“It is ironical that calls for democracy and the rule of law are being made in a Council that itself embodies the undemocratic stranglehold of the privileges of a few, forged by a wartime alliance that no longer exists. The logic of democracy and the anguished faces of human suffering across the world call for urgent action to reform the Council.
We must do so this year if we are to learn the right lessons from history.” These were the words said by the Indian UN Ambassador Ashok Kumar Mukherjee in his address to an open meeting of the UN Security Council on Maintenance of International Peace and Security, last month at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Many of you might wonder what I am talking about. What is UN? What is Security Council? I will answer and cover all your queries when you browse through this article. Is India ready to rule the world by toppling the sole superpower, the USA or by sharing the reins? Can it promote itself from the national stage to the global stage? We, as the observers of this world, will have nothing but to just wait and watch what the developments occur. First, I will describe this international organisation in brief.
The United Nations (UN) is an intergovernmental organization established on October 24, 1945 to promote international cooperation. A replacement for the ineffective ‘League of Nations’, the organization was created following the Second World War to prevent another such conflict. At its founding, the UN had 51 member states.
The headquarters of the United Nations is in Manhattan in New York, and enjoys extraterritoriality. Further main offices are situated in Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna respectively. The organization is financed by assessed and voluntary contributions from its member states.
Its objectives include maintaining international peace and security, promoting human rights, fostering social and economic development, protecting the environment, and providing humanitarian aid in cases of famine, natural disaster, and armed conflict.
The UN has six principal organs, but now it has five main organs – the General Assembly, which is the main deliberative assembly of the UN, the Security Council, for deciding certain resolutions for peace and security, the Economic and Social Council, for promoting international economic and social cooperation and development, the Secretariat, for providing studies, information, and facilities needed by the UN, the International Court of Justice, which is the primary judicial organ and the Trusteeship Council, that has been inactive since 1994.
The UN’s most prominent officer is of the Secretary-General, an office held by South Korean Ban Ki-Moon since 2007. He was again elected for a second term in 2014. It has 193 member states and two observer states respectively (Taiwan and Vatican City).
Now to come to the main agenda. The Security Council, which was founded in 1946, is charged with maintaining peace and security among all member countries. While other organs of the United Nations can only make recommendations to member states, the Security Council has the power to make binding decisions that all member states have to carry out.
Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions. It is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
In its early decades, the body was largely paralysed by the Cold War division between the US and the USSR and their allies, its authorized interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in the Suez Crisis, Cyprus, and West New Guinea.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, and the Security Council authorized major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Namibia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Bosnia, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The Security Council consists of fifteen members. The great powers that were the victors of World War II are Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, and the United States, which serve as the body’s five permanent members. These permanent members can veto any substantive Security Council resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or candidates for Secretary-General. The Security Council also has ten non-permanent members, elected on a regional basis to serve two-year terms. The body’s presidency rotates monthly among its members.
The permanent members have maintained the world’s most powerful military forces ever since. Until 2012 when Japan surpassed France, they annually topped the list of countries with the highest military expenditures. In 2013, they spent over US$1 trillion combined on defence, accounting for over 55% of global military expenditures, with the US alone accounting for over 35%. They are also among the world’s largest arms exporters, and are the only nations officially recognized as ‘nuclear-weapon states’ under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Although there are other states known or believed to be in possession of nuclear weapons, it is yet to be ascertained. In its first two decades, the Security Council had six non-permanent members, the first of which were Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Mexico, Netherlands and Poland.
In 1965, the number of non-permanent members was expanded to ten. These ten non-permanent members are elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms starting on January 1, with five of them replaced each year. To be approved, a candidate must receive at least two-thirds of all votes cast for that particular seat.
There has been discussions of increasing the number of permanent members. The countries who have made the strongest demands for permanent seats are Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan. Japan and Germany, the main defeated powers in World War II, are now the UN’s second and third-largest fund contributors respectively, while Brazil and India are two of the largest contributors of troops to UN-mandated peacekeeping missions.
The permanent members, each holding the right of veto, announced their positions on Security Council reform reluctantly. Germany has a powerful position in the European Union, and Japan has the support of much of South, North, East and South-East Asia and the Pacific Islands in its bid, through lobbying via financial aid.
