Narendra Modi drums up support for permanent seat in UN Security Council

In his visits abroad and during interactions with world leaders, Modi has been seeking bilateral support for India’s candidacy


In a joint statement issued during Modi’s visit to France, the country reaffirmed its support for India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Photo: Reuters
In a joint statement issued during Modi’s visit to France, the country reaffirmed its support for India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council. Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been making a quiet, but determined push for a permanent seat for India in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) ahead of the UN’s 70th anniversary celebrations in October.

In his visits abroad as well as during interactions with world leaders during incoming visits, Modi has been seeking bilateral support from countries for India’s UNSC candidacy, officials and analysts say.

The joint statement issued by India and France during Modi’s visit to France earlier this month said: “As global partners, India and France reiterated the need for urgent reform of the United Nations, including its Security Council, through an expansion in both categories of membership, to make it more representative of the contemporary world… France reaffirms its support for India’s candidature for a permanent membership of the UN Security Council without further delay.”

A statement issued after the visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to New Delhi in September said: “China attaches great importance to India’s status in international affairs as a large developing country, and understands and supports India’s aspiration to play a greater role in the United Nations including in the Security Council.”

Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansingh pointed out that Modi’s campaign was part of his larger vision for India. “The Prime Minister is clear in his approach. He has told Indian diplomats that he wants India to be a leading power and not a balancing power,” said Mansingh. “The BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) manifesto talks of a resurgent India taking its rightful place in the world.”

In recent months, India has also received support from countries such as the US, Russia, Vietnam and Japan. Britain, too, has in the past expressed support for a permanent UN seat for India.

A person familiar with some of Modi’s conversations with heads of state or government confirmed that the Prime Minister had made it a point to raise the subject with his counterparts and interlocutors in the past 11 months he has been in office.

“India thinks that in the build- up to the 70th year of the UN, we need to highlight the need for (UN) reform and present India’s candidature in a determined manner,” said the person, on condition of anonymity. “The Prime Minister and external affairs minister (Sushma Swaraj) have been making this point with various interlocutors.”

Set up in 1945 at the end of World War II, the UN counts 193 members. The UN’s powerful-decision-making body, the UNSC, has 15 members, five of them permanent. The others are replaced by rotation every two years by election while Britain, China, France, Russia and the US have the power to veto decisions taken by the body. Security Council resolutions are binding on member states, while those passed by the UN General Assembly are not.

India has been a non-permanent member of the UNSC for seven terms—1950-51, 1967-68, 1972-73, 1977-78, 1984-85, 1991-92 and 2011-12. As the world’s largest democracy with the world’s second-largest population and one of the largest contributors of UN peacekeeping troops, besides being considered the fastest growing among emerging economies, India feels it has all the right credentials to join the UNSC as a permanent veto-wielding member.

New Delhi is upbeat that the intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform in New York have resumed under the chairmanship of Courtenay Rattray, permanent representative of Jamaica. In a letter dated 27 March on the UN website, Rattray sought suggestions on categories of membership, the question of the veto, regional representation, size of an enlarged Security Council, and the relationship between the council and the General Assembly to prepare a document for further negotiations. This process was completed on 16 April and the next stage—of trying to find a consensus on these subjects—is to start in May, according to a second person familiar with the matter.

Some of the formulae that have been suggested in the past include increasing the number of non-permanent members from 10 to 15 and adding more permanent members without giving them veto power.

In the past decade, India has joined Japan, Brazil and Germany—the Group of Four, or G4, countries—to campaign for an expansion of the UNSC and their own inclusion in it as permanent members.

But G4 has been opposed by countries belonging to the Uniting for Consensus movement (also known as the Coffee Club) that includes nations like Italy, Indonesia and Mexico, who are also keen to put forth their own claims to permanent membership. There are also countries like China and South Korea that oppose Japan’s membership because of its role in World War II.

According to Mansingh, “India is now, I think, coordinating with the G4”, but not campaigning on a common platform any more—the reason why Modi has been seeking support of countries for India individually. “I don’t know if India sees itself as part of this common camp any more,” he said.

Mansingh says India’s prospects of gaining a permanent UNSC seat will depend largely on the US, which has voiced its support, but not lobbied with countries like it did in the run-up to the removal of the 34-year-old embargo on India accessing nuclear technology and equipment from the international market in 2008. “The US had at that point done all the heavy lifting and the embargoes were removed. The US had... made it America’s case, but that is missing at this point,” he said.

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