With one sentence, Barack Obama made India the frontrunner for a United Nations permanent seat.
“In the years ahead,” the US president said in Parliament, “I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member.”
India is now the only country to have the endorsement of four of the five existing permanent seat holders.
There had been much expectation Obama would provide only “forward-leaning” language from the previous US position that India was a “natural choice” for a permanent seat. Indian officials dealing with UN affairs had no doubts this constituted an endorsement.
“This is a yes vote,” said a European diplomat. Until now, the US has endorsed only Japan for a seat.
Obama noted that “with increased power comes increased responsibility.”
He added that we look forward to working with India “and other countries that aspire to Security Council membership” to ensure the council is “effective.”
The US leader has hinted throughout his trip at the sort of policies he hopes for a common Indian stance: sanctions against Myanmar and Iran topping the list.
As Obama’s “years ahead” phrase indicates, when exactly the Security Council will be expanded is unclear. The US has little political capital to spend on such a difficult and complex process.
Indian officials admit that, leave alone the issue of getting Chinese support, they are also “well short” of the 128 General Assembly votes which a permanent seat aspirant would need. And that would assume there would be global support for an expansion in the first place.
Even a few days before Obama arrived, both Indian and US officials said an endorsement would not be happening. There were at least three schools of thinking in the administration, say Washington sources. One argued the US should avoid endorsing because it would loose credibility if it failed to fulfill its promise.
Another argued the US would be “nagged” by India for years after an endorsement. A final school argued that endorsement was a straightforward gesture to move the relationship forward and that New Delhi would “understand” implementation would be a long term business.
Obama is believed to have personally made the decision to go ahead with endorsement, say Washington, though it has long been known Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been a persistent advocate for an endorsement. Indian officials are also pleased that a permanent seat was endorsed by Senator John McCain as Obama landed in the country.
The speech, the work of four Bush administration veterans, was largely written by a State Department aide to Condoleezza Rice, Chris Brose. Indian officials say this means the UN policy has “bipartisan support” in the US.