Monday, August 22, 2011

Is India ready for a permanent seat at the UNSC?

The reform of the UN Security Council to amend or do away with its system of five veto wielding permanent members is widely advocated across the world these days. That the UNSC is archaic is blatantly obvious since the permanent members are the permanent members by the virtue of being victors of a war that ended more than six decades ago. India, along with fellow emerging powers like Brazil and South Africa is now lobbying hard for a  to gain a permanent seat (hopefully with a veto) at that coveted table. The Indian media says much about the unfairness of the current system but hardly gives much justification for why India should be made a permanent member. Instead of simply demanding a UNSC permanent seat for being an emerging economy with the second largest population in the world, we should try to analyse if we will really benefit from it.

Ever since independence, India’s foreign policy has been one of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations (except perhaps Pakistan & Sri Lanka). That policy has served us well. Off the top of your mind, can you tell what is India’s official position on Iranian nuclear programme, Darfur genocide or democracy in Burma? Most probably, you cant. That is because when any crisis occurs, a non-UNSC member can get away with saying nothing beyond symbolic statements like “We urge all parties to maintain restraint and seek a political solution.” That is exactly what Indian Ministry of External Affairs does when the world is discussing an issue that hardly affects Indian interests. The five permanent members on the other hand have to take rigid stances on every issue that comes before the council.

India has strategic interests in two so called “problem states”, Iran and Burma (the junta has renamed it to Myanmar). It is a fact that despite India always highlighting its status as the world’s most populous democracy, India maintains close relations with these two largely undemocratic authoritarian regimes. With India’s thirst for oil only about to get worse with increasing prosperity, India obviously needs to keep Iran close. India is one of Burma’s largest trading partners and with China eager to curry favour with the junta, India cant afford to antagonise relations with this neighbour. At present India can afford to pay lip service to the ideals of spreading democracy and still enjoy good relations with Burma and Iran because there is hardly any need to publicly reveal its relations with these nations. Once India is a permanent UNSC member, India’s votes with regard to resolutions concerning these countries will be closely scrutinised and India will have to make a choice between its strategic interests and Western goodwill.

Secondly, a study of the UNSC resolutions passed till date shows that one of the most commonly discussed issues in the UNSC is the Israel-Palestine conflict. In recent years, India has committed to establishing good relations with Israel including co-operation in many matters including defence. Similarly, India also has close relations with the gulf and arab states which are a home to a very large Indian diaspora. Thus, in any matter relating to the middle east India would have to abstain if it becomes a permanent UNSC member.

Since 1st Jan 2011, India has been a non-permanent UNSC member. The most important issue that the UNSC voted on since then was the one authorising air action over Libiya. India abstained. There is hardly any point in lobbying for a UNSC permanent seat if the over arching foreign policy doctrine of the nation is one of non-interference. Thus, in my opinion, instead of spending its political capital over lobbying for a UNSC seat, India’s foreign policy should focus on building better bilateral ties with other emerging and less developed nations.

Lastly, before urging UNSC expansion, the G-4 states should actually analyse how effective a huge UNSC with 9 or 10 veto wielding member will be. No point getting a permanent seat at an ineffective and powerless Security Council. 

What do you think? Does India need a permanent UNSC seat? Do comment and let me know …