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The United Nations must hit a six and opt for reforms

If the UNSC expands, India will not be the sole new member. It has a better chance if it is part of a ‘package’.

ht view Updated: Mar 29, 2015 21:58 IST

Before writing this article I re-read Chinmaya Gharekhan’s The Horseshoe Table: an Inside View of the UN Security Council to ensure that I did not commit any faux pas.

On June 22, 1955, Jawaharlal Nehru held talks with Nikolai Bulganin, prime minister of the Soviet Union, at the Kremlin. Nehru’s world influence then was at its zenith. The Soviet prime minister said to Nehru, “While we are discussing the general international situation and reducing tension, we propose suggesting at a later stage India’s inclusion as the sixth member of the Security Council.”

Nehru’s response was somewhat condescending and combined with misplaced idealism. “Perhaps Mr Bulganin knows that some people in the United States have suggested that India should replace China in the Security Council ... We are, of course, wholly opposed to it ... If India is to be admitted to the Security Council it raises the question of the revision of the charter of the United Nations. We feel that this should not be done till the question of China’s admission and possibly others is first solved.”

The last sentence makes little sense. China was already a permanent member. Bulganin did not propose the unseating of China. His proposal was for India becoming the sixth permanent member. The words “some others” were even more mystifying. Which countries did he have in mind?

During his recent visit to India, United States President Barack Obama declared that India should become a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). On his 2010 visit, he had said much the same thing. This is distinguished verbalising. It is legitimate to ask, “Mr President, what concrete steps did you take in this regard?” If the president did take up the matter with the other permanent members of the UNSC, what was their response? Did he ask secretary general Ban Ki-moon for his views?

The 70th anniversary of the founding of the UN provides a suitable opportunity to put this issue on the agenda of the UN/UNSC. At the 60th anniversary the foreign ministers of Brazil, Germany, Japan and India attempted to enlarge and democratise the UNSC. A press note was issued. There the matter ended. We were beaten by the sepulchral functioning of the UN. The invisible stymieing was from four permanent members: The US, Britain, France and China. Russia was the exception.

The UN charter has been amended three times. The amended Article 123 increased the membership of the UNSC from 11 to 15.

The permanent five (P5) constitute the main stumbling block for the reform and enlargement of the UNSC. Gharekhan puts it succinctly, “… none of the P5 want any addition to their category.” Inequality is embedded in the UN charter. In June 1945, when the charter was being drafted, the US representative, Cord Hull, made it clear that the veto provision was not negotiable.

Today, the question of India becoming the sole new member is simply not possible. It will have to be part of a ‘package’.

Let us begin with China. Recently external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, on her visit to China, happily announced that China would support India becoming a permanent member of the UNSC. This really was mixing facts with hope. The truth is somewhat different. China has never been so specific. The language the Chinese use is “India should play a more active and larger role at the UN” (these may not be the exact words, but near enough).

The People’s Republic of China is the only permanent member from Asia, Africa and Latin America. It is unlikely to give up that unique advantage, certainly not to India. Thus, a package will have many takers. Even on the package too there will be no unanimity and no conjunction of minds. Nationalism, not internationalism, will take precedence. This is the real UN crisis. The Islamic world will have to be represented. But by whom? Egypt, Indonesia or Bangladesh? What if Iran, a Shia country, puts forward its claim? Turkey, a non-Arab Islamic country, will be in the running. Africa will prove to be a major hurdle. Should it be Nigeria or South Africa? Will the Organisation of African Unity agree to either of these? From Latin America, Brazil is the obvious choice. Argentina’s claim cannot be wished away, however. What about Mexico? Europe already has three members: Britain, France and Russia. The European Union wants a seat. Germany is being talked about. Japan too will be a serious contender but China will surely veto that.

My package will be confined to the following new permanent members: Brazil, India, Nigeria, Egypt and the European Union. This will undoubtedly be challenged. The number of non-permanent members in my view should increase to 25.

Every solution produces its own problem. Should the new permanent members have the veto? Some Indian pundits have floated a pernicious solution. The new members should get the veto after 10 years. As external affairs minister, I had dismissed that. India could never accept second-class membership in the expanded UNSC. That will be humiliating.

The UN General Assembly session begins in September. Let us see what it comes up with on reform or no reform.

K Natwar Singh is a former external affairs minister. The views expressed by the author are personal.