In 2010, India will stand for election to one of the 10 non-permanent seats of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In all likelihood, India will be elected for the stipulated period of two years partly because the other contender is Kazakhstan, and partly because of India’s own national and international credentials.
As the world’s largest democracy, the second most populous and, perhaps, the most diverse nation, the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity and consistently the fourth largest troop and police contributor to UN peacekeeping missions, India clearly would meet almost any criteria to be a member of UNSC. Indeed, some of these arguments have been put forth by New Delhi to justify India’s claim for permanent membership of UNSC. However, in the 21st century, while entitlement might still be a rationale for entry into this exclusive international club, continuing membership (and especially permanent membership in a reformed UNSC) will very much depend on the ability of India to perform and deliver results on a variety of complex and controversial issues. And here, India’s performance record is questionable for several reasons.
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First, while there is no doubt that India has done relatively well in bilateral settings (think, for example, of the India-US nuclear deal and the various India-Pakistan agreements) its performance in multilateral settings (recall, for instance, the Doha Round of trade talks and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty negotiations) has not been anywhere as impressive and, to state the obvious, UNSC is the mother of all multilateral settings with a veto to boot. Second, many of the areas and issues that are of special focus for UNSC are of marginal interest to India. Consequently, there is a significant lack of expertise and attention on these areas. This is particularly true in the case of Africa, to which UNSC has devoted most of its time and energy over the past few years. For instance, in 2008, more than half of the 65 UNSC resolutions dealt with Africa. Similarly, 14 of the 32 resolutions till date in 2009 have focused on Africa. Although India is closely engaged in various UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, this does not necessarily translate into either expertise or interest in that continent, especially of the kind needed to be of use in UNSC.
Third, even in areas where India has both interest and expertise, such as in the area of non-proliferation and disarmament, its positions are likely to be at variance with the other five permanent, veto-wielding, unelected, nuclear weapon members of UNSC, especially on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). These differences will be particularly stark if there is a consensus among the permanent five on any issue, especially non-proliferation. For instance, had India been in UNSC at the time of the presidential session of the council during which resolution 1887, a comprehensive decree on disarmament and non-proliferation, was adopted (“Resolution 1887 holds a disarmament opportunity”, Mint, 7 October), it is very unlikely that New Delhi would have been able to successfully challenge the passing of the resolution. In addition, it might also not have been in a position to vociferously criticize the resolution once it was adopted. Given the increasing interest of the permanent five in non-proliferation, such a scenario is likely to confront India in its two-year stint at the council.
Finally, most states elected to the UNSC start preparing years in advance for their role on the centre of the world stage and draw up ambitious plans of action. If they are fortunate and extremely dedicated, they might be rewarded by their action plan being partially accomplished. It is not clear whether India has even contemplated such a plan of action, let alone articulate it. Given these challenges, does being on UNSC as an elected member advance India’s national security in any way? The short answer is “no”. Ever since 1971, India has been able to successfully block or deflect any UNSC resolution which was not in its favour. Indeed, so successful has India been in blocking UNSC on Kashmir that not only has the council not passed a single resolution on Kashmir since 1972, but even an informal meeting of UNSC (under the so-called Arria Formula) called for by Pakistan during its tenure as a security council member a couple of years ago was effectively scuttled by India. Similarly, India was able to not only deflect but also use UNSC resolution 1172 to its advantage and began nuclear talks with all the five original nuclear weapon states to its advantage. Indeed, it could be argued that the origin of the India-US nuclear deal can be traced to UNSC resolution 1172.
Perhaps the only advantage that the UNSC seat offers is a chance for India to show its global governance prowess on a number of critical international and regional issues, many of which will not necessarily have any bearing on India’s own strategic security. However, to be an effective player on the world’s most prominent stage will require a major retooling on the part of the Indian foreign policymaking establishment. So far there are no indications that such a move is being considered.
W. Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the EastWest Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight.
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