India’s quest for a UNSC seat

Published: November 15, 2010
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The writer served as ambassador in Zimbabwe (1986-1990), Egypt (1997-1999) and Switzerland (1999-2003)

The writer served as ambassador in Zimbabwe (1986-1990), Egypt (1997-1999) and Switzerland (1999-2003)

President Obama’s India visit generated great interest in Pakistan. Apprehensions were expressed before the visit and “serious concern” after, particularly on his declaration of support to India in its quest for a UN Security Council (UNSC) permanent seat.

The subject has invited undue attention and uncalled for comments by analysts and columnists in the Urdu media and TV talk shows. What is most glaring about these comments is the total lack of objectivity and limited knowledge of the subject. Expanding the Security Council is part of an ambitious and controversial exercise of restructuring the UN and its organs to make them more democratic and accountable. The UN Charter, on its founding, had only 45 members. Today, membership is nearing 200. To make the world body truly representative, it needs to be inclusive and expanded.

The exercise began in the 90s under the chairmanship of Razali Ismail of Malaysia and, after prolonged and stormy debates, a complex document touching upon all aspects of reorganisation with rather vague recommendations was prepared and has since been the subject of discussion. One of the recommendations was Security Council expansion. In 1965, Security Council membership was enlarged from 11 to 15. The proposal was to raise the number to 25. The question of permanent membership got particular attention. Besides India, other major regional countries like Japan, Brazil and South Africa also staked their claims to be treated at par with India.

To steer the discussions to a positive direction, Pakistan took the lead and, with Italy as co-chairman, formed the ‘Uniting for Consensus’ group with membership exceeding 100 countries. Pakistan’s views — that the spirit and the principle of the UN Charter should not be compromised, the principle of sovereign equality being the cardinal one — were fully endorsed by the group. It was also argued that decisions impacting the global system of interstate relations based on the Charter require consensus.

Meanwhile, the controversy raged on. In April 2009, Pakistan, in a bid to resolve the issue, supported a proposal tabled by Italy and Colombia to create a new category of membership with a three or five-year duration and a possibility to get re-elected. It also supported Security Council enlargement to 25 seats. The proposals are still at the discussion stage and nothing concrete is likely to come out of them.

In principle, Pakistan’s reaction that a move to include India in the UNSC militates against regional balance and is not in the interest of regional or world peace is valid. However, the terms in which this opposition has been expressed — holding India ineligible on account of its violation of the UNSC on Kashmir — does not add much to our stance. Our policymakers and analysts should face the bitter reality of contemporary world politics. India, in the last decade, has earned growing recognition and influence in the UN with its high economic growth rate, political stability and its role in world affairs. There is no comparability between India and Pakistan anymore. We need not pursue the futile exercise of seeking equality with India. Our India–centric mindset must change. We also need to abandon emotional dependence on friends ignoring ‘realpolitik’.

Finally, based on my experience as a member of the Pakistan delegation to the UN General Assembly consecutively for four years (1997-80), let me predict that the issue of Security Council expansion will hang fire for a long time. Restructuring would require an amendment of the Charter — an uphill task. It will need two-thirds of General Assembly votes as well as those from all five permanent members holding veto powers — not within the pale of possibility looking at the current international political configuration. Remember that in negotiations, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. To develop consensus even on a minor issue in UN debates is a Sisyphean task. The Security Council expansion issue will not resolve anytime soon. We can sleep comfortably.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 15th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (16)

  • Nov 15, 2010 - 1:37AM

    India has a seat on the G20, which is far more relevant to present times. The security council is a hangover of the cold war, which does not accept that the world has changed. We can huff and puff about it, but as you said, President Obama offered support, not a seat, SC reform is long drawn out process so nothing is about to happen about it any time soon. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2010 - 5:45AM

    The way we are going …we might not have a seat in UN let alone UNSC!!
    Lets face it we are not in the same league as india? We have a begging bowl and india wallet full of $$$ (and increasing by $100-150 annually).
    Our economic growth is on par with our population growth. In last 5 yrs Our currency has depreciated more than 80% against the $, while india’s has appreciated more than 10% in the same period.
    The implication of the currency devaluation is inflation because all the commodities(oil etc) that we import cost us more today than it does to india, hence we have higher inflation.
    Get off the delusion of grandeur!. The entire world see us as in different league than india,china,brazil etc.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2010 - 5:45AM

