The recently concluded visit of the President of the 77th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Csaba Korosi to India on 29-30th January 2023 has once again raised debate on India’s inclusion as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
Addressing a press conference during the visit, he said that “the current composition of the Security Council is based on 1945-46. The world has changed and the balance of power has changed. It is not reflected in the Security Council”. He strongly pitched for India’s inclusion into the Security Council.
Just a few days earlier on 26th January, Ambassador R Ravindra, India’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations Security Council, too reiterated the same, stating that “it is clear that outdated systems that were created to deal with the challenges of the past cannot be expected to address the multitude of challenges of “today’s dynamic and interdependent world”. He was speaking at the first meeting of the plenary on the intergovernmental negotiations on the question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council. The issue was also highlighted during the recent visit of Egyptian President Fatah al Sisi to Delhi as Chief Guest on Republic Day, 26th January 2023 too.
The UN Security Council and the story so far
The UN Security Council, one of the primary organs of the UN has had a mixed bag of success and failure in its 77 years. Established as the basic organ which is responsible for maintaining international peace and security, it consists of 15 members, five being the permanent with veto power (the P5), namely the United States (US), United Kingdom (UK), Russia, China, and France, the victors of the World War and major military powers then. Upon the founding of the UN in 1945, these five nations almost ‘self-acquired’ the membership of the Security Council with a strong veto power to ensure that there is a required balance when faced with international security issues that would need to be collectively debated and decided upon.
Over the past 77 years, the biggest success that can be attributed to the Security Council is that there has been no World War 3. Also, there has been no direct military conflict between any of the P5 countries. They have also been able to address many critical security issues and successfully pass resolutions on a number of issues like on Korean War in 1950, Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Bosnia in 1993, Afghanistan in 2001, etc. Perhaps the closest that any two P5 countries came to a direct armed conflict was during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, which too was thwarted due to preventive diplomacy exercised by the UN Secretary-General U Thant. Over the years, non-conventional threats like piracy and terrorism have been added to the security threats and the Security Council has on most occasions been able to pass resolutions on such matters, like the resolution on anti-piracy in 2008.
The Security Council has its fair share of failures too. The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Russia’s war in Georgia in 2008, Arab Israel wars, the Rwandan genocide in 1994, the Somalian civil war in 1993, the Srebrenica massacre of 1995, and many others including the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war are examples where the Security Council either reacted late or was unable to pass any resolution as one of the P5 was a party in the conflict and exercised its veto.
Over the past decades, there have been a number of calls made at various multilateral and global forums for review and revision of the UN Security Council. Nations from emerging economies have been vocal about enhancing the number of permanent members to include nations like the G4 group of India, Japan, Germany, and Brazil. There is also a concern that there is no nation from Africa too and therefore a country like Egypt or South Africa should be considered too. However, the P5 is not ready to relent yet and the UN General Assembly also remains largely divided.
India and its growing global stature
India is a founding member of the UN and has been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council eight times, with its term of 2021-2022 being the latest one. India’s growth story, especially in the past two decades has prompted multiple calls from within the Indian government as well as other many regional/global platforms to seek permanent membership for India at the UN Security Council. Last year has been particularly significant in this regard. When the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in February 2022, while the West was still grappling with the situation, it was India that emerged as the global leader and took center stage. Delhi soon became the global capital and PM Modi’s famous statement during his meeting with President Putin “today’s era is not an era of war”, still resonates across many global platforms.
This is, however, not the only reason why India’s role in the world is appreciated. India’s traditional foreign policy approach has been to remain non-intrusive, non-judgmental, and non-prescriptive in other country’s affairs and it principally avoids taking sides in any intra-regional disputes. The fact that India is recognized as a power with no extra-territorial ambitions too is widely appreciated in the world. India’s declared “no first use” on the use of nuclear weapons too is a significant foreign policy statement. Perhaps, one of the most remarkable acts of restraint displayed by any nation in modern times was when during the Kargil War in 1999, India’s fighter jets did not cross the Line of Control despite losing tactical advantage and taking casualties, upholding the high moral ground.
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India’s size of the economy is significant, poised to be the third-largest economy in the world. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has projected India to be the fastest-growing economy for the next few years, if not more. It possesses the world’s third-largest armed forces with one of the most advanced space and missile programs in the world, another important facet to note while discussing the rise of India. Innovation and manufacturing are the latest buzzwords in India. It is aggressively promoting startups and emerged as the home to the world’s largest number of Unicorns (startups valued at US $ 1 billion or more) in the year 2022, surpassing China. Indian diaspora or PIO (persons of Indian origin) hold high offices in corporates and governments across the globe.
In the year 2023, India has the unique privilege of holding the presidency of two powerful global forums, the G20 and the SCO. In fact, in December 2022, when India was the President of the UN Security Council, it held three prestigious presidencies simultaneously. A number of global initiatives by India in recent years have been adopted by the global community, be it the International Yoga Day on 21st June or the international year of Millets being celebrated this year. India has been also at the forefront of initiatives to save the planet and manage climate change with its role at the recently concluded COP27 Summit in Egypt in 2022 as also spearheaded the International Solar Alliance to harness solar energy since 2015.
India and the Case for UN Security Council’s Permanent Membership
Over the past years, India has attained a global leadership role, with or without a permanent seat at the Security Council. India’s voice makes a global impact as is being seen in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. India is perhaps the only major nation that has independent and close relations with Arab countries, Israel and Iran at the same time. In fact, with the signing of an agreement to elevate its partnership with Egypt to a strategic partnership, India now has three strategic partnerships (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Egypt) in West Asia apart from a special strategic relationship with Israel and reviving of ties with Iran, all within the most volatile region in the world. It enjoys strategic partnerships with both the US and Russia and is seen as a vital partner by both these countries. Its role in UN peacekeeping role is well documented as the largest contributor to peacekeeping operations. During the evacuation of its citizens from Yemen after the outbreak of war in March 2015, it not only evacuated its own people but also 1,950 foreign nationals from 48 countries. Why? Because India was the only country trusted and permitted by the warring parties to evacuate people! India is also considered the voice of the Global South, something which was formally acknowledged during the recently concluded ‘Voice of the Global South’ Summit in January 2023.
With the weight of all that India holds or projects, with or without a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, India matters. The UN Security Council in its current form is outdated, irrelevant, and under-represented. For the past decade, the US has been in a withdrawal mode, withdrawing from conflicts and engagements in the West Asian region, Afghanistan, etc. Russia is embroiled in conflicts.
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China is raising its head time and again in the contentious Indo-pacific region and UK and France are no longer the military or economic powers of the World War 2 era. India, thus, is the only country that has the influence, economic clout, and military power to be heard across capitals.
India’s seat at the UN Security Council is, therefore, a foregone conclusion; it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’. Meanwhile, instead of investing its diplomatic capital over the issue and campaigning for itself, India could perhaps continue its focus on raising its capital as a leading economic and military power which is also a responsible and trustworthy global leader, a ‘Vishwa Guru’ in its true sense.
(The above article also appeared in T20ind.org)