Column | A chance for India to make a mark as President of the UN Security Council


India has assumed the Presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of August 2021.

Although the Presidency of the Security Council is a rotational blessing bestowed on the member states purely on account of the first letter of their names and the President has no authority to take any action on his own, the position gives the country a certain visibility and prestige. Every country gets at least one chance to preside over the Council in its two-year term, but a particular configuration of the names of the member states may get some even a second term. India will have another chance to preside over the Council in December 2022.

Most member states treat their presidency as a routine matter and perform their functions without taking any particular initiatives. But it is not unusual for them to add a personal touch by bringing a flavor of the country to the Council. I remember Ambassador Chinmaya Gharekhan putting up a picture of Mahatma Gandhi in the President’s chamber and serving Darjeeling tea to  the delegates. This time, Ambassador T.S.Tirumurti organized Indian millet products for a breakfast for the delegates to mark, marking the promotion of millets by India. Other nations also bring their icons and national cuisine to the Council to celebrate their tenures.

Duties of the President

The normal duty of the President is to consult individual members to ascertain their wishes as to what the Council should accomplish during the month and draw up a work program and ensure that the agenda is implemented.

The Security Council is presumed to be in continuous session and meetings can be held at any time of the day or night. The routine suddenly changes if a major threat to peace or breach of the peace takes place in any part of the world. But even in normal times, the President has to convene several sessions of the members for informal consultations in a small chamber which can accommodate only the members and a few officials. Each delegation can have only two members in the consultations room and no records of the consultations are kept.

The biggest challenge for the President is to get the delegates to focus on issues and to remain temperate. Very often harsh words are exchanged between contenders and even the permanent members are accused of being very rigid. Behind the smooth conduct of the formal meetings of the Council, there is considerable work put in by the President of the month.

The Presidents of the Council often take initiatives to resolve the hard-core issues on the agenda or to introduce reform ideas. Some of these, if they are eventually adopted by consensus, get christened after the name of the President concerned. But Presidents take initiatives only after extensive individual or group consultations as every new move is initially suspected to have a hidden agenda. The matters come to the formal public sessions only after an agreement is reached on a pre-determined scenario, whether they get adopted or be vetoed by a permanent member.

Agenda for the month

Our Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador T.S.Tirumurti, an experienced, energetic and erudite diplomat and his team must have worked very hard over several months to form an agenda for the month of August in accordance with our priorities. Since Indian concerns over China and Pakistan were well known, any initiative from our side must have been examined thoroughly to make them free of any hidden barbs. It is to the credit of the Indian delegation that it has been able to get the Council to agree on an agenda for August, which will reflect India’s concerns and interests.

Outlining the agenda for August, Ambassador Tirumurti first spoke about the  current issues that have engaged the Council. “The Security Council will have on its agenda several important meetings, including on Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, and the Middle East. The council will also be adopting important resolutions on Somalia, Mali, and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon,” he added.

In addition to the ongoing work, India will organize three high-level meetings focusing on priority areas such as maritime security, peacekeeping, and counterterrorism initiatives. It is up to India to decide who will preside over the meetings in August. While the normal sessions are chaired by the Permanent Representative, many countries bring in Foreign Ministers and others to demonstrate the importance they attach to the matters under discussion.

PM to attend virtually

Given India’s commitment to the UN and our ambition to be a permanent member of the Security Council, it is not surprising that the Prime Minister himself has decided to preside over the Council for the first time on the Council meeting on 9 August, 2021. It would have been historic if the Prime Minister had travelled to New York for the purpose, but even his virtual appearance as the President of the Security Council will have symbolic meaning and significant. His address to the Security Council will go down in history as an important contribution to the UN debates. But there is no possibility of any progress on our quest for a permanent membership of the Council. A US spokesman reiterated last week that there was no consensus in favour of an expansion of the permanent members of the Council.

Prime Minister P.V.Narasimha Rao attended a meeting of the Security Council in New York on 31 January 1992, held for the first time at the level of Heads of State and Government. A statement issued by the President at the end of the session stated that “the members of the Council considered, within the framework of their commitment to the United Nations Charter, the responsibility of the Security Council in the maintenance of international peace and security”. The statement was quite comprehensive in its coverage of the international situation at the end of the Cold War, but the references in it to disarmament, non-proliferation etc, which were not strictly within the jurisdiction of the Council, caused India some discomfort.

“On nuclear proliferation, they note the importance of the decision of many countries to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and emphasize the integral role in the implementation of that Treaty of fully effective IAEA safeguards, as well as the importance of effective export controls. The members of the Council will take appropriate measures in the case of any violations notified to them by the IAEA,” said the declaration. India had to make a general reservation on the statement, even though pressure was put on the Prime Minister to go along with the “consensus statement.” This time, the Prime Minister’s statement is likely to be a national statement and not on behalf of the Council.

Afghan issue

Right at the beginning of India’s term, at the request of the Afghan Government, India convened a special session of the Council to discuss the grave situation in Afghanistan, which is on the verge of being forcefully taken over by the Taliban. That gave India an opportunity to highlight the crisis facing South Asia and the likely growth of terrorism. The Council may consider the issue again when the situation in Afghanistan develops. Given India’s experience and the extremely talented diplomats we send to the UN, India will leave a good impression at the end of its tenure as President.

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