Count on the not so big powers, says Syed Akbaruddin

Former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Syed Akbaruddin.   | Photo Credit: NAGARA GOPAL

Syed Akbaruddin was India’s Permanent Representative to the UN when India scored an unprecedented diplomatic victory in 2017 by defeating the U.K. for a seat on the International Court of Justice. India’s Dalveer Bhandari was elected a judge of the ICJ. Mr. Akbaruddin’s recent book ‘India vs UK: The Story of an Unprecedented Diplomatic Win’ is an account of the contest in which all five permanent members of the UNSC united against India.

Excerpts from the interview with Mr. Akbaruddin, who is currently Dean, Kautilya School of Public Policy, Hyderabad.

You say in the book that we were not very sure about contesting this election at all. What doubts did your colleagues have about contesting?

So yes, it took us a long time to decide whether we should contest or not. In fact, I would suggest that it took us almost 15 months or so before we even came to a conclusion that we should contest this election. And that was because never before in our own history, when a judge was elected for shorter than full term did India contest again. So that was one factor. The other factor was we were contesting many other elections at the same time, to the Law of the Seas Tribunal to the International Law Commission, etc, etc. and the general feeling in India was that the ICJ is a distant body. It has no direct implications for India’s national interest. Things changed after India decided to take Kulbhushan Jadhav case to the ICJ.

Even after the decision was taken, there were sceptics within the Indian establishment. An unnamed colleague asked you what was your exit strategy from this disaster…?

That’s right. It was a high risk venture, because other countries had been canvassing for their candidates for almost a year. What happens in the meantime is everybody concludes that India is not in the fray. Now, we had only a few months after that decision to go and request people for awards. So obviously, there will be sceptics who will question this.

So even after the decision to go in for the contest was taken, the people who would still have doubts include the Union Minister according to your account?

Yes, that’s right. It’s normal again for people to have different views and there was a very senior Union Minister who actually reprimanded me.


You begin to approach other countries for support, and it turns out that all the permanent members of the UNSC are supporting one among them, the U.K.?

Yes. So two things we were confronted with many countries all said, ‘Look, we may have made commitments already, because you’ve come in very late’. So our argument to that was, ‘look, we are not asking for one, you have five votes, give us one.’ Now, as regards the permanent members, they were pretty clear that they would only support their own, especially in the Security Council.

That is very instructive of how the world order functions ... how will the existing superpowers might be thinking about India’s role in the world and India’s ambitions to have a bigger, larger role?

So you’re right. It’s true that some among the P-5 felt we were disruptors, we were disrupting the established order. And some were actively opposed to us. However, there were some who were also tacit in their support, but they were not forthcoming because of their commitments to what they saw as a bigger cause. That is the unity of the global order as it exists today. So what does it teach us? It teaches us, ‘Let’s not put all eggs in one basket.’ The big, and the great, are important, but so are the not so great, and the not so big, because they form the base of our global support. So it’s good that we engage with the big, we work with the great but, let’s not forget our very many friends who are neither big nor great, but they are our friends. And their support will be key as India goes up and rises on the global stage.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:21:01 PM |

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