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India Becomes Non-Permanent Member Of UN Security Council

After 19 long years, India has become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council on the 1st January this year. Along with India, Germany, Portugal, South Africa and Columbia also became its non-permanent members. This time India returned to the Security Council winning by a record margin of votes in the election held in October last year. It got 187 out of a total of 192 votes of the UN General Assembly. Votes came from many unexpected quarters also including Pakistan. The last time it was in the Security Council for two years, in 1991and 1992.

India has long been dreaming to become a permanent member of the UNSC and its demand was repeatedly supported by three of the five UNSC permanent members Russia, France and the UK besides a host of other countries. Now that the US support has come and Chinese opposition has softened, India’s dream appears to turn into a hope.

US President Barack Obama in his address to the Indian Parliament on 8th November 2010 not only endorsed India’s demand but also expressed confidence that by its inclusion the Security Council will be further strengthened. He said, “[In] the years ahead I look forward to a reformed U.N. Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.” Obama added, America seeks a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate and “that is why” he backs India becoming a permanent member.

The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who came on a visit to New Delhi in December also indicated a shift in his country’s stand towards India. The joint communiqué issued at the end of his visit said, “China understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations including in the Security Council”.

India getting a record number of votes in the October election indicates the goodwill and prestige it enjoys among the nations of the world. When it last bid for Security Council’s non-permanent membership from the Asia region in 1996, it lost to Japan by one hundred votes. The change in scenario suggests the global community’s growing faith in India’s military and economic power. India with the world’s fourth largest armed forces is steadily increasing its military might. Its economy also continues to grow fast and even when the economies of the developed countries were reeling under recession its growth momentum did not slow down much.

The country has all the qualifications to become a permanent member of the UNSC. Besides being one of the oldest civilizations, it is the world’s largest democracy. By 2025, its population will surpass China’s, to become the most populous country. The country’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Hardeep Singh Puri says, India is a nuclear power with a strong commitment towards non-proliferation and disarmament. In a recent interaction with newsmen he said, “In the present scenario, India has emerged as a leader of global south and an important member of G-20 countries, when not even a single global issue is there where India’s presence, co-operation and opinion is not required whether it is neo- economic order, WTO talks, global environmental talks or the reforms in international organizations. In short, today any global organization or system is incomplete without India.”

Needless to say, India has always significantly contributed to UN Peace Keeping missions, whenever and wherever it was asked to.

Yet, India has not been made a permanent member of the UN Security Council and this is because the Security Council’s permanent membership status was determined not on the basis of current global realities but on the basis of those of the late 1940s. The only change in the permanent membership of this world body thereafter was when Taiwan was replaced by China in 1971. Obviously, the reform to the United Nations Security Council is long overdue and whenever it is done, India is likely to find a place in the elite club as one of its permanent members. But it is not India alone; several other countries are also likely to be there in the reformed Security Council.

One may recall that Obama while expressing hope that India will find its due place in the reformed world body never said that this honor will come to India alone neither has he indicated any exact timing for reformation of the Security Council. One of the reasons for this could be that there is no clear roadmap to this date for the reformation process. Obviously, considerations like due weightage to regional representation, economic contribution to the UN, super powers backing their candidates may be there. Then there is the big question whether the new permanent members will have the veto power or not. While some UN members want abolition of the veto power of all permanent members saying that since the cold war era is over there are not many occasions for exercising it, the existing permanent members are reluctant to forego their prerogative.

There are also proposals that only the existing permanent members will have the veto power and the new members would not be allowed to use it until a certain period of time.

But, is the goal of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council worth pursuing for India? It is an open secret that the UNSC’s permanent membership is now more of a matter of prestige than real power and for good or ill, the nation-state is still the primary decision-making unit in the international system.

In recent times the super powers, particularly the USA has on several occasions shown that it is willing to work outside the framework of the UN. One may recall the then Secretary General Kofi Annan’s charge when on a debate on Iraq in 2004 he said, “From our point of view the war in Iraq was illegal.” Then what is the big deal about India getting a permanent seat in the UNSC?   Since it already enjoys a big status in the global arena, a permanent UNSC seat for it will only mean a formal recognition of that. One, however, should not forget that India is seeking not just permanent membership of the UNSC for it but a broader reform of the UN so that the dwindling interest of some western countries in this organization could be revived. It also wants an UNSC where the developing and emerging powers have their due place.

*The article is written by Dilip Ghosh

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express/ADNI)

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