The UN got a new chief in 2017 which saw the world body grappling with issues like North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis, but the much-awaited reform of the Security Council moved at a snail’s pace, drawing flak from India. The year began with Portuguese politician and diplomat Antonio Guterres taking charge as the UN Secretary-General, making a strong appeal to the international community to strive for peace at a time when millions of people are caught up in conflicts and threats of global terrorism.
Amid criticism that the UN has lost its relevance, Guterres, speaking at an event hosted by US President Donald Trump at the UN headquarters in September, said: “Our shared objective is a 21st century UN focused more on people and less on process, more on delivery and less on bureaucracy”.
India, seeking a permanent seat in the reformed Security Council, said that only an “updated” and not “outdated” global institution can be effective in addressing the current challenges of conflict prevention and sustaining peace.
It criticised a “frozen” UN Security Council that represents a small minority of the world’s population. Reform of the Security Council continued to move at a snail’s pace, much to the frustration of countries like India, Brazil, Germany and Japan, and the third world countries which are asking that the composition of the 15-membered body be reflective of the ground realities of the 21st century and not the mid-20th century.
India has called for an early start to text-based negotiations for UN Security Council reforms with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj expressing hope that a revamp of its top organ will be a “priority” for the world body. “If we are serious, then the least we can do is to produce one text that can be the basis for negotiation,” Swaraj said in her address to the UN General Assembly in September.
India was perhaps the only country at the United Nations to have won three major elections in one calendar year. With a victory in the closely-fought election at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN’s primary judicial branch, India showed the ground realities and changing power dynamics of the 21st century.
India’s nominee Justice Dalveer Bhandari was declared re-elected for a fresh nine-year term at the ICJ after Britain withdrew its candidate Christopher Greenwood from the race about an hour before the scheduled voting. In June, Dr Neeru Chadha become the first Indian woman to be elected as a Judge to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), for a nine-year term from 2017-2026. In the same month, India obtained 183 votes to be re-elected to Economic and Social Council or ECOSOC, which is one of the six main organs of the UN.
While India emerged as a force to reckon with, Pakistan appeared to be more and more isolated within the world body system. For the second consecutive year, there were no takers for its Kashmir agenda and Pakistan emerged as a lone voice; perhaps an indication of the success of India’s diplomatic offensive to isolate its western neighbour both on the issues of Kashmir and terrorism. Led by its top diplomat Maleeha Lodhi, who committed a major goof-up when she showed a picture of Palestine woman as a Kashmiri women victim of alleged pallet gun shooting by Indian security forces, Kashmir remained a major issue for Pakistani leaders.
The issue was raised by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif when they addressed the world body during the annual session of the UN General Assembly. But the Kashmir issue, for the second consecutive year, got no resonance from even a single other member of the UN General Assembly. Not even one country spoke in support of Pakistan. Diplomatic observers noted that it was only a media bubble and not a UN issue, because no other country has spoken about it or supported Pakistan on it.
Also, raising of the Kashmir issue did not work with the current UN chief, who despite repeated Pakistani letters and requests has refused to weigh himself on this issue. While India continued to be among the top three contributors to the UN peacekeeping operations, Prime Minister Narendra Modi joined the “Circle of Leadership” which Guterres has set up with global leaders to be supportive on sexual exploitation and abuse in areas of conflict and peacekeeping.
Migration is set to become a big issue at the UN from an intergovernmental perspective. While the United States has pulled out of it, during the forthcoming year the biggest focus in the world body will be on migration. This is an important issue for India, as it is a country with largest number of migrants abroad. India has topped the list of people living abroad at 17 million with about five million Indians residing in the Gulf region alone, according to a new UN report. India is also among the major countries with a large migrant population.
Except for China, four of the five permanent members of the Security Council – the US, the UK, France and Russia – have endorsed India’s bid for the Security Council. China continued to block a bid to declare Masood Azhar as a global terrorist by the UN Security Council. However, the Chinese diplomatic move seems to have backfired in the sense it is seen as supporting a known global terrorist. Such a move, of course, was to appease its all-weather ally Pakistan.