At the Grown Up Table

Posted by sepoy on April 13, 2005 · 6 mins read

The Group of Four vs. the Coffee Club. India vs. Pakistan. Japan vs. China. History vs. Politics. It plays out like a grand opera of broken trusts and rebounded relationships but it is the very realpolitiks surrounding the reform and expansion of the United Nations Security Council. I know that this isn't the sexiest of topics and that the UN is as popular in the States as Kevin Federline is sincere. But, for the rest of the world, it remains a vital organization. So let's take a look at what is at stake.

The brief overview is that UN wants to reform itself. The report on reforms by Kofi Annan [pdf] includes the provision for an expansion of the Security Council. Two competing proposals are on the table: One is to expand it by six permanent members- India, Japan, Brazil and Germany [the Group of Four or G-4] are championing this; the second proposal - spearheaded by Pakistan's Coffee Club coalition of 54 countries - is to add eight semi-permanent seats and divide them among across various nations of Africa and Asia. The two sides have been debating on and off the floor with states announcing their intentions all across [Qatar supports India! Austria supports Pakistan!]. All this while John "There is no such thing as the United Nations" Bolton's confirmation hearing as the UN Ambassador plays out on a cable channel near you.

I will restrict myself to India's claims to the seat. It is a controversial claim in some circles. As the most populous democracy and rising economic power, India feels that it has a legitimate role to play in world politics. The detractors are wary of Indian regionalism-gone-amuck. More interesting is the question why would India want this role? India has always had a warm but distant relationship with the United Nations. Led by the idealism of Nehru [non-alignment, anti-colonial, anti-aggression], India sought to project itself on a higher moral ground for most of his tenure while adhering closely to Indian self-interest. Nothing out of the ordinary in that. What was extraordinary was Nehru's firm belief that India, of all the recently minted states, belonged with the elite nations and that it was not just another "little nation". Indian delegates spoke of "the ancient land" and the India's "rightful and honored place in the world". They consistently sought to present their arguments before the world audience [and for the national audience] and projected the image of global leader [especially under K. Menon '52-'62]. For Nehru's India, the only way to project more power than it possessed was to uphold moral and idealized positions without cavorting with the great powers. Kashmir, and to a lesser extent Goa, became the sticky wicket. While India itself had referred Kashmir to the UN, it found very little sympathy among the international community. And it had to rely on Soviet vetos again and again. Still, with the rise of the Cold war, India consistently sought to keep the balance of influence within the Security Council. It was an ardent supporter of China's bid to be recognized even when border tensions along the Sino-Indian borders were rising.

The onset of hostilities between India and China in 1962 destroyed Nehru's idealized world view. China's aggression - a clearly political show of force - showed India that the stark reality behind its global and regional influence remained its lack of power. China took all the land it wanted and "offered" peace. It was a calculated ploy by Mao to expose the "paper tigers" of the world [Nehru and the Soviets]. Nehru's illusions were shattered [and K. Menon's career ended] and he died soon thereafter. The nonaligned nations had done nothing. Soviets had turned mum. All this led to the marked withdrawal of India from the World/UN stage. The wars of '65, '71, the nuclear boom in '74 robbed any remaining shine off of International India. Things weren't so good at home anyways, so who cared? But, the '80s and '90s have slowly brought India back on the world scene.

But, just as China had once pushed India off the UN/World map, it is now putting India back by supporting India's bid for the SC. Wen†Jiabao's recently concluded visit to India resulted in a host of agreements and pacts ["The two sides declared 2006 as the "year of China-India friendship"] and China declared that it "supports India's aspirations to play an active role in the UN and international affairs". This vague statement is understood to be Chinese backing of an Indian permanent seat.

Of course, Pakistan is leading the charge against Indian acceptance to the SC. Their argument pivots on the Kashmir issue. Totally predictable. Also, predictable are the Indian complaints that the US position is being influenced by the Pakistani-born advisor to the President and Rice, Shirin Tahir-Kheli. Be that as it may, India does have a legitimate claim to leadership on the world stage. More than anything, the 2004 election proved that Indian democracy can play a vital and vibrant role among the totalitarian dictatorships surrounding it. I believe that they fully deserve a seat at the SC.

There is more to the Security Coucil story. Historical memory is at stake between China and Japan which may endanger Chinese support of India as well. That story will, hopefully, be told by Jonathan Dresner.


Saurav | April 14, 2005

This is really a question about what the character of the U.N. can and should be. Up until now, it's been a space for the most powerful countries in the world to dominate and argue and very, very occasionally collaborate. The G-4 view is just a continuation of that (as are many other things you read in the news these days, like India's change of patent laws), as emerging world powers are looking for a seat at the table of world dominance. On the other hand, I'm not sure if the UN would be sustainable under a different model. Geopolitics seems to be about force, given that there's no overarching authority with enough military and economic strength to hold everyone in line without pushing its own interests ahead. I guess there must be some way to diffuse power away from the Security Council and towards a more democratic structure, but it needs to happen gradually and, unfortunately, with the consent of the world's most powerful states, in my opinion. It would probably be best if there were a large, powerful, nongovernmental movement to force all fo the states in the U.N. to create more equitable division of power so it's not just a playground for international rivalry and tension. But that's a pipedream for now, from where I sit (New York :)

Simon World | April 15, 2005

Daily linklets 15th April This is a daily collection of links, some with commentary, to news stories and interesting blog posts. It will be updated throughout the day with a new timestamp for the updates. Scroll down for today's other posts. Rupert Murdoch gets blogs (Dan Gillm...