The cable targets India's Permanent Representative Nirupam Sen

Strident opposition from the United States to a proposal by India and other Non-Aligned Movement countries to change the way the United Nations Secretary-General is elected was prompted by fears that it “would dramatically curtail the influence of the U.S. in the selection process.”

Washington was also deeply concerned that the process — under the proposed system — “would work against U.S. interests at the UN” as candidates competing for the top job would be expected to address “controversial issues such as development assistance levels, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and management reform,'' according to a confidential U.S. diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

A cable dated May 24, 2006 (65263: confidential) from the U.S. Mission at the UN said that India's “aggressive” campaign on the issue was “part of a broader Indian effort to bolster its standing in the developing world and its chance for a permanent seat on the Security Council.”

Sent under the name of U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN John Bolton, it accused India of “trying to take advantage of the current atmosphere of conflict between the G-77 and the developed world, and to capitalize on momentum from the G-77's recent management reform votes.”

French Permanent Representative Jean-Marc de La Sabliere was reported as saying that “he thought the Indians were trying to establish a ‘general practice of contentious votes' as part of their campaign for a permanent seat in the Security Council.”

Under the proposal, which was eventually rejected, the Security Council would have been required to recommend “two or more” candidates to the General Assembly for the election of the Secretary-General, instead of the usual one. Americans interpreted the move as being “directed primarily at the P5 [the five permanent members of the UN Security Council], and in particular at the U.S.'' They argued that “providing two candidates to the GA…would dramatically curtail the influence of the U.S. in the selection process.”

‘A G-77 beauty contest'

“More problematic,” the cable speculated, “would be [a] scenario where the election becomes a beauty contest among the G-77 in which candidates are forced to provide commitments inimical to U.S. interests. In a process that enhances member states' ability to elicit pledges, SYG [secretary-general] candidates could be forced, for example, to limit the representation of the developed world in the Secretariat's senior ranks. We would expect candidates to address controversial issues such as development assistance levels, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and management reform. Given the balance of votes in the GA, such a campaign would work against U.S. interests at the UN.”

Nirupam Sen targeted

The cable targeted India's Permanent Representative Nirupam Sen, claiming that he had been “widely quoted as saying that the current process creates a ‘Secretary-General who is secretary to the P5 and general to the General Assembly,' and that a new process is needed to ‘reverse the situation'. He referred to the current SYG as ‘the P5's official executioner'.”

The cable added: “Russian PR [Vitaly Ivanovich] Churkin (currently serving as the unofficial P5 coordinator) has been seeking an appointment with Sen for more than a week to discuss the issue but has been unable to get on the Indian PR's schedule. Churkin told the other P5 PRs that he thought Sen was clearly avoiding the meeting.”

Describing the proposal as a “symptom of the deeper divide among the UN membership,'' the cable warned that if “the NAM is successful in bringing this issue before the GA for a vote, and certainly if it passes, there will be a serious fight over Charter language and Security Council authority this fall.”

In the event, India itself did a U-turn (The Hindu, March 20, 2011; vide cable 64794: confnoforn, dated May 19, 2006) and joined the U.S.-sponsored “consensus” on the issue.

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via WikiLeaks.)