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The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is empowered with maintenance of international peace and security, establishing peacekeeping operations, establishment of international sanctions, authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions, accepting new members to the UN and approving any changes to the UN charter. The UNSC held its first session on 17th January, 1946.
Created post World War II to maintain world peace, it consists of 15 members with the 5 heavyweights of World War II such as Russia, United Kingdom, France, United States and China enjoying the exalted status of Permanent Members who hold the power to veto any Substantive Security Council Resolution, (usually aimed at furthering their own geopolitical interests or maintaining their monopolistic control, no matter how dated over the rest of the world) admission for new member states and selection of candidates for Secretary- General.
These 5 nations have maintained the world’s most powerful military forces ever since. Until 2012 (when Japan surpassed France), they annually topped the list of countries with the highest military expenditures with a combined spending of over $1 trillion in 2013 accounting for over 55% of global defence spending. They are also among the world’s largest arms exporters and are the only nations officially recognized as “nuclear-weapon states” under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Security Council also has 10 Non-Permanent members elected regionally to serve a term of 2 years. India has served 7 terms as a Non- Permanent Member and has echoed the need for expansion and reform in the Security Council. Only 3 other countries have ever served more than 7 terms as Non-Permanent Members. They are Brazil, Germany and Argentina.
Reform of UNSC
Power in international politics is not a constant. The rise and fall of empires throughout history is testament to this fact. The once powerful are no longer powerful and the once weak may now be strong. Most critics say that the P5 of the UNSC do not represent the contemporary realities of the world today and that it needs broader representation to make this body an effective one in today’s times. There are mainly 4 countries – G4 that are advocating expansion of the body. The G4 consist of Brazil, India, Germany and Japan who mutually support each other’s bids for Permanent Membership. As of 2013, the current “P5” members of the Security Council, along with the G4, account for eight of the world’s ten largest defense budgets, according to SIPRI. They also account for 9 of the 10 largest economies by both nominal GDP and Purchasing Power Parity GDP.
Reform of the UNSC encompasses five key issues: categories of membership, the question of the veto held by the P5, regional representation, the size of an enlarged Council and its working methods and the Security Council-General Assembly relationship. Any reform of the Security Council would require the agreement of at least two-thirds of UN member states and that of all the permanent members of the UNSC enjoying the veto right and herein lays the catch.
The UNSC “power of veto” is frequently cited as a major problem within the UN. By wielding their veto power (established by Chapter IV of the United Nations Charter), any of the UNSC’s five permanent members can prevent the adoption of any (non-“procedural”) UNSC draft resolution not to their liking. Even the mere threat of a veto may lead to changes in the text of a resolution, or it being withheld altogether (the so-called “pocket veto”). As a result, the power of veto often prevents the Council from acting to address pressing international issues and affords the P5 great influence within the UN institution as a whole and by extension over world affairs.
Even though the geopolitical realities have changed drastically since 1945, when the set-up of the current Council was decided, the Security Council has changed very little during this long period. The victors of World War II shaped the United Nations Charter in their national interests, dividing the permanent seats, and associated veto-power; among them.
India and Permanent Membership of UNSC
A permanent seat in UNSC would elevate India to the status of USA, UK, France, China and Russia in the diplomatic sphere and warrant India a critical say in all global matters that matter globally. India was offered a permanent seat on the council 55 years ago, in 1955. But that offer, made by the United States and the Soviet Union, was declined by India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru said the seat should be given to China instead. India probably has the strongest case for becoming a permanent member. According to the G4 proposal, the UN Security Council should be expanded beyond the current fifteen members to include twenty-five members. If this actually happens, it would be the first time permanent Security Council status is extended to a South Asian nation and supporters of the G4 plan suggest that this will lead to greater representation of developing nations rather than the current major powers.
India is possibly the most obvious and least controversial option to add as a permanent member, and probably long overdue for a seat. India makes a number of claims to justify its demand. It is part of an otherwise underrepresented region, with large unrepresented religions (Hinduism and Islam). It frequently serves as a non-permanent (rotational) member, and usually wins the votes of almost all member states in its bids for non-permanent positions. It has the backing of United States, a number of European, Asian, and Latin American nations, and the African Union. It’s relatively trusted by the Muslim states, and the Security Council could probably use someone other than China that can negotiate in the Middle East. India has the world’s second largest population at 1.28 billion and will become the most populous country in the world by 2022. It is the world’s largest liberal secular democracy which has never been upstaged by an army coup and can be labeled as a “responsible” nuclear power. Such a large portion of the planet’s population cannot be altogether ignored or kept at a distance from the decision making table of UNSC which brings with itself the “veto” power. It is also the world’s ninth largest economy and third largest in terms of purchasing power parity as of 2014. India happens to be the second fastest growing economy in the world making it an ideal destination for foreign investment and future growth.
