In ICJ, it’s down to the wire for India, U.K.

 Dalveer Bhandari is India’s nominee for the last seat in the International Court of Justice. File photo.

Dalveer Bhandari is India’s nominee for the last seat in the International Court of Justice. File photo.

As the UN General Assembly and the Security Council assemble for separate meetings in New York on Monday to hold the 12th round of voting to break the stalemate between India’s Dalveer Bhandari and Britain’s Christopher Greenwood for re-election to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), it will be a test of the depth and durability of New Delhi’s international partnerships.

The winning candidate needs to get a majority in both the General Assembly (GA) and the Security Council (SC), but 11 rounds of voting so far ended with India winning in the former and the U.K. winning in the latter.

Historical challenge

It is the first time in UN history that the candidacy of a permanent member of the Security Council is challenged in the way it has been by India, and all five permanent members, the P5, appear to have rallied behind Mr. Greenwood, though actual voting choices will remain secret.

In the last round of voting at the SC, the U.K. got nine votes against five for India, with one abstention. Japan, which appeared to be at the forefront of a move to counter Chinese designs in Asia recently, is also said to have joined hands with China, the U.S. and Russia in support of the U.K., sources familiar with the developments at the UN told The Hindu on Sunday.

U.S. diplomatic sources refused to disclose their preference in discussions over the weekend, but a long-time observer of UN politics in New York said: “P-1 is the U.S. and P-2 is the U.K. They are always together.”

U.S. President Donald Trump is scheduled to meet Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley at the White House, shortly before the voting at the UN. It has been learnt that India sought U.S. support on the issue at the “highest level” in the recent past, but it was not clear if such discussions took place in the last week.

The U.K. has already indicated to members of the SC that it plans to invoke a clause that has never been used to suspend voting on Monday and move to a conference mechanism of the GA and the SC if the first round of voting does not yield a clear outcome. The conference mechanism involves three members of the GA and three of the SC jointly selecting the winner. India has told member countries that this would amount to bypassing the desire of an overwhelming majority. But if the U.K. wants to suspend voting after the first round on Monday and invokes the conference option, there is no way to stop it, as per rules. India is gearing up for a three-pronged battle at the UN, according to sources familiar with the developments.

The first is the headcount in the GA. India has ended up at 121 in the last round and is trying to push it up. If India gets two-thirds, at 128, “morally no judge can continue in the fray”, a source said.

The second battle line is in the SC, which will vote simultaneously. India hopes that its votes will increase from five. More than six members of the SC have been assuring India their votes, but the count indicates that not all of them are keeping their promise. India’s Permanent Mission in New York worked through the weekend, reaching out to SC members. The 10 non-permanent members of the SC are Bolivia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Senegal, Sweden, Ukraine and Uruguay.

Conference mechanism

The third line of battle is if the U.K. presses for conference, which will also have to be approved by the SC. In this case, the voting will be public, and members who are now playing a double game will not be able to do that. They will have to publicly take a position on whether or not they support the U.K.’s demand for suspension of voting. Though the U.K. has nine votes in favour of its candidate, it is unclear if it has those nine votes to stall the voting process itself in an open voting. The U.K.’s strategy will depend on its own assessment of how it stands on this count. If it is confident that it can get the majority of the SC to support publicly its demand for a suspension of voting, it will exercise the option of conference. This will be a moment for reckoning for India also, as it will show the extent of the support it gets from various countries.

If the SC votes in favour of a conference mechanism, then the question of how the six members of the new mechanism, comprising three from the GA and three from the SC, will be selected will come up. “These are all open questions as they have not been explored earlier. It is an unprecedented situation,” a UN source said.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2022 1:01:52 am |