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  Opinion   Columnists  20 Feb 2024  Debotri Dhar | Time for the Tiger: India must be on UN high table

Debotri Dhar | Time for the Tiger: India must be on UN high table

Dr Debotri Dhar is an author, educator, academic, consultant, and founder of the Hummingbird Global Leaders Forum and Hummingbird Global Writers Circle
Published : Feb 20, 2024, 12:23 am IST
Updated : Feb 20, 2024, 12:23 am IST

India's UNSC bid symbolises its global role, bridging diverse interests, fostering friendships, and advocating inclusive growth.

United Nations Security Council. (AP/PTI)
 United Nations Security Council. (AP/PTI)

During his recent visit to India, the UN General Assembly president affirmed what many global affairs analysts know to be true: that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) does not reflect contemporary geopolitical realities. Last year, a top Cabinet minister had, using a tongue-in-cheek analogy from industry, compared the UN to a company whose shareholders had changed, with the new shareholders wanting better management but the “old guys” refusing to let go. Once a hallowed institution, the UN is seen by many as losing its relevance in a world reeling from the human and economic costs of war. There is an urgent need for democratisation and expansion of the UNSC, with India being included as a permanent member.

The UN Security Council is one of the six organs of the UN system with a mandate to protect international peace and security. Among examples of its peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations are missions in Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, and Bosnia, approving military interventions, and, in theory, issuing binding resolutions on member states. The Council was preceded by the League of Nations, founded in 1920 by the Paris Peace Conference at the end of the First World War, for maintaining inter-state harmony, financial stabilisation, rules related to treatment of prisoners of war and against human trafficking of women and children, etc.

However, the League was criticised for its failures to prevent mass atrocities like Nazi crimes under Adolf Hitler, or to represent the colonised people and creating a diverse, representative international relations arena.

That its successor, the UNSC, has still lagged behind at giving voice to the erstwhile colonised people is apparent in its composition. Despite its mandate of “global” governance, its 15-member body has five permanent members: the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, who enjoy a veto power relating to UNSC resolutions. There is no permanent member country from Africa, Latin America or South Asia. Thus, the case for increasing general membership to more than 15, and to include India as a permanent member in the UNSC is very strong.

India has been an important part of UN initiatives through the decades, playing a key role in international diplomacy and mediation. An old civilisation as well as a modern state, India’s Constitution demonstrates remarkable syncretism from its very inception, combining a global outlook with distinctly local features. India’s parliamentary system of governance was modelled after the British system, part three of the Constitution on the fundamental rights of individuals was inspired by the American Constitution, part four on the Directive Principles of State Policy by the Irish Constitution, the concurrent list by the Australian Constitution, etc. With a history of being invaded, colonised and racially exploited for centuries, it has much in common with other countries from the Global South with similar painful histories. It shares some cultural commonalities with its South Asian neighbours; forms of dress and address, celebration and blessing, languages facing the global domination of English, if not extinction. This links up with the concerns of a large global Indian diaspora, which has some shared experiences with other diasporic Asian communities and engagements with inclusivity and representation. At the same time, as the world’s largest democracy whose Army has never usurped power from democratically-elected governments, India aligns more with many Western democracies than with some of its subcontinental neighbours. India is the world’s fifth largest economy aiming to become the third largest in the coming years, with a growing private sector alongside the public sector, and consistent GDP growth of 7-8 per cent.

While the developed East Asian economies of Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan are referred to as the “Asian Tigers” for their industrialisation and export-driven high economic growth, the time has come for India’s national animal, the tiger. India has been recognised as the third largest ecosystem for start-ups globally, with not just a unicorn boom but decacorn transitions already under way.

These historical, geopolitical, and economic factors place India in the distinctive position of understanding and mediating between countries and blocs with diverse needs and agendas while fostering dependable friendships. This was also apparent from the G20 summit hosted by New Delhi, which I covered in a previous article and one of whose major successes was the long overdue inclusion of the African Union, alongside the European Union, under India’s leadership. Termed “multi-alignment”, this is India’s strength, not weakness, despite external pressures to opt for a more simplistic position.

In published interactions with journalists, the external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar reiterates that India is non-Western and not anti-Western, an independent country that does not perceive itself primarily in alliance terms. In this sense, multi-alignment and strategic autonomy is not all that different from the “active non-alignment” model espoused by several nations in the Global South and veteran analysts of colour. As a tenet of diplomacy, it certainly draws upon India’s historical strengths.

One challenge, on a practical level, is the aforementioned veto. France, the US, the UK and Russia may support India’s candidature, but this is not the case with China, unless Sino-Indian disputes can be resolved. Hence, India must also provide leadership to calls for democratising UN processes, replacing the current veto system by a simple majority votes in certain instances and a two-thirds majority vote for UNSC permanent membership deliberations.

Of course, India is not yet a developed country. As a leading voice for the Global South, domestic social, educational, financial, and health policies to upskill youth, uplift the poorest sections of society, and provide opportunities for socio-economic mobility must continue, ensuring inclusive growth and sustainable development. White Tiger, Arvind Adiga’s Booker Prize-winning novel, traced India’s ascent through the rise of its protagonist Balram Halwai, whose entrepreneurial vision breaks caste boundaries. As important is the continuing inclusion of women in polity, society and organisations across sectors, with particular attention to women’s safety and security, reducing gender-based violence and the facilitation of legal justice. With a resurgence of great power competition and hostilities, international pressure on India can be expected to mount. Yet a continuing commitment to its founding principle of democracy, and clearly stated points of agreement and disagreement in foreign policy, can strengthen India’s role as a force of good for promoting global peace and security. It is what the UNSC needs.

Tags: united nations security council, g20 summit in india, un general assembly session