Originally Published 2015-07-20 00:00:00 Published on Jul 20, 2015
The quest for a permanent seat is another challenge altogether. There is little appetite for UN reform in the international system, and there is no one big driver. Certainly, the US, without the support of which India cannot make it to the high table, has no interest in it right now.
India's quest for place at the UN high table
As was reported in the media recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has written to heads of Governments in 193 countries urging them to ponder how the "multilateral system can be made more inclusive and effective". This was interpreted as the beginning of a concerted Indian effort to get a permanent seat in an expanded United Nations Security Council. While the goal may appear to be unexceptionable, and indeed it is something of a consensus among political parties that India deserves a permanent seat in the Security Council, this is going to be easier said than done. In fact, even an Indian election to the Security Council for a two-year, non-permanent seat will not be a simple matter. In 2010, India had got elected to the Security Council (for a term running from January 2011 to December 2012) with a massive 187 countries of 192 endorsing its candidature. This achievement wiped out memories of a defeat to Japan in the mid-1990s, when India had failed to make it to the Security Council and become acutely aware of its limitations in post-Cold War politics. The vote of 2010 was for a new, more assertive India, as well as an India that was emerging as a strong economic performer with a modern foreign policy. In a sense it was a 'reward' - if that be the word - for the India of the early 2000s, the India of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's final years and Manmohan Singh's first term. In subsequent years, India squandered much of that advantage and goodwill. It stands to reason that Mr Modi and his Government will build the ground for another UN Security Council bid by repairing the economy and also pointing to India's historical as well as growing role as a net security provider, peace-keeper and early responder in times of global crises and disasters. However, that narrative is not going to have an immediate impact. Realistically India's next term in the UN Security Council, as a temporary member, is only feasible in the early 2020s. The quest for a permanent seat is another challenge altogether. There is little appetite for UN reform in the international system, and there is no one big driver. Certainly, the US, without the support of which India cannot make it to the high table, has no interest in it right now. A President virtually in his final year in office does not have the political capital or space for it anyway. China, which will automatically seek to block an Indian permanent seat, is powerful enough, relative to other major countries, to prop up dissenting voices. That apart, the question of the other new permanent members is still up in the air. The Coffee Club, a grouping of countries opposed to a permanent seat for traditional favourites such as India, Germany and Brazil, remains an irritant. Presuming he wins the election of 2019, Mr Modi can hope to make UN reform and a permanent seat at the Security Council part of his second-term agenda. Even then, the international environment will need to be conducive. A strong recovery for the Indian economy and a hard-headed approach to defence diplomacy is, of course, non-negotiable. Yet, there is another question that Prime Minister Modi and India need to ask of themselves. The UN, like the World Bank, is a product of a post-war arrangement. It was built by the victors of World War II, as the paramount military powers of 1945. The World Bank was a reflection of the strength of the United States economy. The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the core of the World Bank, was set up to finance the rebuilding of a Europe devastated by the second war in a generation. The World Bank later expanded its mandate to other geographies. Similarly, the Asian Development Bank was founded in the 1960s. While located in Manila - the Philippines was among America's closest Cold War allies in Asia - it was a representation of the economic weight and postwar rejuvenation of Japan. Between them, Japan and the United States hold about a third of the equity in the ADB. As powers reach a critical economic size and political influence, they seek to create institutions and clubs that advance their interests. China is now in the midst of a fervent phase of international institution building. It is establishing the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank as a sort of alternative to the ADB, though apparently with a narrower mandate (infrastructure as opposed to wide-ranging development). There is a business angle to this as well, since China is the infrastructure provider of Asia today and its infrastructure companies have enormous excess capacities. As such, AIIB-funded projects will very likely lead to commercial contracts for Chinese companies. In addition, there is the New Development Bank, put together by the five Brics countries and aimed at funding developmental projects in poorer and emerging countries. On paper, all five Brics (including India and China) are equal in at the NDB, but the fact is that China is the clear economic hegemon. If one consider the NDB's Contingency Reserve Arrangement - the International Monetary Fund, as it were, to the NDB's World Bank - China's dominance becomes particularly pronounced. In effect, the NDB, like the AIIB, is a product of China's economic rise and mirrors China's moment. The Chinese are also creating political institutions. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation has grown far beyond the Shanghai Five - the name given to the bloc of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the leaders of which began meeting in 1996 to discuss border security and terrorism-related matters. From an initial desire to calm and understand radicalism in Central Asia and protect its Xinjiang frontier province, China now sees the SCO as an instrument to expand its security and political footprint in Central Asia/Eurasia and, with the entry of India and Pakistan, push into South Asia too. The SCO has become the seal on the Chinese-Russian alliance, with China as the senior partner. Pakistan will be a medium-term beneficiary. India has signed on to the AIIB, NDB and SCO. It has got a seat at the top table in these bodies, which it did not in 1945. This is fair enough and will pay dividends. Even so, it needs to be said that from a marginal position in America's (or the West's) clubs, India has only graduated to (admittedly better) positions in China's clubs. If the bet is on an India of the early 2020s that is economically more robust and militarily has greater capacities, isn't it time to start thinking of India running its own clubs and incubating its own institutions? (The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi) Courtesy: The Pioneer, July 18, 2015
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