Context: UNSC reforms and possible steps India can make with its non-permanent membership in next UNSC elections.
More in news: The elections for five non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council for two-year will be held in june 2020. It has been unanimously decided to support India for an eighth second-year term. This means that India’s election is assured and its term will run in the calendar years 2021 and 2022.
United Nations Security Council (UNSC):
- The Security Council is the United Nations’ most powerful body, with “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.” Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action through Security Council resolutions; it is the only UN body with the authority to issue binding resolutions to member states.
- The Security Council is composed of fifteen UN member States, five of which are permanent members – United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Russian Federation, and China. The permanent members have the power to ‘veto’ a substantive decision of the Council by voting against it. The veto is cast much less often now than it was during the Cold War, but it is still very much in use as a threat which blocks Council action.
- The other ten members of the Council are elected by the General Assembly to two-year non-renewable terms, with five new members elected each year. The ten elected members, known in Charter language as “non-permanent members,” are selected according to a distribution formula from each of the world’s major regions.
- The Security Council’s membership and working methods reflect a bygone era. Though geopolitics have changed drastically, the Council has changed relatively little since 1945, when wartime victors crafted a Charter in their interest and awarded “permanent” veto-wielding Council seats for themselves.
- Since 1993, the UN General Assembly has hotly debated Council reform but has not been able to reach agreement. A handful of states aspire to “permanent” status for themselves, while many other countries reject such claims.
- Most reform proposals revolved around the five core issues of
- membership categories,
- the question of the veto held by the five permanent members,
- regional representation,
- the size of an enlarged Council,
- Council working methods.
Need of Reforms:
- In a world torn by war and violence, we need a far better Security Council to promote international peace and security and defend international law. Since the Council plays a much more active role than in the past, its failures are more evident and its reform is more urgent than ever.
- The current composition of the Council also gives undue weight to the balance of power of at least a half century ago. Europe, for instance, which accounts for barely 5 percent of the world’s population, still controls 33 percent of the SC seats in any given year (and that does not count Russia, regarded by much of the world as another European power).
- No permanent member from Africa, despite 75% of work of the UNSC focused on Africa.
- The UNSC at present doesn’t represent the changing scenario of balance of power.
- Three among the five permanent members of the Security Council are still against Council reform that would entail a change in their present status. The possibility of changes in the positions of the US and Russia are unlikely since they are in a state of relative decline. Since it is their current status in the Council that provides them pre-eminence on issues related to international peace and security, they are not expected to support any move that reduces their say in global politics.
- It is unrealistic to think that China would give up its present privileged status in the UN, even as it seeks greater influence and presence in global politics as a rising power.
- Given the consistency of the P5’s positions in the past and the minimal progress towards reform during the last two decades, there are three possible scenarios regarding India’s quest for permanent membership in the Security Council:
- India takes the leadership of reform calls and actively and relentlessly pushes other countries in that direction. Its latent power, remarkable economic growth, rapidly increasing defence capabilities, status as a nuclear weapons power, and contributions to UN peacekeeping all give it the right and privilege to assume such a responsibility.
- To push for Security Council reform without changing the current status of veto power. Since having a seat without veto is almost similar to not having a place in the Council, the likelihood of such a move from India is even less.
- India to accept the fact that, given the current pace and momentum, Security Council reform is never going to happen and to consequently search for alternatives to push the agenda of emerging powers.
How Indian can use its term as non-permanent member?
- India can use its term as a non-permanent member to enhance its credentials as a constructive and responsible member of international society.
- India is one of the world’s biggest economies. Accordingly, its voice resonates and is capable of making a significant contribution during its tenure by emphasizing and strengthening multilateralism as a means of making the world safer.
- India needs to uphold the objective of a multi-polar world and counter existing trends towards unilateralism, ethno-centrism, protectionism and racial intolerance.
- It should seek to protect the World Trade Organization from American attempts to undermine it, since the WTO’s dispute mechanism is a resource for developing countries.
- India should attempt to make progress on the non-discriminatory elimination of weapons of mass destruction, protection of the environment against global warming, safeguarding outer space from weaponisation, and enhancing respect for diversity and plurality in world politics.
- India should underline the validity of Article 2 of the UN Charter that provides for state sovereignty and safeguards countries against outside interference in the domestic affairs of other states.
- India should underline the sanctity of treaties such as the multilateral accord with Iran endorsed by the Security Council and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
- India could use its presence on the UNSC’s sanctions subcommittee to proscribe Pakistan-based militant groups and individuals.
India’s claim for permanent membership is a genuine demand in the changed geo politics of 21st century. But at present the UNSC reforms are at a very slow pace. India’s aspiration for permanent membership seems to be on a long hold. However, it is a matter of satisfaction and a tribute to Indian diplomacy that the Group unanimously decided this year to support India for an eighth second-year term. It is rightly said that Diplomats had “no battleships at their disposal… their weapons are words and opportunities”. India’s presence on the UNSC will present opportunities to enhance the country’s reputation.