Peacekeeping forces which have played a pivotal role in combating violence and maintaining peace and India is the third largest contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions with 7,860 personnel deployed with ten UN Peacekeeping Missions as of 2014 after Bangladesh and Pakistan, all three nations being in South Asia. India has contributed nearly 160,000 troops, the largest number from any country, participated in more than 43 missions and 156 Indian peacekeepers have made the supreme sacrifice while serving in UN missions. India has also provided and continues to provide eminent Force Commanders for UN Missions.
Despite prospects of a bright economic future, India has reasons to fear competing powers Japan, Germany and Brazil. India’s GDP makes it the ninth biggest economic power in the world. At present, Japan, Germany and Brazil’s economic size is bigger than that of India with Japan being the third largest in the world and second largest in Asia after China, Germany being the largest in Europe and fourth globally, while Brazil commanding pole position in South America and seventh globally. Though India has a large physical presence in UN Peacekeeping, it finances a minuscule 0.13 per cent of UN peacekeeping operations. The P-5 has lesser boots on the ground but rules the roost when it comes to financing peacekeeping operations with USA pitching in with over 28 per cent financial contribution. Japan comes in second with 10.83 per cent followed by other permanent members. It is a complex situation. India is growing economically but lags being when it comes to per capita indicators. Owing to its military strength, it is contributing in huge numbers to peacekeeping but cannot match up to the financing levels of P-5 or Japan in relation to peacekeeping operations.
India’s Foreign Policy and UNSC
After a long time, India has a decisive leadership with a strong emphasis on Foreign Policy of using diplomatic and soft economic power to garner international support for India’s rightful seat at the high tables of UNSC. Since the time Prime Minister Modi has come to power, he has been lobbying hard internationally to work around diplomatic and other bottlenecks to assert India’s position, better relations as well as strengthen regional alliances and blocs such as SAARC, ASEAN etc. to further India’s cause. This was showcased in President Obama’s visit to India early this year when he endorsed India’s addition to UNSC for the first time; a diplomatic victory as United States has traditionally been opposing India’s addition thus far.
Recently India’s bid to become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council has made big progress. The nearly 200 member countries of the United Nations have agreed that over the next year, they will negotiate the wording of a document that will call for reforming the Security Council, the top decision-making body, which has 15 members. Of these, five, including China, Russia and the US, are permanent. For the first time, different countries have submitted written suggestions for what the resolution should state.
Describing it as “historic and path-breaking,” India’s UN ambassador Asoke Mukerji told the general assembly that Monday’s decision was significant on three counts — this, he said, was “the first time in the history of the intergovernmental negotiation (IGN) process that a decision on UNSC reform has been adopted through an official document”; this decision sets the IGN process formally on an irreversible text-based negotiations path; and the document is the one circulated on July 31, which would be negotiated on. In other words, there is a recognized text that has been adopted by the entire assembly, so there is no confusion on which would be the negotiating text. Moreover, the work done in the 69th session will now be carried over into the 70th session, so that will not be lost. As expected, China dismissed the move as “not fair, not transparent”, as did Pakistan but the surprise was India’s traditional “friend” Russia though none of them could muster up the support to oppose the adoption of the text; a clear indicator of shifting geopolitical dynamics today.
Geopolitics and UNSC
The UNSC is a WWII holdover. Do France and the U.K. today really deserve to be on the UNSC, while Germany, the biggest economy in Europe, and Japan, the third biggest in the world, are not? The UN and UNSC have for far too long ignored economic realities and the political drift to the east and the blocs created thus i.e. Beijing vs. Washington Consensus highlighted by the recent European dash to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) strongly indicates an Asian Century and changing dynamics of nations in the world today. The same is also visible in India’s seat at the UNSC. The P5 members can be roughly split into two blocs of United States, United Kingdom and France and Russia with China.
