The same in true in the case of Sudan, he says, despite U.N. reports that the Sudanese air force has been bombing civilians in a region called southern Kordofan.

BOLOPION: The U.N. has documented crimes against humanity, in some cases. U.N. peacekeepers have been subjected to mock executions, a U.N. contractor was even killed, and yet the Security Council did not say a single word - not even, you know, a statement; absolutely nothing. And of course, the Sudanese regime takes notice of that kind of stuff.

KELEMEN: The Human Rights Watch expert says that's a case where you might expect a big, regional player - like South Africa - would want to take a lead.

BOLOPION: Their inaction on key human rights issues is quite puzzling because they do, at home, defend the very values that we would hope to see them defend in the Security Council.

KELEMEN: But there are a lot of big power politics at play at the United Nations, according to David Bosco, author of the book "Five to Rule Them All," a history of the Security Council. He says Brazil, India and South Africa all have their own historical allie, and see themselves as representing the developing world.

DAVID BOSCO: There is, kind of coded into the DNA of some of these emerging powers, a deep skepticism of the West; and in particular; of Western interventionism. And the Libya operation actually intensified that uncertainty, and that suspicion, of Western intervention because they saw the Libya intervention as regime change in the guise of humanitarian intervention.

KELEMEN: Bosco, an assistant professor at American University School of International Service, says there's another reason why these countries don't often align themselves with Washington. If the Security Council ever does expand, they need broad support.

BOSCO: They have to think about not only how do we cultivate Washington, but how do we cultivate all the other small and midsize states around the world that are going to determine what the shape of the new Security Council will be?

KELEMEN: And Russia and China, of course.

BOSCO: And Russia and China, of course, are big players here. They're kind of like an alternative pole in terms of many of these issues of human rights and interventionism.

KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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