Why UNSC reform is an uphill task

As cunning as India might be about its bid for permanent membership, its efforts are likely to come up short.

Updated: February 6, 2014 2:51 pm
If India has to be inducted as a permanent member, the number goes up to eight. If India has to be inducted as a permanent member, the number goes up to eight.

My friend Kishore Mahbubani makes a good and no doubt sincere case for India’s claim to permanent membership of the UN Security Council (`To the new order, strategically’, IE, February 4). His analogy of Sisyphus, however, is not quite apt, because India’s efforts have so far not taken us anywhere near the top of the mountain.

Mahbubani wants India to be “cunning” if it is serious about its ambition. Indeed, he wants many countries, including the US, Israel, Palestine and others to be “cunning” if they want to achieve their respective goals. But, as far as India is concerned, his prescription of cunningness will meet with the same fate as the present approach of Group of 4 — neither will succeed.

Mahbubani advocates a 7-7-7 formula for UNSC reform — seven permanent members, seven semi-permanent members and seven non-permanent members. This formula has the attraction of sounding simple, neat and reasonable. But it does not enjoy any advantage over other approaches. According to him, the seven permanent members will be the US, Russia, China, India, Brazil, Nigeria and one more. He does not mention who the seventh would be. He has not advocated that either the UK or France give up their privileged position. If all the P5 have to retain their membership, there is no room for India, since he makes an even stronger case for Brazil and Nigeria. If India has to be inducted as a permanent member, the number goes up to eight.
Mahbubani does not mention the candidates for semi-permanent seats, except Pakistan. One can make one’s own list, but one would like to know the author’s preferences. What is the duration of these seats?

As for non-permanent seats, there are 10 seats at present. Why should the vast majority of the membership give up three seats? There is huge interest in non-permanent seats among smaller countries. One indication of this is the fact that in the Asian group, candidatures have been announced up to 2035.
Africa wants three permanent seats, but might settle for two. The African nations are not able to agree on which two countries should have the seats; will they ever agree to one? Further, they will never agree to Nigeria alone. The criterion is not how many students a country has in Harvard; in that case, Japan would surely top the list. Even South Korea would fare better. And do not forget the Arab countries. Will they ever agree to this formula?

Mahbubani is right about being cunning. The P5 are cunning. They coordinate among themselves which one of them should declare support for which candidate and which ones should oppose them. Not a single one of the P5 wants a single addition to their ranks, even without the right of veto. US President Barack Obama is being “cunning” when he says that he would support India’s claim in a “reformed” security council; he does not declare support for reform, nor does he say that he or his country will actively work for reform. He got a good round of applause in Parliament for his cunningness. The UK has supported India and has earned India’s appreciation, perhaps even gratitude, but knows that the “reform” cannot and will not take place when each of the P5 has veto power. In comparison, China is more forthright. It openly opposes Japan and repeats the same mantra about India — namely that it supports India’s aspiration to play a more active role at the UN. Russia too is circumspect.

Reform of the SC needs an amendment of the Charter, and the P5 are simply and totally opposed to it. Sixty-nine years after the end of World War II, the P5 are still not prepared to delete the article regarding enemy states.

The writer is India’s former permanent representative at the UN, is adjunct senior fellow, Delhi Policy Group. Views are personal

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  1. A
    ashishgoel
    Feb 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm
    Since there is clamour for to be or not to be in UN exclusive club.But there is less debate about the capability,Necessity for 70 year old nation.Can cunningness be the anwser for its internal weakness.If it cannot control its own state how would it control their state. A nation cannot be super poor and super power at the same time.can it divert its limited resources towards global governance. Is thinking along the cunning lines and not striving for Just,equitable,Inclusive world architecture is not going against the values of Means and ends,justice,equity.On the basis of which it was created
    Reply
  2. A
    ashishgoel
    Feb 6, 2014 at 5:41 pm
    Since there is clamour for to be or not to be in UN exclusive club.But there is less debate about the capability,Necessity for 70 year old nation.Can cunningness be the anwser for its internal weakness.If it cannot control its own state how would it control their state. A nation cannot be super poor and super power at the same time.can it divert its limited resources towards global governance. Is thinking along the cunning lines and not striving for Just,equitable,Inclusive world architecture is not going against the values of Means and ends,justice,equity.On the basis of which it was created
    Reply
  3. R
    Robert
    Jun 21, 2014 at 4:06 pm
    The only way India can be inducted into the UNSC is to subscribe to a position that United Nations is not an useful organization in today's world and threaten reform within a year or pull out from that organization. If that organization is not reformed within a year then simply pull out temporarily until it is reformed. In that process, save some money too.
    Reply