India at UN high table
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The US is going through a chaotic transition in leadership, China is hoping to become the pre-eminent global power, and Pakistan is trying to rake up Kashmir and the human rights situation in India, India has entered the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member this month. It will stay on the council for two years.
United Nations Security Council
- The UNSC is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations (UN), charged with ensuring international peace and security, recommending the admission of new UN members to the General Assembly, and approving any changes to the UN Charter.
- Its powers include establishing peacekeeping operations, enacting international sanctions, and authorizing military action.
- The UNSC is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions on member states.
- Like the UN as a whole, the Security Council was created after World War II to address the failings of the League of Nations in maintaining world peace.
- It held its first session on 17 January 1946, and in the ensuing decades was largely paralyzed by the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies.
- Nevertheless, it authorized military interventions in the Korean War and the Congo Crisis and peacekeeping missions in the Suez Crisis, Cyprus, and West New Guinea.
- With the collapse of the Soviet Union, UN peacekeeping efforts increased dramatically in scale, with the Security Council authorizing major military and peacekeeping missions in Kuwait, Namibia, Cambodia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
- The Security Council consists of fifteen members, of which five are permanent: China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
- These were the great powers, or their successor states, that were the victors of World War II.
- Permanent members can veto any substantive resolution, including those on the admission of new member states or nominees for the office of Secretary-General.
- The remaining ten members are elected on a regional basis to serve a term of two years. The body's presidency rotates monthly among its members.
- Resolutions of the Security Council are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by member states and funded independently of the main UN budget.
- As of March 2019, there are thirteen peacekeeping missions with over 81,000 personnel from 121 countries, with a total budget of nearly $6.7 billion.
- The UN's role in international collective security is defined by the UN Charter, which authorizes the Security Council to investigate any situation threatening international peace; recommend procedures for peaceful resolution of a dispute; call upon other member nations to completely or partially interrupt economic relations as well as sea, air, postal, and radio communications, or to sever diplomatic relations; and enforce its decisions militarily, or by any means necessary.
- The Security Council has traditionally interpreted its mandate as covering only military security, though US Ambassador Richard Holbrooke controversially persuaded the body to pass a resolution on HIV/AIDS in Africa in 2000.
- Under Chapter VI of the Charter, "Pacific Settlement of Disputes", the Security Council "may investigate any dispute, or any situation which might lead to international friction or give rise to a dispute".
- The Council may "recommend appropriate procedures or methods of adjustment" if it determines that the situation might endanger international peace and security.
- These recommendations are generally considered to not be binding, as they lack an enforcement mechanism.
- A minority of scholars, such as Stephen Zunes, have argued that resolutions made under Chapter VI are "still directives by the Security Council and differ only in that they do not have the same stringent enforcement options, such as the use of military force".
- This was the legal basis for UN armed action in Korea in 1950 during the Korean War and the use of coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait in 1991 and Libya in 2011.
- Decisions taken under Chapter VII, such as economic sanctions, are binding on UN members; the Security Council is the only UN body with authority to issue binding resolutions.
India at UNSC
- India has served in the UN Security Council seven times previously.
- In 1950-51, India, as President of UNSC, presided over the adoption of resolutions calling for cessation of hostilities during the Korean War and for assistance to Republic of Korea.
- In 1967-68, India co-sponsored Resolution 238 extending mandate of UN mission in Cyprus.
- In 1972-73, India pushed strongly for admission of Bangladesh into UN. The resolution was not adopted because of a veto by a permanent member.
- In 1977-78, India was a strong voice for Africa in the UNSC and spoke against apartheid. Then External Affairs Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spoke in UNSC for Namibia’s independence in 1978.
- In 1984-85, India was a leading voice in UNSC for resolution of conflicts in the Middle East, especially Palestine and Lebanon.
- In 1991-92, PM P V Narasimha Rao participated in the first ever summit-level meeting of the UNSC and spoke on its role in maintenance of peace and security.
- In 2011-2012, India was a strong vice for developing world, peacekeeping, counter-terrorism and Africa. First statement on Syria was during India’s Presidency at the UNSC.
- During the 2011-12 term, India chaired the UNSC 1373 Committee concerning Counter-Terrorism, the 1566 Working Group concerning threat to international peace and security by terrorist acts, and Security Council 751/1907 Committee concerning Somalia and Eritrea.
- India played an active role in discussions on all issues related to international peace and security, including several new challenges which the UNSC was called upon to deal with in Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
- In view of the threat posed to international trade and security by piracy off the coast of Somalia, India promoted international cooperation against the pirates.
- At India’s initiative, the Security Council mandated international cooperation for release of hostages taken by pirates as well as for prosecution of those taking hostages and those aiding and abetting these acts.
- India also worked for enhancing international cooperation in counter-terrorism, prevention of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction to non-state actors, and the strengthening of UN peacekeeping and peacebuilding efforts.
Issues before India
- New Delhi has said it is essential that the Security Council is expanded in both the permanent and non-permanent categories.
- It says India is eminently suited for permanent UNSC membership by any objective criteria, such as population, territorial size, GDP, economic potential, civilisational legacy, cultural diversity, political system and past and ongoing contributions to UN activities - especially to UN peacekeeping operations.
- The international effort against terrorism is a key priority for India in the UN.
- With the objective of providing a comprehensive legal framework to combat terrorism, India took the initiative to pilot a draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) in 1996.
- India worked closely with its partners in the UNSC to ensure the listing of Pakistan-based terrorist Masood Azhar under the UNSC’s 1267 Sanctions Committee (May 2019) concerning al-Qaida and ISIS and associated individuals and entities, which was pending since 2009.
The China challenge
- India is entering the UNSC at a time when Beijing is asserting itself at the global stage much more vigorously than ever.
- It heads at least six UN organisations - and has challenged the global rules.
- China’s aggressive behaviour in the Indo-Pacific as well as the India-China border has been visible in all of 2020, and New Delhi will have to think on its feet to counter Beijing.
- At Pakistan’s behest, China has tried to raise the issue of Kashmir at the UNSC - but has not found much support. There is some discussion among the strategic community in New Delhi on raising the issues of Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet at the UNSC. New Delhi will weigh the pros and cons with partners on what steps to take in this direction.
- But, the polarising politics inside India gives a window of opportunity to its rivals, and opens up the possibility of criticism - especially on human rights issues.
- As New Delhi engages with allies and plays its cards at the UNSC, it will be mindful of veteran diplomat Gharekhan’s advice about the Security Council in his book: “Nothing remains secret in this leakiest of all organisations.”