India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UNSC from a Pakistani perspective
US Support of India’s bid
US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January this year brought great gifts for his hosts and one such gift was the US backing for India’s bid for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). This was indeed a great diplomatic and political achievement for India. In order to understand the whole issue and the complexities therein, a careful study of UNSC’s membership, reasons for its expansion, case of aspirants and arguments of the opponents, seems inevitable. In the end of this write-up, the repercussions of the Indian membership, if granted, on Pakistan will be evaluated.
The United Nations came into existence in the aftermath of the World War II. This was, however, not the first attempt to create an International Organization mandated for ‘Maintenance of International Peace and Security’. Its predecessor, the League of Nations, was created on 10th January 1920 with its headquarters in Geneva, for resolving International disputes and maintaining global peace and security. However, it proved short-lived due to many genetic and operational flaws. The United Nations is a refined shape of the League of Nations and its success is evident from the fact that it has, so far, been successful in preventing the outbreak of the World War III.
The United Nations has a very well designed Charter and unlike its predecessor, which ignored sociopolitical agenda and dispute-resolution mechanisms, these components are included in the Charter as the principal organs of the UN.
Importance of the UN in the World Order
The United Nations is the linchpin of the present global order. Since the Second World War was won by the Western powers (the Allies), therefore the present-day World Order has been framed on the basis of their values and frame of reference — democracy and free-market economy. Had Germany and other Axis powers won the war, its shape would have been quite different from what it is today.
Another important aspect of the prevailing World Order is the global financial institutions like Bretton Woods Institutions i.e. the IMF and the World Bank, which were created to help the war-torn countries in Post-War reconstruction. The trade was regulated through the GATT, which has now been replaced by the World Trade Organization (WTO), created in 1993. The bottom line: In order to gain economic prosperity and political influence in the world, a country has to move through this World Order. That means gaining more and more influence at the UN is directly proportional to gaining influence in the international affairs.
Expansion of the UNSC – The Issue
The United Nations has 6 principal organs namely: (i) General Assembly (UNGA); (ii) Security Council (UNSC); (iii) Economic and Social Commission (ECOSOC), (iv) Trusteeship Council; (v) International Court of Justice (ICJ); and (vi) Secretariat. However, the UNSC, by and large, is the most important of the UN organs being primarily responsible for maintenance of international peace and security, and for this purpose, it is also mandated under Chapter VII of the Charter to use force — the UNGA is entitled with the ‘secondary’ or ‘subsidiary’ responsibility.
Since the creation of the UN on 24th of October 1945, only a few reforms have been introduced to the UN Charter so far. In 1965, the membership of the UNSC was expanded from 11 to 15 members (with the induction of 4 new members in the non-permanent category) and the voting threshold was increased from 7 to 9 votes. In the same year, the membership of the UN Economic and Social Council was also increased from 18 to 27 and it was further increased to 54 in 1973. In June 1968, Article 109 which provides for the convening of a “General Conference of the Members of the United Nations” to consider amendments to the Charter, was amended.
India may have won the US backing for its permanent UNSC membership yet there are many slips between the cup and the lips. India has to demonstrate that it is not involved in any dispute with its neighbours.
It may also be noted that when the UN was created, the world was quite different as compared to what it is today. The era of Cold World War is over; the process of decolonization has seen its maturity; the membership of the UN has been increased from 50 in 1945 to 193 at present; the challenges we are facing today are transnational in nature and require a requisite transnational response. This would only be possible if all the countries in the world take joint decisions.
The issue of reforming the UN involves: (i) reforming the working methods to improve transparency; (ii) expanding the Security Council in both Permanent and Non-Permanent categories; and (iii) reforming the other organs of the UN to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. Moreover, the Trusteeship Council has outlived the purpose of its creation as there are no more countries that could be given as a trust territory since 1994 when the last territory – Palau – got independence. As a vestigial organ, it is another reason that calls for the reforms.
As the topic of this article is specifically “India as a permanent member of the UNSC” therefore, the following lines will only highlight the issue of UNSC expansion, prospects of India’s joining it as a permanent member and its repercussions for Pakistan.
At present, the UNSC is composed of 5 permanent members – China, France, Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and 10 non-permanent members elected for a period of 2 years by the General Assembly. As already discussed, the UNSC is the most important organ of the UN as it holds the “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” as specified in Article 24 of the UN Charter. The Veto power is the prerogative of the permanent members (P5). It is explained in Article 27(3) that all issues except the procedural (or routine) issues require ‘affirmative’ votes of nine members including the affirmative votes of P5. It is important to note that abstention of voting by P5 is not counted as a Veto rather it is a negative vote.
