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J.Sri Raman. November 17, 2010. SECURITY COUNCIL AND OUR STATUS


The Security Council

and Our "Status"


J.Sri Ramanby J. Sri Raman






Whenever an extraordinary and far from expected offer is made to you, remember your granny's advice: read the fine print.

When the 'breaking news' briefly announced that President Barack Obama had promised India a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council in his address to Parliament on November 8, the average first rubbed his eyes and then went into raptures. Now he knew what the President had meant when he said, "India is not a rising power, it has already risen."

Effusive commentaries ensued, in which phrases familiar to us over recent years figured, such as "a superpower status" and "a place at the high table". Maybe, we should have all paused to google for the full text of the address.

Here's how the ever so elegant and eloquent Obama put it: " two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security-especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years. Indeed, the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today: in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

Perhaps, the most operative words in the passage were: "in the years ahead". The story of India's long quest for a place in this particular sun suggests what this can mean.

On October 12, India got a non-permanent seat in the Security Council after an 18-year-long wait and a four-year-long series of negotiations with UN member-states.It got the seat only because Kazakhstan withdrew last year from the race for the seat.

External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna confided to the media the other day how this was  achieved: ''It is persuasion, sweet persuasion, reciprocity...sometimes you seek a favour...There will always be an occasion to repay it''.

We do not know  the exact quid pro quo Krishna had in mind. But the sentences in Obama's statement before the explicitly spelt-out offer suggest the give-and-take he had in mind. India's performance as a reliable partner of the US in matters of "global security" over the next two years as a non-permanent member will probably help clinch the issue.

Before departing for India, the President had told an Indian reporter in  Washington that India's Security Council membership was quite a "complicated" issue. Was he thinking of China, which has counselled  "patience" in the matter and agreed to "negotiations" and no more?

Or, what is more dampening to many of us, was he hinting at the proposal for a second-class permanent Security Council membership, which went without the all-important veto power? Will New Delhi be able to sell this to the natives dreaming of a new station in international life?

More basically, in the light of its past role on the world stage and in line with its policies of  several post-Independence decades, must India be striving for the coveted membership at all? Its admission into this exclusive club will come only after its establishment as a West-recognised nuclear-weapon state. Will this spell any "reform" in the UN system that India claims to have been fighting for?

The counter argument, of course, will be that such a composition of the UN and the Security Council will only reflect the international reality. Is the UN, created (at least conceptually) to assist in the birth of a post-colonial and more equitable order, meant to perpetuate a reality of such a regressive kind?

In reality, we must remember, India is part of the developing world. Any "special status", which separates and distances the nation from its peers with better potential as its partners, cannot help its cause.

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