India’s tryst with the UNSC

Do we really deserve the coveted permanent membership of the UNSC?
Rishi Iyengar Delhi

Earlier this month, German Ambassador to India Michael Steiner extended his support for a permanent seat for India at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). In doing so, he has joined an elite group of gentlemen who have endorsed India’s entry into what is arguably the most influential world body — a group that includes the likes of Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Gordon Brown. These endorsements have come not only at different stages in India’s emergence as a ‘global power’, but also for different reasons and in different contexts.

Putin wanted to reignite the Indo-Russian trade, while Obama needed an entry point for US businesses into the Indian market. Even Steiner’s support comes with strings attached, as Germany’s own membership of the UNSC remains their first priority. “As India endorses the German request, we endorse the Indian quest,” were his exact words. Brown simply said in 2008 that a Security Council without India would not ‘reflect the reality of the day’, but then again, British foreign policy has seldom been accompanied by sound reasoning.

The only product of this entire advocacy is more speculation and furore without tangible results, so forgive me if I don’t jump for joy at Mr. Steiner’s reassuring words.

The permanent seat on the UNSC is like a bone waved by the ‘Fab Five’ (The existing members - USA, UK, France, Russia or China) whenever one of them wants something, and like a typical Pavlovian dog, we never fail to prance around and wag our tails in anticipation. India seems like the nerd who attempts to be accepted by the popular kids by doing all their homework for them.

This begs a bigger, more fundamental question: Does India actually deserve a place in the Security Council? The justifications that have been presented over the years comprise our rapidly progressing economy (which many foresee will be among the top five by 2020), our demographic dividend, our presence as a regional power in South Asia and our contribution to UN Peacekeeping missions.

These justifications all sound grandiose, but most of the people championing India’s cause tend to forget certain things:

Firstly, the growth rate that propelled us into the big league is a thing of the past, and although our economy is not yet in the doldrums, it is not in a phenomenal position either.

Secondly, our demographic dividend will not prove to be much of an asset unless we can harness it properly. A young idle population is far worse than an active older one, and the lack of quality higher education and effective vocational training in the country is hitting us hard. A considerable chunk of the country’s youth is either unemployed, unemployable or employed in the wrong profession. Almost 65 per cent of India may be below the age of 35, but 68.7 per cent of this ‘young population’ continues to live on less than $2 a day, and our literacy rate remains one of the lower ones compared to other countries.

Lastly, the regional influence that India has traditionally exercised in South Asia is being rapidly overshadowed by our perennial nemesis China. Be it Myanmar, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, the Indian sub-continent is rapidly turning into China’s backyard. The regional and even global groupings that India supposedly spearheads — the foremost among them being SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) and NAM (Non Aligned Movement) — are either ineffective or irrelevant.

When one considers all these facts, it seems almost laughable that India is even associating itself with countries like Japan, Germany and Brazil in its bid for a permanent seat on the Council, a bid that is the only one to have been endorsed by all five existing permanent members. What most people do not seem to realize is that this would make India the little guy in the big league, easy to pick on and sway one way or the other. And that is exactly what the Fab Five want.

India’s contribution to UN Peacekeeping missions has definitely been significant, with over 8,500 peacekeepers in the field (more than twice as many as the five big UN powers put together). President Obama even cited it as a major reason for his endorsement of our candidature. However, given the current state of our national and coastal security, I am inclined to think that we would be better off recalling a sizeable portion of those troops. Keeping peace in the Congo is undoubtedly a noble endeavour, but keeping peace in Orissa, West Bengal and Kashmir seems a little more important at the moment.

Many claim that as the world’s largest democracy, third largest military and a nuclear weapon state, India absolutely must be inducted as a permanent member of the UNSC. Thomas Friedman of The New York Times even said that it should be inducted because it is the largest Hindu nation and the second-largest Muslim nation. However, if you consider my opinion that religion should not determine any aspect of the UN whatsoever, the Council does not lack democracy, military might or nuclear capability through its existing members in any sense.

For those that say Asia needs more representation as the largest continent, I would argue that such a claim seems highly frivolous when you consider the fact that South America and Africa are not represented at all. Besides, China seems a dominant enough global force at the moment to represent Asia without our assistance.

India has been piggybacking on the now defunct G4 and other such groupings for too long, and it is high time our country took its destiny into its own hands. Otherwise it will remain like that Pavlovian dog, salivating at the sight of a bone that it never gets to chew.

 

 

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