Four new industrial powers — Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, popularly known as G-4 — currently aspire to become permanent members of the UNSC. Their claim is based on a balanced geographical representation in the Security Council, contributions to the UN and new geopolitical and economic realities. According to the IMF, all the current P5 members and the G4 currently rank among the top 10 economies with the highest nominal GDP in the world. The efforts of G-4 are, however, frustrated by the Uniting for Consensus (UfC) group, nicknamed the Coffee Club.
Position of UfC
Under the leadership of Italy, the UfC strongly opposes the G4 countries’ bids to permanent UNSC membership. In general, the UfC argues that the expansion of the Security Council should not aim at creating new power centers by awarding Veto power to new members, rather the drive for reformation should focus on improving the efficiency, and effectiveness through modifying its working methods; making them more democratic, transparent and responsive to the needs of the 21st century.
Among the UfC members, each country has a specific focus as per its own national interests. For instance, in East Asia, both China and South Korea vehemently oppose Japan’s bid; in Latin America, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico are against a seat for Brazil; in South Asia, Pakistan strongly opposes India’s bid; and in Europe Italy is dead against Germany’s bid. This opposition, however, is never stated publicly but it can be felt and understood for reasons not far to fetch. Therefore, the UfC speaks on behalf of its members and instead of arguing against any single country, it represents a broader and a reconciled version of its members on the reforms issue.
Power Politics in the UNO
Pursuit of such huge and ambitious interests inevitably involves power politics and same is the case at the UN. The G-4 members, every now and then, make a renewed bid to seek the membership but it is vigilantly opposed by the UfC. The threshold that should be met for amending the Charter is quite high. In total, the amendments need 2/3rd votes of the total membership including the concurrent vote of the P5 to get approved. Getting the required votes means the amendments should be assimilable for the 2/3rd majority, and not only for G-4. This is how the UfC is successfully maintaining its position and thwarting the bids of G-4.
Repercussions for Pakistan
For Pakistan, India’s permanent membership of the UNSC means permanently receding to a strategic disadvantage against India — a scenario that would never be acceptable to Pakistan. At present, whenever any dispute flashes between both the countries, they can balance out each other’s influence by reaching out to their friends especially within the P5 (for Pakistan it is China). Once India gets the Veto power, it will become virtually impossible Pakistan to neutralize India’s hegemony. Nothing short of itself becoming a permanent member with the Veto power would suffice.
In case India is granted a permanent seat in the UNSC, Pakistan may face the following repercussions:
- India will never resolve its conflicts with its neighbours because it will be too powerful to accept any coercion or incentive to work.
- Let alone Kashmir, Pakistan may not be able to seek resolution of any other dispute like Sir Creek, Siachen, Baglihar Dam/water issues, on the basis of equality and justice.
- The Kashmir issue may never be resolved through the UN. The situation will not be much different than the issue of Palestine, where America vetoes every resolution against Israel. Now just imagine if Israel gets the Veto power itself, then what would be the fate of Palestine?
- It will be futile to expect from India that it will allow Pakistan to become economically and politically a strong and progressive state.
Pakistani strategists and policymakers are absolutely clear on the outcome if India gets the permanent seat in the UNSC. Pursuant to this clarity, the UfC was created in 1993 primarily due to an initiative by Pakistan. Irrespective of any claims made by the G-4 or UfC countries, there should be no doubt that the UN should not create new power centers in the world. The UN should not become a tool in the hands of a few, like its predecessor the League of Nations had been. Any reform should be aimed at improving the efficacy and efficiency of the organization by improving its working methods, transparency, responsiveness and inclusiveness (every region should be proportionately represented).
Awarding the right of Veto to the new members will make arriving at any decision through consensus virtually impossible. The more the members with Veto power, the more the probability of using the Veto, which will, in effect, leave the UNSC ineffective and incapacitated.
India may have won the US backing for its permanent UNSC membership yet there are many slips between the cup and the lips. India has to demonstrate that it is not involved in any dispute with its neighbours. Moreover, it has to develop its repute of a law-abiding country that believes and upholds principles of democracy, equality and freedom. The litmus test of this belief will be Kashmir Issue. India can neutralize a significant part of resistance by implementing the UNSC resolutions on Kashmir which call for holding a plebiscite and resolving the issue by respecting the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris.