The Bush Administration’s passive opposition to UN Security Council expansion has finally changed to active engagement. After months of suspense and nervous apprehension, it has come up with a strategy. The US will support Japan and one developing country in a much more modest expansion than what was recommended by either the blue ribbon panel or by the G-4. It will introduce criteria for new permanent members and shift the debate from "who" should get in to "what" are the qualifications for entry. And yes, no veto for new entrants.
The criteria cited by Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, seem tailor made for one very large country seeking entry, namely India. They are: the size of the economy, population, commitment to fighting terrorism, proliferation, contributions to UN peacekeeping and peacemaking and the Big D: Democracy. Burns once again explicitly endorsed Japan’s candidacy, citing its financial contributions which are nearly equal to the US. Germany has been unofficially informed that it is out of the running given that Europe is already over represented on the Security Council with two permanent members. That leaves India and Brazil and of the two, Americans are keener on India from all the diplomatic noises.
But nothing is signed or sealed. Much can and will happen between now and the UN General Assembly in September. The negative agendas of Pakistan and China may yet drive a dagger through. Americans have merely flashed their cards, not revealed them. True, they finally managed to focus on the issue and decided to lead rather than follow the mini battle battles raging in New York and various capitals. The strategy unveiled by Burns must be taken in conjunction with President George Bush’s reported comments that he didn’t support expansion "in a hurry" to Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mehmood Kasuri.
If the Americans don’t support a deadline, the debate on Security Council expansion could go on endlessly specially because other reform issues are much more important to them. Before they will allow Security Council expansion, they want management reform, a UN peace building mission, a democracy fund and to fix the UN Human Rights Commission to prevent non-democratic countries from serving as members. Hours after Burns’ briefing, his boss Condoleezza Rice said she didn’t want the expansion issue to "sprint" ahead of other issues.
So there is the American position. Yes, they are thinking about expansion but not enough to lose any sleep over it. They simply have too many balls in the air. How much political capital they actually spend on pushing their candidates is yet to be seen. Will they actively corral support, lobby, send demarches or will they stand on the sidelines and let the bloodletting occur, having earned marks for steering the debate in India‘s favour? Indications as of now are the Americans want to lead rather than allow momentous change without fashioning it.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit will help crystallise some issues but India must also decide how important is entry into the Security Council. Is it important enough to make it a litmus test of this administration’s commitment to building a real partnership? Or is it like the sale of F-16s to Pakistan where India ultimately decided to stay calm and believe that Washington has a separate and bigger agenda with New Delhi?
By presenting a joint platform, India didn’t make it easy for the US. It is hard to tell some friends they are invited to the party and not others, when all are present and waiting. Hindsight is always perfect but when the G-4 idea germinated, it seemed the most sensible thing to do to force attention by bringing the combined weight of Japan, India, Germany and Brazil to bear on world opinion. Now it appears they are going their separate ways. They are not all for one and one for all. Even the fate of the G-4 draft resolution seems unclear.
But here’s a dream scenario:
Washington comes out publicly for India‘s candidacy. It convinces China to abandon its reckless strategy and read the writing on the wall. It promises African countries more aid and trade to win hearts and minds. It tells the "Coffee Club" to turn off the machine and switch to juice. Coffee Club leadership, led by one of Pakistan’s most negative diplomats, Munir Akram, goes into exile. India engages intelligently on other reform issues important to the US. India sends young, dynamic ministers abroad to tell other capitals what they can gain from India Rising. Sends "knowledge delegations" to capitals with plans to fulfill development needs. Takes on the intellectual leadership of the developing world from China.
All this if either country is really serious.