Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Is UN Security Council seat a possibility or a pipe dream for India?

Is UN Security Council seat a possibility or a pipe dream for India?

In this episode of Worldview, Suhasini Haidar breaks down the workings of the UN system and India’s chances of having a seat at the High table.

Published - September 23, 2022 09:37 pm IST

 The annual gathering of the UN General Assembly, of leaders of 193 member nations in New York is underway this week, and with it come the annual calls for the 77-year-old body to consider reforming its structure and revising who should be at the high table. This year, the calls seem louder, much of it due to the idea that Security Council leaders have ensured a logjam in any forward movement with their veto power of any resolution- primarily in the context of Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The first salvo was launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who didn’t go to the UN, but addressed his country on the first day of the UNGA- announcing that he was

1. Increasing Russian army strength by a partial mobilisation of about 300,000 reserve soldiers

2. Ordering referendum in areas of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zhaporozhiya and Kherson, on the lines of its referendum in Crimea in 2014 that preceded its annexation

3. Warning those in the west who had suggested the use of weapons of mass destruction against Russia, that Russia would also use all weapons- suggesting the nuclear option.

US President Joseph Biden leading the way, called for UN reform to counter what he called Russia’s violations of the UN system

A number of other leaders spoke on the need for UNSC reform: Germany, Japan, Brazil, Portugal, Italy, Philippines, Mongolia Marshall Islands, and many others

 Reacting to Putin’s comments Ukraine President Zelenskyy said, “this is what Ukraine is talking about. Have you ever heard such words from Russia? But it is a permanent member of the security council and for some reason, Japan, Brazil, Turkey, India, Germany and Ukraine are not. The day will come when this will be resolved.”

Speaking at Columbia University, EAM S. Jaishankar said that the global order needs a deep transformation that is overdue.

1. He said it was devised 80 years ago

2. The number of countries has quadrupled in this time

3. That large parts of the globe are left out

4. That it is not good for the UNSC and for India to be left out given its size and economy

5. And that there is growing support for India to be a member of the UNSC.

So what is UNSC reform planned, and what is India’s stand?

- In 2005, India along with Brazil, Germany and Japan launched the G-4 movement for UNSC reform, and the G4 grouping meets atleast once a year

- Their foremost demand is for an exapansion of the UN Security Counci Permanent membership for the G-4 countries

- They also demand representation for the African countries at the UNSC- for two members from the grouping, possibly on rotating basis

- G-4 demands text based, time bound negotiations, rather than endless meetings where consensus is inclusive.

- G-4 have left the question of veto power open, asking for a serious look at it but not insisting on it

Where are the biggest challenges to G-4 and particularly to India?

- The biggest challenge is from P-5 nations, who pay lip service to UNSC reforms, but have seldom helped the process along

- In particular, P-5 will oppose any plans for new Permanent members from getting a veto.

- The next challenge is from regional rivals of the G-4 countries- India has from China and Pakistan, Japan from China and North Korea, even South Korea, Brazil from Argentina and Colombia, and Germany from other european countries.

- Since the UN was devised after Second World War- and gave the so called victors UNSC seats, the question is what would be the underlying reason for expansion

- The most organised opposition comes from a grouping called United For Consensus.

UfC countries include: Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Italy, Malta, Mexico, Pakistan, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Spain, Turkey

UfC Calls for

1. A fair and equitable compromise solution

2. Equitable representation for African countries, but also developing regions, small states and islands

3. Opposition to creation of new permanent members in the UNSC- with exclusive national rights and unequal privileges, saying “Security Council reform must be for all”.

- Finally there are many countries that say the UNGA should elect the UNSC council regularly- democratising the UN system, but then a system of might is right might prevail rather than represenation.

What is the process ahead?

- Security Council Reform entails the amendment of the UN Charter

- This requires Adoption by a vote of at least 2/3 of the members of the General Assembly (129 countries)

- Ratification by at least 2/3 of the members including all UNSC permanent members

Clearly, the road ahead could be just as long as the road of 77 years behind us when it comes to UNSC reform. Post Covid, the economic crisis and wars and unilateral decision making across the world, the UN system itself is under challenge...and the question is as much about whether India wants to join an unequal system that exists, or build a new system, that could take an equally long time from scratch?

Reading Recommendations:

There are a number of papers and reports online which you can access- including these:

1. Key Documents on the Reform of the UN Security Council 1991-2019- Edited byBardo Fassbender

2. United Nations – Reform It or Build It Up From Scratch- by Blagovest Georgiev is a book I haven’t read, but would like to- a look at the future possibilities

3. Five to Rule Them All: The UN Security Council and the Making of the Modern World by David L. Bosco, on the UNSC’s fascinating history

4. This by the leader of Turkey- arguably one of the worlds authoritarian leaders- who is arguing for a different world order, is a very interesting read- A Fairer World is Possible: A proposed Model for UN reform: by Recep Tayyip Erdogan Then, a number of books by UN diplomats:

5. The UN Security Council: From the Cold War to the 21st Century by David M Malone

6. The New World Disorder And The Indian Imperative by Shashi Tharoor and Samir Saran, and also Shashi Tharoor’s earlier work Pax Indica: India and the World of the Twenty-First Century

7. A look at the unfairness of the system, but one race that India won: India vs UK: The Story of an Unprecedented Diplomatic Win by Syed Akbaruddin, former Indian PR to UN

8. Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos by another PR Hardeep Singh Puri, now a Cabinet Minister

9. A History of the United Nations Security Council and How to Fix It: Intergovernmental Organizations Have Never Been This Exciting: A very short and punchy book by Jason Cappelloni, Veer Juneja and Anthony Reynolds.

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