India’s Quest for the Holy Grail — UNSC Permanent Seat

Reforms in the UNSC will, sooner or later, grant India its well-deserved UNSC permanent seat. 

4 min read
Members of the Security Council vote during a meeting at the United Nations headquarters in New York, in 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

Prime Minister Modi’s government has energised the campaign for a permanent member seat in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), by asserting that India is not merely a “deserving case” but has a fundamental right to the position. The UN was a renewed attempt to seek peace and security after the failed efforts of its earlier avatar, the League of Nations and the UNSC is the victor’s club of the “big boys” of the post-World War 2 era. Seventy years on, the UNSC is seen as an anachronism.

The UNSC was tinkered with only once in 1963, when the number of non-permanent members was increased from 6 to 10. With the five permanent members (USA, UK, France, Russia and China), also known as the P-5, the current membership stands at 15. Any reform of the UNSC has to address the issues of expanding the numbers of permanent and non-permanent members, veto powers and regional balance. As yet, there is no consensus that can garner the requisite two-thirds majority in the General Assembly to modify the UNSC. Since 1974, debate on UNSC reforms has been meandering its way through various commissions and committees.

G-4 Versus the Coffee Club

India was jolted by its defeat by Japan in an election to a non-permanent seat in 1996 but bounced back when it won a seat in 2010 with a massive majority of 187 out of 192 in the General Assembly. In the 1990s, Germany and Japan, the largest financial contributors to the UN after the USA, pushed for their permanent membership of the UNSC. India and Brazil also demanded the same privilege. The four countries joined hands to form the G-4.

This led to regional rivals of the G-4 banding together in a group called “Uniting for Consensus”, popularly known as the “Coffee Club”. There are no prizes for guessing that Pakistan, the global leader in nurturing and promoting terrorism, is a member of this group alongside Italy, Egypt and Mexico. Pakistan’s default foreign policy position is to oppose India. This “spoilers” group wants expansion only in the non-permanent category so that their regional rivals do not become permanent members.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has energised the campaign for a UNSC permanent seat for India. (Photo: PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has energised the campaign for a UNSC permanent seat for India. (Photo: PTI)

Increasing Demands for Global Representation

Demands for geographical representation, with African countries demanding two permanent seats to be rotated amongst them, have also surfaced. Islamic countries want at least one Muslim country as a permanent member.

An overriding complication is that of the veto power. Many countries support the move to drop the veto power for new permanent members.

For several years, India has pursued its objective, based on the belief that it rightfully deserves to be a permanent member of the UNSC. There was a glimmer of hope in the 1950s when suggestions were made by the USA to induct India as a permanent member of the UNSC to replace Taiwan (ROC) and admit China (PRC) as a member of UN. One seat in the UNSC was, then, held by Taiwan and not communist China. It seems Jawaharlal Nehru was cold towards this suggestion and felt that such a move would annoy China (PRC). His China policy lay in tatters after 1962.

India’s Case for Permanent Representation

It’s a different India today, in a different world. China has muted its opposition to India’s aspiration publicly, ever since the rest of the P-5 members and a large number of other countries supported India’s case. China, however, remains reluctant and recently blocked a move in a UN committee to seek an explanation from Pakistan for releasing the LeT terrorist Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, mastermind of the Mumbai 26/11 terrorist attack.

India’s role in UN peacekeeping operations has been universally acclaimed. The country has contributed well over 100,000 defence and police personnel over the last three decades. There is growing recognition of India’s global role and suitability as a permanent member with the Indian economy showing signs of regaining its earlier growth profile.

Coincidentally, the P-5 countries are all nuclear weapon states as defined in the NPT. India’s nuclear stand was an impediment but is no longer relevant after the Nuclear Deal with the USA.

The other major Western criticism has been that India has not shouldered global security responsibilities. This is a camouflage for the West failing to co-opt India in their regime change interventions in several cases like Iraq, Libya and Syria.

India’s ambition may not be fulfilled soon. India must prepare for a marathon. The P-5 are in no hurry for a move that will dilute their exclusive status. It is difficult to say when the UNSC will be reformed but reform it will and when that happens, India will find a place as a permanent member of the UNSC.

(The author is a Distinguished Fellow at the Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation and former Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs)

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