On the threshold of UNSC

By K.N. Pandita,

India’s bid for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council has found reverberations in political circles at home and abroad. President Obama had referred to it in his address to the Indian parliament.

Pakistan was quick to give vent to its panic. In a press conference, her foreign minister denounced the US’ move, and claimed his country would ensure that India’s bid was a non-starter.

Ever since the word of reform began to make rounds at the UN, four countries, namely Japan and India from Asian group, Brazil from Latin American and Germany from European group staked claim to a seat at the SC. They have been engaged in a joint effort to achieve the goal. 

Pakistan is not alone in panicking on prospective accomplishment of India. In collaboration with Italy, she spearheaded a group of forty countries opposed to the enlargement of UN SC. They call themselves United for Consensus (UfC). Reacting to President Obama’s indication that India will be a member of reformed Security Council, Italian foreign minister, Franco Frattini made no bones of the group’s stand saying, “We don’t want any of our regional rivals to get a permanent seat in the UNSC, or if we can’t find a place, we won’t let others, too, at any cost”. He was echoing the spirit of the statement of Pakistani foreign minister.

Members of UfC opposing enlargement of the SC are impelled by their political interests and regional ego. In South America, Argentina, Columbia and Mexico oppose their neighbour Brazil; in Europe, Italy, Netherlands and Spain would not like Germany getting a seat arguing instead for a European Union seat; in Asia Pakistan opposes India and South Korea opposes Japan for a permanent seat.

For past few days Pakistan is trying to exploit the hints thrown by President Obama during his Indian visit.  She is mobilizing UfC members for some definite action. They met with the UN General Assembly President Mr. Joseph Deiss of Switzerland, and conveyed their concern over Obama’s support to India’s candidature. They are planning to meet US representatives and exhort them not to be swayed by “power politics” in support for India’s seat. Pakistan has been trying to support its argument of exclusion of India on the basis of “Kashmir dispute’ forgetting that China was very much embroiled in dispute over Taiwan and violation of human rights in Xingjian at the time of her admittance to the body of permanent members of SC.

To make things more odious for Pakistan, the Indian envoy to the UN, Hardeep Singh Puri told a correspondent, “We are entering the SC (as non-permanent member) after a gap of 19 years. We have no intention of leaving the UN”

After the debacle of 1996, when India made a bid for non-permanent membership of the SC against Japan on Asian seat, she has matured considerably in handling the UN General Assembly and its subsidiary bodies. In that election she could win only 40 votes accounting for less than one-fourth of total votes.  This was a bitter lesson she learnt from long dalliance with the communist bloc.

But deft handling of the UN General Assembly in 2010 brought her unexpected dividends as she won 187 out of 192 votes, which is only four votes less than a total sweep for a non-permanent seat for 2010-3 elections. On January 11, 2011 India will occupy the non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council after a gap of 19 years.

The crux of the question is whether India’s road to permanent membership is as smooth as we might think? Not at all. True, four out of five existing members of the SC would not obstruct India getting the seat but then, first she has to obtain two-third majority votes in the General Assembly and then the consensus vote in the SC.

It is difficult to predict majority vote in the General Assembly because voting for non-permanent membership, as the 187 members did, is different from voting for membership of the Security Council. It is likely to be influenced by a number of considerations like the obstructionist role of UfC, regional politics and egos, element of cutthroat rivalry and new strategic alignments etc.

Secondly, even if India is able to secure two-third majority vote in the General Assembly, will China desist from using its veto power in the Security Council to deny the seat to her arch rival?  Given the deep-seated rivalry between the two giants for Asian leadership and power paramountcy, there is no possibility of China’s rivalry getting dissolved.

Apart from these technical hurdles in the way, there are some serious ideological and policy matters that will also have a bearing on India’s candidature.

For example, President Obama hinted at two important but unspoken conditions which flow from India succeeding in getting a permanent seat. In his recommendatory statement made before the India parliament, Obama said,” let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility.”  Anybody keeping a track of Washington’s stand on India’s candidature will easily identify two major responsibilities the US wants India to shoulder after entering the portals of UN Security Council.  One is of helping prevent spread of nuclear weapons. Obama made the point when he said,” We have strengthened the corner stone of global non-proliferation regime (NPT). Does it not mean India will have to sign the NPT before taking the high position in the SC? The second, again in the words of President Obama, is,” Together, US and India can pursue goal of securing world’s vulnerable nuclear materials …. Every nation must also meet its international obligations and that includes Islamic Republic of Iran.”

India’s role as non-permanent member of the Security Council will be closely watched by all concerned. The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, made a very meaningful remark while commenting on India’s non-permanent membership. She said,” They (India) will be repeatedly asked to vote on an issue where any vote they make is going to annoy someone they care about.”

India is on the threshold of UNSC. But it will be found that not only acquiring but even retaining permanent membership of the Security Council is a very delicate matter for India.  For too long Indian leadership has been obsessed with idealism of its own make. The 1996 debacle opened her eyes. What will be needed is taking tough decision and doing some hard bargaining.  After putting political wilderness behind, India has to demonstrate maturity in the art of international diplomacy by being more pragmatic.
(The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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