A host of contentious issues including global terrorism, Ukraine war, COVID pandemic’s origins and so on, have, over the last few years, sufficiently highlighted the need for a multipolar global order. Against this backdrop, a cynosure has been cast upon key multilateral institutions including the United Nations Security Council and the voices demanding reforms in its structure have since been on a fervent upscale.
India is one among the leaders of this ‘game of thrones,’ wherein the permanence of the metaphorical throne has a high value. On Sunday, while addressing a gathering of Indian diaspora in Vienna, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar emphasized upon the need for a “refresh” of the 77-year-old UNSC structures, noting that “large parts of the world do not believe anymore that the UN system speaks fairly for them."
In this regard, the minister also asserted that a reform of the UNSC and India’s bid for a permanent seat at the high table is a focal point for New Delhi’s foreign policy. “It won't happen tomorrow but it will happen one day, trust me,” he said. Here’s all about India’s claims for securing a permanent seat at the UNSC:
What drives the demand for more permanent seats at the UNSC?
Geopolitics and Representation:
The primary demand for an expansion of the UNSC membership stems from the lack of inclusivity and representation in the global body. As the Indo-Pacific has become the theater of global geopolitics, the forum’s composition, which still reflects the realities of the 1945 post-World War II era, has been questioned.
Moreover, no African or Latin American country has been given representation, while Europe enjoys ‘over-representation’ among the P5 (Five permanent members of the UNSC - China, USA, UK, France, and Russia). It is in this regard that it is argued that the current membership scheme is divorced from the emerging geopolitical realities.
Misuse of Veto Power:
Furthermore, the veto powers enjoyed by the P5 members have been criticized for stalling the governing capacity of the UNSC. Oftentimes, the permanent members have been accused of misusing their veto to suit their national agendas at the detriment of global security. For instance, Russia vetoed many resolutions condemning its actions in Ukraine, USA has used it nearly 20 times over Israel-Palestine issue, China has deployed it as a diplomatic weapon against India to ‘safeguard’ terrorists, and the like.
These loopholes in the governance structure of a body constituted for the purpose of maintaining global peace and consensus nudged former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to even say that there is a dire need for reform of the Security Council, lest it risks becoming increasingly irrelevant.
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On what basis is India demanding a permanent seat?
India’s bid for a permanent seat is multipronged. Over the last few years, India has extensively lobbied for this at the global stage.
First and foremost, India enjoys a long standing and deep historical relation with the UNSC as it was one of the founding members of the organization. The association, besides being long, has also been a meaningful one, wherein India has sent more than 2.5 lakh soldiers to the UN Peacekeeping forces. As of early 2022, Indian soldiers have served in 49 of the 71 global peacekeeping missions since 1948.
Secondly, India is home to nearly one-sixth of the global population and is all set to become the most populous nation. A country representing 1.4 billion people undisputedly deserves a spot at the top decision making table.
Third, India has demonstrated its skills as a responsible world leader, and holds the distinction of being a Nuclear Weapon State, just like the P5 members. Its adherence to the ‘No First Use policy’ and deterrence against non-nuclear states has exhibited India’s hard power. Against this backdrop, India has also emerged as an undisputed leader of the developing world.
India’s stance of a strategic neutrality during the cold war, as evident in its lead to the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) as well as its ability to follow the Panchsheel principles of peace and tranquility, non interference, and non-aggression in foreign policy align closely with the values enshrined in the UN Charter.
Further, India is among the world’s fastest growing economies and is the third largest globally in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. Besides, India is also a repository of immense soft power which gives it a moral high ground, in holding the distinction of being the world’s largest democracy.
It is in this regard, that four of the five permanent members too have, time and again, voiced their support for India’s permanent membership at the UNSC. New Delhi has also been elected as a non-permanent member of the council for eight terms and has left its indelible impact by negotiating some tough resolutions. For example, in 2012, when India was again a non-permanent member and Hardeep Puri was India’s ambassador to the UN, he initiated a resolution on Syria and got all 15 members to pass it. That was seen as a major achievement.
So has there been any international progress on UNSC expansion?
In 1997, then UN General Assembly President Ismail Razali proposed a plan to enlarge the UNSC from the present 15 (5 permanent and 10 non permanent) seats to 24 (5 more permanent and 4 more non permanent seats). However, this plan proposed to have 5 new permanent memberships without the veto powers.
This plan proved divisive, wherein on the one hand, it garnered strong support from primarily the global south, including India, but also faced stiff opposition from others. It later formed the basis of the 2005 Kofi Annan plan under the aegis of the General Assembly Task Force on Security Council Reform, but failed to fructify.
Over the years, several multilateral groupings of concerned nations have emerged that seek a reform of the global body. The L69 group of nations, which includes 42 member countries from across Asia, Africa and Latin America is one such grouping.
India also joined Brazil, Japan, and Germany to form the G4 group of countries, who collectively stake claim for a permanent seat and even support each other’s quest for one.
Most recently in 2016, India hopped on board the newly founded group of Friends on UN Security Council Reform, created to accelerate the negotiating process for reforms.
Against this backdrop, in 2015, the 193 member-United Nations adopted a “historic” consensus resolution in its 69th General Assembly on September 14 to constitute a Intergovernmental Negotiations (IGN) to a Text-Based Negotiations (TBN) process for reforming the UNSC.
What is blocking India’s permanent membership?
Expansion of the UNSC is a difficult feat to achieve owing to the watertight rules of the UN Charter. Any amendment requires approval from two-thirds of all members and has to dodge the veto by any of the five permanent members.
In this light, China has been at the forefront of vetoing against India’s attempt at acquiring a permanent seat.
Some nations have vociferously opposed India’s bid and questioned the basis on which it has laid claim for a permanent seat. It is argued that despite being a nuclear state, India has refused to sign the Non-proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
Further, it is contested that India is still heavily reliant on military imports from the US and Russia and is yet to display its military might beyond the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, as per a 2022 assessment by the UN’s Committee on Contributions, India’s fund contributions to the organization stand at $29.9 million, which is significantly lower of the contributions made by the P5 or even Germany, which contributed $175 million.
India’s soft power influence has also been scrutinized. It has been pointed out that despite economic growth, India continues to perform poorly on human development indicators and is even behind its immediate neighbors, which are smaller economies, in the Human Development Index. Its poor performance on socio-economic and other relevant indicators including press freedom, happiness index etc. have raised doubts.
In fact, a group of 12 countries in 1995 formed the Uniting for Consensus, dubbed as the Coffee Club, to jointly oppose the expansion, which they contend will dilute the power. These include Italy, Spain, Malta, San Marino, Pakistan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Costa Rica & Turkey.
What is evident thus far is that India’s yearning for a permanence in this game of thrones is mired in a web of complexities. Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh highlighted that the way forward is for India to up its game to such a level that New Delhi is invited to overtake as a permanent member. He opined that instead of over-investing in diplomatic capital and simply launching a worldwide campaign, India must raise its military, economic, and geopolitical might to become a strategically important player.