The return of United Nations reform to the international agenda has breathed life back into the moribund Group of Four (G4). The G4 — India, Brazil, Germany and Japan — who see themselves as the best candidates for any new permanent seats in the Security Council — had a good run several years ago but floundered when the African Union could not decide on its candidates. With a draft text on UN reform out again, the G4 leaders have sensibly begun holding photo opportunities together. However, New Delhi must be clear that the G4 is a tactical alliance. There is nothing that holds them together other than an interest in a permanent seat in the Security Council. New Delhi should also recognise that not all of its members are as excited about the prospect as India. Germany has been notably unwilling to spend diplomatic capital on the issue in recent years. The same is the case with Japan. India is probably the strongest candidate among the members. Pakistan is the primary opponent to India, but it has few friends in the international system. China is the only serious obstacle to India’s ambition and it has been careful not to come out openly. New Delhi assumes that Beijing will come on board if it becomes clear that the other existing permanent members will support India’s candidacy.
Which, therefore, underlines the fragility of the G4 as a grouping; it serves India’s purpose to be a part of the G4 today. Having a more or less full support of candidates for an enlarged Security Council adds credibility to India’s candidacy. But New Delhi must be crystal clear that the G4 is a grouping, not an alliance, and that it can be changed, even abandoned, if it ceases to serve India’s purpose. For example, if a final text gives only one additional seat for Asia then India will be pitted against Japan for that seat. This would not necessarily be a bad thing: China’s opposition to the Security Council expansion is driven almost by its hostility to Japan and only partly by its rivalry with India. A G4 minus Japan would be much easier for Beijing to swallow. The G4 still lacks an African candidate with neither South Africa nor Nigeria as clear frontrunners in that continent. And there remains the vexed question of whether the Arab world-cum-West Asian region deserves a seat of its own. The G4 could, therefore, be most saleable as a G6 at one stage.
It could also be that India, especially if the process reaches the regional vote stage, could be best served by running on its own. Deciding whether such changes make sense is a key reason that this will be among the most difficult diplomatic operations in Indian history and should be seen, even now, as a long journey that has just begun.