At UNSC, India’s values and interests converge
Leadership at these forums would provide a special push both to multilateralism and to India’s quest for a place at the high table of global governance
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC), with a mandate to maintain international peace and security, is the centrepiece of global multilateralism. It selects the UN Secretary-General and plays a co-terminus role with the UN General Assembly in electing judges to the International Court of Justice. Its resolutions, adopted under chapter VII of the UN charter, are binding on all countries.
However, the UNSC’s governance structure — which was designed at the end of World War II and has five permanent members with a veto — needs reforms to reflect contemporary realities. This is essential for the sake of multilateralism and an effective UN.
India was elected to the UNSC for the eighth time in 2020 and began its two-year term this January. It is the council’s president in August and is, rightly, using the pulpit to focus on areas of vital interest affecting international peace and security. The presidency also offers India an opportunity to underscore its credentials as the world’s largest democracy, an economic behemoth and underline its commitment to the UN, including as the largest contributor, over time, to UN Peacekeeping. This is a stellar record for a permanent place on the horseshoe table.
In recent months, Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi has underlined the imperatives for UNSC reforms and India’s strong stakes. It is, therefore, in the fitness of things that he will become the first Indian PM to chair a UNSC meeting on August 9. He will preside over the meeting, virtually, on the issue of maritime security, a subject which will be on the UNSC table for the first time for a comprehensive debate.
Given the huge role of sea-borne trade in human wellbeing, ensuring freedom of navigation and safety on the seas is a global imperative. For India, maritime security is also important given its sea-facing geography and civilisational links developed over millennia through seafaring. It is, thus, once again in the fitness of things that India should push towards a comprehensive approach to maritime security.
However, there is no universally accepted definition of maritime security, though it is generally accepted to include access to the global commons of the sea and preventing high seas crimes, including unregulated fishing. The UNSC has adopted several resolutions on different aspects of maritime security and related crimes.
Internationally, countries are generally in agreement that access to the high seas, as part of the global commons, should be free, open, and inclusive. A rules-based international order that recognises national sovereignty and territorial integrity, apart from stressing environmental sustainability, is the need of the hour. It is also important that the world sees enhanced coordination among countries in responding to high seas crimes including piracy, trafficking, narco-smuggling and other non-traditional maritime security threats, and acts jointly to meet humanitarian commitments at sea.
The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) provides a general framework that could be built upon for a comprehensive approach to maritime security and guaranteeing of the seas as a global commons for the benefit of all. It is important that all countries agree to adhere to international rules governing the maritime domain and put them into effect nationally. Such an order should serve all nations, big or small, and ensure similar rights under international law to all.
India’s month as the UNSC chair will also see high-level interactions on peacekeeping and counterterrorism. External affairs minister S Jaishankar is expected to travel to New York and preside in-person over these meetings, adding personal heft to India’s diplomatic efforts.
The UNSC presidency rotates every month in alphabetical order among its members. India is likely to hold the UNSC presidency, once again, in December 2022, just before its present term at the UNSC ends. India will also be chairing the G-20 in 2023 and be part of its troika from next year. PM Modi’s personal involvement in the realm of reformed multilateralism is well known. Leadership at these forums would provide a special push both to multilateralism and to India’s quest for a place at the high table of global governance.
Manjeev Singh Puri is a former ambassador and served as deputy permanent representative of India to the UN
The views expressed are personal