India can’t count on American support at the United Nations. It is clear that the United States is the latest member of the "Coffee Club" run by its key ally Pakistan and frequented by its rival China. On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Washington, the Bush Administration has made a strident statement saying it opposes expansion of the Security Council because it is the wrong move at the wrong time.
The gloves are off and it doesn’t look pretty. Sadly, the Bush Administration’s blow will alienate public opinion in India, a country where a surprising majority supports this administration. In a world where anti-Americanism is on the rise, Indians have found reason to support Bush’s agenda mainly because they saw he was willing to defy conventional wisdom. But by slamming the G-4 resolution (did he know about it?), he has gone back into the box.
If he can’t move forward on an issue with little political cost, what can India expect in areas that require real wrestling and even bureaucratic shoot-outs. How will he push nuclear cooperation with India? Or anything that requires a change in US policy? Singh and Bush have to convert words into action and action into results.
But not the kind of action seen at the United Nations.
Not only did the US oppose the G-4 resolution, it advised others to vote against it. This "opposition plus" policy is surely different from the comforting words of Nick Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, who laboriously walked around the issue, making optimistic noises. So far this columnist read progress in the gradual evolution in the American position, from zero to one with Condoleezza Rice saying in New Delhi earlier this year that India had to be accommodated in international organizations. Then Burns revealed the US was amenable to adding one or maybe two permanent members to the Security Council apart from Japan. He listed the criteria for admission and the criteria seemed to fit India.
But then came the July 12 US statement as delivered by Shirin Tahir-Kheli, a special adviser to Rice on UN reforms. Tahir-Kheli seemed to speak with both ends of her mouth – the US supports expansion but not now, the US considers the G-4 its "friends" but will do everything to oppose their framework resolution, the US is against the proposed ideas but will offer no alternate resolution. Tahir-Kheli, a Pakistani American who has worked for both Bush senior and the current president, categorically declared that no resolution on expansion should be voted upon at this time because it would be divisive, require amending the UN Charter and decrease the efficiency of the Security Council. In other words, it is our way or the highway.
Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran may say he is "not disappointed" because the "US position has been well known for some time," but he is, as are many Indians, by this gratuitous slap. The Bush Administration has shown little flexibility on the issue. It is clear it will not spend political capital to help India’s case. In fact, it has joined the ranks of China and Pakistan – so far the two loudest opponents of reform – to actively block the process and kill the momentum. The reasons given are improbable and incomprehensible. That they need more time -- if 12 years of debate on the issue is not enough, what is? That they want consensus – an impossible demand on a family of 191 nations. That they want an efficient Security Council – efficiency comes when decisions are supported by a larger number of countries. That reforms must be acceptable to the current permanent members – meaning they must serve their interests and not the wider interests.
Manmohan Singh must decide how he will respond to the American manoeuvre as he flies to the US this weekend. He has a lot to think about before he meets and negotiates with Bush. The welcome mat in Washington just shrank. If he goes back with feel-good announcements which require little/no give on the American side, this whole Indo-US dance will start to feel just that. A dance.