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Powerfully Transient
India has won the seat at a crucial time. It must use it to push, not just for permanent membership, but also for reforming the Council

It was quite a milestone for India to win the two year non-permanent membership in the UN Security Council (UNSC). All the hard work put together by External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna and Ambassador Hardip Puri, India’s permanent representative to the UN and their teams has paid off. Although this undisputed victory with an overwhelming majority will boost the confidence of India diplomatically, the election holds even more promise than is apparent.

Apart from India, which won the election with 187 out of 192 votes, Germany, South Africa, Portugal and Colombia also secured the five replaceable seats for non-permanent membership, which will begin from January 2011. Although the UNSC’s non-permanent election process is quite democratic, five permanent members (US, UK, China, France and Russia) enjoy significant influence in the selection process.

But then, this win for India is certainly not a surprise as there was widespread consensus. Japan is already a non-permanent member and thus can’t participate in the voting; and thankfully, for reasons temporary, US openly supported India. This proved to be the most timely gesture of goodwill that Obama could have extended in the run up to his visit.

This is the seventh time that India became a member since the Council came into existence in 1946. Japan and Brazil have secured membership ten times, Argentina eight times, Canada, Italy and Pakistan have got it six times each. In line to this thinking, we must realise that a non-permanent membership helps little to strengthen a nation’s diplomatic influence over global affairs.

Still, to India’s defence, this time things may turn out to be a little different. Three out of the G4 nations – India, Brazil, Germany and Japan (who are striving to be permanent members) – will be present in the council in 2011 (Japan being the exception); this is the year when the issue of reforms or expansion of the Security Council will be discussed and debated. The non-permanent members can push forward the issue of permanent membership more boldly than ever before. And their candidature is also competent enough. To be a member of the UNSC, a country should have either donated significantly to the UN or should have participated in UN missions. Japan and Germany are the second and third largest donors to UN missions while Brazil and India are the largest contributors of troops in UN peacekeeping missions.
Reforms become more important as the Security Council currently is at its worst, with the permanent members randomly using their veto power for much wrong reasons. For critical example, US has used its veto power 32 times in favour of Israel on resolutions related to Israel’s conflict with Palestine. In another example, while the council voted for the use of force against Iraq to save the oil-rich Kuwait from invasion, it did nothing for the resource-poor Rwanda in 1994. These are but examples to show how reforms will, to a large extent, force unilateral decisions of some members of the UNSC to be questioned and even overturned.

The official position of the permanent members with respect to elevating non-permanent members to a permanent status has been quite ambivalent. US supports Japan for permanent membership but is yet not clear on its support for India. Obama is expected to make an official statement on this issue when he visits India. UK and Japan completely support reform and permanent membership of G4 nations. As per China, it says that it supports developing countries joining the UNSC. As mentioned, Obama’s visit is crucial for India as his support for India can be the boldest step ever possible. But then, Obama is certainly no spring chicken and would expect an able quid pro quo to accede to India’s candidature.

While India lobbies for its permanent seat in the UNSC, it has to also be active in a debate on how to make the UN more effective in its various programmes, be it poverty alleviation, peace keeping, child welfare, et al. For the first time, a powerful group has come up in the non-permanent section of the UNSC, and it would be a waste of two years if the group doesn’t assert itself for the better. This is the moment, one should better grab it.

By:- Akram Hoque

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