For over a decade acquiring “permanent” membership of the UN Security Council had become a key focus of India’s foreign policy goals. India’s position is that it wants the UNSC to have a P-9 with it, and Brazil, Japan and Germany added to perpetuate the old system. That isn’t really a reform of the UN system, just a little tweak. This idea has so infatuated us that we now insist that support for India’s membership be a part of every joint communiqué with any foreign government. Except for an obvious handful, most governments oblige. Even China, which probably most resists P-5 expansion, says it would like to see India on the UNSC. US President Donald Trump, with his many preoccupations, backs a seat for India in a reformed UNSC and in other multilateral bodies like NSG. After Mr Trump’s support, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the White House to thank him. Inevitably, the India-US joint statement reflected this. But how this translates in real life is something else. When former US President Barack Obama last visited India, he said he supports a reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member. Former US ambassador to the UN Samantha Powers, however, said: “It is very critical any reform proposal enjoy broad consensus among member states.” This takes it very close to the proposal of some nations in the Uniting for Consensus Group, which opposes UNSC expansion by adding the G-4 (India, Germany, Japan and Brazil). Now even this dialogue on UNSC reforms has stalled, if not stopped.
The Uniting for Consensus Group, led by Canada, Italy, Colombia and Pakistan, made a counter-proposal — enlargement of non-permanent members from 10 to 20. The non-permanent members would be elected by the General Assembly for a two-year term, and would be eligible for immediate re-election, subject to the decision of their respective geographical groups. In a bid to get the discussion moving, India and other G-4 nations even said they were willing to not exercise the “veto” as permanent members of a reformed UNSC until a decision on it was taken. But that too seems to have vanished in the maze of regional animosities and interests. Italy has reservations about Germany, Colombia has reservations about Brazil, and Pakistan (that definitely doesn’t want India) is also China’s proxy against Japan and India. Canada’s role in this group is somewhat puzzling.
The Chinese want “small and medium-sized countries to take turns to serve on UNSC”. Russia, while not opposing expansion, has taken the line that existing UNSC members should remain as they are, with full veto powers, but there could be two or three classes of UNSC members. The G-5 with veto powers, G-4 permanent members without the veto, and whoever else may be elected by the General Assembly.
The move to create the United Nations to preserve world peace began on October 30, 1943 when Britain, China, the Soviet Union and the United States signed the Moscow Declaration. The signatories met continuously from August to October 1944 at Dumbarton Oaks in Washington D.C. and fashioned a basic plan for the UN, whose centerpiece was a Security Council in which the US, USSR, Britain, China and France would be permanent members. As an immediate response to a destructive world war, the UN reflected the reality and ethos of that age. Nothing reflected this more than the composition of the Security Council’s permanent members. Four were “white” nations. Two, China and France, were defeated nations. Two, Britain and France, were colonial powers. The other 10 members are elected members from various regions. These members are without the veto and with little voice or clout. It might be pertinent to add at this stage that the US has long felt the representation in the UNSC P-5 was inadequate. In his book, Nehru — The Invention of India, Shashi Tharoor, then a United Nations under-secretary general, writes that Indian diplomats who have seen files swear that Jawaharlal Nehru “declined a United States offer” for India to “take a permanent seat on the UN Security Council” around 1953 and suggested it be given to China because “the seat was held with scant credibility by Taiwan”.
While it can be argued that a Security Council with a smaller number of countries is desirable to make the UN effective, it must also reflect world realities and be more representative. For instance, Africa and Latin America aren’t represented in P-5. Also, the Islamic world does not find a place. India, with a fifth of the world’s population, doesn’t figure. Europe’s biggest economy, Germany, isn’t there. On the other hand, with two members — UK and France — Western Europe is over-represented. With Russia added, Europe has three members. It is clearly not a satisfactory arrangement. The UNSC thus doesn’t reflect the world order or its diversity. During the Cold War, veto powers ensured one bloc couldn’t override the interests of the other. The veto was thus used 252 times since 1946. Since 1996, Russia hasn’t exercised the veto even once whereas the US used it six times and China twice. This presumably reflects the settled shape of the world order now. Clearly, the use of the veto itself must be reviewed. One nation alone must not be allowed to block the UNSC’s consensus. It’s time a threshold of members to collectively enforce the veto is discussed.
The times too have changed. The United Staes is no longer the dominant economic and political power it once was. All G-4 nations are bigger economies than Russia, France and Britain. They possibly have bigger global footprints. How can the veto power be justified only for these three, and denied to the G-4? Over the past years, India’s diplomacy has centered on a craving to just become a UN Security Council member. It seems a second-class membership is now feasible. The big question is whether this is what India really wants? Or do we want greater United Nations Security Council democratisation to reflect the status and size of the G-4?