India is going back into the UN Security Council for the eighth time during an inflexion point in global politics — that is seeing growing US disinterest in multilateralism, offset by a growing Chinese determination to dominate global multilateral institutions, and when India-China bilateral ties are at a historic low.
On Thursday, prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted his gratitude on India’s election, unopposed, by 184 votes. “Deeply grateful for the overwhelming support shown by the global community for India’s membership of the @UN Security Council. India will work with all member countries to promote global peace, security, resilience and equity.”
Briefing journalists, Vikas Swaroop, secretary (west), MEA, said: “We will act as a voice of reason and moderation and a firm believer in respect for international law and peaceful settlement of disputes.”
He added India would want to “reform” the multilateral system based on the following principles — “Samman, Samvad, Sahyog, Shanti and samriddhi.”
The call for “reformed multilateralism” by both Modi and
will not involve reforming the UNSC itself which is a larger battle. For the next couple of years though, India will be “in the room” to push back against Chinese mischief targeting India. “China cannot use this forum against India,” said sources. That will be a big gain.
In addition, China’s actions in Ladakh have now completely eroded its position as a supposed “impartial” interlocutor on Kashmir. India can use that to neutralise China’s needling, on
However, it is a difficult ask for India to contemplate any big steps in the UNSC. For one thing, traditionally, India’s positions on peace and security issues hew closely to the Chinese and Russian line rather than the west. Like China, India does not want an “activist” UNSC, and like China and Russia, India stresses the sovereignty principle in international crises. That is unlikely to change.
But the position will give India some useful leverage to push some key objectives that India has, namely, that India wants to be a player in global governance. Heading one of the many UN bodies is one of them. China heads three, and only lost the UNESCO and WIPO elections. India can use the next couple of years to pick up deserving candidates (not only politically connected ones) to manoeuvre them to become electable. As a country of over a billion people, India does not head any UN body.
For India to play a larger role in the UN, India would have to build greater inter-ministerial and inter-agency coordination, say former UN officials. More and more global burning issues cut across different parts of government. For instance the intersection between climate and security, a growing concern, which has implications for India internally and internationally. Here India can play a bigger role. Frank Bainimarama of
reminded India of such a role today.
The big global security issues will be beyond India’s reach and ability — the US has kept the UN out of the Afghan game; on Middle East, any position India takes will hurt one or more of its close friends, so that will be out. Sources said the only one India can take definitive positions would be the Mediterranean issues between
, Cyprus and Greece.
In addition, India’s famed neutrality will make it impossible for India to play a sharper game in the two years it has — unlike say, Germany or
, both of whom leverage their economies and alliances to be part of the big issues like Iran nuclear deal or the North Korea talks. The demand for India to step off the fence will be high.