Does India want to be second-class citizen with a permanent seat at UNSC?

Mohan Guruswamy
Mohan GuruswamySep 25, 2015 | 20:52

Does India want to be second-class citizen with a permanent seat at UNSC?

The UN General Assembly on Monday adopted a negotiating text by consensus for the long-pending United Nations Security Council (UNSC) reforms, setting the stage for talks on the issue at its 70th session. According to Indian diplomats, this boosts India's bid for a permanent seat in the revamped world body. In recent weeks, Indian diplomacy has been in high gear seeking support far and wide and from the big and small. Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24 even met with the prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, a country that almost all Indians will not be able to spot on the map.


But elsewhere the ground seems to be slipping where it matters. The US, Russia and China have unveiled their visions of an expanded UN Security Council. The US says it is open to a "modest expansion of the membership" but this position now goes back on assurances given by US President Obama that he supports a reformed UNSC with India as a permanent member.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Powers now states: "It is very critical that any reform proposal enjoy broad consensus among member states." This position takes it very close to the proposal of nations under the banner Uniting for Consensus Group, which is opposed to the expansion of the UNSC by adding the G-4 of India, Germany, Japan and Brazil to it.

This group led by Canada, Italy, Colombia and Pakistan, has made a counter proposal that envisages an enlargement of the number of non-permanent members from ten to twenty. 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 other words, the USA now appears to backtrack on its earlier assurances. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will soon meet the US president in New York. He should ask him as to where the USA stands on India's entry into UNSC now.


The Chinese want "small and medium-sized countries to take turns to serve on the UNSC". Russia, while not opposed to any expansion, has taken the position that the powers of the members of present UNSC should remain the same with full veto powers meaning there could be two or three classes of UNSC members - the G-5 with veto powers, the G-4 permanent members with the veto, and whoever else may be elected by the UNGA.

As an immediate response to a destructive world war, the UN at the moment of its birth on June 26, 1945 reflected the reality and ethos of that age. Nothing reflected this more than the composition of the permanent members of the Security Council. Four out of the five were "white" nations. Two, China and France, were defeated nations. Two, Britain and France, were colonial powers. The other ten members of the UNSC are elected members from the various regions. These members are without the veto and with little voice or clout.

While it can be argued that a security council of a smaller number of countries is desirable to make the UN effective, it must also reflect world realities and be more representative of its diversity. For instance Africa and Latin America are not represented in the P-5. Likewise, the Islamic world does not find a place. India, which has a fifth of the world's population, does not find a place. The biggest economy in Europe, Germany, does not find a place. On the other hand, with two members, UK and France, Western Europe is over represented. With Russia added Europe has three members. Clearly, this is not a satisfactory arrangement. The UNSC does not reflect the world order or its diversity.


In the Cold War era, veto powers ensured that one bloc could not override the interests of the other. The veto thus came to be used 252 times since 1946. Since 1996, Russia has not exercised the veto even once whereas the USA has used it six times and China twice. Does this presumably reflect the settled shape of the world order now? Clearly the use of the veto itself must be reviewed. One nation alone must no longer be allowed to block the consensus of the UNSC. It is time a threshold of members to collectively enforce veto be discussed.

Times have also changed. The USA is no longer the dominant economic and political power it was. The G-4 nations are all bigger economies than Russia, France and Britain. They possibly have bigger global footprints than the three. How can the power to veto be justified for these three and denied to the G-4?

In the past few years, India's diplomacy has centered on a craving to just become a member of the UNSC. It seems a second-class membership is now feasible. The big question then is whether this is what India wants? Or do we want a greater democratisation of the UNSC to reflect the status and size of the G-4?

Last updated: September 25, 2015 | 20:52
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