Three years ago, when India was elected to the UN Security Council for the 2011-2012 term after a 19-year gap, the country’s then Permanent Representative, Hardeep Singh Puri, expressed confidence that India would achieve its long-held and ardently pursued ambition to become a permanent member of the Security Council during the two-year tenure.
“Once we get on [the Security Council]”, Puri bragged, “We’re not going to get off.” In a newspaper interview, he also gave a timeline. “I am not a soothsayer”, he said, “but I would say hopefully by the end of 2011 … [or] the first few months of 2012.”
Puri’s proclamation of “victory” while the battle is still going on was an unusual combination of bluster, wishful thinking and hubris, three cardinal sins in diplomacy. As we know now, India did ‘get off’ when its term on the Security Council expired in December 2012.
But Puri was not the only senior Indian official who was anticipating an early entry into the exclusive club of permanent members, the Holy Grail of Indian foreign policy. After talks in Washington in February 2011, India’s then foreign secretary Nirupama Rao said that India saw a new momentum and real support for expansion of the UN Security Council.
India’s optimism stemmed from the fact that there had been significant movement in 2010 on India’s long-stalled wish for permanent membership.
First, India received public assurance of US support from President Obama during his visit there in November that year. The announcement surprised many in Pakistan but was in fact a logical sequel to the US decision, taken by the Bush administration in 2005, to “make India a global power” in order to contain the rising influence of China. China is now the only remaining P5 country to have withheld its public support, though it has privately thrown hints that when the time comes it would not stand in the way of India’s Security Council ambitions.
Second, India won the 2011-12 seat with the overwhelming support of 187 out of 192 members. Although India was the only candidate for the Asian seat, it fought for every single vote and claimed the near-unanimous result as an endorsement for its claim to a permanent seat.
Third, intergovernmental negotiations in the General Assembly on UN reform, which had commenced in 2009 at the insistence of India and its partners in the G4 who seek permanent seats for themselves (Germany, Japan and Brazil), were making good progress from the their point of view and the Indian expectation was that the matter could be put to a vote in 2012 to bring about the desired result.
In pursuance of this plan, the G4 began circulating a draft resolution in 2011 calling for enlargement in both the permanent and non-permanent categories. In order to maximise support, the draft did not name specific countries and did not touch the issue of veto rights, two issues on which there are differences among those who support the creation of new permanent members. By mid-2012, the draft resolution had garnered nearly 80 written endorsements. In addition, there were others who were positively disposed to the thrust of the resolution but did not agree with the way it approached the issue of Security Council reform. India claims that over 140 countries are in favour of expansion in both the permanent and non-permanent categories.
Nevertheless, India had to abandon its plan to bring the matter to a vote because the draft resolution lacked the assured support of 129 countries, ie two-thirds of the total membership needed to pass a resolution. India and the other G4 countries are now hoping to push their resolution on Security Council expansion at the 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly in 2015.
India believes firmly that time is on its side. It has, therefore, adopted an all-or-nothing approach, rather than seeking a negotiated solution that commands general consensus, as the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group, consisting of a number of highly influential countries opposed to new permanent seats, has been demanding.
In his speech to the UN General Assembly last September, Manmohan Singh repeated the Indian demand that the Security Council must be reformed and restructured to reflect “current political realities”. Absolutely right. But what are those realities?
When the UN was founded in 1945, the victor powers of the Second World War (US, Soviet Union and Britain) were able to dictate how the new world organisation would be structured. They made themselves and two other countries (France and China) permanent members of a powerful Security Council with veto rights and gave that body the authority to impose its will on other member states. Now India and a few other countries are claiming the rights and privileges of the victor powers without having won a world war. This is simply against the logic of ‘power realities’.
The reality of today is that political, military and economic power is no longer concentrated in a handful of countries but is diffused among nearly a couple of dozen large states. Many of these countries are members of the UfC group. Among them are Pakistan, Italy, Turkey, South Korea, Mexico, Argentina, Spain and Canada. There are also others like Indonesia, Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria which are outside the UfC. Whether in the UfC or outside, they are not prepared to accept the creation of more permanent members as demanded by G4, because such a step would relegate them forever to the status of second-class countries.
If through a manipulation of the UN voting procedures or some other chicanery, new permanent members are created, many of the large and influential countries which are left out will seriously consider leaving the organisation. Even if only a few of these states exercise this choice, the result would be to undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the UN; and if half a dozen or more of them do so, the UN would be completely wrecked.
The ‘nuclear option’ of saying good-bye to the organisation is not just theory but a practical possibility. One pointer is the decision of Saudi Arabia last October not to take up its seat in the Security Council in protest against the veto power and the failure of the UN to carry out real reforms.
Turkey has been even more explicit in denouncing the control of the Security Council by the P5 and in the rejection of proposals for more permanent members. The Turkish prime minister has addressed this issue publicly at several forums. In a speech at the Bali Democracy Forum in November 2012, Erdogan said that the council’s current setup in which it is up to the P5 “to decide on the fate of humanity” was no longer acceptable. Turkey, he said, would like to see it replaced by a new organisation based on the principle of justice and equality.
In a TV interview in August 2013, the Turkish prime minister again hinted that states that are not content with the domination of the Security Council by the P5 or with the proposal to add new permanent members could leave the organisation and form an alternative international body.
Unlike Turkey, the Pakistani political leadership has contented itself mainly with an almost ritualistic annual statement in the General Assembly expressing opposition to the creation of new “centres of privilege”. Nawaz’s statement this year was on the same lines. But he failed to take up the issue during his visit to the US one month later and has not raised it even once in any of his public speeches or meetings with leaders of foreign countries.
This attitude of complacency must change if we want to see a restructuring of the UN that truly reflects the power realties of today, rather than the ambitions of a few. We must also make it known, as the Turkish prime minister has done, that Pakistan would seriously consider the option of leaving the organisation if more permanent members are created.