    The way we are going …we might not have a seat in UN let alone UNSC!!
    Lets face it we are not in the same league as india? We have a begging bowl and india wallet full of $$$ (and increasing by $100-150 billions annually).
    Our economic growth is on par with our population growth. In last 5 yrs Our currency has depreciated more than 80% against the $, while india’s has appreciated more than 10% in the same period.
    The implication of the currency devaluation is inflation because all the commodities(oil etc) that we import cost us more today than it does to india, hence we have higher inflation.
    Get off the delusion of grandeur!. The entire world see us as in different league than india,china,brazil etc.Recommend

  • Nov 15, 2010 - 5:55AM

    In principle, Pakistan’s reaction that a move to include India in the UNSC militates against regional balance and is not in the interest of regional or world peace is valid.

    This is exactly why diplomacy has failed. The most important consideration should be global balance of power. The premise of regional balance stands on the futile exercise of seeking equality with India and no one argues that anymore. So then why does India’s UNSC role militate against regional balance? What I don’t understand is if South Africa and Brazil are fit for the UNSC but a country from South Asia is harmful to world peace and regional balance is a silly argument. Pakistan should instead start a movement among the 200 UN members to abolish “veto power” to eliminate real threats to world peace. Pakistan should first figure out its weight within the region, and its role within a long-term strategic vision of the region. That would be a more constructive exercise.Recommend

  • Rajat
    Nov 15, 2010 - 7:26AM

    yet it is inevitable.. my two cents (or paisa) on this issue is that India will become a security council member only when Pakistan becomes stable. So wishing for a fast and sustainable stability.Recommend

  • Captain Muhammad Hassan Quraishi
    Nov 15, 2010 - 8:46AM

    According to Lord Palmerstone ‘In international affairs there can no eternal friends nor can there be eternal enemies, the only thing eternal is the national interest’. The nexus of india and isreal based on strong mutual interests and the control Isreal over the US muscles and economical breath, its evident that the US one way or the other will definitely benefit India.

    Secondly, the containment of China policy and animosity with the Pak nukes, the new arrangements of US Isreal and India are natural and thus could not be altered in the present situation. But, Pakistan should develop and organise security arrangements with Turkey, Iran and Bangladesh as well as with Brazil. China.needs Pakistan as Pakistan needs China this relationship is not only a deterent against the nexus but also future re-alignment of new security block. Recommend

  • Nov 15, 2010 - 11:04AM

    India, in the last decade, has earned growing recognition and influence in the UN with its high economic growth rate, political stability and its role in world affairs. There is no comparability between India and Pakistan anymore. We need not pursue the futile exercise of seeking equality with India. Our India–centric mindset must change. We also need to abandon emotional dependence on friends ignoring ‘realpolitik’.

    Dear Mr Siddiqui, hope your article will drill some sense into the heads of Pakistani leaders.Recommend

  • Hussain
    Nov 15, 2010 - 3:24PM

    For me things are going to be tougher, India is offered this seat of security council as a first step for it Army export in Afghanistan, these Indian boots can counts from 9K to many more, (imagine replacing US total tally), As a second step i see Iran playing a double role (by appearing Anti-US, while working for their interest) by allowing access to india via its newly constructed road using iranian sea port and then to Kabul, this way Pakistan can be isolated from the route they are already providing.

    I see somthing fishy in all this, I see our FATA area as a next target for all NATO while India will be all out in Afghanistan (which they think, as they will be badly thrashed by Afghanis) while getting payed by European, NATO and Amercians. Secondly i see a greater threat to Pakistan from 3 corners (accept for China). Whatever u guys say to Pakistan and its policy, believe me we are been dragged to something that is solely an imperial agenda nonetheless i hope that some brains are used here, Pakistan should be ready for all this challenge.. Recommend

  • Ravi
    Nov 15, 2010 - 4:10PM

    Why not India & Pakistan work together ? Why shouldn’t Pakistan abandon its Anti India status & help both countries to prosper. I really don’t understand what will Pakistan get out of Kashmir? What I clearly see is that, Kashmirs have problems with Indian government, but they never want to join Pakistan either. Bangladesh:- India had a refugees problem from there. I don’t think any Kashmiri would like to leave India & take refugee in Pakistan.

    Having good relation with India & vice versa are too lucrative to both the countries. Together we can have a greater say in the world affairs.

