For years now, India has staked its claim for a seat on the UN high table – a permanent seat at the UN Security Council. But resistance to reform, both by an international pecking order that reflects the global power realities of the last century as well as the opposition of the usual set of spoilers has blocked not just India’s entry as a permanent member of the UNSC but also any reform of the moribund UN system. Part of the blame must also be placed on the somewhat diffident diplomacy by India that prevented it from pushing the envelope on the issue of UN reform. But over the last year, India seems to have shifted gears and is now pushing hard, along with its G-4 (or as the MEA Spokesperson calls it, G-Force) partners – Brazil, Germany and Japan – to try and force its way on to the high table.
India’s claims aside, its credentials by any objective standard of evaluation are impeccable for getting it a permanent UNSC seat – the largest democracy in the world, the second largest country on the demographic scale, the fourth largest military which is seen as a net security provider in the region and a nuclear weapons power, one of the largest financial contributors to the UN and the largest contributor in UN peacekeeping operations, the fourth largest economy (in terms of purchasing power parity) which is also the fastest growing economy, equipped with technology which is not only economical but also cutting edge- especially in areas like space, it’s a long list. Clearly, with all these attributes, there is no justification for India to be out of the UNSC while middling and declining powers continue to revel in the nostalgia of imperialism by remaining in the UNSC. But then, like life, the international system is not fair. It is quite natural for countries that comprise the P-5 to be loath to any paring down or sharing of the power and influence they wield by virtue of holding a veto power in the UNSC. But faced with new and emerging realities, even they know that they cannot endlessly hold out against reforms. If they and the UN have to remain relevant then they must recognise and adapt to the clamour for reform by not just democratising the UN system but also making it more representative. The fact that despite reservations, none of the P-5 vetoed the text-based negotiations on UN reforms is in itself indicative of the direction in which the wind is blowing.
The acceptance of the text-based negotiations – something India lobbied for quite strongly – is, however, only the first step in this direction. Having set the ball of UN reforms rolling, these negotiations are bound to be a long and torturous affair strewn with diplomatic minefields at every step and competing interests trying to elbow in and elbow out rivals, adversaries and competitors. As and when there is an agreed text, it will either be passed by the General Assembly by consensus or by two-thirds majority. After this will come country specific resolutions and finally there will have to be a nod from all the P-5.
As things stand, except for one country – no prizes for guessing which one – there isn’t any real opposition to India’s claim for a permanent seat in UNSC. Four out of the five veto wielding members have spoken in favour of India’s claim. The fifth – China – hasn’t also openly opposed India. They haven’t said yes, but haven’t said no. And like some of the other P-5 countries they are okay with inducting new permanent members, albeit without a veto. Within the region, seven out of eight member states of SAARC are not opposing India. As for Pakistan, neither its support nor its opposition to India’s entry into the UNSC is going to make a material difference to India’s candidature. Pakistan will certainly try to foul up and muddy the waters for India by donning the cloak of ‘principle’ and seeking ‘consensus’ (which in the Pakistani lexicon means veto, especially when it concerns India) on reforms. But India can counter Pakistan by forging alliances with other countries and groups of countries. In addition, by leveraging its aid and assistance programmes which have greatly expanded over the last decade or so, India is in a sense doing with the UNSC what the late Jagmohan Dalmiya did with ICC.
The G-4 will compliment India’s efforts – each of these countries carry clout and can together get many more countries on board in support of their collective cause than they can individually. They will, however, also complicate things because unlike India, all these countries also have strong opposition to their claims. But at least in the first stage, i.e. text based negotiations, the G-4 stands a better chance to push through the reforms agenda. Alongside G-4, India has made a smart play by reaching out to and engaging small states – L.69 group for instance – each of which carry a vote and will play a crucial role in cobbling the numbers required for a two-third vote.
How the UN reform process ultimately plays out remains to be seen. But India has clearly raised its game and instead of waiting for things to happen, is now pressing ahead with its claim. So far at least, India seems to have pressed all the right buttons but things are going to get more complicated from here on. India will have to manage the contradictions of international diplomacy which also means getting out of its comfort zone of neutrality and non-alignment as well as breaking the shibboleths of pseudo-socialistic diplomacy. This, in any case, is a sine qua non for any country that wants to sit on the high table of international diplomacy.
The Author is Senior Fellow, Vivekananda International Foundation and Consultant, Pakistan Project, IDSA