indias-un-journey-from-outlier-to-the-high-table

Context: The 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations (UN) is an opportunity to look at the major trends, patterns and future challenges as far as India’s role in the UN is concerned. 

Background: 

  • United Nations Day is celebrated on 24 October each year.
  • On June 26, 1945, India became one of the first 50 countries to sign the UN charter
  • The United Nations officially came into existence on 24 October 1945, when the UN Charter had been ratified by China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States and by a majority of other signatories. 
  • India joined the United Nations after ratifying the UN Charter on October 30, 1945.

India and United nations

India’s experience of Seven and a half decades at the UN may be divided in three distinct phases. 

The first phase: until the end of the Cold War in 1989

  • India enhanced its diplomatic influence as a moderating force in easing armed conflicts in Asia and Africa by disentangling them from the superpower rivalry. 
  • Common causes: India strove to utilise the UN only to focus on common causes such as anti-colonialism, anti-racism, nuclear disarmament, environment conservation and equitable economic development. 
    • In 1988, India proposed a bold three-phase plan to eliminate nuclear weapons from the surface of earth. 
  • Bilateral issues: India also realised that the UN could not be relied upon to impartially resolve vital security disputes such as Jammu and Kashmir.
    • It resisted attempts by neighbouring countries to raise bilateral problems which was reflected during the Bangladesh liberation war and after. 
    • After the India-China war debacle India redesigned it’s diplomatic style to privilege bilateral contacts over the third party role by the UN.

Second phase (1990s): A demanding decade

  • It was the most difficult decade for India in the UN because of
    • The sudden end of the Cold War, 
    • The disintegration of the Soviet Union and 
    • The resultant emergence of the United States as the unrivalled power in world politics.
    • Unstable coalition governments 
    • The balance of payments crisis which constrained the country’s capability to be active in  the Security Council (UNSC) and the General Assembly.
  • A change in India’s foreign policy was reflected in voting patterns at the UN. India showed pragmatism in enabling the toughest terms on Iraq even after eviction from occupied Kuwait, or in reversing the hitherto stated position on Zionism as racism. 
  • Internationalisation of Kashmir issue: Growing militancy in Kashmir in the early 1990s emboldened Pakistan to internationalise the dispute with accusations about gross human rights violations by India. 
    • India had to work hard to seek favours from Iran and China in the Human Rights Commission to checkmate Pakistan.
  • The threat to the UN's sovereignty principle by NATO intervention against Yugoslavia in 1999 without the authorisation of the UNSC deeply disturbed India.
  • Diplomatic difficulties: India suffered a humiliating defeat in the hands of Japan in the 1996 contest for a non-permanent seat in the UNSC.
  • Against NPT and CTBT: India resolutely stood against indefinite extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1995, and it stoutly rejected the backdoor introduction for adoption of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996. 
    • India surprised the world in 1998 with its Pokhran nuclear weapon tests, ignoring the likely adverse reaction from the nuclear club.

Third phase (The 21st century): India shining at UN

  • The impressive economic performance due to economic liberalisation and globalisation policies, helped a great deal in strengthening India’s profile. 
  • India contributes its reliable and substantial troop contributions to several peacekeeping operations in African conflict theatres. 
  • India has emerged as a responsible stakeholder in non-traditional security issue areas such as 
    • the spread of small and light weapons, 
    • the threat of non-state actors acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and 
    • the impact of climate change. 
  • Humanitarian and funding assistance: India has scaled up its contributions to development and humanitarian agencies, while India’s share to the UN assessed budget has registered a hike from 0.34% to 0.83%.
  • The successful electoral contests for various prestigious slots in the UNSC, the Human Rights Council, the World Court, and functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council, highlight India’s growing popularity. 

Challenges for India at UN:

  • Security Council expansion

    • India has long  sought a permanent seat at the Council.
    • It is also a proponent of other UNSC reforms — such as increasing the number of permanent (currently five) and non-permanent (currently 10) seats and ensuring greater representation for Africa. 
    • The move has been stuck for more than 25 years because of a lack of unity among the regional formations. 
    • It also includes stout opposition from some 30 middle powers such as Italy and Pakistan which fear losing out to regional rivals in the event of an addition of permanent seats.
  • The draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism: India proposed the draft but it encountered reservations from among Islamic and other countries on provisions regarding definition of terrorist and the convention’s application to state armed forces.
  • Volatile global situation 
    • The Trump administration’s disdain towards multilateral institutions, 
    • The changing U.S.-China equation, 
    • China’s growing political isolation on account of the spread of the novel coronavirus, and 
    • China’s aggressive territorial forays in eastern Ladakh and the South China Sea, 
    • An unabated economic slowdown

Way forward:

India’s future role will probably depend on its ability to weather the impact of the multiple crises it now faces. This is pertinent as India will soon begin its two-year term as a non-permanent UNSC member. 

  • Its areas of priority will continue to be the 
    • Upholding of Charter principles, 
    • Mounting effective punitive measures against those who support, finance and sponsor terrorists, 
    • Striving for securing due say to the troop contributing countries in the management of peace operations. 
  • If China succeeds in convening a formal meeting on Kashmir to please Pakistan, India may have to choose either to abstain in the vote since it is a party to the dispute or vote against any unfavourable proposal that might be tabled. 
    • The growing proximity with the U.S. may prompt India not to stay neutral in order to counterbalance China.
  • Compromise on UN reforms: Although India enjoys by far the greatest support, the only realistic possibility seems to settle for a compromise, i.e. a new category of members elected for a longer duration than the present non-permanent members without veto power.

About ‘Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism’ (CCIT)

  • It provides a legal framework which makes it binding on all signatories to deny funds and safe havens to terrorist groups. 
  • Proposed first by India in 1996, the ratification of the Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism is impeded due to opposition from the US and OIS countries. 
  • Its major objectives are:

•To have a universal definition of terrorism that all 193-members of the UNGA will adopt into their own criminal law

•To ban all terror groups and shut down terror camps

•To prosecute all terrorists under special laws

•To make cross-border terrorism an extraditable offence worldwide.

Its opposition:

  • The US, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), and the Latin American countries have objections over the “definition of terrorism" (the most divisive of the issues).
  • For example, the OIC wants exclusion of national liberation movements, especially in the context of Israel-Palestinian conflict. 
  • The US wanted the draft to exclude acts committed by military forces of states during peacetime.

Image source: TH

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Q) Critically analyze India’s experience of Seven and a half decades at the UN. Also suggest a way forward as India soon begins its two-year term as a non-permanent UNSC member. (250 words)