India’s fumble at the UNSC

India’s fumble at the UNSC

India’s election to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) was hailed as a major event for the country. The last time the country had a seat on that high table was 19 years earlier, before the end of the bipolar order and the complex problems of recent years were hardly imaginable. At that time, a worldview crafted during the Cold War decades enabled simple, near binary, choices.

Today, that comfort is not available. India’s difficulties, if that is an appropriate expression, in dealing with the Libyan situation illustrate this well. When sanctions on Tripoli were being deliberated at the UNSC, India reluctantly sided with the majority. Some weeks later, during a global debate on imposing a no-fly zone over Libyan air space, New Delhi aired its reservations. As reported in Mint on Tuesday, the country’s envoy to Libya, along with those of Russia and China, met the ruler Moammar Gadhafi who said the three countries should invest in the oil infrastructure there.

While such meetings are routine, in this particular instance—when seen along with the voting record at the UNSC and other relevant facts—India appears to be fumbling on the subject. This is not a good sign for a country that is seeking a permanent seat at the UNSC.

To be fair to our foreign policy establishment, handling complex international questions is often tricky. The problem in India’s case, however, is that of hanging on to an outdated vision. India has for historical reasons—especially its encounter with colonial rule—been against foreign intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries. Our record on this is consistent. This has bred a realist vision that refuses to believe that the nature of domestic political rule in a country has a bearing on its external relations. India’s fears over great power intervention over Kashmir fuelled this outlook to a point where it has become counterproductive.

This has led to failures. One good example is our inability to deal with Pakistan. The foreign policy establishment and influential voices in the country continue to believe that negotiating with any government in Pakistan will deliver results suitable to India. The fact is that politics in Pakistan is consistently anti-democratic—even if it comes with a foil of elections. Key areas of decision-making have been under the army’s control for decades. It’s hardly surprising that the country is a global terror factory.

In a world of increasing complexity, India needs to develop a much more sophisticated outlook if it is to participate meaningfully in global affairs as a power to be reckoned with. Conducting foreign policy on outdated thumb rules won’t do.

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