Diplomats, bureaucrats, and activists everywhere are energetically debating new global goals to drive future development. At least sixty United Nations (UN) agencies, most member states, and hundreds of private businesses and civil society groups are consulting on the form and content of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) after they are renewed in 2015. As a champion of sustainable development since 1992 and host to the biggest development conference on earth in 2012, Brazil has a major stake in this global debate.
Brazil has set out its core priorities for what many now describe as future Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For its part, the Brazilian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regularly underlines poverty reduction and environmental protection as a core focus. The emphasis on reducing global poverty echoes at least one half of the President’s popular domestic pro-poor agenda. Likewise, Foreign Affairs Minister Luiz Alberto Figueiredo is deeply invested in the SDGs. This is hardly surprising given that he was an architect of the Rio+20 Conference held last year.
Brazil’s endorsement of a traditional ‘development-first’ agenda is commendable, but also suffers from some drawbacks. For one, it implicitly excludes a host of other global priorities, not least peace and security. In Latin America and across the global south there is growing political consensus that insecurity – including armed conflict and homicidal violence – undermines development. There is also overwhelming evidence of the empirical relationships between fear and reduced economic growth. In fact, a UN Secretary General-appointed High Level Panel called for peace and security to be clearly included in future SDGs. Yet there is scarce mention of any of these issues in Brazilian debates on the subject.
So what explains Brazil's determined silence on peace and security in the post-2015 development agenda? Brazil has historically supported the idea that security and development are interdependent. In 2011, for example, President Dilma stressed the importance of a “comprehensive and integrated approach that incorporates and strengthens coherence between political, security, development, human rights and rule of law activities that address underlying causes of each conflict.” But Brazilian diplomats have also signaled their discomfort with the risk of “securitizing” development – of aid being (mis)appropriated for military ends or diverted away from basic social welfare needs.
Whilst Brazil acknowledges that peace, security, and development are related, it parts company with other western countries in the specific direction of these relationships. On the one hand, Brazilian diplomats are not convinced that peace and security necessarily enables development. On the other, they adamantly believe that poverty and inequality reduction promotes peace. Although Brazilian officials concede that the peace and security agendas are central to maintaining international order and the multilateral architecture, they are nevertheless concerned that these issues are too sensitive and potentially distracting from the central priorities of the post-2015 agenda.
Is such a conservative conceptualization of development consistent with the realities of the 21st century? Most Brazilian diplomats privately acknowledge that the building of peaceful societies is fundamental for achieving sustainable development. Yet they also fear that a determined focus on peacebuilding in the context of the post-2015 debate is misplaced and could unintentionally interfere with the mandate of the UN Security Council. There are also worries that a peace-first approach could dangerously alter the mandates of UN agencies, diverting scarce resources away from developmental priorities. These anxieties are misplaced.
There are important precedents for Brazil adopting a more expansive approach to the SDGs. The country is one of the key supporters of the Peacebuilding Commission (PBC), an agency it will chair throughout 2014. There is a real opportunity for Brazil to advance the greater cause of a stable global order: peacebuilding is the missing middle between security and development. Brazil also backs a robust conflict prevention agenda and early investments in lasting peace. The present administration should stay true to its instincts and back a sustainable development agenda that explicitly includes peacebuilding. The challenge for Brazilian diplomats will be maintaining the right balance of the so-called nexus: there are risks of tipping the scales too far in favour of security over development.
Ultimately, the decision on what is included in the post-2015 agenda is still up for grabs. Brazil is deliberating over its formal position. But time is running out. UN member states need to start setting out their priorities before special sessions later this year. The UN will facilitate, but not define, the discussion – including through an open ended working group on SDGs and an intergovernmental committee of experts.
And civil society will continue playing a critical role in calling states to account. Brazil’s position could positively move the conversation forward, especially among lower- and middle-income countries. Brazil should consider brokering a broader conversation on development that includes peacebuilding at its heart. At the same time, its diplomats can constructively challenge the creeping securitization of development. Whatever the strategy, Brazil must bring peace back in and is especially well placed to do so.