Turtle Bay

India joins the Security Council, with aspirations for more

India intends to challenge American policy makers on a range of issues during its two-year term on the Security Council, making it clear that it believes Washington and its European partners have no business using the council to interfere in Burma political troubles or to have the final say on who won a disputed election ...

India intends to challenge American policy makers on a range of issues during its two-year term on the Security Council, making it clear that it believes Washington and its European partners have no business using the council to interfere in Burma political troubles or to have the final say on who won a disputed election in Ivory Coast a top Indian diplomat told reporters at a recent briefing.[See note at bottom of story]

New Delhi intends to use its influence to press for a far more restrictive use of the 15-nation council to address many of the world’s problems, according to the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"The Security Council should deal with those issues which really constitute a threat to international peace and security and [avoid] this tendency to resort to permissive interpretation of what constitutes [such a threat] and in that process to expand the work of the Security Council," the official said. India will also support efforts by the 192 member U.N. General Assembly to "claw back" many of the privileges and powers it has ceded to the council in recent decades, including a substantive role in selecting the U.N. Secretary General.

The Indian diplomat provide the first official expression of support for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki moon for a second five-year term from a top Asian official: "If he is available and he is running he’s got my endorsement," he said.

The briefing provided the most detailed account to date of India’s plans for its two-year stint on the council, where it will serve along a number of other major regional powers, including Brazil, Germany, Nigeria, and South Africa.

"By any standards the council in 2011 could be the strongest group of U.N. and global stakeholders ever assembled on the council," according to the Security Council Report, a think tank. "This could create a unique dynamic. However, it is difficult to predict whether this will in facto foster a more proactive and effective Security Council."

India was deeply grateful to President Barack Obama for endorsing India’s bid to serve as a permanent member of the U.N. during a state visit to New Delhi last month, according to the diplomat. But he said that India should not be expected to blindly align its voting practices with those of the United States. On the contrary, India will seek to leverage the voting power of the 10 non-permanent members of the Security Council to check the traditional dominance of the council’s permanent five members, according to the diplomat. "India votes according to the way India sees its interest and its global situation," the official said.

This is the first time India has served on the U.N. Security Council in nearly twenty years. New Delhi suffered a humiliating defeat to Japan in its campaign for a U.N. Security Council seat in the early 1990s. That prompted many of the country’s political elites, diplomats and scholars to turn conclude that it was not worth the trouble of trying to join a club that wouldn’t accept it, according to the Indian diplomat.

Today, a newly self-confident India– buoyed by an impressive economic boom — is preparing to take its seat on the 15-nation council on January 1, and it plans to use its influence on the council to show it deserves a permanent seat and to assert its role as a power that needs to be taken seriously. The Indian official expressed confidence that the U.N. General Assembly would reach agreement on a deal to enlarge the council within six months to a year, but acknowledged that his optimism would surely lead Mandarins in the Indian diplomatic community to think he’d "gone bonkers." But the Indian official said he was confident that China’s Prime Minister, who traveled to New Delhi over the weekend, would soon make an encouraging statement.

China has publicly expressed support for a larger role for developing countries on the U.N. Security Council. But in private it has singled its preference keeping new powers out. Last year, an unnamed Chinese official urged American officials in Beijing not to be "proactive" in supporting an enlarged council, saying it was "not good" for the council’s five permanent members, according to a cable released by WikiLeaks. "The P-5 ‘club’ should not be ‘diluted,’" the Chinese official is quoting telling his American counterpart. "If we end up with a ‘P-10,’" both China and the United States "’would be in trouble.’"   

Despite its differences with Washington, India will seek to use its two year term on the council prove to prove to the United States and the council’s four other major powers that it can be a reliable permanent partner on the council, and that it has the capacity to help share the burden of managing conflicts. India has supplied the U.N. with more than 100,000 peacekeepers over the years, making it one of the world’s top contributors to U.N. peacekeeping missions along with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria, according to the Indian diplomat. But he also made it clear India would seek to pursue it own national interest during its term, including addressing what he feels if the U.N. failure to adequately equip and fund U.N. missions, and increase the pay scale for blue helmets.

"What does India want to do? India wants to utilize its tenure on the Security Council first and foremost to pursue issues of interest to India" the Indian diplomat said. But we also  want to give the U.N.’s big powers "a sense of comfort in dealing with us…to demonstrate that those who are aspiring to [permanent seats on] the council can bring some value.We want to demonstrate that we can undertake some burden sharing in difficult hotspots…our ability to play a team player."

While New Delhi continues to be skeptical about western countries’ zeal for "naming and shaming" alleged human rights violators. "We’ve been very concerned about country-specific resolutions which target individual countries," the Indian official said. "We think the West generally targets developing countries." But he also said that India’s position on human rights is "evolving." For instance, India recently abstained on a human rights resolution criticizing Iran’s human rights record: India was appalled by Iran’s policy of stoning women accused of adultery and other crimes.

But the diplomat expressed serious misgivings about a recent decision by the Security Council to endorse the disputed election victory of Ivory Coast’s opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara, saying, "I’m extremely worried about the precedent-setting quality" of this decision. If an election takes place somewhere else tomorrow "would the Security Council want to get involved?"

He also questioned the authority of the U.S. and European powers to use the council, which is only supposed to act in response to a threat to international peace and security, to meddle in Burma’s affair. Asked if he believed Burma posed a threat to international peace and security. "What, those bamboo rice people, cut off from the world? Is that a threat to international peace and security? Not in my view."

[Note: The lede paragraph incorrectly claims a senior Indian diplomat asserts that India intends to challenge the United States on a range of fronts during its tenure on the U.N. Security Council. That language reflects Turtle Bay’s assessment of India’s intention on the basis of differences between India and U.S. positions detailed in the Indian diplomats briefing. Turtle Bay regrets the error.]


Follow me on Twitter @columlynch

Colum Lynch is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @columlynch

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