Column | India's pitch for permanent seat in UN Security Council gets a fillip

The permanent members, who have been totally opposed to the idea of induction of new permanent members in the Council, have begun to take a more flexible position on the issue. File Photo: PTI

The long quest by India for the Holy Grail, a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, has gained some momentum as a consequence of the anticipated changes in the global order.

The permanent members, who have been totally opposed to the idea of induction of new permanent members in the Council, have begun to take a more flexible position on the issue.

The US President made a tantalising offer of permanent membership to countries in Africa and Latin America while remaining silent on Asia and Europe. Russia went one step further and even identified India and Brazil as possible candidates for permanent membership.

Tactical moves by US, Russia?

The shift in the position of both the US and Russia is in the context of the changing world order in the wake of the global tragedies of the 21st century such as 9/11, the economic meltdown, the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war.

The paralysis of the UN in dealing with them was appalling. They may have felt that they can win over some developing countries if they agreed to a small expansion of the permanent membership of the Council.

But it is not certain whether any of the many formulae for expansion on the table will attract the minimum two-thirds majority of the General Assembly and nine votes in the Security Council, including the votes of the five permanent members. At most, this is a tactical move to appear open-minded on the matter as their support alone will not ensure the expansion.

US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin
US President Joe Biden (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AFP

India's early bid

I recall the turmoil among the permanent members when India's UN Ambassador Brajesh Mishra moved a resolution in the UNGA in 1979 on behalf of the non-aligned countries recommending increasing the number of non-permanent members of the Council by five to reflect a balance between the General Assembly and the Security Council.

The permanent members opposed the move tooth and nail and got the resolution shelved from year to year. Debates were held, but no vote was taken.

P-5's response to proposals

After the end of the Cold War, Brazil proposed that the number of permanent members and non-permanent should be increased by five each to reflect the changed global situation. But the permanent members refused to accept any formula of expansion put forward by member states.

Japan, Germany, India and Brazil emerged as the leading candidates, together with two unnamed African countries. At one stage, the P-5 proposed the addition of Japan and Germany as a quick fix, but there was no agreement among others. At some stage, a semi-permanent category was considered.

The candidates made a major concession not to insist on veto powers for them for a few years, but that too was rejected. A report by the Secretary-General proposed two alternatives, but both were not found acceptable.

No proposal came anywhere near consensus. Different working groups and the Committees of the Whole failed to produce any results, but discussions continued every year in different formats.

Apart from the objections of permanent members, about 40 members of the General Assembly came forward to retain the status quo. It became clear that a majority in the General Assembly would not support any addition of permanent members. The addition of some non-permanent members was considered, but that also was not pursued.

Consensus unlikely, again

Amidst this impasse, US President Joe Biden and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov came up with some flexibility on the matter. They contain no new formula and go against the induction of major countries.

Though the US and Russian proposals to expand the Council are vague and the consensus is not possible around the countries mentioned, the Indian Foreign Minister responded to the proposal, welcoming the attention being given to India in the current session of the General Assembly.

Modi and Lavrov
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in New Delhi on Friday. Photo: PTI

He noted that it is not common for leaders of countries to refer to other countries in their statements and thanked the US and Russia for their attention to India. He himself strongly pitched for expansion, arguing the case of the G-4, Japan, Germany, India and Brazil and an African country for inclusion as permanent members.

Expansion an imperative

At the UN, this is not the time for Security Council expansion discussions when a major war is raging, with the threat of the use of nuclear weapons. Therefore, the moves have to be seen as part of an effort to win friends and influence people at a time of major changes in the global order.

Once the war ends and a major economic collapse is averted, discussion on reform can continue. But it is certain that no expansion of the Security Council can take place within the framework of the present charter.

A thorough review of the performance of the UN and the readiness of the world to accept drastic changes is imperative to have an effective and just UN system.

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