India’s bid for permanent membership to the UNSC, explained
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India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nation Security Council (UNSC) received a major boost on Monday, when the UN general assembly (UNGA) agreed to adopt a negotiating text for Security Council reforms.
In a statement, India’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Asoke Mukerji, said (PDF), “This is the first time in the history of the Inter-Governmental Negotiation (IGN) process that a decision on UNSC reform has been adopted through an official formal L Document of the UNGA”. He added, “This decision sets the IGN process formally on an irreversible textbased negotiations path...The twin objectives of saving our work done in the 69th UNGA and carrying it meaningfully forward have therefore been achieved.”
Another point that Mukerji made was, “...text and its annexure of 31st July, 2015 which we all agreed will be the guiding basis for our deliberations in the 70th General Assembly session. I would like to quote from your (Presidency) letter of 31st July 2015, which has been recognized in the decision, in which you had stated that the text attached to your letter, and I quote ‘represents a sound basis upon which Member States can engage in text-based negotiations through the next phase of IGN’.”
China, which is also among the five permanent members of the UNSC, and Pakistan opposed the move, with the former saying that it was “not fair and transparent”. Keen to maintain their veto power, three permanent members—China, the US and Russia—are against expanding the security council and, therefore, did not contribute to the text that was adopted on Monday.
Here’s an explainer on what a seat in the UNSC could mean for India:
What does Monday’s decision mean?
While it is significant, Monday’s decision simply means that for the first time in “more than two decades of discussions”, as the ministry of external affairs statement said, “we can now commence text-based negotiations”. The next phase of negotiations on the text will take place next year, in the 70th session that commences on 15 September, with Jamaican ambassador Courtenay Rattray as the chair of the IGN process.
What does the UNSC currently look like?
As of now, there are 15 members on the UNSC. Five of those (mostly powers who emerged victorious in the World War II), including the US, UK, France, China and Russia are permanent members. These members have the all-important veto power (essentially a negative vote) which would mean that a “resolution or decision would not be approved”.
The remaining 10 non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, starting 1 January. Five members are replaced each year. India has been elected as a non-permanent member to the UNSC for seven such terms, the last of which was in 2011-12.
What is India’s case for a permanent membership?
India (or any other country for that matter) would want a permanent membership to the UNSC for two reasons. First, the veto power, which India could use to defend its interests, say against Pakistan (just like Russia did last year over the civil war in Ukraine). Second, the sheer prestige associated with permanent membership of a multilateral forum. India’s elevation will also be an acknowledgment of its rise as a global power, ready to play a key role in the council’s objectives of international peace and security.
India also believes that the UNSC, which was constituted in 1945 after the World War II, does not reflect the geopolitical realities—the emergence of a multipolar world order largely thanks to the rise of developing economies like China, Brazil and India.
Also, India is the largest contributor to the UN Peacekeeping Operations (UNPKO), with nearly 180,000 troops serving in 44 missions since it was established. India is also among the highest financial contributors to the UN, with the country making regular donations to several UN organs like the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF).
Who supports India’s bid to become a permanent member?
India’s candidature as a potential permanent UNSC member has received support from a vast majority of nations. At several public occasions, four of the five permanent members have supported India’s bid. China is the only permanent member that has been ambiguous in its support for India, owing to its close ties with Pakistan. Other member states, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Singapore, Malaysia and the whole of the African Union have also endorsed India’s bid.
And who opposes?
India’s nuclear-armed rival Pakistan has been leading the opposition to its inclusion in the UNSC’s list of permanent members. Other countries, part of an interest group called the “Uniting for Consensus” (UfC), also curiously called “The Coffee Club”, formed in 1995, are opposed to India (and the
G4’s bid) for permanent seats. Italy, Pakistan, Mexico and Egypt were founder members of the UfC. The list also includes Argentina, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and Indonesia.
How can India become a permanent member?
For now, it seems like an uphill task (unless China comes on board soon). The reform of the Security Council can only take place if two-thirds of UN member states vote in favour, along with an affirmative vote from all the permanent members, who enjoy the veto power. Effectively, even if India secures the support of two-thirds of UN members, who are present and voting, it would still need the five permanent members to not use the veto and thereby, prevent the adoption of the reform process.