India’s Security Council Bid a Long Haul

NEW DELHI – While India has thrown its hat into the United Nations Security Council ring, the process of actually gaining a permanent seat on the body – which has the power to introduce sanctions and authorize the use of force in conflicts – may prove to be a long drawn-out affair, according to experts.

"It is a slow-motion process and it would be wise not to get too excited at this stage," Raja Mohan, one of India’s leading security analysts and commentators, told IPS.

Raja Mohan is currently a professor at the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi and a senior security affairs correspondent for The Hindu newspaper.

India has joined Germany, Brazil and Japan in a joint bid to seek permanent seats on the council for themselves and one African nation.

Mohan said while this was a good strategy on India’s part, it could also prove to be problematic in the long run.

On Tuesday the group of four contenders issued a statement saying: "Brazil, Germany, India and Japan, based on the firmly shared recognition that they are legitimate candidates for permanent membership in an expanded Security Council, support each other’s candidature."

"As things stand, China may be more opposed to Japan than to India," observed Mohan indicating the kind of hurdles that stand in the way of an expanded Security Council.

Pakistan has already made known its opposition to the Indian candidature, while Italy is opposed to Germany gaining a seat. Also, several Latin American countries have lobbied against Brazil.

"Much depends on how big the expansion of the Security Council is going to be and India’s candidacy is in fact the weakest of the four," said Prof. Christopher Raj, who teaches American Studies at JNU.

"For example, India has more opposition against it in Asia than Brazil does in Latin America," he said in an interview.

According to Raj, while China now has better relations with India than it did in the past, "there is every possibility of Pakistan working through China," he said. "It is an ‘all-weather ally’ to scuttle India’s chances."

Alternatively, said Raj, Pakistan could turn the expansion of the Security Council into a religious issue through its friends among the Muslim nations, if the issue ever got to the voting stage in the General Assembly. Any change in the constitution of the Security Council would require a two-thirds majority in the 191-member General Assembly besides being subject to a veto from any one of the five permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.

While Britain, France and Russia are supportive of India’s candidature, the U.S. has not shown its hand, and according to Raj, Washington may be inclined to heed Pakistan’s wishes as it has always done when it comes to matters in South Asia.

On the other hand, India’s relations with the United States have been steadily improving since the historic 2000 presidential visit by Bill Clinton. Clinton’s visit to India was the first since Jimmy Carter went there in 1978.

Traditionally, India was an ally of the now-defunct Soviet Union and, because of this alliance, an adversary of the U.S. For many years, India sourced its military hardware from the Soviets and received political backing when needed.

This month President George W. Bush announced the lifting of a decades-old embargo on sensitive "dual-use" items that could be utilized in India’s independent space and nuclear programs.

"There are wheels within wheels in this game, and nobody expects anything to happen in a hurry although everybody agrees that the council’s composition is outdated and unrepresentative," said Raj.

According to the academic, while the process of the Security Council expansion can be expected to be long and tortuous, India does have reason to hope for a seat.

He points out to a historic debt China owes India.

China managed a seat in the Security Council only because India, when invited to join the Security Council in 1955, declined in favor of its bigger neighbor.

"The first step to be taken is for China to take her rightful place, and then the question of India might be discussed separately," India’s then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote in a letter to the country’s top political leaders – explaining why he supported Beijing.

But, by 1962, India and China were at war with each other, and it is only in recent years that there has been a discernible thaw between the Asian giants.

For example, this year, Beijing finally recognized the former Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim as part of India and, in return, New Delhi acknowledged Tibet as an integral part of China – although India continues to be home to the exiled Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, and hundreds of thousands of his followers.

Analysts generally believe that Beijing would find it difficult to oppose the candidature of both India and Japan simultaneously, and if made to choose would go with the former.

Moscow, which has a record of using its veto in favor of India on sensitive issues such as Kashmir, has favored the formation of global axis consisting of Russia, China and India as a possible counter to a unipolar world.

"There are various ways of looking at it, but whichever you do, India’s candidature comes up as uncertain," said Raj.

Which may be why commentators like M.V. Kamath have wondered out loud whether the United Nations, as it stands today, is worth being a member of.

Kamath is a leading columnist in India and also served as editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India.

"If the U.S dares to fight a war in the Middle East, despite the disapproval of several nations, of what relevance is the Security Council and for that matter the United Nations as well?" Kamath demanded to know in his syndicated column this week.