The three leaders of IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa dialogue forum) adopted a comprehensive declaration at their recent meeting in South Africa, spelling out their views on the pressing international issues of the day. It is a welcome sign that this forum is being used to express opinions in a collective manner, since one or another member of the group might be reluctant, for political and diplomatic reasons, to take a position on its own on some problems. IBSA ought to be used much more to reflect the commonly arrived views of its members; there is safety in numbers!
The section on Global Governance Reform deals with multilateral security and financial institutions, principally the United Nations Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Even if the declaration merely reiterates previously stated positions, it is essential to repeat them from time to time, especially in such forums; there is just a possibility that a reiteration of known positions will help to create more awareness and, hopefully, support among others.
It is no secret that some countries are anxious to be invited to join IBSA. Turkey is mentioned in this context. Egypt had also shown interest, at least during the ‘ancien regime.' There might be others. This suggests that as a grouping, IBSA has acquired recognition and some stature. Of course, the basic syndrome is that those who are kept out are anxious to get in and those who are in want to keep everyone else out. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's reported statement that the membership of this forum is closed should take care of this particular problem for the time being.
Experience suggests that the membership of a group does not prevent members from taking individual positions that might be at variance with the group's positions. This was famously true of the nonaligned group, but is equally true of smaller ‘coalitions of the like-minded.' According to the press, South Africa is reported to have departed from the BASIC group's position on climate change and the issue of binding commitments by developing countries. One should not be surprised if one or the other member of IBSA acts in its own interests on any of the subjects covered in the Tshwane Declaration.
The three leaders have devoted significant attention to the question of the Security Council reform. They have called for an increase in both the permanent and non-permanent categories of membership. In demanding an expansion in the permanent category, the leaders would be realistic enough to realise that there is absolutely no possibility of adding a single permanent member with the right of veto. The fact that they are nonetheless interested in a veto-less permanent membership denotes that, unlike some analysts, they recognise the importance of being on the Council even without the right of veto. While Brazil and India have long reconciled themselves to this fact of international political life, they seem to have persuaded South Africa to fall in line with this reality. This is of importance since the collective, oft-reiterated position of the African group is that there must be no discrimination between ‘old' and ‘new' permanent members. The South Africans will have to tackle fellow Africans on their departure from the common African position taken by them in the ‘Ezulwini' declaration.
Apart from the fact that the paragraphs dealing with the expansion of the Security Council could have been drafted more felicitously, there is one sentence which would create problems in satisfying the “aspirations” of the three countries. (The word “aspirations” is not a happy choice; one may aspire for something to which one might not have a legitimate or well-founded claim.) This is in paragraph 9 of the declaration, the last sentence of which declares support for each other's aspirations for permanent seats in a reformed Security Council.
Those who have followed the item dealing with the reform of the Council know that one of the reasons for the lack of progress has been the inability of the African countries to decide who their candidates for permanent membership should be. It is generally recognised that in an expanded, or reformed, Council, Africa should have two permanent seats. It does not have even one seat at present; a regional group with 53 members deserves two permanent seats. South America too does not have any permanent member, but somehow it has not been vocal in demanding more than one permanent seat. Of the G-4, India, Brazil and Japan, in that order, have substantial support, though each of them has regional challengers. Germany has more difficulty, not only because Italy is determined to oppose it at any cost, but also because most members believe that Europe or the West is already over represented, occupying 60 per cent of the current permanent seats. Germany's vote on Libya has upset the Americans and the declining economic growth rates in Europe have affected the overall influence of European countries in the U.N., as borne out by some recent votes.
The members of IBSA have joined hands in sponsoring a proposal known in the U.N. jargon as document L.69 which essentially calls for an expansion in both categories, without mentioning any country by name. Effectively, therefore, the three have already declared support for one another. Nonetheless, the explicit commitment in the Tshwane statement would most likely generate resentment among other African countries, especially those who have their own aspirations, such as Nigeria and Egypt. Egypt at present is going through internal revolution and is governed by the armed forces; an elected government is not likely to take office at least for another year. There is also uncertainty about the character of the government, specifically about the extent of power that the Muslim Brotherhood might exercise in it. Since, however, the foreign ministry is still dominated by career diplomats, Egypt's opposition to any proposal that dooms its own aspirations should be expected. But Egypt will face determined opposition from Algeria, among others. The Egyptian-Algerian equation is somewhat like the India-Pakistan equation. Even after acknowledging the potential problems that India might encounter from some Asian countries, there should be no doubt in the mind of any Indian that there will be no reform of the Security Council without India being a part of it. The greatest complexity is in the African group. Unless the Africans come to an understanding among themselves, this subject will remain stalled for a long time.
Under these circumstances, the wisdom of expressing support for the aspirations of all three members of IBSA was questionable. The non-African members of IBSA might have earned a few points with South Africa but this act of solidarity might make several other African countries unhappy. It is not certain that South Africa itself will benefit from such support; it knows better than its other two partners the problems that it faces in its own regional group. The net effect of this declaration is likely to add more complexity to the already complex situation. It is not known if Germany and Japan, the other two members of G-4, were consulted in advance of the IBSA meeting on this issue.
The leaders of IBSA must be fully aware that the ‘reform' of the Security Council, in the form and manner desired by them, is not likely to materialise any time soon. There are other proposals doing the rounds in the U.N. corridors and in chancelleries around the globe. The Coalition For Consensus, understandably led by Italy and Pakistan, is firmly opposed to additional permanent members, with or without veto; they want addition only to the non-permanent category. There are in the ring a few ‘interim' solutions, put forward by Panama, Liechtenstein and several others; however, they do not seem to be serious rivals to L.69.
As mentioned above, L.69 calls for an increase in both categories and contains provision for review. India will have to make up its mind whether and when to put it to vote. The draft has considerable support with more than 80 cosponsors. Our mission in New York and the Ministry of External Affairs will have to make a realistic assessment while arriving at a decision. While an element of risk is always involved in any election, national or international, not taking a calculated chance, or deciding to be safe and leaving the matter to drift, cannot also be a good option.
But India, Brazil and South Africa will find the U.N. Security Council summit hard to scale.