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 …


  1. Amazing post! Very thought provoking. Though I agree on most of the points you made, the points still remains - is the status quo any better? How can victors of wars fought decades back still dictate terms to developing nations like ours and more importantly to the LDCs where the hegemony these powers enjoy is blatant. So the longer the present scenario continues, more and more decisions and actions will be taken around the world which are unjustified and arbitrary. So to accommodate the changing economic and political landscape, we need UNSC reforms even if they come at the cost of our 'non-intervention' policy. As it is history tells us that if we are compelled to take a stand on Iran or Burma, there are also things we can do to pacify them later on using our UNSC member status. And ultimately, the biggest plus point will be the constructive and pragmatic nurturing of foreign policy of India which we all know is way to archaic and stagnant for a rising economic power.

  2. Status quo is very good. We get to do what we want without much scrutiny of our actions. See, UNSC settles conflicts. When you vote to settle a conflict you are making some enemies and some friends. Instead, India can increase its influence by flexing its economic muscles. Give loans to African countries with a condition that a certain part of it has to be used to buy goods from Indian companies, get Indian railways to build railway networks that lead to increase in trade etc. instead of focusing on UNSC. Look at China, China has gained much goodwill in parts of the world not by dominating and influencing UNSC discussions but by giving economic aid. So why waste time trying to get onto UNSC which might actually make us lose the goodwill gained through NAM and general non-interference.

    Secondly, the current permanent members, though the victors of an old war, are "mature" powers. They match their words with action when the UNSC adopts critical strong resolutions such as the one which led to operation Desert Shield (First Gulf War) and the air attacks in Libya. Will there ever be political will in India to commit forces for offensive expeditionary missions overseas after the debacle of IPKF in Sri Lanka? India might turnout to be a toothless tiger even on joining the UNSC. So since we have much work to be done on the domestic and bilateral fronts why waste time getting embroiled in UNSC matters...

  3. Good job!excellent analysis. There is difference between "want" and "need". While people "want" permanent seat, they should first study if they "need" it and if we get how do we use the power which comes with it.


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