India’s tenure on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) had a less than auspicious start when foreign minister S.M. Krishna somniloquously read the wrong speech last week. Although the gaffe was merely embarrassing, it detracted from the import of the speech, which was noteworthy.
This speech, along with previous statements made in UNSC, provided India’s broad vision of peace-building, especially in so-called fragile states that are under the care of various UN missions. There are three key elements to India’s approach to peace-building as state-building: First, India’s own experience in “overcoming many of the challenges of transforming a colonial legacy into a modern dynamic nation”. This would be more relevant to the states of UN concern, many of which are still states in formation, than the experience of many post-modern Western states.
Second, the Indian model of peacebuilding would try to be inclusive and comprehensive. It would simultaneously seek to provide humanitarian and emergency assistance, resume economic activity and create political and administrative institutions to improve governance while also including “all stake holders, particularly the weak and underprivileged”. This is reminiscent of India’s own efforts at panchayati raj.
Finally, instead of the traditional multilateral mechanisms—particularly the OECD—India will put greater emphasis on multilateral development initiatives with its Ibsa partners (Brazil and South Africa) as well as with the African Union and regional African groupings to promote South-South cooperation on development and security. The ministerial meeting hosted in New Delhi on 18-19 February for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is indicative of this effort. Notably, observers from leading OECD countries, including Australia, the European Union, Finland, Germany and the US also attended the meeting.
While UNSC’s multidimensional peace operations over the past two decades to address “fragile” states have had mixed results and need to be reconsidered, it is worth examining India’s own record at restoring states at risk at the national, regional and international levels.
At the national level, India stands out among the emerging powers as, perhaps, the only state to have successfully transformed itself from a British colony to a modern dynamic state without resorting to a divisive civil war or a military dictatorship while strengthening its democratic credentials (except for the brief but shameful period of the emergency from 1975 to 1977). However, New Delhi’s inability to extend its writ over huge tracts dominated by the Maoists; the recurrence of conflict in the North-East; and the inability to strengthen governance at the local level through the panchayati raj reflects the limits of the Indian model of state-building.
At the regional level, India’s unilateral role in the liberation of Bangladesh is regarded as its finest example of humanitarian intervention and set the stage for peace-building as state-building. However, New Delhi was either unable or unwilling to carry out this task successfully, unless foisting the new country with military dictatorships inimical to India’s interest was the objective. Similarly, its solo peace-keeping intervention in Sri Lanka, far from providing stability, actually put the fragile state at an even greater risk.
Finally, India has been successful at peace-building when it has been involved as part of a multilateral effort. The best example is Afghanistan, where India, working closely with the UN, was able to achieve remarkable success in building the infrastructure of the war-ravaged country. The same is true of its accomplishments in UN operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Clearly, the Indian model provides a viable alternative that needs to be refined for the multilateral arena. Getting this model right is critical for New Delhi and the UN. It is also the biggest challenge. Delivering the right speech to promote the Indian approach should be the easy part.
W Pal Sidhu is senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight.
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