India may soon run out of words to convey its frustration with the lack of progress on reforming the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to make it more representative of the contemporaneous world. How long it is willing to wait to become a permanent member of a reformed and expanded council?
India begins its eighth term as a non-permanent member of the UNSC in January and will be hoping to use the next two years to burnish its credentials for a permanent seat. But, realistically, what are its chances?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a speech last year, implored the world body: “For how long will India be kept out of the decision-making structures of the United Nations?”
TS Tirumurti, the Indian permanent representative to the UN, recently called the UNSC an “impaired organ” for its growing irrelevance, and said India “will be forced to look beyond the IGN, maybe to this very Assembly, for results… we must not hesitate in taking a re-look at the IGN process itself”. Inter-governmental Negotiations (IGN) is the central UN platform for reforming the UNSC. Starting in 2009, these are informal discussions that, at the UN, means no record or minutes are kept of these proceedings.
In 2004-2005, the G-4 countries — India, Brazil, Germany and Japan — are said to have considered moving a resolution in the General Assembly to expand the Council, according to diplomats. But, in their telling, India hesitated. There were misgivings that the resolution might imperil a larger foreign policy goal at the time — the civil nuclear deal with the United States (US).
Remember, US support for India’s claim to a permanent UNSC seat was still six years away; President Barack Obama announced it during a visit to India in 2010.
A UN resolution would have forced countries — including the US — to pick from yes, no or abstain. And if the resolution was voted through despite US opposition or ambivalence, things would have gone south for the nuclear deal. India went for the nuclear deal instead, and got it. But the UNSC reforms process remains where it was then.
Is it time to explore a General Assembly resolution again, moved obviously with its G-4 partners? The first objection to this view, as long-time UN diplomats from that time and those still dealing with it cautioned, is that getting the votes will not be easy, with the Coffee Club — a group of countries opposed to expanding the permanent membership, which includes Pakistan — standing in the way. The second objection is that the US might not be on-board despite its public support for India and Japan’s claims. And any of the other P-5 countries — the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China — could use their veto to shut it down summarily. And, finally, Objection No 3: The General Assembly is where the IGN process is headed anyway. But could a General Assembly resolution with a vote at the end of it supplement the IGN process?
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