India’s New Prominence Among United Nations

While India becomes a nonpermanent Security Council member this year, its influence in the United Nations is fast expanding.

Indian diplomacy can pat itself on the back, at least for the time being. Not only did it become a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) this year; it was elected to chair its Counter-Terrorism Committee as well.

Besides India, several powerful states that are coveting permanent membership of the Security Council have also been elected nonpermanent members this year — Germany and South Africa. Brazil and Nigeria have both been nonpermanent members for a year now.

India has astutely used regional forums to supplants its position in the United Nations. It shows that Indian policymakers understand that the world is increasingly multipolar. The country currently occupies important positions in the Russia-India-China triumvirate whose foreign ministers meet twice a year. It is a key member of the BRIC which also includes Brazil. Along with Brazil and South Africa, it is one of the three great powers of the “south” while the BASIC brought together Brazil, South Africa, India and China during the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen last year.

As countries as Brazil and India continue to rise, it will be difficult for the permanent five members of the Security Council to continue to dominate global security policy making. “Power relations at the UNSC are skewed in favor of the veto-wielding P5 countries, the most exclusive club in the world, and others are reduced to wooing them to ensure that a particularly damaging resolution does not go through,” writes India’s former ambassador to the United Nations, Chinmaya R. Gharekhan in the book The Horseshoe Table: An Inside View of the UN Security Council (2006). This situation is bound to change.

The American predominance in world affairs is a fairly recent phenomenon as the country chose to be isolated up until World War I. India feels that it is in a fairly similar position.

After India attained independence in 1947, it pursued its own version of isolationism. Under the banner of the nonalignment movement, it allied with decolonized countries in Africa and Asia and different states in Latin America to avoid becoming part of the Cold War. At United Nations conferences, India become known for its “moralistic” commentary on global politics. During the period of US-Soviet détente, it remained on the sidelines.

From the 1980s onward, India followed a policy of “defensive realism” and avoided being involved in issues that played beyond its borders. Only when the Cold War ended would India align itself with the United States and, watching China rise, it remains a partner of the West to maintain balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

With the West in decline economically however, India is set to assume a greater role. With increased power comes increased responsibility, as mentioned by President Barack Obama in his speech to the Indian parliament last November.

In the south Sudan for instance, which recently voted to secede from the north after years of violence, Indian soldiers are already serving as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. India has made substantial investments in Sudan’s energy sector, mainly in the south. India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation’s Videsh Limited has spent around $2.5 million in acquiring exploration and production assets in Sudan’s oil sector. The company now extracts approximately 2.4 million tons of crude oil from Sudan on a yearly basis. India cannot simply stand by anymore and disguise its interests in slogans of noninterference.

Meanwhile, the Security Council’s decision to wind up the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) on January 14 was a victory for India’s own version of the Monroe Doctrine which contradicts its commitments to the UN.

UNMIN was established in January 2007 to monitor the disarmament of Nepali Maoist rebels and the preparations for assembly elections that year. New Delhi was never comfortable with the UNMIN presence in Nepal as it feels that no outside power should have much say in the affairs of its immediate neighborhood. Since the United States have backed India’s position, the latter could have its way with regard to Nepal.

Down the line, India will face tougher calls including the election of the next United Nations secretary general. In August, India will preside over the Council by alphabetical rotation and may play a key role in the election process. India has had issues with current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon over Burma, Nepal and Sri Lanka and if New Zealand’s former prime minister and current chair of the United Nations Development Group, Helen Clark makes a bid for the secretary generalship, India may very well supporting her candidature. It will be interesting to see whether this issue comes up when current New Zealand Prime Minister John Key visits India this year.