Foreign Policy Blogs

India Secures Non-Permanent Seat at United Nations Security Council

unsc_268560fThe news of India’s election as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council was reported with a sense of elation by the national media. Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna referred to it as a “chance to prove worth” for the big throne indicating India’s claim for permanent membership of the Security Council. The South Bloc is also excited about the fact that Pakistan voted in favour of India’s membership. The enthusiasm though comprehensible needs to be tempered.

[Photo Courtesy: The Hindu]

First, Pakistan’s support should not been seen as a purely friendly gesture; it is based on simple diplomatic calculations. Pakistan is expected to bid for Security Council’s non-permanent seat in 2012 and has used this opportunity to ensure that India reciprocates favourably. Garnering international support could prove a more difficult task for Pakistan than it is for India. Moreover, Pakistan’s vote, though heartening, was not critical for India’s election.

Second, securing non-permanent membership has limited salience. The real players in the Council are the five permanent members with the power to veto decisions. Votes of the non-permanent member though not ineffectual, are less critical in determining the Council’s decisions.

Third, non-permanent seat is not a stepping stone to gaining permanent membership on the Council. Overhaul of the Security Council involves more complex and wider manoeuvring than simply India’s claim as an ‘emerging global power.’ If anything, the diplomatic efforts for securing the non-permanent seat could make India realize the difficulty in grabbing the laurels of permanent membership. The support of 187 members for India’s candidature is being widely celebrated in the political and bureaucratic community. But this celebration needs to take cognizance of the fact that India was the only country from Asia to contest for the seat; Kazakhstan had earlier withdrawn its membership. How would India have fared in the face of competition? A crude reminder is the 1996 contest between India and Japan. In 1996 India managed to secure only 40 votes as opposed to Japan’s 142 votes. Moreover since 1992, when India last held the seat, Japan has occupied the position thrice, Pakistan and Indonesia twice.

Winning the non-permanent seat might be an occasion for celebration but it is also an occasion to ponder. It is an occasion to ponder on India’s diplomacy in the United Nations for the next two years. India’s independent stand in the Security Council could displease the United States, especially on the issue of imposing sanctions on Iran. The question is how will India use the current opportunity to demonstrate its credentials for permanent membership of the Security Council? Can India follow the course taken by Turkey and Brazil (non-permanent Security Council members) in June 2010 by voting against imposition of sanctions on Iran?

Security Council, considered inconsequential by many, continues to remain an important arena for diplomatic posturing and comprehending the foreign policy orientations of member states. Non-permanent membership of the Security Council might not be a compelling opportunity to fashion the course of international affairs but is a valuable opportunity to shape global perceptions about India’s capabilities as an emergent power.



Madhavi Bhasin

Blogger, avid reader, observer and passionate about empowerment issues in developing countries.
Work as a researcher at Center for South Asia Studies, UC Berkeley and intern at Institute of International Education.
Areas of special interest include civil society, new social media, social and political trends in India.