On the 1st of January, 2021, India has begun her eighth two-year elected term in the UN Security Council. Since her first term in 1950, each election has been due to the votes of more than two-thirds of the membership of the UN General Assembly. In contrast, such an overwhelming democratic electoral endorsement has never been obtained till now by any of the five permanent members or P5 for their seats in the Security Council.
India’s impact in the Security Council will depend on two issues. One is how the Security Council takes its decisions. This process is dominated by the veto privilege of the P5, used 293 times since 1946. Deadlock in decision-making due to the use of the veto has often resulted in tragic human costs. The most recent example is the deadlock between the United States and China in early 2020, which prevented the timely adoption of a Council resolution to politically support an all-of-UN response to the Covid-19 pandemic. How India deals with her interests that are opposed by veto wielding P5 members will be a litmus test for her aspirations as an emerging world power.
The second issue is India’s ability to achieve outcomes on the three priorities identified by her when campaigning for elections to the Security Council. These are the countering of terrorism by enforcing Security Council resolutions; the efficient use of UN peacekeeping missions; and enabling the use of technology with a human touch.
These issues will be part of the broader agenda of the Security Council, and India needs to network effectively with other members to achieve her objectives. In 2013, Afghanistan had stood aside in favour of India for elections to the Security Council in 2020. Today, both India and Afghanistan face the prospect of a reinvigorated sponsorship of terrorism directed against their interests. As Afghanistan’s major development assistance partner, India must integrate Afghanistan’s concerns into any initiative she takes on enforcing Security Council resolutions. India’s success would require the support of the P5, who have displayed varying levels of ambivalence on prosecuting terrorism emanating from the Af-Pak region due to their regional and geopolitical interests.
The accepted inter-linkage between peace, security and development allows India to create diplomatic space through partnerships in the Council to pursue a forward-looking role on issues like UN peacekeeping. By becoming one of the drafters of UN peacekeeping mandates for missions in Asia and Africa, India can seek to prioritize using UN peacekeepers as peace-builders, especially for strengthening national institutions of governance. The track record of India’s pioneering women UN peacekeepers in Liberia and South Sudan can become a template for Security Council mandates to reflect issues like women, peace and security and the protection of civilians.
Similarly, with extensive experience in using digital technology for human empowerment and development, India is well positioned to take the lead in the Council’s discussions on the role of information and communications technologies for international peace, security, and development. India’s advocacy of a holistic approach using Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development can offset the current unidimensional P5 polarization on cyber-security issues, which can potentially result in a confrontational fragmentation of the emerging digital world order to the detriment of sustainable development efforts.
Elected from the Asia-Pacific constituency, India is expected to be active on Asia-Pacific issues already on the agenda of the Council. These include Afghanistan, Iran, Yemen, Syria, and the Palestinian Question. This will offset the ineffectiveness displayed so far by the Asia-Pacific’s sole permanent member in the Council on these issues.
In his three major addresses to the UN in 2020, Prime Minister Narendra Modi identified “reformed multilateralism” as a core priority for India as a major stakeholder in the United Nations. This requires dovetailing India’s revived campaign for Security Council reform in the General Assembly with her actions in the Security Council as it is called upon to respond to increasingly multi-dimensional challenges to international peace and security.
Script: Amb.Asoke Kumar Mukerji,Former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations