2010, India and the Security Council – An Agenda for 2011

Written by  //  December 28, 2010  //  Economic & Social Policy  //  3 Comments

Amidst the euphoria surrounding President Obama’s support of India’s candidature for a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council [U.N.S.C], India’s election to the U.N.S.C. as a non-permanent member received lesser attention than it deserved. After a hiatus of about two decades, India finally takes a 2-year seat on the U.N.S.C. starting January 2011. India’s presence on the U.N.S.C. is noteworthy for several reasons: First, India is joined on the U.N.S.C. by Germany, South Africa and Brazil. Together they constitute the G-4, the 4 countries most likely to become permanent members of the U.N.S.C if U.N. reform ever proves successful. Many view the 2011 U.N.S.C as a ground to test whether these countries are indeed responsible and effective world powers deserving of permanent membership. Second, the current composition of the U.N.S.C. includes (aside from India and the P-5), Nigeria, South Africa, Gabon and Brazil. After long, the membership of the U.N.S.C. has included a significant number of important countries – the BRIC countries, the G-4, the IBSA and crucial African powers – thus making it possible for the 2011 U.N.S.C. to be truly effective. This might be the strongest chance the U.N.S.C. has to regain its lost legitimacy. Finally, as far as India is concerned, this is a unique opportunity to cement its position in the new world order and to use its considerable lobbying strength to effect change.

In this piece, I set out an agenda for 2011: I list what issues are likely to come before the U.N.S.C. in 2011 and what India can and should do about them. While doing so, I keep in mind that the U.N.S.C. today is a largely discredited body, and it is in India’s interests that its efficacy and legitimacy are revived; that India’s 2-year stint in the U.N.S.C. is crucial to its future ambitions for permanency; and that every decision India makes in the U.N.S.C. is a delicate balancing act between its own interests, the interests of the world community and the interests of the powers (the P-5) who control chances of future U.N. reform.

Iran: Sanctions against Iran have been on the U.N.S.C. agenda for a while now, and recently a fourth resolution authorising sanctions against Iran’s nuclear programme was passed. While sanctions against Iran generally enjoy the support of the P-5, increasingly the international community doubts the efficacy of a sanctions programme in reducing Iran’s production of fuel. The other option is increasing diplomatic contact, like Brazil has recently done. Furthermore, the recent NPT review conference in May 2010 demonstrated considerable global support for a WMD-free-zone in the Middle East, which many believe is a better way to regulate the Iranian nuclear programme. India has great interest in Iran – it has for long been a major importer of Iranian goods, has publicly stated that Iran enjoys the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, and requires Iranian cooperation to combat piracy in the Indian Ocean. However India also voted against Iran in the IAEA. The question of g Iran will come before the U.N.S.C. in the next two years. It would be in India’s interests to develop alternatives to sanctions, and successfully engage Iran diplomatically.

Burma: After much resistance from China, and often Russia, the question of Burma was put on the U.N.S.C. agenda recently. The U.N. has turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the military junta, and India’s complicity in this has been nothing short of shameful. It has increased trade ties with Burma, and consistently opposed U.N. scrutiny of events in the country. Many suggest that protecting Burma helps India keep its relations with China intact. But given that the E.U. and U.S. both condemn junta actions, the Indian position is curious. The elections recently held in Burma were largely farcical, and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi was the only positive development. If and when the question of Burma comes before the U.N.S.C., India should demand accountability from the junta for its actions.

The Middle-East: Yet another issue sure to come before the U.N.S.C. in 2011 is the conflict in the middle-east, particularly the Israel-Palestine question. 2011 is crucial as it is Abbas’ stated year for declaring independence. Thus far, there have been many attempts to conduct peace-talks between the two sides, but the question of the West Bank and Israeli aggression have led to road-blocks. Under Nehru, India supported the Palestinian cause. More recently however we have begun to deepen our defense and security ties with Israel, and are the largest buyer of Israeli arms. The morality of such trade aside, at the U.N.S.C., it is important for India to be able to disassociate its personal gains from trade with Israel, and take a strong stand on issues that thwart the peace process such as speaking out against Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

Institution-Building: Institution building is slowly becoming a big part of U.N.S.C. activity. The internal functioning of the U.N.S.C. has come under much criticism because of its lack of efficacy, accountability and transparency. India can go a long way in lobbying for change in these areas. For example, peace-keeping is a U.N.S.C. function of great importance to India, as India is the third-largest contributor of peace-keeping forces globally. U.N. peace-keeping strategy is a mess – as the recent, continuing debacle in the D.R.C. demonstrates. The efficacy and legitimacy of the U.N.S.C. could be greatly bolstered if peace-keeping forces were more accountable, if the U.N. allied more regional organizations (particularly in Africa), and if better exit-strategies were negotiated.

In addition to the issues mentioned above, there are many others likely to come before the U.N.S.C. in 2011 – non-proliferation, terrorism, Sudan and the Côte d’Ivoire (particularly relevant given India’s increased stake in Africa). Dealing with each of these in detail is impossible. However, a lot is at stake. In conclusion, the rule of thumb for India at the U.N.S.C. in 2011 should involve the following considerations: on the one hand, Indian interests must be balanced against what is good for the world community; on the other hand, blindly aping the policies of one great power to garner their support for a permanent seat must be balanced against taking principled, independent stands on important issues.

3 Comments on "2010, India and the Security Council – An Agenda for 2011"

  1. Nikhil Pai January 4, 2011 at 6:55 am ·

    Under the light of recent economic developments in India, its position has become very interesting in the world climate. On the one hand, India needs to maintain ties with several nations for its trade and commerce but on the other hand it needs to take a stand on certain moral and humanistic issues and most of the times it is conflicting as you have illustrated in the case of Israel and Burma. I think we have moved past the Nehruvian era where India could always take the moral high ground since a lot more is at stake. I hope the politicians are up for the challenge. A great article, though. Thanks!

  2. Apoorv June 18, 2011 at 2:47 am ·

    Brilliant article. It has all the essential details and has nothing useless. It has helped me for an important article I am writing. Thanks a lot 🙂

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