    Lets Join hands for a better future, definitely there is lot for Pakistan to gain ….. Recommend

  • Jawad Rana
    Nov 15, 2010 - 8:38PM

    Well, if the UNSC is expanded, then to make it truly representative it should include at least the top 10 countries in terms of population. Pakistan has as much a right to be on the UNSC as any other country. Look at the facts: 180 Million people (seventh largest population in the world), one of the seven declared nuclear powers, one of the largest armies in the world, one of the largest contributors to the UN forces globally, second largest Islamic country in the world. A couple of bad economic years, natural disasters, and a war next-doors should not preclude the importance of the country. This has nothing to do with India – Pakistan has to be assertive in its own right. IMHO.Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Nov 15, 2010 - 9:47PM

    While most of the article was interesting, the last line reflects the mindset of pakistanis. “We can sleep comfortably”. What? Haven’t you slept enough for the last 60 years? Shouldn’t it be time to wake up and reform this country into something the founders dreamed of?

    If I were you, I would rather like to believe that the UNSC will act fast on making India a member so it puts a fire under my countrymen’s bellies to do something bigger, better and improve pakistan’s perception. Instead you choose to sleep comfortably. Huh.

    India’s founding father once said, once all my people have clothes to wear I will be dressed up. Likewise pakistani leadership should cleanse the system from corruption, bad governance, poverty, religion-centric policies, anti-india policies, militancy etc and only then can you sleep comfortably.

    Please wake up.Recommend

  • Anoop
    Nov 15, 2010 - 11:02PM

    Security Council will look silly if by 2050 India becomes the biggest economy or the 2nd largest economy and doesn’t have a Veto Power.

    What if at that time, India decides any resolution which SC passes has to be approved by its parliament? Will the SC sanction a Super Power?

    India’s seat is guaranteed, not because Obama has given his thumbs up, but because India will economically,politically and socially be very important to the world. But, that will take a long time to come. India may even have to wait for 30-50 years for this to become the reality. But, the day it becomes the 2nd largest economy in the world, the seat is not too far.

    Soviet Union was kicked out of League of Nations before WW2. It was included in UN SC. Why? Only a fool would think of passing a resolution without the consent of a superpower.Recommend

  • harkol
    Nov 18, 2010 - 3:27PM

    The primary qualification for UNSC membership is financial and military strength. It isn’t essentially about democratic systems USSR/China weren’t democratic. It isn’t about compliance with UN resolutions – UNSC members have violated UN Resolutions many times. Consider China, which violated many UN resolutions on Tibet (including Resolution 1723, which called for self determination for people of Tibet).

    It isn’t about Regional balances or representation either. Europe has and will continue to have un-reasonable representation.

    The reason India is a contender to UNSC is three fold. Stable Country, Massive Economy and Large security Establishment under the control of Political leadership (instead of other way around).

    India is one of the top 10 financial contributors to UN and its arms. It is one of the top 5 contributors to IMF.

    Within next 20 years, the world will beg India, Germany and Brazil to be UNSC permanent members, even if that means kicking out France & Britain. Japan may not have the military muscle to get there (so, it may build military muscle in next 20yrs). South Africa may get there if their economy grows rapidly in next 20yrs.

    Pakistan? Oh well.. If it continues the current course, it is unlikely to survive in its current geographical shape. But, it will continue to exist and become a client nation of China and will be doomed to live thru another cold war of 50years.

    But, if Pakistan is lucky it’ll find a good leader, who’ll pull it back and make it a truly modern nation, curbing its military of all its powers and establishing good, friendly relations with India. Likelyhood of that doesn’t seem very bright at this point. :(Recommend

  • Anoop
    Nov 18, 2010 - 3:56PM

    @harkol,

    Your comment is better than the Article.

    We can always look at how USSR was excluded in League of Nations but invited to the UN. Without a USSR, it would lose the very reason for its existence. Same is going to happen with India.Recommend

  • SKChadha
    Nov 18, 2010 - 4:39PM

    “The Security Council expansion issue will not resolve anytime soon. We can sleep comfortably.”

    Sir, you can otherwise also sleep comfortably as Indias UNSC birth hardly affect Pakistan or its relation with any other country except its sibling rivelary against India.Recommend

  • Rehan
    Nov 19, 2010 - 12:23PM

    It would be naive not to include India as one of the permanent members of the UNSC given its current economic growth, rising status and engagement in the world!Recommend

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