The official American policy has been, for some time, to oppose India’s permanent membership on the Security Council. Apparently this is because India is not a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and possesses nuclear weapons, a source of great annoyance to the US. However, the United States has recently endorsed India and Japan’s entry into the UNSC. It is interesting to note that both these countries belong to the Asia-Pacific region and are “perceived” adversaries of China, the only nation in the world today capable of challenging the hegemony of United States. Japan and United States have strong military ties including a base in Okinawa and India and United States have very strong military vendor – purchaser ties now much to the ire of traditional vendor Russia. Washington has also acknowledged India as an important strategic partner in its pivot to Asia policy. It may also be assumed that United Kingdom and France, both powers that no longer enjoy the clout they used to, will go Washington’s way when it comes to crunch time perhaps with certain considerations or quid pro quo.
However, Pakistan a traditional ally of the United States is bound to raise the issue of regional imbalance if India is in a position to acquire permanent membership and draw the world’s attention towards the persisting Indo-Pak conflict regarding Kashmir and United States currently needs Pak for its Af-Pak/ Central Asia policy. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest is on record stating “President (Obama) would support the inclusion of India in that process (reform of UNSC)” but cables leaked by Wikileaks quoted Former US Secretary of State and arguably the next American president Hillary Rodham Clinton ridiculing countries like India as “self-appointed front-runners” for a permanent membership of UNSC. The two statements, one on-record and the other off-record, hint at the underlying duplicity of United States.
Pakistan naturally opposes India’s bid, and while it doesn’t have much influence in itself, it has close ties with both China and the United States. Also; the very fact that India and Pakistan are embroiled in conflict that frequently appears on the Security Council agenda is an issue. (Although China is involved in more disputes, it manages to keep them off the agenda through its influence as a P5 member.) Pakistan expressed opposition to a permanent seat for India and chided Obama’s endorsement for adding “complexity to the process” of reforming the Security Council. In a statement, the Pakistani Foreign Ministry cited “India’s conduct in relations with its neighbors and its continued flagrant violations of Security Council resolutions” on Kashmir as reasons to discredit the proposal. It said Pakistan hopes the United States would “take a moral view” of the issue and set aside “any temporary expediency or exigencies of power politics.”
Moreover, China has made huge investments, surpassing aid given by the United States in Pakistan its “all weather friend”, undermining the centrality of Pakistan in China’s geopolitical calculus via Gwadar Port, Karakoram Highway etc. and the very recent military cooperation deal of building submarines in Pakistan aimed towards maintaining a credible conventional deterrent against India – a clear stand of Pakistan becoming a proxy for China.
Chinese support for India’s quest for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) remains a distant dream. Ties between India and China, Asia’s two nuclear-armed giants, have been growing closer in recent years, with their two-way trade expected to reach $60 billion this year. But they remain more rivals than friends. The two share a disputed 2,100-mile border that has never been delineated and have fought border skirmishes in the past. India has rankled China by hosting the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and his government-in-exile, while China’s close ties to Pakistan have aroused suspicion in India. Chinese commentators have expressed concerned that the growing relations between India and the United States are an attempt to “encircle” China.
China has opposed all attempts at reform of the UNSC and Beijing also fears that India’s entry into the UNSC would be a huge loss for China’s current global status and prestige among the third world countries. Another factor for China is India’s solidarity with Japan, China’s arch rival, in making a joint bid for the UNSC membership. It is indeed ironical as Asia can never hope to have a stronger voice in the world and regional security as would be the case in the event of India winning the seat.
Russia is bleeding with the international sanctions imposed upon it by the Western world and the dramatic fall in the price of crude. Russia needs oil and arms exports to sustain its economy. India has been a huge importer of Russian weaponry traditionally but lately has been diversifying its vendors angering its traditional friend who recently retaliated by selling arms to India’s arch rival Pakistan for the very first time. The sanctions imposed upon Russia post its invasion in Ukraine; have made Russia very dependent on China. It would be fair to assume that Russia would croon a similar song as China in all matters connected to India, something evident at the recent UNGA.
Last but not the least, the structure of the Security Council itself is by far the biggest problem. There’s a very slim chance that India will gain a permanent seat anytime soon though eventually the P5 will have to cave in. This would mean an amendment of the UN Charter, which requires a two-third vote of general members, and the support of the P5. But whatever lip service the P5 may pay to supporting India, they will likely keep tabling the issue because allowing one country to join the permanent members sets a precedent that might open a floodgate and upset the power balance. After all, there are no friends in geopolitics.
So why change things when they are comfortable the way they are, albeit inefficient or non- representative of the current world? Wouldn’t it further legitimize the bids of other countries-Japan, Germany, Brazil, etc. all of whom seem to support each other’s bids as G4 nations? In the world of geopolitics, there is only one fate worse than death and that is irrelevance and only a fool willingly expedites his death warrant.