The United States has unequivocally supported the permanent membership of Japan and lent its support to India and a small number of additional non-permanent members. The United Kingdom and France essentially supported the G4 position, with the expansion of permanent and non-permanent members and the accession of Germany, Brazil, India and Japan to permanent member status, as well as an increase in the presence by African countries on the Council. China has always supported the stronger representation of developing countries and has firmly opposed Japan’s membership.
India has been appealing for a permanent seat at the Security Council since the 1990s. India’s bid for permanent membership of UNSC is backed by all permanent members, although the USA initially opposed India’s candidacy on grounds of nuclear proliferation, as India has acquired nuclear weapons and did not sign the NPT agreement in 1972.
In 2011, China officially expressed its support for an increased Indian role at the United Nations, without explicitly endorsing India’s Security Council ambitions. The reform of the Security Council requires the agreement of at least two-thirds of the UN member states and that of all the permanent members of the Security Council, each enjoying the veto right.
However, recently China has expressed its support for Indian candidacy as a permanent member of the Security Council, if India revoked its support for Japanese candidacy, thus making India the only candidate that has received support from all permanent members and most other nations as well.
This decision has invoked criticism among many developing nations, including India and Japan, calling it ‘a baseless and an immature decision for no reason.’ The African Union also supports India’s candidacy for permanent member of UNSC, as it feels that having India at the top will be a big aid to the poor countries of Africa.
However, Pakistan is the only member state that opposes India’s permanent seat candidacy naturally. It has made it clear to the USA that it would not accept India as a permanent member of the Security Council. The Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif has said that India cannot become a UNSC permanent member, due to its non-compliance of all the resolutions passed by the UN, regarding the Kashmir issue.
The Pakistani PM also made it strictly clear upon the US president Barack Obama that the permanent seat for India will not be tolerated at any cost, as the latter has not fulfilled any resolution passed by UN, aimed at assuring the right of self-determination for the people of Kashmir.
According to me and the others, India probably has the strongest case for becoming a permanent member, which I feel. Here are the supporting arguments, which almost complies to the UN’s standards:-
- It is the world’s largest liberal democracy with a population that will eventually eclipse that of China by 2025. It is the second most populated country in the world and the most populous country in the whole of South Asia. It is also the seventh largest country in the world.
- It is a diverse and a secular state, as guaranteed by the Indian Constitution, which is also the longest written constitution in the world. It has the world’s largest Hindu majority population and the second largest Muslim majority population, after Indonesia.
- It is the 12th largest UN financial contributor and also a major contributor of UN Peacekeeping troops all over the world. Also, India is a charter member of the United Nations and participates in all of its specialised agencies and organisations.
- It frequently serves as a non-permanent member, and usually wins the votes of almost all member states in its bids for non-permanent positions.
- It has the backing of some major players like France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, China and a number of European, Asian, and Latin American nations, and the African Union.
- It is relatively and mostly trusted by the Arab States, and the Security Council could probably use someone other than China that can negotiate in the Middle East, for counterattacking China’s influence on the global stage most probably.
- As a founding member of the United Nations, India strongly supports the purposes and principles of the UN and has made significant contributions to implementing the goals of the UN Charter, and the evolution of the UN’s specialized programmes and agencies.
In the end, I would express my views by saying that who would have thought that a country rippled with internal problems, poverty and terrorism would be joining alongside the big five for a permanent seat status in the UNSC. Well, think about it!
India is now a nuclear power and host to the second largest population in the world. Its technological advances include the very impressive placement of the Mangalyaan, India’s first Mar’s orbiter. It also became the first country ever to launch a satellite on the Red Planet on its very first attempt. It is hard to imagine a reason not to give India a seat at the table.
And giving India a permanent seat on the Security Council would serve as an important counterbalance to the rising influence of China, USA and Russia. India was a longtime member of the Non-Aligned Movement, which chose to side neither with East nor West during the Cold War.
India has steadfastly guarded its independence in that regard, which makes India’s positions on important international issues all the more relevant. It is a friendly and a serious nation which is ever ready to sit down and hold talks and work accordingly. A permanent status might also help bring India into the fold on the issue of global climate change and carbon emissions.